Looking to keep your kids happy while traveling? These seven things are musts when we’re staying at a hotel with kids. From things to clean up inevitable messes to things that will keep them occupied, this list will make sure you don’t forget the essentials.
“I’m boooooored,” she whines, while suffering through a few minutes of downtime on a vacation your wallet will be recovering from for months. Sound at all familiar? Not to be a terrible human, but I really hope so.
I’m convinced my kids would find a way to be bored at Disney World. A few minutes of rest and relaxation—which, let’s be honest, parents really need while vacationing with kids—and they seem to develop amnesia. They no longer remember all of the fun that has been packed into the day.
After a mini vacation with our girls, I’ve perfected a small list of absolutely must-have items that we couldn’t survive a hotel stay without. Sometimes we don’t need every last item, but the fact that they’re there is like a parental security blanket. I know I can pull them out if I need them and I’m a much less crazy-eyed mom because of it.
7 must-have items when staying in a hotel with kids
This post contains affiliate links.
Paper towels and wipes
Let’s be real. Kids are filthy animals. They spill things. They find ways to coat themselves in unknown substances. They regularly wear their meals. And there are only so many hotel towels in a room at a given time. Packing a roll of paper towels and some baby wipes (we love WaterWipes because they’re chemical free and so gentle on sensitive skin) has been a huge help. The paper towels can double as makeshift plates and the wipes are great for quick cleanups of the kids and to wipe down sticky surfaces—there are always sticky surfaces.
Since snacks are essential with kids and hotel lobbies are notoriously expensive, we pack an entire food bag when we travel. We stash on-the-go snacks like granola bars and Veggie Straws, which are perfect for snacking on in the hotel room or throwing in a bag when we’re out exploring. We also make sure to check our room’s amenities before we go. If there is a refrigerator and/or microwave, we pack foods that can serve as a meal to cut down on eating out costs. We’ve packed everything from fruit and cereal to Easy Mac and homemade chili.
We also pack drinks and sometimes go so far as to pack bowls, cups, and utensils—especially if the hotel has both a fridge and microwave. It makes it nice and easy to heat up leftovers from restaurant visits or to eat quick meals in the room.
Whether there’s a lull in activities or you just really need to sit in a nice, air-conditioned room for a little while, card games are a great way to pass time and skip the whole “I’m booooored” thing. A regular deck of cards is great, but we like to get fancy sometimes. For our last couple of trips, I made sure we had Spot It!, Old Maid and Too Many Monkeys on hand (that picture up top is my husband and daughters playing Old Maid before dinner at Basin Harbor resort earlier this month).
Pro tip: Having a few choices can be awesome or a total shit show—while it helps weed out “I’m tired of that one,” it can turn into a war if your kids decide they want to play different games. Gauge their moods and have a plan in place in case of fighting or your nice chunk of downtime can turn ugly fast.
Coloring books and crayons (or other quiet activities)
Another boredom busting idea that’s great for when anyone is sleeping or for if you’re trying to calm kids down and transition them into bedtime (good luck with both of those, friends) is coloring books (or travel paper sets). Kids can do them alone or together and they’re so relaxing—for adults too (check out these free adult coloring page printables)! Their current popularity means that even my tween will do them since they don’t seem so babyish to her. I also like that they’re flat and easy to pack. If you want to go even flatter, you can try Googling their favorite characters with free coloring page (ie “Moana free coloring pages”).
Obviously, not all kids will sit quietly with a coloring book. The key is remembering to bring things that will suck your particular kids in. Other ideas include: books, small puzzles, Wikki Stix, LEGO travel kits, and toy figures.
White noise machine
You know how you always feel like you have to tiptoe around the hotel room and whisper once the kids are asleep? If you’re sharing a hotel room with your kids and want to stay up later than them (even if it’s just to collapse on the couch and watch a few episodes of House Hunters), a white noise machine is a total lifesaver. It’s like a little safety net of noise that lets you relax a little bit. It also helps me sleep if there are noisy people on our floor who yell in the hall at weird hours or sound like a stampede of elephants going back to their room.
When we forget it (which, to be honest, is often), my husband has found white noise videos on YouTube that do the trick. We usually end up playing them on a laptop. Just be sure to check the length of the video. If it stops after 4 hours, the abrupt silence might wake everyone up and completely ruin your night.
OK, this is a weird one. But if we’re not going to be doing laundry, I always pack a big black garbage bag and leave it in the bottom of the closet for everyone to put their dirty clothes in. It saves me from playing hide and seek around the room with dirty clothes, keeps the room looking cleaner (which makes my husband saner), and helps us avoid leaving anything behind (because it’s always a favorite that’s lost, am I right?).
My number one reason for packing one though is that it makes doing laundry so much easier when we get home. With so many things to put away while coming down from a travel high, the last thing I want to do is add to my laundry pile (although it might let me listen to a few more podcasts). Having all of the dirty stuff in one place keeps it from mixing with anything clean that’s left. It also means that I can just pull the bag out and throw it in the basement once we get home.
This one also sounds a little weird, but kids are weird. And my kids are really weird about smells. They generally hate the smell of hand soap in hotel bathrooms (to be honest, my husband and I aren’t usually fond of them either and he’s the one who started this while traveling for work). They also have really sensitive skin, so bringing our own soap for the bathroom just makes sense for us (we love Mrs. Meyer’s and rhubarb is my current favorite).
This might not be something your family cares about, but my point is to try and think ahead for all of those seemingly small quirks way ahead of time so that you have a master list to refer to when it comes time to pack. I know you’ll be tempted to just keep that list in your head, assuring yourself you won’t forget. But don’t do that. That’s how you end up on vacation with not a single pair of pants packed for yourself.
To encourage you to use an actual list, I created a free printable checklist with all of my must-haves for staying in a hotel with kids. Click the link above to have it delivered to your inbox!
Do you have anything to add to the list? Tell me in the comments!