When traveling with children, it’s essential to remember that hotel rooms aren’t childproofed like your own home. Back in 2000, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission actually did spot checks on hotels across the country, and what they found was disturbing. They visited more than 90 hotels in 27 states, and found woefully inadequate situations with children's cribs. If the crib mattress isn't supported properly, it could fall through, and it could suffocate a child, not to mention pillows, loose hardware, and jagged edges.
But it’s not just cribs that are an issue. It’s electrical sockets, sharp corners on tables, sliding doors, windows, and then potentially dangerous open spaces on hotel room balconies.
The good news is that if a room isn't kid-friendly, you can childproof the room yourself. First, ask the hotel what its facilities are to childproof your room. At Holiday Inn Family Suites, they actually provide a childproofing kit. But you've got to ask first. Or you can make your own kit, including masking tape or, preferably, duct tape, because a lot of kids can get through that masking tape. The tape is used to seal windows and latches, especially sliding doors, and to put together your own buffer for certain sharp areas like a table corner where you don't have the actual bumpers. And to cover electrical outlets, try plastic outlet covers or the tape itself.
One of the things you need to do when you check into a room, as a parent, is to get down on your hands and knees and literally crawl the room at the same height as your child might be so you can actually see those hazards. Often we take so much for granted and forget what is within their reach. In the bathrooms, always check the water temperature, because kids can get easily burned when you just turn that faucet on.
Even cruise lines are child-proofing. On Disney, for example, which caters to kids, you won't find any square or rough edges around the cabins. Every piece of furniture in a Disney cabin is rounded. They did that intentionally because of so many small children on board.
Bottom line is that while hotels and cruise lines are getting smarter, you can't expect them to always do it for you. You have to be responsible and take the necessary precautions. Here are some musts:
- Move furniture away from the windows.
- Furniture needs to be stable and sturdy to avoid tipping over.
- Door knobs should be tight so your children will not remove them (and put them in their mouths).
- Make sure that doors and windows are securely locked.
- Tie up any loose cords, such as on window blinds, to prevent possible strangulation.
- Cover unused electrical outlets.
- Tables with sharp edges should either be removed or edges should be covered, (washrags are a perfect solution).
- Remove any table cloths.
- And with very small children, just because a hotel or motel might provide a crib, you need to inspect it carefully. Make sure that it is up to standards with the Consumer Product Safety Commission: Slats should not be more than 2 3/8 inches apart.
- Remove any pillows or blankets that may cause suffocation
- Never leave your child alone in the bathroom.
- When giving your child a bath, the water should not reach more than 120 degrees F, try to keep it between 96-100 degrees.
- Unplug any electrical appliances, i.e. hairdryer, and store them in a locked drawer.
- Make sure there are decals or a non-slip mat on the bathtub floor.
- Check to see if the bathroom mat has a stable backing to prevent slips.
- Any hazardous products should be put away: mouthwash, shampoo, cosmetics.
And last, but not least, beware of hotel balconies. While the railings may be high enough to prevent a child from leaning or falling over, the real danger is the space between the iron bars or wooden slats. Some hotels, like the Four Seasons in Maui, provide plastic mesh that fits in front of the bars to make sure that your child can’t slip between or through the bars and fall off the balcony. But most hotels do not provide this. Your solution: Either bring your own mesh (with that all purpose duct tape) or lock the balcony door.
Peter Greenberg is TODAY's travel editor. His column appears weekly on TODAYshow.com. Visit his Web site at PeterGreenberg.com.