My family spends a lot of time in hotels on our travels. For more than a decade, our family of four has regularly piled into a standard hotel room to save money in destinations as different as Hawaii, Paris, and America’s National Parks. Things can get a little tight and we don’t always have all the supplies we’d want in the most ideal of circumstances, but we’ve learned to make do.
We’ve discovered there are a lot of creative solutions to common problems when traveling with kids. MacGyver doesn’t have anything on us! Here’s are all the best travel hacks for your next family vacation so you can hack your hotel room stay, even with babies, toddlers, or young kids in tow.
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Baby & Toddler Hotel Room Hacks
1. Deal with dirty diapers with the ice bucket liner or plastic laundry bag.
A soiled diaper can really stink up a hotel room quickly sitting in the trash can. While I always try to travel with diaper disposal bags, sometimes they are forgotten or used up.
For the same smell-containing effect, take out the little plastic liner you can find in the hotel’s ice bucket. You can use it to dispose of a diaper tied up in the trash! The plastic laundry bags that are often in a hotel room closet can work too.
2. Pack just one roll of tape for a multitude of childproofing needs.
Hotel rooms can be quite hazardous for babies on the move. A simple roll of blue painters tape can cover a lot of dangers like outlets or sharp coffee table corners. Tape can even be used to secure a toilet seat or dresser drawers. Best of all – you can be pretty certain that the tape won’t cause damage to nearly every surface in a hotel room like some other products might.
Forget the painters tape? A bandaid can work as an outlet cover in a pinch too.
3. No bedrail? No problem.
If you have a toddler too big for a hotel crib but not yet really ready for a full sized hotel bed, a bedrail is a must-have. There are a lot of ways to hack this problem – pillows being the most obvious solution. Ask for a few extra from housekeeping if you need them. You can also use pillows to separate siblings who will be sharing a bed so they are less likely to roll over on each other in the night.
You can also often use a desk chair or arm chair as a bedrail if you turn it so the back is against the side of the bed. At a beach resort? A pool noodle, believe it or not, stuffed under the fitted sheet near the edge of the bed works too. Another option is a rolled up bath towel or two in the same spot.
4. No crib? Ask for a rollaway.
Hotels can and do sometimes run out of cribs or Pack N Plays (and a few don’t even offer them – boo!). Although not really a solution for infants, if you have a toddler, there are some additional solutions. Ask for a rollaway that you can wedge in a corner and use as a makeshift sleeping solution.
Although there are often fees associated with rollaways, ask politely if the hotel will waive the fees if the reason you need it is because no crib is available.
5. Set up a makeshift changing table.
Still have a little one in diapers? Set up a makeshift changing table you can use for the duration of your stay so you aren’t running all over the hotel room looking for the right supplies every time you need to change your child.
I use a bath towel or two folded on an open part of a desk or table. This setup gives a little cushion for the baby to lie on, keeps things clean, and also means I’m not taking a changing pad in and out of my diaper bag all trip long. Be sure to stock a few extra diapers and travel-sized wipes nearby in the space so you have everything ready to go.
6. Got milk? Keep it cold. (Or don’t!)
Need to refrigerate milk overnight? Many hotels will deliver a refrigerators for free for anyone who has a medical need even if there isn’t a mini-fridge in the room. Often, babies and toddlers who need formula or milk will qualify. So never be afraid to ask!
But if that isn’t an option available to you, there are other hacks if you hit the hotel’s ice machine. Fill up your room’s ice bucket or even the sink with ice and stick a small milk carton in. This setup should keep it safe and cold overnight. You can even travel with a fold flat insulated cooler bag that can fit in the front pocket of a suitcase.
Or simply opt for my fail-proof milk travel hack: shelf-stable individual cartons. I swear by these things! Horizon makes 1% milk boxes you can usually find in most grocery stores, but you can even order a whole milk variety online for younger toddlers who really have a whole milk preference.
7. Close those curtain gaps.
Why do hotel curtains always seem to have a huge gap in them, letting sunlight beam through when you are trying to recover from jet lag and keep your little one asleep? Close them!
Use a chip clip, binder clip, or even a closet skirt hanger to keep those drapes closed. I sometimes even pile pillows along the bottom edge of the curtain for an even closer fit to seal up additional gaps.
8. Block the noise.
Noisy hotels with thin walls and even thinner doors can also mean an early morning or middle of the night wakeup for your baby or toddler. While a lot of this can’t be prevented, you can take some steps to mitigate the damage. If you are hearing hallway noise or seeing light under the room door, roll up a towel and stuff it near any gaps along the floor to help block light and sound.
Some parents travel with a white noise machine. But if you don’t have space for that, there are now apps for that on your phone! So download one before your trip.
One related insider tip from hundreds of hotel stays: you are most likely to have troubles with noise from a neighbor when you stay in a room with a connecting door. Unless your family is booking multiple rooms and using that connection yourself, request a a room at check in that does NOT have a connecting door with others.
9. Nobody puts baby in a corner. But maybe a bathroom or closet?
The challenge of sharing a hotel room with a baby or toddler is that they often have early bedtimes but won’t go to sleep with light and distraction from other occupants. My firstborn child needed a dark, quiet spot to sleep. But we couldn’t often pay the extra price of a suite to enable that.
What did we do? We put her in her crib or Pack N Play in the closet or bathroom! Obviously make sure there is adequate ventilation wherever your baby is going to be and make sure he or she can’t reach other hazards like hangers. But otherwise, no shame.
10. Need hot water for bottles or food? Don’t forget the coffee maker.
Need hot water to mix or warm a bottle for your baby? Run the coffeemaker without the coffee and you will have plenty. The coffeemaker is also great for a variety of snack hacks – making hot cocoa, instant oatmeal, and much more. Just make sure you clean it out first – often running it once to flush out coffee grounds from previous guests is smart.
11. Learn how to dry clothes in a pinch.
Babies and toddlers mean messes, spills, and diaper explosions. And that means you may find yourself needing to rinse out some dirty clothes on a trip. While you can always put wet clothes in a ziptop plastic bag in your suitcase, that can be a recipe for moldy smells if the clothes have to stay in the bag for a day or more. So put them away dry if you can!
Three tricks work for me so we aren’t transporting wet items for very long in our travels:
First, wring wet clothes first by laying them flat on a clean hotel towel. Roll the towel up tightly. That squeezes excess water out of the item to get the drying started.
Next, look for a well ventilated space to hang clothes to air dry. The clothesline that goes across the bathtub in some hotels can work, but not if the bathroom is humid. I often like to put clothes on a hanger near a running A/C unit or heater in the room.
Finally, I’ve found it’s pretty easy to finish drying a smaller item like a baby onesie in a few minutes using a hotel hairdryer, especially if it’s mostly dry already because it’s been hanging up overnight.
12. Turn an ironing board into a table or extra counter space.
A lot of older hotels and hotels in destinations like Europe don’t have much counter space. There may be little room to get organized in the bathroom or no table in the room for eating a snack or on-the-go breakfast.
But most hotels have an ironing board in the closet! Set it up wherever you could use a little more surface space to keep your family’s show on the road.
13. Rent – instead of bring – baby gear.
Don’t lug everything and the kitchen sink with you on vacation just because you have a baby or toddler – at least not if you don’t have to! Paying to check larger and bulkier items on airplanes can be cost-prohibitive – and you still have to lug it yourself most of the trip anyway.
While plenty of hotels will have a crib available for guests, other baby and toddler gear like high chairs, bouncy seats or swings are rarely available. But you don’t have to go without – simply rent items you need at your destination instead.
One site that is sure to have baby gear rentals available nearly everywhere families vacation in the United States is Baby Quip. Think of it as the Airbnb of baby gear – individual owners (who often run their operations as a small business) list a variety of items and then will deliver one or more to your hotel on a set schedule on your arrival day.
14. Set up a family charging station.
It’s nearly impossible to live life – much less travel – without a variety of electronic devices. A lot of hotel rooms don’t have many plugs to charge all that our wired lifestyles now require. We have found it’s essential to set up a single charging area for the family to share in our hotel rooms. We always know there will be cords available there and we always check the area as we leave the room and (most importantly!) check out to make sure no one is leaving a device behind.
This mini 6 USB-A port Anker charging station goes with us on every single trip and has now become one of our absolute must haves for family trips. It’s dual voltage so we don’t need a converter for it when traveling in destinations like Europe (just an adapter). We can get a phone or iPad for everyone in the family charging on it at one time, plus a couple of extras when needed! We always keep a variety of short lightning connectors, mini-USB, and USB-C cords stored with and connected to it so all types of devices are covered.
15. Have a dirty clothes system.
It’s easy for a hotel room to get messy with multiple people changing clothes a few times daily. We like to have one spot that is designated for dirty clothes for the entire family to keep our hotel room tidy.
Often we simply set one family member’s suitcase in the corner of the room or the closet. Everyone uses it as a hamper. We sometimes even just pack that suitcase up with the whole family’s dirty clothes when we head home (helping immensely with unpacking after a vacation).
For longer trips, we bring along a popup clothes hamper that can also be used to carry dirty clothes to a hotel or cruise ship laundry room for mid-trip laundry.
What other hotel hacks have worked for your family? Leave your tips in the comments!