One Big, Traveling Family
|TRAVELING TROUPS: It takes strategic planning to vacation with a family of five or more (Photodisc/Getty)|
While pregnant with my fourth child, Owen, on one of those unbearably hot, cranky, ankle-swollen day in the third trimester, I began fantasizing about taking a family cruise the following summer: beautiful scenery, activities for all my kids, romantic dinners alone with my spouse, no cooking, and on-site childcare. To my fevered, flustered brain, a big family cruise sounded like the perfect post-baby vacation. However, I hit my first roadblock as I logged on to a popular cruise line's website and plugged in our information to get a cost estimate. The software was unable to accommodate a family with more than three children. Apparently, having four kids made us ineligible for a cruise.
After Owen was born, we ran into this travel obstacle—and a host of others—over and over. Hotel reservation sites that only allow four people per room no matter the age and size of the fifth and sixth people; "family" passes that include a maximum of five people; and little costs like a $3 bottle of water and a $5 pretzel that, multiplied by six, add up fast.
Since then I've spoken with parents of as many as ten children who are regular travelers—and have made an art form of planning fun and surprisingly frugal large-family vacations. Traveling with a big family can present big challenges, but with forethought and planning you can avoid them. Here are some tips for keeping both your sanity and your savings account intact on your next big-family adventure.
To some extent, knowing how you plan on getting somewhere will determine how far you're able to go. With the cost of gas and airline tickets on the rise, transportation can easily be your biggest budget-buster.
Flying can be incredibly expensive for a big family. If you do fly, plan your vacation around discounted destinations or dates, rather than trying to find a deal after deciding where and when you want to go. This way, you can discover hidden gems and maybe even beat the crowds. Also, if you're thinking of using an internet discount travel planning service, be picky. Expedia and Travelocity will only book flights for a maximum of six people, Priceline can accommodate eight people, and Orbitz can book up to nine.
Traveling by train isn't cheap, but it can prove a unique and scenic experience. Amtrak offers discounts for children, although only two children per adult qualify for the discounted rate, and AAA members. However, trains can be unreliable and often fall behind schedule. It's probably best to look at a train trip—particularly a long one with multiple stops—as the vacation, rather than a means to get to a destination, unless you've got lots of time and no itinerary.
If you decide to travel by train, consider booking a sleeping room. A family room sleeps two adults and two children, but you can book coach seats for some of your family and take turns using the beds. Sleeper cars also include shower facilities. Be sure you book these long in advance, though, since they tend to go quickly.
Generally, the most economical way to get a big family where you're going is by driving (these days, the shorter the drive the better). Unfortunately, driving can also take a long time, and whining or fighting kids in the backseat can test any parent's patience. Here are some suggestions for making a road trip as painless as possible:
1. Put big kids next to little kids, so that the older sibling can tend to any quasi-emergency needs the younger sibling might have (dropped sippy cup or pacifier, etc), and often older and younger siblings are less likely to bicker than those closer in age.
2. If you're driving to more than one location, bring along a mini-cooler that plugs into both an electrical outlet and your vehicle's cigarette lighter; that way, you won't have to dump perishables when it comes time to move to the next destination.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication