One Big, Traveling Family (cont.)
|HOME AWAY FROM HOME: Renting a vacation home has many family-friendly perks that hotels lack (Digital Vision)|
WHERE TO STAY
Chain hotels (aside from all-inclusives) are almost never the most economical or convenient lodging choice for a big family. With a little digging and research, almost every destination offers better alternatives.
Rent a House
There's no need to cram into a single room when you can rent a whole house. In tourist towns—and you'd be surprised at how many places have some sort of tourist economy—it's often easy to find fully-furnished rentals with all the fixings: dishes and cookware, towels, bedding, and appliances. "I love renting condominiums in resort destinations," says Kara Williams. "You've got multiple bedrooms under one roof, plus a kitchen for storing breakfast foods and lunch or picnic fixings. It's so much cheaper than two or three standard hotel rooms and eating in resort restaurants. Plus, there's no need to split the family up." Try Craig's List, Vacation Rentals, or Vacation Rentals By Owner.
Cheap is great, but free is even better. Swapping homes with vacationing families is a growing trend. Your family stays in a home that's intended for a family, free. The catch is in making your house available to another family as well. You can use the home swap forum on Craig's List to find a match, or use a professional service like HomeExchange.com. Make sure to take the time to find a swap partner that you feel comfortable with.
For Jackie Lee, seasoned traveler and mother of eight, the key to finding affordable accommodations is looking for small, family-owned hotels, inns, ranches, and farm rentals that owners rent out to make a little money. "We've stayed on a sheep ranch near San Antonio, Texas, a farm house on the bluffs of the Mississippi, and an old farmhouse in the North Carolina mountains," Lee says. "We've found that the best destinations usually lie at the end of a gravel road." When she has to use a chain hotel, Lee always tries to find one with an AAA discount.
No matter where you go, figure out what makes your "must have" list and try to find accommodations to suit. Maybe a fridge is a must-have for keeping milk or drinks cold and saving money on restaurants. Maybe dry snacks and water are fine, but a microwave for oatmeal or popcorn is a necessity. Maybe a coffeemaker will save you from having to track down a $3 cup of coffee each morning. For Heather Timmons, a mom of four in Oregon, a full kitchen is a must-have on vacation, but a washer and dryer also comes high on her list. "It's nice to be able to wash clothes when needed—I even like to make sure at least most of the clothes I pack for home are clean. Getting back into the routine once home can be crazy too, so reducing laundry makes it just a little easier."
Keep in mind that traveling with a big family is a lot like living with a big family. An open mind, a flexible outlook, and a great sense of humor will help keep you—and your family—happy and sane. To reduce frustration for everyone, plan a trip that's light on itinerary and planned excursions and full of relaxation and laid-back discovery. And if anything goes wrong—which it certainly will—just remind yourself that those are the moments you'll look back at later and laugh. Much, much later.
Meagan Francis is a mother of four sons, travel writer, and author of Table for Eight: Raising a Large Family in a Small-Family World.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication