BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS
Travel With Kids: Top 10 Hotel Tips
Traveling with kids, grandkids, or nieces and nephews in tow can be wonderful—and a little terrifying. But you’ll be surprised at all the freebies, discounts, and conveniences you can get out of a kid-friendly hotel stay. Our author—a mother of five!—spills her secrets.
PLAN YOUR MEALS
If freebies aren't included or Taco Night just isn't your thing, you may be tempted to order room service. And you should, just once. The thrill of it for the kids (and ease of it for you!) is worth the expense, but for most of us, it's a one-hit wonder. To ensure you don't blow your sightseeing budget on breakfast, lunch, and dinner, consider choosing a hotel with an en suite kitchen, like Residence Inn or Homewood Suites. It's easy to pack a few basics like cereal, peanut butter, jelly, crackers, and mac & cheese or, better yet, pick them up en route to the hotel or in the lobby "pantry"; the Hilton Garden Inn has a "Pavilion Pantry retail market offering a selection of microwaveable packaged, refrigerated and frozen food items and an assortment of beverages, snacks and sundries." Since you'll want to eat out a few nights, be sure to research family-friendly local joints before stomachs start to growl—or put the concierge to work and let her take care of the details.
PACK WISELY, BUT DON'T PACK IT ALL
While we'd all like to take a break from laundry, it pays to pack light and do a load on the road—especially when you consider the high cost of checking bags and limited real estate in rental cars. Find out what your laundry options are before you go. Does your hotel offer laundry service? Is it worth paying a premium for? If not, ask about a laundry room (many of the suite hotels, including the Hilton Garden Inn and Home2Suites, have them) or proximity to a local laundromat or wash & fold service so that you'll be prepared when Junior wets his pants or your princess tosses her cookies. A word of caution though, courtesy of Jamie Pearson, the well-traveled blogger behind Travel Savvy Mom, "If you decide to bring a Ziploc bag of laundry detergent with you, label it with a Sharpie and put it in your checked baggage. On the whole, TSA agents tend to take a dim view of baggies full of white powder."
BE AWARE OF HIDDEN COSTS
Nothing mars a memory more quickly than sticker shock at checkout. Ask in advance about fees for parking, exceeding double occupancy, rollaway beds, cribs, and any other surprises that might come up. Also note that "all-inclusive" resorts may not be; while meals are typically included, many resort activities like water sports, kid camps, and those cute umbrella drinks that are oh-so-tempting may come with a hefty price tag. Last but not least, keep the kids out of the mini-fridge and away from the snack bar. While it was fun to watch Chevy Chase charge it to the Underwood's in Fletch, it's not nearly as amusing when the victim is you and the hoodlums are your own!
Annual membership fees for the Automobile Association of America range from $58 for a basic membership to $129 for the premiere package. All members receive "great deals at major chains such as Best Western, Clarion, Doubletree Hotels, Embassy Suites, Hampton, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Quality or Sleep Inn, and more." Other perks? Travel guides, entertainment discounts and, of course, the rapid-response roadside assistance they are known for. If you'll need a car seat at your destination, joining AAA automatically enrolls you in the Hertz Gold Plus program, which will give you one car seat for free when you rent from Hertz.
DON'T SKIP "DATE NIGHT"!
Let's be honest, it's hard to keep the flame alive when you and your partner are sharing the room with your offspring, but that doesn't mean it has to fizzle out completely. If you're heading to a warm weather destination, request a room with a terrace or patio and order room service after the kids are tucked in; dining al fresco is like going on a date without leaving your room. If you'd prefer to stay inside, dim the lights as the little ones snooze and tuck in for a movie or perhaps even a bubble bath—sans rubber duckie. Sometimes romance is as simple as a tub you didn't have to clean... Now that's a vacation!