Why Ban Children From Hotels? In Defense Of Bringing Family On The Road

child cryingNo dogs, no children, no lepers please. It’s hard not to feel like an undesirable when a hotel you want to bring your family to says, “Sorry, we don’t allow children.” In America, and many other countries, it’s illegal for hotels and other public establishments to deny service based upon a client’s race, color, religion or national origin.

And it would be unthinkable for any business to exclude senior citizens, homosexuals or the disabled, for example. But it’s perfectly legal for hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, resorts and even restaurants to ban children. A growing number of childless couples, singles and empty nesters are seeking out hotels and resorts that exclude children, but are kids really the greatest threat to rest and relaxation?

These issues came to the fore for me last week while I was planning a trip to Costa Rica for my family of four, which includes two boys, ages 3 and 5. Almost every nice hotel anywhere near a beach in this country is booked over the long President’s Day weekend, and several of the places I contacted, including a couple that had vacancies, noted that they don’t allow small children (though most allow teens).A website called Leave Them Behind has a modest list of adults-only establishments and according to stories that have appeared in Yahoo, ABC, Ad Week and other media outlets, the travel industry is moving to meet a growing demand for child-free holidays. According to Ad Week, there are more childless couples in the U.S. now than ever before, and 20 percent of American women never have children, compared to just 10 percent in the 1970s.

Moves by Malaysian Airlines to ban children from first class in 2011, and from the upper deck of its Airbus A380 in 2012, also promoted debate on the issue of traveling with children. Spud Hilton, travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, defended the move and went so far as to claim that “with the exception of a family emergency and moving to another state, there is almost no good reason to take a baby on the road.”

Hilton referred to babies, not children in general but I think that a lot of parents don’t travel, or for that matter even bring their kids to restaurants or other public places, precisely because they fear that other people will find their children annoying. But I’ve found that the more you expose your children to hotels, restaurants and the like, the more they learn how to act in public. If we shut our children off from these experiences, they’ll never learn how to act in polite society.

I’m a parent but I can understand why some people want to patronize establishments that ban children. And I agree that in some ways, our kid-centric culture, where some parents allow their children’s activities to rule their lives, is out of control. But I question the notion that children are so disruptive that one can barely enjoy a holiday with them around and I can’t help but wonder what truly motivates those who seek out places where children aren’t welcome.

I estimate that I’ve spent somewhere between 500 and 1,000 nights in hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and inns around the world over the last 20 years. Out of all those nights away from home, I’d say that I’ve been disturbed by another guest or guests at a hotel perhaps a few dozen times. By disturbed, I mean occasions where someone caused me to lose sleep, made me want to leave the pool or other common area, or something along these lines. Out of these few dozen incidents, only one of them involved a small child or baby.

Several years ago, at a bed-and-breakfast in St. John’s, Newfoundland, a crying baby kept us up half the night. That incident occurred before we had children and it has colored our own travel habits – we never stayed in small bed-and-breakfast places, especially ones with hardwood floors where noises seems to echo, when our children were very young.

Of all the other instances of annoying and obnoxious behavior I’ve encountered in hotels, I’d say about 25 percent of the offenders were teens, most of them members of school or sports groups, and the rest were adults. Most of the obnoxious adults that have caused me to lose sleep or sanity on the road were also parts of groups – wedding parties, teams, family reunions and the like – and many were intoxicated.

Unfortunately, some people have no regard for other guests in a hotel and think nothing of slamming doors, shouting in the hallways, partying in their rooms, and blasting their television sets at odd hours. Two years ago, I stayed at a Westin in Mexico that allowed wedding receptions to rage until 6 a.m. with music loud enough for a rock concert and drunken guests rampaging around the hotel on consecutive weekends. This summer I stayed at a Westin in suburban Chicago where a family reunion got so out of control that the police had to actually make arrests in the middle of the night. And at an upscale hotel in Philadelphia last winter, members of an out-of-control wedding party actually brawled in the hallway outside our room at 3 a.m.

A certain percentage of all travelers – children, teens and adults – are going to behave poorly at hotels but I would argue that children are no more likely to cause other guests grief than teens or adults. In fact, I might assert that small children are less likely to be disruptive than teens or adults because they don’t get drunk and they aren’t up late at night when other guests are trying to sleep.

I’m not one of these blind parents who is incapable of seeing that kids can be annoying and I hate clueless parents who fail to control their children as much as anyone else. I know that kids can be disruptive and downright infuriating and I recognize that some businesses, especially intimate bed-and-breakfasts, aren’t a good choice for families with young children. But I think that most children are pretty well behaved and the adults-only movement is a kind of collective punishment that penalizes parents who do a good job with their kids.

Even before I had kids of my own, I never felt the need to seek out hotels that ban children. For me, kids are an integral part of the world and I wouldn’t think to try to avoid them any more than I’d try to avoid birds or squirrels or any other living thing.

I don’t tend to take these kinds of trips, but if people want to spend a week sitting by the hotel pool and can’t bear the thought of having kids splashing about, then by all means, go to an adults-only resort. I certainly wouldn’t legally compel all businesses to welcome children, but I find the ban-kids trend a little misguided and indicative of how intolerant and self-absorbed we’re becoming as a society.

I’ve noticed when we bring our kids to other countries, like Mexico and Greece, for example, that they are valued, cherished and fussed over. Those societies still view children as a blessing, not a nuisance. Yes, there are unbearably annoying kids out there, and we’ve all sat near crying babies on planes, but in most cases, it’s their clueless parents who are to blame. And if you’re looking for R & R, watch out for youth sports teams, wedding parties and drunks, not little kids.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, Pink Sherbert on Flickr]

Knocked up abroad: the baby-friendly difference

baby friendly
Me in Istanbul on Mother’s Day, 7 months pregnant, with Dalin baby product mascot

Just over two weeks ago, I made the leap from pregnant American in Istanbul to expat with child. My decision to have my first baby in a foreign country has been met with reactions from friends and strangers ranging from surprise and curiosity to outright disapproval. The transition to new parenthood is a strange and challenging time for nearly everyone, but living in a country that respects pregnant women and worships babies has made all the difference. While baby and child bans are being considered in many places from travel companies like Malaysia Airlines to American restaurants, Turkey remains one big baby-friendly country.


On the surface, Istanbul is not an easy place with a baby. The city is crowded, traffic is terrible and taxi drivers will barely pause to let you run across the street, and the sidewalks are a mini Olympics for a stroller with few ramps, cracked pavement, uneven cobblestones, and endless hills. There’s not many green spaces or parks, and for older children, few museums or activities designed for or appealing to kids. It’s the people that make the city welcoming to children. I can’t walk down the street without a chorus of “Maşallah” (bless you) and “çok güzel” (how cute!). Crowds form around us in stores of people wanting to kiss the baby, ask questions about her, and give me advice (this is when my limited Turkish is a blessing and I can just smile and nod). Waiters in restaurants coo over her and offer to hold her when I go to the bathroom (note: I’m hyper-aware of being a disturbance for other diners and will always take her out if she starts to fuss). As much as she is adored, the feedback isn’t always positive. Some older Turks don’t believe young babies should be out in public and think mothers should follow the custom of staying in the house for the first 40 days (our pediatrician says it’s fine to go out and we’ve taken her places nearly every day since she was born). Despite the current 100 degree heat, I’m warned against holding the baby near a fan, in air conditioning or even in front of the refrigerated case in the grocery store, lest she catch a draft.
Even before the baby arrived, Turks go above and beyond to make mothers and babies comfortable. Recently, a Turkish woman told me how she had been heavily pregnant in winter and one day found herself out in the rain, unable to get a taxi home. She began to cry in frustration and a police officer stopped to see if she was okay. She told him she was fine, just wanted to get home, so he approached a nearby taxi with two men inside, kicked them out, and gave the cab to her. I have no doubt that the ousted men were probably understanding and gracious about the situation, and the whole story encapsulates the Turkish experience for me.

In contrast, when I spent a week home in New York at five months pregnant, I was never offered a seat on the subway and struggled like everyone else for a taxi in the rain. Shortly after my visit, I read an article about a proposed official ban on food in the NYC subway (the idea has since been dismissed) with suggestions for other things that should be banned and was shocked to see a few commenters indignantly refuse to give up their seat to pregnant women. They reasoned that pregnancy was a choice and not the responsibility of society or any other passenger to cater to them. While I can understand their viewpoint, it’s so far from the Turkish mentality, I’d be hard pressed to explain it here.

While these are very extreme examples and not necessarily indicative of the average pregnant woman’s experience in New York or Istanbul, they represent two ends of the spectrum in terms of baby- or pregnant-friendliness. Consider this chart of a New York woman’s experience getting seats on the subway; while the overall results aren’t bad (just over 80% of the time she was offered a seat), it’s pretty appalling by Turkish standards. Since I began to show, I could barely step onto a bus or through the metro doors before I was offered at least one seat (and they’ll insist on it, even if I say I’m not traveling far). It’s not just on public transportation: I’ve been offered to cut in line for public bathrooms and even in line for ice cream. Several American cities like Boston and Chicago are considering or enacting rules against strollers (at least open ones) on public transportation to save space and aggravation for other passengers. When I return to New York, I’ll plan on wearing a baby sling or carrier on the subway, especially since few stations have elevators or escalators.

A few weeks before my baby arrived, I was wandering around Cihangir, a neighborhood I’d compare to San Francisco partially due its artsy, cafe-culture vibe, but mainly due to its many hills. My afternoon stroll involved many hikes up steep staircases and near-vertical sidewalks. Each time I’d pass a Turk, he would stop, watch, and wait for me to get to the top and once he saw I was okay and not about to pass out or go into labor, he’d continue on his way. Last week, I battled the same hills with a stroller and was helped by Turkish men on nearly every corner and curb.

So what makes Istanbul such a welcoming city for little ones while New York remains hostile? It’s hardly a small town, Istanbul’s official population of 13 million is nearly double that of New York and the high density doesn’t make it much less crowded. It could be the volume of children, Turkey’s birth rate is nearly double that of many western European countries and significantly higher than the United States. I asked on Twitter about what countries travelers have found to be the most baby-friendly and most hostile, and nearly all of the positive experiences were in European and Latin American countries. Writer Anita Bulan put it well when she noted that in these baby-friendly countries, kids are seen as a part of life and allowed to participate in it. I’ve seen babies out late at night with their parents in Argentina, young children at fancy restaurants in Italy, and toddlers in museums in Spain. I’ve also seen hardly any tantrums in these places. I haven’t figured out their secret yet, but I imagine it has to do with exposing them to real life from an early age. Few restaurants in Istanbul have a kid’s menu but nearly every place will happily provide something appealing to a child, even if it’s not on the menu. If a baby cries, the parents as well as strangers will quickly comfort him and return to their meal practically before anyone else can notice.

This week I applied for my baby’s first passport and am planning travel in Europe and home to the US in the next few months. I’m not sure what to expect in each place, we might continue to be treated like rock stars in Europe and get dirty looks in America, or the reverse. I’m hoping my past travel experience helps me navigate airports and new cities but I’m aware of how a little one will slow me down and make me think ten steps ahead. My baby won’t remember these early trips or appreciate new places, but I hope that kindly strangers and a well-used passport for my child will make me a better mother and traveler.

Vera Alcazar Nesterov was born July 12 in Istanbul. Read her about her travels before birth and pregnancy in a foreign country in past Knocked up Abroad posts.

Breastfeeding is best when you travel

There have been discussions about breastfeeding and travel on Gadling before. Breastfeeding on an airplane, in particular, has come up as a subject with many opinions. Here’s my take. I was reminded of my breast feeding days when I saw a woman with a two-month old at the movie Sherlock Holmes. When it comes to travel, breastfeeding is the way to go. And don’t worry about what anyone thinks about it.

If you’ve ever been to West Africa where a breast is for nursing children and not used as an object desire, you’ll see where I’m coming from. My Peace Corps male friends who were in The Gambia when I was would moan every time they saw a woman pounding grain without a shirt on or whipping a breast out in the middle of a conversation to nurse an infant, “This is ruining it for me,” they would say. What would they have to fixate on-to fantasize over?

When my son was born in India on New Year’s Day, I was fortunate to be living in India, a country where breast feeding is seen as natural as breathing. It gave me the notion that babies and travel do indeed go together.

Because I breast fed only, for six months my husband and I traveled bottle free. There was no worry about our son getting sick. No paraphernalia to pack. I’d pack onesies, a few cute outfits, and a pair of baby shoes, one of those plastic diaper changer travel kits, disposable diapers, burp cloths and a cloth baby blanket. (The portable changer rolls up to slip into a daypack and has a pocket for carrying two or three diapers and baby wipes.)

Breastfeeding made our lives easier. What I also discovered is that if one is quiet and discrete, you can breast-feed about anywhere as long as you look comfortable. I breast fed in movie theaters, museums, and restaurants. If you’re not worried about what people think about you nursing, you’ll feel comfortable. If you’re comfortable, chances are they won’t notice, and if they do, it won’t seem like a big deal. Think of it this way. Your breastfeeding is helping add to the peace and quiet of everyone else. Your baby who is breast-feeding is not crying. On an airplane, that’s a real gift to give to passengers-particularly during take offs and landing.

To help make breastfeeding easier, take a light weight shawl with you and wear shirts that provide room for your baby to nurse comfortably, but also will cover your breast.

Even when I traveled in the summer in the U.S. and breast fed there, I never had any problems.

For more tips on traveling with a nursing infant, whether breast or bottle fed, check out “Travel Recommendations for The Nursing Mother” at the Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s website.