The Brave New World of Family Travel

The Perfect Balance: Hotel and Camping
By Nancy L. Prichard
Family Camping
HBO OR ...: Camping makes a perfect antidote to the over-a/c'ed hotel environment (PhotoDisc)

When road tripping it's a good idea to mix up accommodations. A cross-country trip doesn't need to be one Holiday Express after the other. Instead, consider alternating car camping with hotels. From luxurious, privately-operated campgrounds with hot tubs, swimming pools, saunas, and golf courses to primitive near-wilderness sites, state parks, and other public lands, there are literally tens of thousands of places to pitch a tent in the United States. You can legally camp anywhere on national forest land—the trick is finding a treeless spot flat enough to pitch a tent. Many city parks allow for free overnight camping—a quick call to the local chamber of commerce (or local police station) is a good way to find out. National and state parks guarantee beautiful scenery—and while reservations are always a good idea, cancellations are common, so don't write them off for last-minute plans. With children, a ratio of two nights in a tent to one in a hotel works well. That way, you get the adventure of sleeping under the stars or in a tent and escaping civilization, followed by a night with laundry, TV, and soft bed.

A good balance for a trip is part urban, part back to nature. A couple of nights in Seattle, visiting Pike Place Market, Woodland Park Zoo, and the Space Needle at Seattle Center can be a foil for hiking and camping in the Olympic National Park and a day of soaking in the Sol Duc Hot Springs. Or plan a trip to Boston, with stops at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the New England Aquarium, with a side trip to Salem for a hair-raising visit to the New England Pirate Museum and Witch Dungeon Museum, then some relaxing beach-side camping in Acadia National Park. Or perhaps a trip to Denver, with a tour of The Museum of Natural History, then a day's drive north to Devil's Tower National Monument and a tenting-tour of the Badlands.

Once you're on the road, or have reached your destination the question is "where do you sleep at night." Suite hotels like Residents Inns, Embassy Suites, Country Inns and Suites, Woodfin Suite Hotels, Hyatt Summerfield Suites, AmeriSuites, Extended Stay Hotels, and Homestead Studio Suites Hotels all offer comfortable, mid-priced accommodations that allow children to sleep, and play, in a separate room. Rooms generally come equipped with a fridge and microwave, so you can store perishables and prepare basic meals. Most, however, include a complimentary breakfast—if you plan on hitting the road early, make sure your schedule and the kitchen's aren't out of sync. In addition to querying about pools and playgrounds, ask if your hotel has any partnerships with local attractions. Often, with the price of a room, you can get admittance or discount coupons for amusement and waterparks, museums, and other kid-friendly attractions. While most bed &breakfast's are adult-oriented, there are a growing number of ones that cater to the family crowd. Historic Hotels of America (www.historichotels.org) is also a fun vacation option. In contrast to the national chains, Historic Hotels generally have beautiful architecture, gracious interiors, luscious gardens, and more than a few stories to tell. And 60 of the hotels are pet-friendly, in case you're traveling with your four-legged family member.


Published: 22 May 2007 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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