This post is From the Mailbag…
A reader wrote asking about how to travel economically with kids. One issue in particular is that they have five people in their family, and many hotel rooms have a four person limit. This is especially true when staying at water parks, as those hotels often require you stay in a suite if you have more than four people in your party. In addition, the rate for standard rooms usually only includes four water-park passes.Well my friend, I have the exact same situation, as I also have three children. Therefore, I am going to provide everything I know about traveling with kids. This post will generally cover families with children that no longer need playpens/cribs. (Traveling with babies is a whole other story…)
First of all, if I am making the hotel reservation on the internet and I am required to specify the number of children in my party, I instead call to make my reservation. (For some reason, they never ask how many in are my party when I call.) If the rate specified on the internet is cheaper than what they tell me on the phone, I demand the internet rate. Regarding the water park limit on 4 wristbands, I just buy one more wristband when I am heading into the water park. It could always be for little cousin Sammy that lives nearby and is visiting for the day.
Regarding tips to make the trip more pleasant and economical, I recommend the following:
- When deciding on where to go, I always consults Tripadvisor.com first. I cannot count how many ways Tripadvisor.com has helped us in our vacation planning, from picking the right hotel to asking for a specific room. If you would like to read a post I wrote about the benefits of Tripadvisor, click here.
- Consider all types of accommodations when planning your trip. For instance, I never stay at Disney Resorts when traveling to Disney World. I can stay in a 2 or 3 bedroom condominium at World Quest Resort for much cheaper than I can at one of the Disney properties, and at a much cheaper price. Plus, condos have kitchens and usually laundry facilities. Its so much cheaper if you can eat some meals in. Plus, who doesn’t love having a full-size refrigerator at their disposal?
- If traveling by car, always stock a cooler and bring it along. One thing I have found that works well is to freeze water bottles ahead of time to use as ‘ice’ for the way to the destination. Then as they defrost, you can drink them, and they don’t cause a giant, watery mess in the cooler like loose ice does. If your kids are like mine, they view every gas station stop as a way to get snacks. With a filled cooler and plenty of other snacks readily available, my kids know better than to even ask for treats when we stop anymore. Plus, you can pack much healthier options than what McDonalds or the convenience store can provide. Snacks I like to pack are: Rotisserie chicken (already pulled from the bone), string cheese, yogurt, grapes, melon, cucumbers, mandarin oranges, bananas, kiwis (my kids like to cut off the top and eat the inside with a spoon), crackers, banana bread, etc. Regarding fruit, it works best to pack fruit that can be washed ahead of time and will hold up well in storage. That is why I don’t pack strawberries much unless we are going to eat them right away.
- Pack a smaller, collapsible cooler that can be used once you arrive at your destination. It is much cheaper to pack your own drinks/snacks in a cooler than to buy them at the beach, or wherever you are headed.
- Books on tape/CD can be a fantastic way to pass the time on a long trip. Harry Potter has gotten us through many hours of driving. The library is a great resource for books on tape/CD. My kids also like to play a game they made up called ‘one minute sketch’. I pick what they are supposed to draw and they have one minute to draw it. They then compare their drawings and crack up. Therefore, I always have pencils and paper in the car.
- Now that my kids are getting older and bigger, quite often a small hotel room can be quite cramped. We used to throw all 3 kids into a bed, but that doesn’t work well anymore. The single, most important tip I can provide for those with more than 2 kids is to invest in a decent air mattress to take on these trips. My kids actually want to sleep on the air mattress, so it works out perfect. Eddie Bauer makes a great, comfortable air mattress that has a battery operated air pump, so it is great for camping too. Sometimes you might have to move a desk out of the way to make the air mattress fit, but we have done this countless times. During the day, we just prop the mattress up against a wall and it is out of the way.
- Bring a lot of change! Having all those quarters is great for toll roads and possibly laundry facilities.
- Make sure the first aid kit is stocked with Tylenol, Ibuprofen, bandages, tweezers, and alcohol wipes before you leave.
- When traveling by plane, see if each person can fit their clothes into their own carry-on bag. This way, you never lose luggage, and you are not charged for checking in bags. Often, this tip requires you stay in accommodations that have laundry facilities, depending on the length of your trip. Also, pack gum and suckers for the kids for take-off and landing to keep their ears clear. If you are flying with a baby, it is great if you can give them a bottle or pacifier during take-off and landing.
My last suggestion is, get the kids involved in the up-front planning as much as possible. The kids can pick out what they want to bring and pack it themselves. My children actually do most the food prep and packing, and it makes a huge difference in my sanity level. Delegate as much as you can and you will be much happier.
Readers, what other suggestions do you have?
Thank you for for submitting your question!