Is it possible? Will sleep always be elusive when sharing a hotel room with my kids? And intimacy? Do I even go there? Long gone are the days when hotel stays were romantic.
The reality of traveling with our kids isn’t always pretty. And we’re about to have a fourth child. In Europe. Can we even fit into ONE hotel room anymore? Or has the dreaded day arrived when we must now pay double for suites or (hopefully) adjoining rooms? I don’t have those answers. But I’m guessing I’ll have some stories to tell over the next few months as we learn on the go.
Long a believer in white noise, an iPad with such an app has been a travel necessity since our first trip with my oldest as a baby. And my first was a lousy sleeper—even at home. Hotels were no different. Except we couldn’t just shut her door and let her take a few minutes to settle in to the fact that it was bedtime. She could peer at us through her pack-n-play and stand and make a scene. She knew she had mommy and daddy’s attention and that we were terrified of having hotel guests complain about the fussy baby down the hall. We rocked, we walked her, we swaddled, we co-slept. I’m not sure any of it worked well with her. But somewhere around 9-months, she accepted both at home and when we traveled, that bedtime was bedtime. As long as we stuck to some semblance of our routine, and shoved her pack-n-play in a closet or bathroom or made a wall of towels blocking her view of us, she slept decently. But we never dared talk or make a sound once her eyes had closed.
Fast forward to my second child. He was a better sleeper, as long as mommy’s boob was nearby every few hours of the night. He fell asleep easily, even in hotel rooms. But without the comfy chair for our multiple middle of the night nursing sessions, his regular nightly wake-ups in a cramped hotel room risked waking his toddler sister as well. Thankfully, most hotels have king beds which made co-sleeping with him a little easier. But his paranoid parents never slept well with him in our bed.
And then came my third. Another lousy sleeper, he preferred to be attached at the breast all night long. Soon, we’d mastered hotel stays as a young family of five. Husband and toddler in one bed, mommy and baby in the other bed, and preschooler with a cot or blanket bed on the floor. Not ideal, but it worked.
Suddenly last month we found ourselves with an energetic toddler about to share a small, unairconditioned hotel room with his family for two nights. He hopped from his sister’s cot to his brother’s cot to our giant bed until it was way past his bedtime and his siblings were falling asleep. Pregnant mom and tiny bladdered sister meant relegating his cot to the bathroom was not an option. The only space left in the room for him was right next to our bed.
We went through our bedtime routine. We placed him in his pack-n-play. He climbed out giddily like it was a game. We placed him back in and continued the bedtime songs. He climbed out and began jumping on his brother’s bed. It was not going well. This time daddy returned him to his easily escapable prison and he understood we meant business. Queue the tears. Hysterical sobbing. Wailing. His siblings put their pillows over their heads to drown out the noise. I patted his butt and continued to sing the bedtime songs over the wailing and prepared for the worst. How many minutes until his siblings had a second wind and started to fight sleep as well? How long until the rooms next door complained? We’d give it five minutes and then accept the all-night toddler party in our room until he passed out of exhaustion. I continued to sing and pat his bottom as I planned out our miserable night ahead. And then I realized he was asleep. He slept until almost 6am. It was beautiful.
The second night was even easier. Had I mastered the hotel bedtime routine? Am I simply a seasoned pro now? I’m pretty sure it was pure luck. Or maybe we’d truly exhausted them with our hiking and castle exploration? Whatever success our most recent hotel experience afforded us, I’m sure adding a fourth child to the mix will create plenty of new chaos and sleepless nights. But I think we’ve learned a few good tricks over the past six years when it comes to sharing a hotel room with young kids.
A Few Tips for Sharing a Hotel Room with Young Children
- Stick to your regular bedtime routine as much as possible.
- Use white noise, especially if you have other kids trying to sleep.
- Don’t be afraid to re-arrange the hotel room. We’ve regularly use chairs as side rails to keep our toddlers from falling out of bed. Or we shove beds against the wall to prevent them from falling out. We move pack-n-plays into walk-in-closets or even partial closets to help obscure baby’s view of mom and dad. We’ve taken cot mattresses or pull-out mattress off their frames and set them on the floor so we didn’t have to worry about sharp side rails or our kids falling out of bed. (But we do attempt to put the room back the way it was before we leave.)
- Expect to sleep less. If you go into the trip knowing that you’ll likely be somewhat sleep-deprived and accept it, it is a whole lot easier to deal with whatever that first night in the hotel room throws at you.
- Be safe. If you’re not comfortable co-sleeping and aren’t familiar with best practices, don’t start when you’re overtired and exhausted on a vacation.
- Bring your own pack-n-play bedding. I’m a stickler for fitted crib sheets and pack-n-play sheets with an infant. In my experience, many hotels provide regular bedding that is far too big for a baby bed and has to be tucked or rolled to fit. An extra fitted sheet doesn’t take up much space in a suitcase and I sleep better knowing baby’s bed is safe. (Plus, then I also know how clean my infant’s bedding is…)
- Don’t panic if your baby or child cries. The worst thing you can do is panic about the other guests hearing everything through the paper-thin hotel walls. Decide in advance a reasonable amount of time that you are comfortable allowing your child(ren) to be loud or boisterous or upset as they settle in for the night. And if choosing a family-friendly hotel or floor is an option, that can be a great way to ease your mind about the extra noise coming from your room.
- Know when to accept that the regular bedtime routine is just not happening. There are nights when my husband is snoring while all three of my kids are still staring at crappy cartoons on the television while I try to stay awake as the clock passes midnight. Eventually, they crash and I tuck them into their beds while they attempt a final, lame ‘not tired’ protest as their eyelids betray them. And sometimes that means we oversleep in the morning or we end up with cranky adventurers who still had to be woken at a certain time. But as long as our driver (aka the husband) is well-rested, I count on car and stroller naps to keep the kids functioning the following day.