We’ve been traveling with our kids since my oldest two were very little, and we didn’t stop after we added #3, #4, and finally, #5 to the bunch.
Unfortunately, we haven’t come into a fortune that would enable us to frequently jet off to the Caribbean with seven people or book two or three hotel rooms for every night we’re on the road.
So what’s kept us on the go? Getting creative about what counts as a “vacation” and finding clever ways to secure low-cost sleeping space and big-family-friendly fun.
After a ton of research and lots of personal experience with my own family of five kids now ages 3 – 15, here are my suggestions for seven great vacations for larger-than-average families:
1. INDOOR WATERPARK RESORTS
Yes, we’ve been to every Great Wolf Lodge within a 300-mile radius several times. Indoor waterparks allow big siblings fun and freedom – but not too much freedom – while parents are freed up to keep a closer eye on the little ones. Every Great Wolf I’ve been to (and most of the independent water parks) have an excellent lifeguard presence, so you can feel comfortable around all that water even when you’ve got a large brood to keep track of. Look for family-friendly suites that allow you to squish in a little (which most big families are used to anyway) and if you’re on a budget, check out deals and off-season pricing. Hint…bring your own food: the on-site restaurants tend to be full of expensive junk food, but your hotel room is very likely to offer a fridge and maybe a kitchenette.
2. TRAVELING BY TRAIN
I dare you to board an Amtrak train – especially right after you’ve flown – and not drool over the amazing leg room and comfort. It’s also a great way to take in your surroundings and truly embraces the “getting there is half the fun” attitude I grew up with. We’re planning a cross-country train trip with our family this summer, and I have been pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive it is to travel by train with children, even with the addition of a sleeper car. Plenty of room to stretch out and walk around means happy kids. Plus, no gas costs and we can sleep on the train that first night rather than having to stop at a hotel. Economical and efficient! I can’t wait to share my love of train travel with my bunch of kids.
3. RV-ING IT
I love to camp, but sometimes, tent camping with a bunch of little kids is less than fun. Like when it unexpectedly starts pouring – at dusk. That’s why we’ve been eyeballing RVs – either a rental or finding a good deal on a used one – as a solution. Having a place to contain the masses (and stay dry) would make any camping trip less stressful, and it’s also a great way to avoid the expense of multiple hotel rooms on longer trips. If you don’t consider yourself the camping “type”, have you seen the interiors of some of these trailers and RVs? The Jayco Eagle pictured above has a fireplace inside, ya’ll…not exactly rouging it.
One of the biggest obstacles to traveling with a large family can be the accommodations. Getting two rooms for every night of travel gets expensive fast, and even if you’re OK with sneaking half your family in the back door, that stops working as well when the bigger kids get to be teens. Swapping your home with a family in another destination is a flexible way to find living and sleeping space on the cheap. Here’s a comprehensive home-swapping tutorial that will give you all the ins and outs. Just think, you could stay on a beach paradise without having to pay through the nose – or at all! – for lodging.
5. ROAD TRIPS
The staple of my childhood, road trips don’t have to be a drag. Just keep your destination within a few hundred miles – or plan plenty of stops for leg-stretching and burning off energy. I’m glad we started road-tripping with our kids young…they’re used to it by now, and are all excellent car travellers. Our favorite part? Creating the family road trip playlist on spotify !
6. A FAMILY CRUISE
It sounds like a dream: all your kids are contained in one place, professionals provide them with fun activities from dawn ’til dusk,and you’re free to eat, drink, and be merry in peace. All for insanely reasonable prices (even better if you live within driving distance of a port!) Yes, cruise ships have had a bad rap lately, but incidents are extremely rare and the Disney Cruise Line has an excellent safety record.
7. THE HOTEL POOL
Remember how I said that sometimes, you have to get creative about what counts as a vacation? One thing I’ve learned in fifteen years of parenting is that I can offer my kids a day packed with entertainment and enrichment opportunities, but at the end of the day, the hotel pool always wins. So during a long weekend or stuck-at-home school holiday, it’s worth it to jump on Priceline and see if you can get a killer deal on a decent hotel near you. Look in smaller towns or areas where there isn’t much tourism or business travel to get the best deals.