These days, the average family has increased from two kids to three, and yet when traveling, families still encounter the same ‘family of four’ classification. With our family of five, we’ve personally found this frustrating, and I’m sure families with four or more kids agree! If you have a family larger than the supposed ‘average’ family of four, fear not: you can learn how to travel cheaply with a large family.
How to travel cheaply with these tips
1. Drive instead of fly.
Even with soaring gasoline prices, there’s no doubt about it: driving with a large family will be cheaper than flying. To reduce fuel costs and their impact on the environment, plan road trips that are big on attractions, not miles. We took a stellar California Highway 1 road trip during which we only drove 2-3 hours per day, and filled the rest of our week’s vacation with sights along the way, historical tours, and state beaches. Other ways to travel cheaply while driving are that you can pack your cooler with healthy food, snacks and drinks, and save money by not having to eat in restaurants all the time.
Driving instead of flying might limit your possible destinations, but it increases your ability to see, feel, and, in the case of fun road-side diners and farmer’s markets, taste your route. We find we enjoy the journey more when we’re driving along state highways instead of 10,000 feet in the air. Traveling with an infant? Read these 12 tips for car travel with a baby.
2. Find accommodations that fit your family.
If you’ve tried to squeeze a family of five or six into a standard hotel room, you know it’s miserable. And yet, reserving adjoining rooms can sometimes be more expensive than a hotel suite. Instead, look for vacation home rentals at your destination, even if you’re only staying a night or two. Our favorite rental home sites include HomeAway and Dwellable. For longer-term trips, consider a home swap.
3. Go outdoors!
Camping or national park stays will always be more affordable than city hotel stays, because nearly every campground and park charge their nightly rates and park entrance fee rates by the carload or family, not per person. Plan a vacation around several national parks with multi-day admittance fees per carload. Take advantage of free and low-cost programs like Junior Rangers. Note: National park historical lodges are one of our favorite ways to spend a night in a park, but because these hotels are often older and their rooms are smaller, they are rarely economical for large families. Instead, consider a state park yurt or cabin stay if you don’t want to camp outdoors.
4. Look for attractions with family admission rates or family season passes.
Some of our favorite wildlife parks, zoos, and children’s museums offer family season passes or annual memberships. For families of four, the price of one family pass is equivalent to 3-4 visits, but when your family includes 3, 4, or more kids, an annual pass can be cheaper than a single day’s admittance. Many of these attractions offer reciprocal benefits for museum members for similar types of museums in other parts of the country and world. Some science museums and children’s museums offer a discount if you show your annual pass from another museum at their admittance desk. Look online in advance, and remember to pack your membership cards.
5. Travel during ‘shoulder seasons.’
A ‘shoulder season’ includes the weeks just prior to and after a destination’s peak season. For instance, a ski resort’s shoulder seasons would be late November-early December and early April. A beach resort’s shoulder season may be May or September. Visiting a popular or expensive destination during a shoulder season is more economical. Save money by going off-peak and save on lodging and airfare. (Hint: This is especially true for a Disney theme park vacation.) We love traveling in the autumn, when the weather is still nice, but the resorts are less crowded… and less expensive. Note: Resorts are more likely to upgrade families to roomier suites during a shoulder season as well. After all, they’re likely sitting empty.
You can travel cheaply
With some planning and creativity, you can travel and create wonderful memories for your large family. Do you have a large family? What ways have you found how to travel cheaply? How do you keep vacation costs down for your family of five or more?