Where to stay with a baby? Hotel, Airbnb or home exchange?

Last updated on August 21, 2023

What’s the best type of accommodation for staying with a baby? Some will swear by family hotels, others by self-catering apartments. We’ve tried them all, from baby-friendly hotels to Airbnbs and doing home exchanges around the world. They all have pros and cons, and the best will depend on what you’re looking for personally.

Here are some of our tops tips for choosing accommodation with a baby, and the pros and cons or the different options.

Also see our complete guide to travelling with a baby, and our flying with a baby survival guide.

Top tips for choosing where to stay with a baby

Try to book somewhere that has a separate sleeping and living area.

By booking somewhere with a separate sleeping and living area, when the baby goes to sleep at night, you and your grown-up travel companions can have some time to chill out and relax.

Airbnbs, apartment rentals and home exchanges are great for this. But hotels can work too – some have suites with separate living areas (which can be costly), or if you’re going somewhere warm, even a balcony will do. Steve and I have had lots of lovely evenings, eating takeout food and drinking wine on hotel balconies.

Also, in some hotels where we’ve had big hallways (or even a large bathroom in one case!), we’ve put the baby to sleep in there for the start of the evening before moving them into our room for the night.

Doing a home exchange is a fantastic option

Home Exchange in Blue Ridge near Smoky Mountains

If you can set up a home exchange with another family who has a baby around the same age as yours, it’s perfect because they’ll likely have all the necessary equipment set up already. For example, high chairs, cots, baby baths, toys etc. Wondering what a home exchange is? See our ultimate guide to home exchange (it’s our favourite way to travel).

Think about noise

Before booking anywhere, check the reviews to see if noise is ever an issue. I try to avoid hotels where people have complained about how easily the noise travels from room to room. Or in some hotels, you might want to avoid being close to the evening entertainment.

Essentially try to avoid anything that might wake your sleeping baby (or make it harder for them to fall asleep in the first place). And be sure to ask the accommodation if there’s any construction work happening nearby or anything else that’s causing noise.

Consider how you’ll get there (and get around while there)

If you don’t plan on hiring a car, make sure there’s a suitable way for you to travel from the airport/train station to your accommodation. It might be that the accommodation can arrange a transfer, or you can book a taxi in advance. Or perhaps there’s a bus you can take. Bear in mind that not all taxis have car seats, so you’ll need to book this too if you aren’t travelling with your own.

When we went to Barcelona, we knew we wouldn’t need a car in the city so we didn’t take a car seat. And instead of hiring one with a taxi, we simply took the airbus to the city centre, which was a cheaper option anyway. Just make sure you have a plan!

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Check that babies are allowed!

You need to include your baby in your accommodation booking. Some hotels are adults-only, so don’t make that mistake and get turned away on arrival.

Decide if a family hotel is what you want

Watergate Bay Hotel - Best Cornwall Family Holiday

A family-friendly hotel has pros and cons. On one hand, you’ll have all the facilities you need, from bottle warmers to babysitting services. And you won’t feel bad about having a disruptive baby (you’ll simply be part of the family vibes!). But on the other hand, you’ll be surrounded by kids and parents, which might not be the holiday style you’re looking for.

Sometimes there’s a middle ground with hotels that are baby-friendly, but not specifically aimed at families. A lot of the places we stayed at on our California road trip were like this. For example, the Kimpton Goodland (now The Leta) is somewhere we’d have definitely stayed before having a baby and is well suited to couples, but it was also kitted out for babies too.

We’ve also stayed at some really stylish family hotels that really challenged our stereotype of a family holiday (for example, Watergate Bay Hotel in Cornwall, Lucknam Park in the Cotswolds, Woolley Grange near Bath and the Martinhal Hotel in Lisbon).

Remember you can stay in normal hotels and accommodation!

I’ve already touched on this, but I think it’s important to emphasise that you can still stay in most types of accommodation (aside from adults-only places) even with a baby in tow. We’ve stayed in all sorts, from tiny houses to yurts to hip boutique hotels. Have a look at our itineraries for our road trips in California, Portugal, Southern USA to see some of the places we’ve stayed with babies.

Pros and cons of baby accommodation options

Normal hotel with baby facilities

Pros

  • Can be nice to stay somewhere familiar from your pre-baby life
  • Plenty of options as most hotels accept babies and have cots etc
  • You’ll be surrounded by a mixture of travellers, not just families
  • Can be reassuring to have hotel staff on hand to help
  • Breakfast is often included

Cons

  • You might feel self-conscious when your baby is noisy around other guests
  • Hotels are variable in terms of how much baby equipment they provide
  • Room options with a separate sleeping and living area can be expensive
  • Doing laundry can be expensive in-house / inconvenient if done elsewhere
Watergate Bay Hotel - Best Cornwall Family Holiday

Family hotel (aimed at people with kids)

Pros

  • All the kit is there ready for you, from cots to baby baths
  • Other guests will know to expect noise from babies and kids, so you needn’t feel bad.
  • Day trips and transport options will be geared towards people with babies/kids
  • Breakfast is often included, and some family hotels have half board or all-inclusive options
  • Can be reassuring to have hotel staff on hand to help

Cons

  • It will feel like a bigger step-change from your pre-baby travels
  • Children (like your baby!) are noisy, which can be annoying
  • Some family hotels are a bit naff, but there are stylish ones out there too
  • Doing laundry can be expensive in-house / inconvenient if done elsewhere
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Package holiday accommodation

Pros

  • It’s a one-stop booking shop, so all your accommodation, travel and transfers are sorted in one go
  • You can choose self-catering, B&B, half board or all-inclusive options, depending on what level of catering you want
  • Often geared towards families so have all the benefits of a family-friendly hotel
  • The easiest type of holiday to organise and most is done for you

Cons

  • Takes the creativity out of travel planning
  • Not a way to experience local life
  • Accommodation is often a bit naff, but there are stylish options (we loved our stay in Croatia)

Self-catering rentals like Airbnb or VRBO

Pros

  • More space so you can have a place to hang out when the baby is sleeping
  • Often a cheaper option than a hotel room with living area
  • Kitchen facilities give you the freedom to cook what you and your baby like
  • Apartment rentals can give a taste of local life, depending on what you choose
  • You might have easy use a washing machine for doing laundry

Cons

  • You might need to bring your own baby equipment, including cot, high chair etc (although some will include this)
  • Sometimes takes more organisation than a booking a hotel
  • You might prefer having meals provided for you at a hote

Home Exchange

Pros

  • A cheaper option than renting an apartment/house
  • More space so you can have a place to hang out when the baby is sleeping
  • If your exchange partner has a baby, all the baby equipment will be there
  • A good way to get a genuine taste of local life
  • Kitchen facilities give you the freedom to cook what you and your baby like
  • Normally has a washing machine for doing laundry

Cons

  • You have to let other people stay in your house, which not everyone is comfortable with
  • No hotel staff to help you out
  • You have to arrange your own transfers/transport

Staying with family and friends

Pros

  • Your family/friends might help with the baby (big plus if this happens!)
  • Might have more space, depending on the living arrangements
  • The cheapest option

Cons

  • Sometimes it can be more stressful staying with other people (feeling like you’re imposing or feeling self-conscious about your baby’s noise/behaviour)
  • Potentially less freedom to do as you please (might feel obligated to fit in with your hosts)

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