“I feel like this scenario typically happens during college visits or when you’ve spent, say, 10 days in Italy and need to spend the last night at the airport near Rome,” says Sandy Pappas, the Atlanta-based founder of Sandy Pappas Travel who has daughters ages 17 and 20. It’s rational in these situations to just get one room. You’re there to sleep, she points out, so why spend double the money?
We did our best to make the overnight stays seamless, even fun. But afterward, I wondered whether there was anything I could have done differently. If you’re hitting the road with your college-age kids, consider these expert strategies for creating a comfortable shared hotel room experience with a child in this transitional age bracket.
Margaret Rutherford, an Arkansas-based clinical psychologist, author and podcast host has traveled extensively over the years with her now 27-year-old son. For 30 years, Rutherford has worked with adults of all ages and encourages families in this situation to be tolerant and understanding, exhibiting a spirit of playfulness. “I think when you’re playful with one another, then tension can be eased, and you can joke and laugh about the snoring or, you know, that somebody’s stomach is upset and you can hear them in the bathroom.”
TravelingMom founder and managing director Kim Orlando has three kids between the ages of 21 and 25. She said Dario, her 25-year-old son, was quick to note that ordering room service goes a long way toward making the experience more festive. Orlando, a Connecticut-based family-travel expert, says her family rarely does this, so it’s a luxury sure to lighten the mood.
In the same vein, Pappas notes that grown children sometimes prefer togetherness if it means better accommodations. She has clients, she says, who would rather be in one bedroom at an upscale property than in two bedrooms at a budget hotel. “It’s personal preference,” she says, and she advises parents to bring their college-age children into the discussion.
Ask about hotel features in advance
Contacting the hotel in advance about your room’s design could prevent awkward moments. What if your bathroom has frosted glass walls? Or, like ours did, a trendy rolling door that doesn’t close securely, much less lock?
Pappas suggests talking to the hotel beforehand to avoid walking into an unsuitable setup. For example, at the end of a recent European vacation, their return flights were scrambled, landing her family unexpectedly at a hotel that had a bathtub artistically featured in the middle of the room. They laughed it off, but under normal circumstances Pappas would have requested a different room.
She also suggests asking whether a room with a balcony is available. “I feel like a balcony gives you a little more space to get out of each other’s hair,” she says. If your children don’t want to share a bed, make sure the room has a sofa bed; if not, she recommends requesting a rollaway.
Orlando recommends learning about a hotel’s public spaces, so you’re guaranteed a pleasant place to grab some downtime and give the kids a break from your presence. “I want to know ahead of time, so I’ll have somewhere to go,” she says.
Respect your child’s privacy
It’s worth creating opportunities for privacy, because your college-age kids may quickly grow weary of being in such close quarters with their parents. “Leave the room,” Orlando says. “Do work in the lobby or go for a walk, so your son or daughter has time to enjoy the room, too.”
Rutherford suggests distancing yourself, such as by going downstairs in the morning for coffee while your kids get ready. “I think changing clothes is probably a big thing,” she says. “It’s a little awkward for everybody.”
Because they’re early risers, Pappas and her husband put their clothes in the bathroom the night before, so they can disappear to the gym or to eat breakfast. “We try to be respectful of the kids in the morning and not wake them up.” She also puts the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, so housekeeping doesn’t knock and awaken the late sleepers.
Keeping a small space relatively picked up is hard. “Even for one overnight, it can look like a bomb went off,” Orlando says. Her suggestion is to give your children plenty of drawer space.
Similarly, Pappas says one of her daughters “explodes” when entering a room. The solution: Have a conversation in advance about packing the essentials for an overnight at the top of their luggage, so there’s no need to fully unpack. This also makes the following morning less stressful when trying to check out, she says.
Make the shared bathroom work
Small courtesies matter when sharing a bathroom, especially when families aren’t used to sharing one at home. Orlando’s son hates it when she uses his razor to shave her legs, while she hates it when he leaves the toilet seat up. “Sharing a bathroom can be tricky,” she admits.
Because the bathroom will be a hive of activity, Pappas stresses the importance of setting up a shower schedule in advance. When their girls are showering in the evening, Pappas and her husband head to the hotel bar to give them free rein in the room.
Rutherford urges parents to shed their “evaluative mode” on family vacations and to opt for detachment instead. Suggestions, recommendations and collaborations are better alternatives than, “ ‘I need to tell you what to do in this situation,’ ” she says.
For peaceful slumber in this scenario, my favorite tool is a sound machine app on my iPhone, which minimizes street noise and sounds in the room. As soon as someone wants to sleep, I turn it on.
Reaching for eye masks and earplugs can help, too. Pappas says her family never leaves home without them, because they help to head off tension between the night owls and early birds in the family. Orlando’s children are consistently up late. She insists they use personal screens instead of watching TV, so she and her husband can get to sleep with the aid of eye masks and earplugs.
“I just cover up and let [the kids] do their thing,” she says.
Plot twist: Your kids may enjoy a night together
You may be surprised to discover that your young adult relishes sharing a hotel room for the night. They may see it as a fun throwback, cozying up on hotel beds and watching a movie late into the night.
“Some people in this age group may almost welcome the opportunity to go back for a night or two to kind of being a kid,” Rutherford says.
Potential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s travel health notice webpage.