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There are variety of accommodations that you could book for your family vacay. What you choose depends on your family size, budget and traveling needs.
For this week’s article of the 8-week series Planning Your Next Vacation, we asked our panel of traveling moms for tips and suggestions on booking accommodations for your family.
What to Consider When Choosing Where to Stay
“When it comes to choosing accommodations for my family, there is a checklist I like to use,” says Annette of Tips From A Typical Mom. “I can be sure that we will be comfortable and have a chance to sit back and relax without stepping on each others toes.”
- Does it have enough beds for everyone to sleep comfortably in?
- Is there a kitchenette so we can prepare some of our own meals to save money?
- Does it have a pool for the kids to spend some time in?
- Does it include a complimentary breakfast?
- Is it close to all the sights we want to see while we are in the area?
- Does it provide transportation to and from the airport and to activities and events?
You Get What You Pay For
For Tiffany of Mommy And Me Travels, cheaper does not necessarily mean better. “When choosing accommodations for my family while on vacation I find the most important thing for us is cleanliness. While this seems like a given, we have found when traveling the USA and the World, the cheap places are not always the clean ones.”
As a family traveling with kids, Tiffany explains why cleanliness is an important factor to consider. “I have young children that still enjoy playing on the floor and taking a bath. I can not in good conscious let my kids do either of these activities if a place is dirty.”
Location, location, location.
“Choosing accommodations is different for us than it is for some families,” says Sarah, a published writer, positive parenting educator, wellness advocate, and world traveler. “We don’t always want to be in the middle of all the action. We crave downtime to decompress after exploring, so busy hotels aren’t our thing. A relaxing ‘home away from home’ is perfect. I’m reframing that old adage, “If mama’s happy, everyone’s happy” to “A well rested child makes for an easy vacation!” Sarah invites you to join her adventures at Dandelion Seeds.
Deb of World Wise Kid considers the locality and available amenities nearby. “Scanning the website photos helps us identify simple, rustic accommodation that matches our style and needs. We use the mapping feature to choose a quiet neighborhood, within walking distance to sites and stores.”
Filtering Your Options by Amenities
Meanwhile, Kirsty, a British family travel blogger currently living in sunny Malaysia and writes about it at World For A Girl, recommends using the search platform’s filters to narrow down your choices.
“For example, if you use Booking.com on a PC, you could use the search bar on the left to select only apartments or only places with swimming pools.” Kirsty gives another example, “On AirBnB.com, there is a similar search feature where you can search only for family-friendly properties (under the Trip Type tab) and select items that you require like cribs and high chairs (under the More Filters tab).”
According to Melissa of Disabled Disney, when looking for a place to stay on vacation, she looks at price, location and amenities. “First factor we look at is price. When I am researching I use Travelocity to compare prices. I also look on Priceline and Hotwire if we are flexible on location. When it comes to location I try to get within a few miles of everything we plan to do. Since we normally drive, we have our vehicle to use. Lastly, I look at amenities for the hotels.” Having special needs, Melissa also takes into account handicap accessibility. “If our stay will be longer than a few days I try to get an extended stay with a full kitchenette” she adds.
Comparing Between Accommodation Types
Shannon of Grab My Passport does a lot of research into accommodations to make sure that where they stay is not only affordable but will provide everything they need as a family as well. “Our two favorite online booking tools are Airbnb and Booking.com. I usually start with Airbnb to check out what’s available in the area and compare it to the pricing and locations of local hotels. Typically, I’ll check booking.com for prices and reviews. Then, I’ll head to the hotel’s direct website to check their price. Booking.com runs great specials sometimes that can’t be beaten, but I prefer to book directly with a hotel if possible, as it’s usually easier to make changes when you do so.”
As Shannon said, booking directly with the hotel allows you flexibility when it comes to possibly modifying or cancelling your reservations. Some booking websites only allow you 24 hours to do so.
Tips When Staying in a Hotel
Money Saving Tricks When Booking a Hotel
Regina Kay, a world schooling mother of five, full-time global explorer, and travel writer at Full Time Field Trip shares four ideas to reduce costs when you decide to book a hotel room.
- When planning, search incognito or use a search engine that focuses on privacy like DuckDuckGo. That way, your searches and rates are not stored in your cookies.
- Take advantage of hotel reward programs. Credit card sign-up bonuses add up to huge savings.
- Be flexible with your dates. You may get a better rate staying on a Sunday night, during the week, or a certain number of nights.
- Only stay in hotels that offer free breakfast and have a mini fridge. Free breakfast means one-third of our food is free. Mini-Fridge means we can pack our own lunches and save money. And while it’s usually against the rules, I’ve been known to bring a crock pot on vacation to prepare dinners.
Luxury Hotel, Budget Price Tag
Being picky with your family’s accommodation is okay. As Tiffany of Mommy And Me Travels say, “This sometimes makes people refer to me as that person who has champagne taste while on a beer budget.” Tiffany embraces it ,”While this might be true, I find ways to make budget traveling work. I accomplish this by researching more and finding other creative ways to save money.”
Our family here in Gofamgo usually prefer staying at 4-5 star hotels that we could get for the price of a lower tier hotel or maybe even “free”. We saved hundreds of dollars with hotels through the use of mileage and points accrued from a travel credit card.
One such credit card available to travelers in the USA is the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. When I applied for it, I received a sign-up bonus of 100,000 points and an annual credit of $300 towards travel expenses. On top of that, I also earn bonus triple points for using it towards any dining and travel related expenses. Everyday expenses such as groceries, eating out or even filling up the gas can turn into a free vacation once you accumulate enough points.
These credit card companies have online travel portals where you can book your hotels on a discounted rate. Otherwise, you can easily transfer your accrued points to their hotel partners in a 1:1 ratio. The points are not exclusive to a certain loyalty program.
Nikki, who writes over at Yorkshire Wonders recommends this arrangement for a traveling family.
“The best arrangement are adjoining rooms. If you have older kids they have their own space, but more importantly, with younger kids you can maintain their bedtimes. You can settle them into bed and keep the room quiet, without having to sit in the dark yourself while they fall asleep!” She also has an alternate solution if the price of booking 2 rooms is an issue, “If you can’t afford adjoining rooms (and it does make it very expensive), then try and get a room with a balcony. At least, you can sit with a book and a glass of wine on your balcony while the kids fall asleep!”
Staying in a House
“Home stays are great to get to know the locals and culture,” Deb of World Wise Kid suggests renting a house in lieu of a hotel.
“Many sites are now available that let you stay in a house for a few nights to several months,” suggests Tiffany of Mommy and Me Travels. “You can find places such as houses that are only used for rentals to true house swapping where you and another family agree upon a length of time and pretty much free accommodations and everything in between. Depending on your requirements and level of comfort this could mean your accommodations only cost you pennies a night.”
“When choosing accommodation for our family holiday, I just can’t go past Airbnb. We have had a series of wonderful bookings worldwide and totally think it is the best way to go,” according to Kris and Brian, fun-loving Australians on an international gap year with their 4 kids while world schooling and documenting every step on their blog Gadsventure.
“A family of 6 has little options with hotel rooms, often having to pay double for interconnecting rooms. However with Airbnb we have so many beautiful homes to choose from. The prices give you so much better value for money,” explains Kris who sees the value of renting a home for a big traveling family. “Our kids are still little and don’t mind sharing beds or sleeping on couches too. Having little kids, I value the inclusions that you get from Airbnb such as a kitchen and laundry.”
Kris also appreciates the extra amenities that you would not get from staying in a hotel. “It’s also the personal touches to a place that really make you feel you are at home away from home. Sometimes, the owners fill the fridge with enough food for breakfast! Or I have seen welcome baskets of fruit too. Hosts are the best point of contact if you need to organize an airport transfer, or local ground transport too.”
Having to stay in another person’s home, you might encounter experiences that are not ideal. Kris gives a tip on how to make the most out of your Airbnb booking. “The most important thing when booking through Airbnb is to make sure you read the reviews, and if anything is unclear, ask questions of your host before you book. Hosts respond within 24 hours in most cases.”
Kris also liked how they have activity recommendations now. “Airbnb has started advertising experiences now as well which can give you some great ideas on things to do during your stay. Have a browse, it’s totally free to join.”
“If the price of lodging has put you off international travel, house sitting is the way to reduce your travel lodging budget to nearly zero,” Shannan of Captivating Compass suggests. “Joining websites that offer house sitting opportunities, preparing a profile to share, and asking plenty of questions during any house sitting interviews will secure you the perfect lodging arrangement while helping out a fellow traveler.”
Kirsty of World For A Girl shares her second favorite way of finding exactly the right accommodation: home-swapping.
“We are huge house-swap fans having had successful swaps in Denmark, Switzerland, the USA and Jamaica. We swapped our 4 bedroom house in London with families and retired couples. Sometimes for just a week and twice for over a month. I can’t even begin to list all the benefits of house swaps here but they include cost (it’s totally free except a small fee to the organizing website), the opportunity to swap cars as part of the deal, child-friendly houses filled with toys, meeting locals and exploring lesser-visited parts of the world. If you’re open-minded and relaxed about sharing your home with strangers house-swapping really is a fantastic and unique way to see the world.”
Consider Other Lodging Alternatives
Renting an RV
Tiffany of Mommy And Me Travels recommends thinking outside the box for accommodations. “We have flown to other countries and rented an RV to stay at camp grounds while we drove around to visit different locations. This not only saved us hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars but it also gave our kids more stability as we traveled because they weren’t unpacking and repacking their suitcases. I was able to stop by a grocery store and buy some cleaning supplies to ensure that the RV met my standards of cleanliness.
“One of the great things about traveling in an RV is the ability to be flexible,” adds Sarah of State by State, a full-time RV traveler that has been traveling the US with her husband and three children, ages 11, 9, and 6, for the past 2.5 years. “We almost never make reservations because we like to be able to change our plans on the spur of the moment. If someone tells us about a really cool activity, but it’s not on our route, we can change course easily. Some of our favorite accommodations have been in the least likely places.”
“They aren’t just for backpacking college students anymore,” according to Shannan of Captivating Compass. “For any size family, but especially large families, this is a great money saving option to consider. If traveling mid-week and off season, hostels are generally very quiet. Many hostels have family-friendly game rooms and lounges to relax in. Perfect for kids that want to blow of steam and parents that want to relax. Most are family friendly, but make sure you ask before you make reservations, just in case.”
For Deb of World Wise Kid, choosing where to stay depends on location, climate and the focus of their travels. “For wildlife and nature-based trips, we love car camping. We fill one big check-in duffel bag with tent, tarp, sleeping bags, and pads. We rent an economy car at our destination and seek out small campgrounds at beaches and parks. Wherever we pitch the tent the kids call ‘home’ – and we get to use our own personal bedding! When the kids wake up, there is wild space to run around. We’ve toured Hawaii, Costa Rica, Alaska, Florida, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand this way.”
“We love staying in State and National Parks, but they are not always close to the activities we are planning to participate in,” shares Sarah of State by State. Sarah’s family travels full-time in a travel trailer, so their choice of places to stay consists of campgrounds, both public and private. . “Honestly, price plays a big part in our decision on where to stay. We research quite a bit before making our final decision. Whether the campground or RV park has full hook-ups, showers, gravel or paved parking pads, trees or open spaces, fire rings, picnic tables, and other things all influence our decision. Since we usually only stay a few days or a week in any place, it allows us a lot of flexibility in choosing our accommodations, if we aren’t happy with the place we are in, we move!”