Choosing where to stay

Camping, guesthouses, hostels, hotels or an apartment?

This week we share 13 perspectives from seasoned travel moms contemplating how we choose accommodation. This is the third of our Family Travel Blog Series. If you missed previous posts, check out Saving Money on Transportation and Selecting Family Travel Destinations.

I encourage you to follow the links to each of the contributor’s websites for other great travel tips and educational resources.

Our tips from World Wise Kid

Choosing where to stay depends on location, climate and the focus of our 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.

New Zealand is an ideal destination for car camping.

With trips focused more on history and culture – in more urban areas – we find an apartment, bungalow or guesthouse through Airbnb or Booking.com. Homestays are great to get to know the locals and culture. Scanning the 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.

Traveling mostly in the off-season, and avoiding the beaten track, we decide on a day-to-day basis where we will stay, rather than booking in advance. The trip is a spontaneous adventure!

Regina at Fulltime Field Trip

These days there are a variety of accommodations for family vacations. But at some point, you’ll probably have to stay at a hotel. When that’s the case, here are four ideas to reduce costs.

1. When planning, search incognito or use a search engine that focuses on privacy like DuckDuckGo. That way your searches, and thereby rates, are not stored in your cookies.
2.Take advantage of hotel reward programs. Credit card sign-up bonuses add up to huge savings.
3.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 crockpot on vacation to prepare dinners.

Kirsty at World for a Girl

When it comes to choosing good family accommodation with kitchen facilities, we have two favourite routes. The first is using hotel booking platforms. We use the search functions to really narrow down the options. For example, if you use Booking.com on a PC you can use the search bar on the left to select only apartments or only places with swimming pools. 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).

Our second favourite way of finding exactly the right accommodation is 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 organising 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.

http://www.peoplelikeus.world is a friendly community of travelers and home swappers.

Yamy at Go Fam Go

When booking for accommodations, our family 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.

Kris at Gadsventure

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.

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, and the prices give you so much better value for money. 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. 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 organise an airport transfer, or local ground transport too.

Kitchen in an family travel accommodation
There are many benefits to booking accommodation with a kitchen.

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.

Airbnb has started advertising experiences now as well as just houses which can give you some great ideas on things to do during your stay. Have a browse, it’s totally free to join!

Shannan at Captivating Compass

Choosing accommodations for traveling families can always be a challenge. If you stress most about organizing lodging for your international destinations, these 2 tips are for you!

  1. Consider Hostels – They aren’t just for backpacking college students anymore. 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.
  2. House sitting – 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. 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.
    You can read more about affordable accommodation options for families visiting the UK here.

Nikki at Yorkshire Wonders

Here are my tips for staying in a hotel with kids! 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! If you can’t afford adjoining rooms (and it does make it very expensive) then try and get a room with a balcony. Then at least you can sit with a book and a glass of wine on your balcony while the kids fall asleep! 

Van camping in Utah.
Car and van camping in Utah on the wild plateaus.

Annette at Tips from a Typical Mom

When it comes to choosing accommodations for my family, there is a checklist I like to use. This way I can be sure that we will be comfortable and have a chance to sit back and relax without stepping on each others toes.

1. Does it have enough beds for everyone to sleep comfortably in?
2. Is there a kitchenette so we can prepare some of our own meals to save money?
3. Is there a pool for the kids to spend some time in?
4. Is there a complimentary breakfast?
5. Is it close to all the sights we want to see while we are in the area?
6. Does it provide transportation to and from the airport and to activities and events?

If I can’t find a good deal on a hotel that can sleep our big family of 7, I start looking for Condos or Airbnb. I always find great deals at https://jifu.life/tipsfromamom. They have time share condos to rent when they are not being used! It’s amazing!

Melissa at Disabled Disney

When we are looking for a place to stay on vacation we look at price, location and amenities. 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.

I look at amenities for the hotels. The things that we need are handicap accessibility, refrigerator and microwave. If our stay will be longer than a few days I try to get an extended stay with a full kitchenette. If I can, I also try to use Booking.com to reserve our hotel room because I can earn Kicks from ShopKick and they have rooms you can wait to pay until arrival!

hotel double beds
Earns points with your hotel reservations.
Photo credit Typical Mom.

Tiffany at Mommy and Me Travels

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. 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. This sometimes makes people refer to me as that person who has champagne taste on a beer budget. 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. Here are just a few ideas on things I do to save money and find the perfect sleeping arrangements.

Quick hitting money saving ideas:

  1. Think 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.
  2. If staying in a hotel: join rewards programs, look for places you can cook (with a kitchen) or has food provided (such as breakfast and/or evening receptions), sign up for their email alerts, and be flexible on dates such as traveling during the week.
  3. Many sites are now available that let you stay in a house for a few nights to several months. 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.

Sarah at State by State

Choosing where to stay is probably just as important as choosing where to go. Accommodations need to be comfortable, affordable, and most importantly close to our destination and the activities we plan to do. Our family travels full-time in a travel trailer, so our choice of places to stay consists of campgrounds, both public and private.

Ask the locals where you can free camp on public beaches. Photo credit to State-by-state.

We love staying in State and National Parks, but they are not always close to the activities we are planning to participate in. 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!

One of the great things about traveling in an RV is the ability to be flexible. 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.

Shannon at Grab My Passport

I do a lot of research into accommodations to make sure that where we stay is not only affordable but that it will provide everything we need as a family. 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.

ski lodge
Renting a whole house for a snow trip. Photo from Gadsventures.

Typically, I’ll check booking.com for prices and reviews and 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. Traveling with young children, accommodations are the most important part of our trip!

Sarah at Dandelion Seeds

Choosing accommodations is different for us than it is for some families. 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!”

Moreover, with food allergies, we need a rental home with a full kitchen so we can have home cooked meals. Fortunately, Airbnb and VRBO, and some of their lesser-known international counterparts, let us “tour” potential accommodations before we go. If the place looks good for sleeping and cooking, we’ll gladly walk a few extra blocks for sightseeing. My advice for renting a home is to Google “best website for lodging in [the country you’re visiting]”. Know that it might be a different site than the one you use in your home country. You’ll likely get the best rates, security, and overall experience this way.

open door of old castle
The options are open – where are you going to stay next? Photo from Dandelion Seeds.

Next week’s family travel blog topic: Sightseeing and Activities.


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