Traveling with kids can be immensely rewarding. It can also be, as any parent who has ever tried it knows all too well, insanely frustrating.
First, you’ve got the transportation issues:
- Modern air travel, when involving major international airports, is royal pain in the ass.
- Train travel within the U.S. (when not involving the NE corridor) is disjointed at best, and…
- Road trips, while the potential for greatness exists, present their own challenges (especially for parents like us that don’t rely on in-car TV/DVD systems or handheld video games).
For the sake of this article, I’m going to ignore how you got there (you can read about my airplane travel tips here) and focus on a few of the ways that you can best enjoy your destination in style and on a budget, with kids.
- The Foodie Family: If your gang loves trying creative new restaurants and sampling local cuisine, but balk at the big price tag – make it lunch! Most places, even the fanciest of restaurants, are more relaxed at lunchtime, meaning you can bring the kids without worry and try cuisine that 4-6 hours later will cost 2-3 times as much. So get dressed up, let your daughters wear some jewelry, and have a fancy meal while the sun still shines. Be stylish, enjoy amazing food, and save money. Not in the mood for the fancy? Find out where the locals eat. Those places – the neighborhood gems – are going to be off the beaten path (read: away from the tourist areas), more authentic and friendly, and considerably cheaper.
- The Personal Space Family: Book an extended stay hotel, even if you’re only going to be there for a night or two. I’ve found that they’re the hotels with the most appealing combination of value-for-dollar, square footage space, and extras. I’m talking about a Marriott Residence Inn and Hilton’s Homewood Suites – those type of accommodations. There, you will almost always find:
- an indoor heated pool & jazucci
- free hot breakfast
- free hot dinner/appetizers (though usually just Mon-Thurs)
- free parking (if outside a major metropolis)
- and rooms with space – something key for traveling as a family
I don’t care how much you adore each other, you’re going to need to spread out a bit from time to time when traveling together for long stretches. At these kinds of hotels, you’re likely going to have a little kitchen with 2-3 person table, a living room and a bedroom (often separated with actual doors – like a real house!). Plus – call me crazy – but there is something super cool about a ceiling fan in a hotel room.
If your travel plans have you staying at a more tradition hotel, be sure to ask the front desk about kid’s programs or packages. The Omni and Westin brands offer kid’s backpacks filled with puzzles, hats, games, coloring books and more. Getting something like this will make your young kid feel very special and it’s content will likely occupy him or her for a little while. It might be not something amazing, but sometimes all you need is something new.
3. The Sightseeing Family: If you are heading to a Boston, a Chicago, or a Seattle, someplace big with lots of stuff to see & do, you’ve gotta check out CityPASS. These passes can often get you into all the best museums and attractions and save you tons of dough. The Chicago CityPASS, for example, will save a typical sightseeing family of four hundreds of dollars and have you at the impressive Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, the Museum of Science & Industry + 2 more tourist hot spots. While the Southern California CityPASS will save you 30% on tickets to Disneyland, San Diego Zoo & Universal Studios Hollywood + more.
4. The Total Immersion Family: If your gang likes to assimilate and live the local life while on vacation, you’re gonna want to get away from the hotels and motels and rent a house, condo or apartment. As much as I traveled, as a child and more recently as an adult, I never really knew that there existed such a girth of rental homes available in virtually every town – big and small - in the world. My oldest brother shared VRBO.com with me several years ago and the Mrs. and I have found several awesome homes to rent plus our Parisian apartment & Provencal cottage back in 2006. Staying in a real house allows your family to blend in with the town’s full-time residents by shopping at the local outdoor markets, saving you money on food costs (’cause you won’t need to eat out every meal). Plus, at the end of a long day sightseeing, having a home to return to is WAY more relaxing than retiring to a 300 sq. foot hotel room with 2 double beds. Yes, you’ll have to fend for yourself in the cleaning and bed-making departments, but those potential negatives cannot out do the massive benefits.
Check out the home we rented last year on Florida’s Gulf Coast: $950 for a week, which comes to $135 a night. The place was gorgeous! We had our own private pool, patio, driveway, and were 1 short block from the beach.
Wherever you go and whatever you do when you’re there, OWTK wishes you and your family the best vacation imaginable.
Never stop exploring!