As a former player, coach, and now parent of an athlete, I’ve spent a lot of time on the proverbial road.
In a typical youth hockey season, for example, a parent can expect up to five travel weekends over the course of five-month season. (This mainly depends on the age of your kid and the level of competition.) I have a few quick tricks of the trade I figured I would share with any parents who may be new to this, or the wily vet looking for a tip or two.
Have you ever traveled more than 2 hours to watch your kids play sports?
— Parent Co. (@HelloParentCo) March 24, 2016
What to pack: Bring a water bottle, snacks, and a comfortable pillow for anyone in the family who may want one. iPad, headphones, and laptop are also key. Pack any sport-specific gear in a separate bag so it can be left in the car versus adding to the mess in the hotel room. You are going to be eating out plenty on the trip, so pack good, healthy snacks – especially nutritious post-game foods for your youngster (hint: chocolate milk!).
Become the travel coordinator: This is the best way to control when and where your teams will stay. When booking a block of rooms, think about things like the standards of cleanliness, the convenience of efficiencies, etc. Typically you just need a credit card to hold the initial block. Past a certain deadline, the rooms that remain unsold in the block are released so you may need to remind parents to reserve early. Each hotel is different. Be sure to ask how this process works wherever you’re booking.
Other hotel considerations:
Rewards programs: These are typically free and can provide perks like a complimentary room when used to book the initial block of rooms. U.S. News and World Report published their list of the top 18 hotel loyalty programs based on things like program benefits and how easy it is to actually use the rewards you rack up. I personally use the following three programs fairly often:
- Hilton Honors
- InterContinental Hotel Group (includes Kimpton, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, and others)
- Marriott Rewards
Amenities: An indoor pool is a must. Also ask if they have an open community room or conference room the kids can use to play in the hotel, free of charge. If they ask what you mean by “play in the hotel,” cancel your room block immediately and find a kid-friendly hotel. Also, FREE BREAKFAST! If they don’t offer it, ask them to throw it in for booking so many rooms with them. The hospitality business is very competitive right now and many chains are going to a bigger, healthier, help-yourself breakfast model.
The room sweep: Have you ever noticed that within five minutes of stepping foot in a hotel room, you turn around and it looks like a luggage bomb went off? Taking the time to clean up just before check out is the best way to avoid leaving any of your possessions behind.
- Empty all closets and pack your personal belongings.
- Start in the back of the room by the window. Get on hands and knees and look under the bed. All towels get thrown in the bathroom, trash in the trash can, and personal items right into your personal luggage.
- Checks all drawers, the refrigerator, under the second bed, lift up the couch, really go for it. Keys, wallets, and cell phones, can easily find their way into the most surprising places. Same is true of your kids’ favorite whatever, so make sure you have that before shutting the door behind you.
Warnings: Don’t ever use the ice buckets, or sleep on top of the quilt, or use any glass without the proper sanitization plastic over the outside. And a note on noise: A certain level of volume and general excitedness is to be expected when you get a bunch of kids together in a hotel. If the hotel representative you speak with to book the rooms mentions any sort of noise policy, it’s best to find another place to stay. There are a great number of hotels and motels that don’t mind the noise, but when they do it can make your weekend a real pain.
Other little things: I always ask for the best pizza delivery place when we check in. Just to call BS I ask them what their favorite item from that delivery place is. Then I try and get a menu. Speaking of check in, most hotels won’t let you check in until 3 or 4 p.m., so be sure to ask for an early check in if you need one. Also, late check out is key. Better to ask and not need it, then to need it and not ask.
Last tip: Plan a team meal. Try to do one of these per weekend if the schedule allows it. I find lunch or dinner work best. Sharing a meal is great for team bonding and getting to know the other parents in a more casual setting.