Before I had kids, whether it be by myself, with friends, or with my partner, I would stay just about anywhere. I have stayed in places ranging from very grimy hostels to luxury hotels. Now that I have three kids however, finding suitable accommodations is a bit more challenging.
I was recently on hotels.com looking for accommodations for a few nights on an upcoming trip. As soon as I entered two adults and three kids in one room a small puff of smoke came out of my iPad. In fact, the last chain hotel we stayed in, we needed two rooms because even though we have twin 21 month old babies and an eight year old and can fit in one room, most chain hotels won’t even consider allowing us all to cram into one room. Even if you contact them directly, they have corporate rules that dictate what they can do for people.
Family Run Hotels
If you opt to stay in a hotel, I recommend smaller family run hotels and contacting the hotel directly. Most hotels with provide service in English, though it might be a bit broken, and be able to provide a service that better meets your family’s individual needs. We stayed in a hotel in rural Greece this spring for a few days and not only did they open earlier than normal after the winter for us, but when we arrived, they drove an hour to the nearest major town to pick up items they thought we might need with the babies. Personal service at family run hotels in Europe is a far better option that trying to get the big chain hotel to accommodate your needs if your family doesn’t quite fit the mould they expect. Consulting a guidebook can also help you as they tend to recommend family run places over the big chain hotels.
The secret to our success lately has been renting an apartment rather than a hotel. We travel on a budget and generally view a room as a place to sleep, shower, and store our stuff. With AirBnB we have found 2-3 bedroom apartments with cooking facilities and more living space, in locations much better than most budget hotels, for the same price as a budget to mid priced room. This is our preferred option rather than shoehorning ourselves into a tiny European hotel room or spending our money on two rooms.
We have had hosts leave full meals including the wine for us. We have had hosts specially buy us milk and leave it because they knew we had kids and were arriving late. All our hosts thus far have been great if not remarkable.
Picking a Location
My partner and I have stayed in places before we had kids which could be considered off the beaten path a little bit…or a lot. Now though, our biggest concern is proximity to a metro station, and that metro station’s proximity to some of our must see attraction. If we are in a smaller community, we want to make our travels walkable, so it is walking distances that matter. There is no faster way to let the wind out of a child’s sails than to set out on an hour long metro ride every morning or a 45 minute walk to see something.
We also generally choose a diverse looking neighbourhood with some restaurants and interesting businesses, and with markets and bakeries where we can get some food. As we generally now stay in apartments, we cook some meals for ourselves and don’t want to carry shopping forever, but the same rules apply with hotels. A market and a place for breakfast and coffee are always nice, as are a short travel times to see some sites. We also usually find an apartment with some green space nearby, though like in any other place that playground may not be what you expect…in Rome the nearby playground appeared to mostly be used as a place to dump trash and sell drugs with zero maintenance budget. We ran away and found a better option for a little play time.
We always ask for a travel cot for the babies to split, and not once have we not gotten one or two regardless if the apartment or hotel had it advertised online. People have even gone out and bought one for us if they didn’t have one, completely done without hesitation and voluntarily. All apartments/hotels generally have wifi today and free wifi should be a universal right. Bathtubs can be scarce in budget European hotels but in rental apartments, most have bathtubs in my experience. Apart from these few things we are not too picky.
Being able to get accommodations that suit your family’s needs goes a long way toward a successful and happy family travel experience. As usual, these are the principles we use to find a place to stay and generally have had good experiences, but YMMV.
Wishing everyone safe and happy travels.