Budget-Friendly, Big Family Travel
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Does the size of your family seem to limit your adventures away from home? Here are some of our strategies to make big family travel happen.
Years ago I had big dreams of jetsetting around the world. I had been a French major and lived a year in France. That year I traveled to Austria, Germany, and explored the south of France.
The following year, hubs and I went to France on our honeymoon. A year later we traveled to Honduras.
The next year I became a mom. And traveling came to a screeching halt. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to continue traveling. We did. But, it either was too expensive or too much work. And then more kids came and more debt. Travel was an impossibility.
Our children are more important to us than traveling the world, but are the two mutually exclusive?
Rethinking family travel.
A few years ago, FishPapa and I were talking about what we would have done differently had we had a smaller family. We concluded that we might have traveled more. That gave us pause.
And the motivation to figure out how to make family travel a bigger piece of our family life pie.
We didn’t want our family size to impede us from the experiences we really want for us and for our kids. While we also realized that we’d need to give it a bigger piece of our budget as well, we started looking for ways to make travel budget friendly for our bigger-than-average family.
Since that realization five years ago, we’ve taken our kids skiing in Mammoth, sunbathing on the Mediterranean, and sightseeing in major cities like London and Paris. We are currently planning a major trip through Ireland for Spring 2017.
Here are some things that help us enjoy family travel closer to home:
1. Rent a condo.
Once you get a family larger than four people, you will encounter hotels that are resistant to booking your entire family in one room. If you choose the hotel route, make sure that you request “connecting rooms”. Connecting rooms share a door; adjoining rooms do not. They are just sorta near each other.
Vacation is no fun when the parents have to stay in separate rooms.
For our purposes, when we go to Mammoth Mountain, we reserve a three bedroom condo for the same price as two regularly priced hotel rooms. Not only do we get the added benefit of extra space and togetherness, but we also have a full kitchen and living area for hanging out.
(We’ve made this Mammoth trip three times and now know which resort and even which condo works best for our family.)
2. Go in the off season.
Rarely do we venture on vacation during full summer. It’s so much nicer to travel during the off-season where the crowds are diminished and the prices are lower. This has made vacation much more restful than going when everyone else does.
We pay about a fifth of the regular price on accomodations. Holy smokes! We could never swing such accommodations any other time of the year.
3. Enjoy nature for free.
We like to choose locations that offer ample outdoor activities, even if it’s just a walk along the beach or through the woods. We’ve vacationed in Monterey andMammoth, both areas with plenty of public space to roam and enjoy the great outdoors as well as throughout France.
Throughout California and abroad, we were mostly unconcerned about paying for our family’s entertainment. Nature is usually free. We are able to hike, swim, and explore for nothing.
4. Take your own food.
When we travel closer to home, we pack our own food. While it is a little work to pack a week’s worth of food for 8 people, it is so nice not to have to find the right restaurant — unless we want to.
When we traveled throughout London and in France, we made the grocery store our regular stop, picking up snack bars, yogurt, fruit, cheese, salami, and bread for impromptu picnics. Our kids are used to it and it’s so much affordable than eating in restaurants!
5. Pay cash.
Living debt-free has changed a lot of things. We don’t worry about paying for something that we enjoyed last year. And we also enjoy the trip more knowing that it’s paid for. It has made a world of difference to be have breathing room in our budget.
It takes some work to get to that place of being debt-free. I know. But at the same time, I think it’s a good goal to have.
In 2012 we made the gnarly goal of saving the money for ($25,000 to be exact) to take our family to France for a month. It took two years of scrimping and saving, but we did it. And it’s taken another 2+ years to get our Ireland trip funded. Even then, it will be a lot of picnicking on the Emerald Isle. We know from experience, though, that saving up is worth it.
Vacations don’t have to be pie-in-the-sky dreams, even if you have a large family. If you plan ahead and think outside the box, you can create budget-friendly family vacations of all kinds of sizes.
What do YOU do to save money?
Originally published October 13, 2011. Updated October 16, 2016.
Be sure to read through the archives for more tips for family travel.
Thank you, Jessica. We have eight kids and we are traveling next week. Finding a way to commute from city to city is the worst. Lodging is huge! Thanks for your advice.
love this update in your lives!!!!! We love to go to to the beach for a week every couple years & we rent a house, We always take our food, alot of which I make ahead & freeze. If we need something that wasnt packed we find a grocery store. This has helped us enjoy a nice vacation w/out debt. We love walking on the beach fishing & enjoying our time together. so, so,so worth it to us.
A disclaimer we live on the east coast & have only 5-51/2 hours to several coastal beaches but have found 1 we like the best so that is where we have been going the past few times. For east coasters its Emerald Isle or along that island 🙂 our oldest is 20 youngest is 15
Isn’t it great to find a place to make your “home away from home”? I love that!
Totally agree with “Nature is usually free.” We’ve been traveling with our youngest 7 of 9 dc for 8+ months now, from Canada to Baja and now back in the USA for the summer before heading to mainland Mexico. Much of that time has been spend out in nature, camping and playing. Makes adventure feasible.
I also have a family of 8 . My kids are between 2-14 years old. I live in Israel .
I like to travel but the thought of entering our 9 seater car with everybody cramped in with more than occasional disputes) for hours of drive is disconcerting. My husband thinks everybody should have permanent seats- and that would solve part of the conflicts and that we (or especially me- as I am the main chauffeur ) should insist on that all the time. Do you have any experience with such problems?
Thank you, C
We bought a slightly larger vehicle a few years ago to offset some of those troubles. We had an 8-seater van and moved to a 9-seater SUV. That helped some. We’ve also moved kids around to see what was the best configuration in terms of getting along, etc. The kids do tend to keep the same seats, in part because two are still in carseats and only 2 of the bigger kids are big enough to sit in the front seat, per airbag/state law regulations.
Love this topic. We have 5 kids and want to travel more. We’re in the process of selling our house and downsizing to be less bound to stuff and more free to live. Looking at ways to travel easier with so many children. Hotel rooms are low on the list. Thanks for the ideas.
How do you go about finding the condo to rent?
We have stayed in “resorts” that are also timeshares. They rent out available units on behalf of the owners. But since they operate like hotels, there is a lot of recourse if there is something wrong. Plus, there is no cleaning fee and there is daily housekeeping.
Oh I love this!
When we really sat down and looked at our life last year we came to the same conclusion –Travel More with the kids!
We sold most of our stuff and live in an apartment now so we can save money and have less to take care of so we can ‘take off’ easier.
We took off for 5 WEEKS this summer and traveled over 6000 miles all in a small gas friendly car, camping and doing most of our cooking. It was an awsome memory… now just to save up to do it again 🙂
Planning is huge… know where you are going to go and have lodging figured out ahead of time. This can really add up if campsites are full or can’t be found… sleeping in the car doesn’t work with kids 🙂
Here are pics of our crazy time:
We do the condo thing too and just love it! Many times we’ll do a nice lunch and a stay in dinner (or vise-versa) driving thru picking up some cartons of really good frozen custard for desert. Sometimes we’ll go out for both, Subway works nicely for lunch if we split the sandwiches. 3 for our fam of 6. (4 daughters ages 17 to 28). Pizza in a nice restaurant works too, that way we get the ambience of a nice restaurant. Sometime it’s nice to go to the grocery store and pick up frozen casseroles and bags of frozen veggies. That way it’s still a vacation, no muss no fuss but we are in our budget. One beautiful place is in Branson Missourri. Silver Dollar City is extraordinary for a family. If you arrive after 3pm you may go the next day free. Music shows are in this beautiful park along with rides and nature galore….think the Christy novel. Also they have the College of the Ozarks there with a wonderful museum and gorgeous grounds and things to see and do. We love it there. Memories galore! : )
Totally off topic but you look very young in that picture. 🙂
God bless you! It was the desert sun playing tricks, but I’ll take it! 😉
Giving our kids the opportunity to travel and experience new places is a priority for us as well. And while we weren’t blessed with a large family, we still have to do vacations on a small budget and thought your tips were great. We live near the beach now but before we did we’d always get a condo. It’s much more enjoyable than a hotel room and you get the added benefit of the food cost savings. And we’re always scoping out the free nature activities.
Love those ideas, and I definitely agree with taking food with you to save on money. Those meals can really add up! How do you go about finding condos to rent that are legitimate offers?
We went through a resort hotel that was all condos. They are timeshares that they make available to the public. We felt good going that route because we could always complain to the management if there was a problem.
We’ll be going on a road trip in the spring and driving a lot. We’ll be taking lots of our own food to cut down on cost. Does anyone have good ideas on lunch/dinner meals that don’t have to be heated? I’ve thought of things like chicken salad, pasta salad, sandwiches…What else could I make that won’t have to be heated while out on the road? Thanks!
If renting a condo isn’t an option, look into extras that many of the hotels are beginning to offer.
Comfort Inn, Drury Inn and Embassy Suites often offer evening snacks which can be quite substantial and at the Drury and Embassy Suites, could easily serve as dinner. All three of those hotel chains also offer complimentary hot breakfast, as do many others.
We are a family of four and we only rent condos now. Best way to go. I find that in the end it is cheaper and you can make meals there and do laundry! It is perfect for our family and the only way to travel for us!
This is new territory for us also. I grew up with only one sister and we were not impeded by family size during our vacations. But I know have four children and it really does make travel more complicated and a heck of a lot more expensive. Our kids are still pretty young, but one of these days I hope we are able to get on the vacation bandwagon again. I grew up in Europe and would love to take my kids there, but there are awesome places in the US and I haven’t seen most of them myself! AND, bonus – travel makes for great homeschooling lessons.Thanks for these tips.
Great suggestions. We’re already coming up against budget issues with our vacation dreams and we’re only a family of four! Love the condo idea.
I love this! Vacations can be cheaper…it just takes a thinking ahead of time. I’ve packed food too and yes, it was soooo much easier than trying to find something to eat that everybody would like. ahhh… great post!
Disclaimer: I am a travel agent specializing in what I know best – large families and families with special needs.
Having said that, I highly recommend speaking with a travel agent when planning your trips. We do so much research for every client, making sure they get not only the best deal, but the *right* deal for their unique family. There’s nothing that makes me (as a mom) cringe more than bringing 4 young, energetic kids into a hotel only to discover it caters primarily to business travelers!
Planning ahead is definitely a must – if you know 6 or 12 months ahead of time when and where you want to go, you (or better yet, your travel agent!) can watch for promotions and deals to that destination. If you can be flexible on your dates, especially if you travel during the week or on the “off” season, you’ll get much better rates. I love to travel during the “off” season because the staff are usually much more relaxed and able to take extra time with us.
Thanks for the advice — and the disclosure! So many people spam the comments, I appreciate your being upfront! 🙂 Great ideas, esp about looking for family-friendly locations.
Growing up in a large family, all of our vacations involved campgrounds or staying with extended family. Not always the least stressful, but cheap. I love the idea of renting a condo on a beach for a low-key vacation with my kiddos that takes advantage of nature.
This summer we did a 12 day, 4000 mile camping road trip with our 3 kids (not an exceptionally large family) and I’m amazed at how much we saved with camping in tents or “kamping kabins” instead of 1-2 hotel rooms! We stayed at KOA campgrounds all but 1 night. It was so nice to be able to spread out and not all be crammed into a small hotel space. We still had bathroom facilities and even laundry facilities everyday. The kids loved the entertainment for them (pool, “jumping pillow”, etc). We ate “at home” for most of the breakfasts and lunches (oatmeal or donuts & sandwiches in the car). The kids LOVED camping so much. We went to Yellowstone and Mt Rushmore and saw the most amazing geological sights along the way. The kids will always remember this trip and want to go back again. A ringing endorsement!
We’ve found renting a condo or town home to be a great option when traveling with friends or extended family. Having a kitchen for at least breakfast and lunch saves quite a bit of money while each family having their own space saves quite a bit of sanity.
I don’t know, I think my husband and I are going to have a lot more fun having our own room on our upcoming vacation 😉 It’s times like these that I appreciate having older children!