There are five basic reasons why we self-cater when travelling with kids.
- It is affordable. Restaurants are not usually cheap, and this is compounded when you have to rely on them for most meals. Breakfasts in hotels - even budget, chain hotels - can be quite expensive, though admittedly the convenience they offer is sometimes unbeatable.
- It gives your kids a sense of the "familiar", and it can keep fussy eaters happy. If you ever hear “But I don’t like any of this stuff”, you'll know what we mean. In a new country where the food is different, you’re bound to get this with most kids. Give them something they know, and they’ll be much easier to keep happy. That said, we do like to make the effort to eat the local cuisine wherever possible.
Recently we kept the kids happy by choosing an Italian/Portuguese restaurant in Portugal. The kids enjoyed a pizza, and we got to try the delicious local Portuguese food. We also figure that when the kids are older (or when we are older and travelling without them), that will be a better time to sample local delicacies.
- It is great when the kids are tired. Dining out with tired, grumpy kids is not fun. In any way, or for anyone. Preparing your own food in you hotel room, at a time convenient to you, takes effort but is actually quite liberating. You can feed them and get them into bed quickly, and not share their little meltdown with the rest of the known world.
- It makes dining out less of a chore and more of a treat. We have had many wonderful experiences dining out with our kids. They have (almost) always been made to feel welcome in restaurants. Indeed, some have gone out of their way to make them welcome - provided activities, waiters playing silly games with them, modifying menu items etc. But this is partly because they are not having to endure that environment every night. They can't always be "on show" or "on their best behaviour". But sometimes they can be. We do eat out when travelling - about every third night, or maybe a big lunch.
Almost every restaurant we have dined in has welcomed our kids - and we have to thank self-catering for that, because it becomes a treat, not a chore. I would like to (but won't) name-and-shame a certain restaurant along Brompton Road, South Kensington (between the V&A Museum and Harrod's) for the appalling way we were treated simply because we had a child in tow (and only one extremely well-behaved child, too, not both of them). But in the main, self-catering gives dining out a better chance of being a pleasure.
- Self-catering allows you to monitor your kids' diets a bit more. Before we took up self-catering, our eldest once lived off hot chips for three weeks. We shouldn't have let her. Self-catering means we don't give them that option every meal.
I don't know whether hotels really approve of self-catering, but I don't really care either. We make sure never to leave a mess, though there's usually a tell-tale food smell. We could just have easily brought a pizza back to our room, so how are they to know the difference - apart from the stuff that's in the bin...
We do it to make life a bit easier all round: easier on the kids, on our sanity, and on our pockets.