- As a long-time traveler and travel editor, I always considered myself savvy at hitting the road.
- But it wasn’t until I became a parent that I found my best tips and tricks for travel.
- Joining loyalty programs, arriving early, and asking for help will all make for better vacations.
Before having kids, I always considered myself a savvy traveler. And not just because I’m a travel editor.
But now that I’m a parent of two young children, I realize it was less that I was really good at the process and more that I had it easy.
Traveling with kids is difficult, but I still do it. For practical reasons, such as to see family, and also because it’s intrinsic to who me and my husband are, and makes us feel connected to our pre-baby selves.
I also want to instill a love of travel in my kids, just like I experienced as a child, making me who I am today.
We’ve traveled internationally and domestically as a family, and, in the process, found ways to make arduous journeys a bit less chaotic.
While I recommend these practices to all my parent friends, most are useful to travelers whether or not they have kids. Here are seven things I always do that can help anyone be a bit savvier on the road.
Hotels, airlines, trains — you name it, most major hospitality and travel brands have loyalty programs that are free to join.
In my experience, the best benefits are often reserved for ultra loyal members or those who hold a branded credit card, but all memberships come with perks, even at basic entry-level tiers. Simply creating an account before staying on property is a passive way to earn points or miles to redeem toward a future stay.
And even if you don’t want to commit to building long-term loyalty with one airline or hotel, it’s still worth joining for cheaper prices and freebies.
For example, my family typically books Marriott or Hilton hotels since I hold credit cards for both brands. But this past summer, I spotted a great last-minute deal for a hotel I’d always wanted to visit, the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach. The price was exclusive to World of Hyatt members. I activated my dormant World of Hyatt account and locked in a price of $397 per night, which I’d never seen for the beachfront property. Typically, it costs double that, especially in the summer. The front desk also had lines reserved for World of Hyatt members, which sped up in-person assistance.
Additionally, Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors offer complimentary in-room Wi-Fi to all members, which is an easy way to save money as they otherwise charge a fee, in addition to discounted hotel rates.
These days, it’s rare to see a hotel posted check-in time earlier than 3 or 4 p.m. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait that long to arrive or enjoy the hotel amenities.
Often, that time is just a guarantee of when your room will be ready. If occupancy is low, or housekeeping is working ahead of schedule, your room will very likely be ready before then — but only if the hotel knows you’re waiting around on-site.
You can also try calling ahead to ask what time your room might be ready if the hotel doesn’t have amenities you would want to use while you wait, such as a pool or beach.
But now that I have kids, I always go straight to the hotel upon arriving in my destination. Dragging them around in limbo waiting for a 4 p.m. check-in is not fun for anyone, and where I previously might have added sightseeing in between, those extra stops with young kids can be stressful.
We handed over our bags to the valet and kept a separate tote filled with swimsuits. Right after check-in, my toddler was swimming in the pool with my husband and I laid on a lounge chair and let my baby snooze on my chest. We had full use of the property, and were even able to charge food back to our room even though we hadn’t set foot in it.
We didn’t have to wait until 4 p.m. for our room to be ready, either. Our keys were handed over once the hotel knew we had arrived, and I was so glad I didn’t wait to check-in and waste away time somewhere else. We would have missed a lovely day at the pool, and I’ll continue to do this whether my kids are with me or not.
Unless I have an early flight, I always ask for a late checkout. Even if it’s high season, a hotel is almost always willing to tack on at least an extra hour at no added charge. On travel days with long periods between checking out and heading to the airport, this can make a big difference in keeping comfortable — especially with antsy kids.
The Hyatt Huntington Beach extended our checkout from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. after I asked, while the Hotel Del Coronado provided an extra hour. And when I visited Miami a few years ago, I was able to keep my room for two hours past checkout at the Loews Miami Beach, and two-and-a-half extra hours at 1 Hotel South Beach for free, simply by asking.
Last year, while staying at Conrad Punta de Mita, my flight home was delayed well ahead of time. When I told the hotel, they first offered me an extra hour in my room for free, but when it was clear my delay would last several hours, rather than wait at the airport, I asked about a day rate to keep it longer.
I paid $80 to keep the room for an extra three hours, which I deemed worth it rather than sitting at the airport all that time trying to entertain my toddler. I’d have paid the fee even if she wasn’t with me for a few more hours in paradise.
Sometimes, there’s no choice but to vacate your room. But before you load up into a car to leave, remember this: You don’t usually have to.
One option is to store your belongings with the front desk while you head back to the pool, or before another day of sightseeing.
Another is to inquire if the hotel offers guests a hospitality suite.
This was an unadvertised perk at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, on Oahu, Hawaii. I would have never known to ask had I not walked by a room on the grounds with a sign that said “Luana Lounge. Limited access for late departures.”
I asked the front desk about it and was told this was a hospitality suite offered to guests on their day of departure on a first-come, first-serve, limited basis.
To use it, I had to request access on the morning I was checking out, after which I was given a special room key for the suite. My family was able to spend the morning at the beach and pools, and then head to the suite to relax, change, and shower, before leaving.
This was a huge help considering checkout was 11 a.m. and our next hotel wouldn’t give us our room until 4 p.m. I was able to let my child continue swimming and playing rather than trying to kill time with nowhere to go.
When my family visited Honolulu last summer, beach chairs cost extra at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. I debated pre-booking them for my family to guarantee a prime spot on the sand.
I was glad I didn’t.
When we arrived, my daughter refused to go to the beach in favor of the pool. We would have wasted money on chairs and umbrellas.
When we visited Hotel Del Coronado, beach chairs also required a reservation. We made one this time, as our daughter was a year older and asked specifically to swim in the ocean.
However, the weather was cold and gray despite being late summer, and the beach was closed for swimming due to pollution. My daughter and husband spent an hour or so by the reserved chairs to play in the sand because we had them, but she lost interest quickly without the option to swim.
I, meanwhile, was stuck in the room while our baby napped and didn’t use them at all.
Now, I always wait to arrive on-site to make certain reservations based on weather and what we want to do in the moment.
When my family visited Hawaii, we booked a car rental so we’d have the freedom to explore the island at our leisure, and transfer between multiple hotels on our own time without worrying about reinstalling car seats.
I thought it would also be more affordable, but I failed to factor in the cost of hotel parking, and that my child would just want to stay at the hotel to play and swim, leaving our rental car parked and unused.
Now, I always consider the goal of a trip. Is it to stay on-site and lounge by the pool, or to be out and about all day? For the former, I say skip the rental and just book airport transfers.
But the best way to be sure is to research all the possible costs — rental, gas, and parking versus transfers and tips — and decide which one will likely come out lower.
During our vacation to Hawaii, we capped the trip at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
We booked a junior suite in the historic wing of the hotel, a two-room accommodation, paying extra so we’d have a separate room for our toddler.
When we arrived, we realized that her room had no air conditioning. It was extremely hot and on the one night we stayed in the suite, no one slept.
The next morning, I went back to the front desk and asked for a new room with AC.
The front-desk clerk had a solution: a gorgeous suite in the renovated Mailani Tower. It had a downstairs bedroom with two beds, a loft upstairs with a king-size bed, a half bath downstairs, and a luxury one in the loft, as well as a wet bar area and a large patio overlooking the pool.
It was one of the nicest rooms I’d ever stayed in, and was offered at no added charge for the second and last night of our stay simply because it was unoccupied and to remedy the situation.
According to an online search, the junior suite I originally booked starts at around $500 nightly. While I couldn’t find the bi-level suite available to book in the coming months, smaller suites in the same tower range from $3,000 to $7,000 per night
The moral of the story: If you have a problem, ask nicely for a solution. You’ll likely end up in a much better place than where you started.