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.


The infamous volcano Mount Vesuvius…

Gulf of Naples, Italy

Dominating the landscape of the beautiful crescent-shaped bay of the Gulf of Naples, the only active volcano in mainland Europe towers 1,281 meters (4,203 feet) above the shoreline. Mount Vesuvius is known for spewing pumice rock and ash that buried the Roman town (and people) of Pompeii in the eruption of 79 AD.

Hiking Mt. Vesuvius and the view into the crater from the rim.
Looking into the crater of Mount Vesuvius.

Today, Vesuvius is a National Park with a trail to the rim of the volcano’s crater. We enjoyed leaving the noise and bustle of the city far below to walk in the scree and feel the energy of the earth. Steaming fumaroles spiraled up along the edge of the steep crater reminding us that Vesuvius could erupt again at any time. Lichens and small flowering plants have sprouted up along the walk since the last eruption in 1944. We hiked in and out of the clouds while exploring the rim, looking down at spectacular views of Naples, Sorrento, Pompeii and the islands in the Mediterranean.

Conversation starters

  1. Describe the plate boundary at the edge of Eurasia and Africa – why do volcanoes form along these kinds of convergent zones?
  2. How could we describe the slope of the steep volcanic cone?
  3. How is volcanic pumice rock different from other rock we’ve seen recently?

Links and resources

More about Mount Vesuvius

Mt. Vesuvius National Park

Road to Vesuvius crater.
The winding road up Mt. Vesuvius and the lovely view of Naples below.

Saving Money on Transportation

Trains, planes, automobiles, boats, tuktuks & walking!

This week we share 13 perspectives from seasoned travel moms contemplating how we save money on transportation. This is the second of our Family Travel Blog Series . If you missed last week’s post, check out 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 transportation is a great way to involve the kids in planning, budgeting and decision-making. Researching and choosing the lowest cost options takes energy and time but results in a higher quality travel experience.

Getting there – We plan international travel far in advance when tickets are first available. A favorite research tool is Google flight tracking to follow prices on different airlines and understand the options. Airline websites offer the low-price calendar and the route map to compare dates and locations. We save money by choosing the no frills, low-cost airlines, traveling with carry-on backpacks, bringing our own food, water, and entertainment.

Choosing discount airlines with low cost and no frills for Europe travel
Flying over the Alps

Moving town-to-town – Getting around is part of the educational experience – a chance to understand the culture. This means avoiding the tourist track of pricey packaged tours and living like the locals. Arriving somewhere may take longer, but the journey is just as important as the destination! A mix of trains, buses and boats enrich the adventure.

Exploring – Our travel routine includes discovering a place through walking. Whether hiking a trail, beachcombing or mapping out the streets of a city or town, foot-travel is free and allows you to stumble upon local wildlife and activities and create your own unique experience.

Regina at Fulltime Field Trip

Airfare is usually the most expensive type of transportation. Therefore, I focus my money-saving energy on reducing the cost of plane tickets. The absolute best way to save here is to redeem reward points for FREE fares. That’s not always a possibility. My next best tip is. Drumroll please. Break up your airfare into two separate reservations.

Ticket pricing is often tiered by the number of seats reserved. So when you move from a party of two to a party of four, your price increases. To combat this, make two reservations rather than one and get a cheaper rate. It can be super tricky to make two reservations at the same time. We’ve made plenty of mistakes. You may need separate devices and separate credit cards to be successful. But as a family of seven, we save tons of money this way.

Kirsty at World for a Girl

Since we started travelling with our children, our transport budget has ballooned. Pre-kids, we walked everywhere, took long overnight bus journeys and never, ever hired cars. Now when we’re on the road with two young kids, money takes a back seat to convenience and safety. Although we always shop around for cheap flights, we do try to spend extra on getting the times and airports that suit us.

We tried a few very early morning flights when our eldest was a baby and let’s just say we pay extra for better flight times now! Especially in Europe, always check where your budget airline flies into. Sometimes, the airports used by lost-cost carriers are hours out of town. If you miss the last bus, you might end up paying the flight cost again in taxi fares.

As for getting around when we’re there, tired little legs and afternoon nap times have converted us to the joys of road-tripping. We throw everything in the boot, make our own itinerary and we’re still able to do the type of quirky multi-destination holidays that we crave. At the moment, we’re based in Malaysia. If you’re coming out to this part of the world, my biggest family travel tip to download the Grab app on your phone. Grab is Asia’s Uber. Fares are really cheap AND you can pay the driver cash.

tuktuk transporation to save money
Be mindful of your choices and safety with no seatbelts and car seats! Photo credit to World for a Girl.

My second tip would be to think twice before using tuk-tuks and rickshaws. They’re mostly used by tourists now and drivers often demand exorbitant prices. Make sure that you haggle hard, be aware of safety and remember that in a tuk-tuk you and the kids are down at exhaust pipe level!

Yamy at Go Fam Go

Coming by reliable transportation when in unfamiliar destinations can be a hassle. Airport taxis could be expensive or services like Uber might not be available.Most hotels offer complimentary airport transfers or have some form of shuttle service for a certain fee. Take advantage of this perk and make sure to check ahead for price comparisons with renting a car.

A complimentary shuttle service from your hotel gives you one less thing to worry about especially if you’re unfamiliar with the locality. Ensure that you communicate your needs to the hotel prior to arrival. Let them know how many are in your traveling party and when to expect you.

Going to Walt Disney World, for example, is an expensive family vacation. One way to save money while in Disney is to make use of their Disney Magical Express, a free shuttle service from Orlando International Airport to their resorts. They also have other forms of transportation like the ferry, the monorail and the bus within the campus.

Disney shuttle bus to save money on transportation
Use shuttle buses to avoid driving the car.

Kris at Gadsventure

Saving a few dollars on each plane ticket can add up to hundreds of dollars when travelling with a big family. With that in mind, the best trick I have discovered to find savings when booking is using Skyscanner’s ‘Whole Month’ function. This enables the user to compare and choose the cheapest day in the entire month to fly.

Being flexible is the most important factor in getting cheaper flights, as well as avoiding peak tourist periods, festivals and school holidays.

Skyscanner is a fantastic tool and I use it to research prices every time I look for international tickets. Another great tip when using Skyscanner is to search using an incognito window so your cookies are not being used and prices remain low. Hit Shift+command+n to go incognito on Apple, or shift+control+n on a PC.

airport travel with kids and carry on luggage
Awesome kid carry-ons with Gadsventures.

Shannan at Captivating Compass

Transportation is by-far the most expensive part of any family vacation. What about in-country travel, once you arrive at an international destination? Here’s my top tip for saving money on transportation once you have arrived at your international destination: Rent a car.

While it can be a complete sensory overload to drive in a foreign country, it is also one of the least expensive and most time efficient ways to get around most countries, especially if you want to get out of the city and explore sights off-the-beaten-path. To save your sanity, plan an itinerary that incorporates alternative transportation (train, bus, short flight) to a less popular city. From there, rent a car and continue on your family travel adventure, simply returning your car at the end of your trip to a predetermined destination.

Many major car rental companies in Europe have one-way rentals very affordably priced (ie: 2 GBP/day in the UK!), if you are willing to drive a specific vehicle back into a more popular city or airport. In the UK, returning a car from Scotland to London helps out the rental company as more people fly into London that anywhere else in the UK. For helping the rental company out, they offer ridiculously cheap rental fees and then you just pay for your own petrol. It’s a genius way to save big on in country transportation in Europe!

rental car through the mountains
A rental car can take you to amazing, remote places.
Photo credit Captivating Compass

Nikki at Yorkshire Wonders

We are always very keen to save money on getting to our vacations. Here in the UK train tickets are not terribly cheap but there are some ways in which you can save money.

Firstly, the timing of when you book train tickets is important. Aim to book at around 12 weeks from the point of travel, this is when you will find the best prices. Too far in advance and too short notice mean very expensive tickets! Always check the price of return tickets as well as singles as sometimes one type is better value than the other.

Consider investing in a railcard. We recently bought a ‘Friends and Family’ railcard that gives 60% off for kids and 30% off for adults when travelling together. The card is valid for one year and can save you money right from the very first trip.

Lastly, do check both standard and first class fares. Sometimes first class fares are not much more expensive than standard and you could receive perks in first class (such as free food and drink) that makes the upgrade actually better value.

Annette at Tips from a Typical Mom

Flight. The best way to get good deals on flights is to get an airline credit card and earn free flights, or follow a person on Instagram who is always checking flight prices like CheapSLCFlights, Scotts Cheap Flights, or another person in your area that checks deals and posts them often. Just go to Instagram and search for “Cheap Flights (enter your city here)”. The site that I have a membership through saves me at least $5 per ticket over any other site. You also earn travel points through the site. You can learn more at WholesaleFamilyTravel.com.

Rental car. My family loves to drive around and see everything there is to see in the area we are visiting. For the little ones who still need a booster seat, we use the MiFold. It’s a tiny little booster seat that can fit right in the diaper bag or large purse. There are a lot of discount places you can rent cars through like Costco, AAA, AARP, and wholesalefamilytravel.com. My friend saved about $650 over the Costco price on Wholesale Family Travel when renting a car for their trip to Hawaii.

Melissa at Disabled Disney

Saving money on transportation is an integral part of any family vacation. We normally drive because it does tend to be a less expensive choice for us. If you are driving, we use gasbuddy.com to check gas prices. We don’t normally fly so we have our car and will not need to use a taxi. When it comes to hiring transportation, I look at which option is more cost effective for us. Apps like Uber and Lyft now give you an estimate on cost. If you want to use a taxi service you can call and get an estimate.

When we do fly I use cheapoair.com because when my daughter came home last Christmas, I checked prices on sites like Expedia or Travelocity and it was cheaper. I can also use the Shopkick App and get kicks by booking through them! There are a lot of transportation options out there. Don’t think of the transportation as getting to or home from your trip. Use that time as part of your trip and making memories with your family!

Tiffany at Mommy and Me Travels

Saving money on transportation is like art; you must have patience and creativity. Finding deals on flights can be a waiting game (hence the patience piece). You should sign up for all the email alerts, focus on one airline alliance (this will maximize your flight miles for future free flights), and be ready to click go when you are alerted about that rock bottom flight price. We also like to think outside the box (be creative) when finding ways to save money. Instead of flying, look at taking the train/Amtrak to your adventure location. This will add to your children’s trip enjoyment.

In many cases, you can buy a first class train ticket for the fraction of the cost of a plane ticket per person. That means you can save even more money if you buy a regular class train ticket and still have the enjoyment of relaxing and socializing while traveling. Of course, this only works if you are staying on the same continent. But if you are looking to save money, staying on the same continent will usually save you on the cost of a flight or allow you to consider taking the train.

Sarah at State by State

When you travel to a big city, transportation can get expensive. Gas, parking, and vehicle maintenance all cost more. Taking time to plan for how you will get from place to place is important if you want to save money. Many large cities have great public transportation, but when you have a family of five, like we do, those tickets sure do add up quickly. We have found that by traveling on certain days of the week or times of day, you can save money because kids might ride for a discounted rate or even for free.

Another excellent money saving tip is to check the parking garages’ rates. Sometimes the prices between parking garages vary greatly. In Washington DC, we found a place we could park all day for only $10, while other places were charging $22 for four hours. We also like to take advantage of free trolley’s and shuttle buses too. These are great for saving money on gas and also let everyone enjoy looking around at the sites instead of having to focus on traffic in an unfamiliar city.

Exploring a big city
Park and walk to save money on transportation. Photo credit: State-by-state

Shannon at Grab My Passport

Personally, we try to drive to as many places as we can, if time allows. Not only can you save time by driving, but you can cut the costs of needing a rental car or taxis, and you can pack your car with snacks and other items you may have had to spend money on if you flew to your destination. With airlines adding on so many fees for everything these days, we rarely fly. Road trips can be fun, even with little kids. Just be sure to properly prepare for your road trip and enjoy! Memberships like AAA (in the US) are cheap and a necessity if you’re planning a family road trip.

If we can’t drive, we try to use airline miles and tools like Skyscanner or Google Flights to find the best airfare deals. Then, we pack as light as possible to avoid luggage fees. When we arrive at our destination, we almost always use Uber or Lyft, as taxi services are almost always twice the cost.

Sarah at Dandelion Seeds

Aside from checking airline prices across multiple airlines, using flexible dates, and cross-comparing rates on every travel website in the known universe, I opt for the biggest savings once I’m on the ground at my destination. Rather than spending money on car rental (and car insurance) or taxis, I walk absolutely everywhere that’s safe. When my kiddo was smaller, I’d put her in a good carrier with a 45-pound weight limit to keep my walking easy. It lasted for years.

walking to save money on transportation
Walking is a fantastic way to get to know a place and find hidden gems. Photo credit: Dandelion seeds.

Although I don’t save time walking, I do save money on transportation (plus, it’s a great way to find local cafés and grocery stores, and save money on restaurant costs, too). Walking has given me my savings on transportation, much of my fun–and often, my best stories.

Next week’s family travel blog topic: Choosing accommodation.


Leonardo Da Vinci and fidget spinners

Venice, Italy

Leonardo da Vinci was not only an amazing Italian artist – best known for his works Mona Lisa and the Last Supper – but also an inventor, engineer and architect. This exhibit, housed in the beautiful Chiesa di San Barnaba in central Venice, makes you feel like you are in a 15th century workshop where the great minds of the time experimented with physical forces of nature. Interactive wooden models of machines from Da Vinci’s journals (his codici) allow you to pull, spin, lift and crank – learning about inertia, forces, friction and gravity, the mechanisms of mechanical and hydraulic engineering. Levers, gears, screws, pulleys and ball bearings reminded us of fidget spinners and building with modern-day Lego Technic sets.

Interactives at the Da Vinci exhibit in Venice, Italy
Interactive machines from Leonardo’s codices demonstrate principles of mechanical engineering.

Conversation starters

1. What defines a machine?  What was a favorite machine from Da Vinci’s codices?

2. How do machines transfer motion from one form to another? (i.e. circular motion to alternate motion)

3. How did Da Vinci’s study of nature for painting and sculpture help him understand engineering?

From flying wings to swinging bridges to a rudimentary bicycle – machines from Da Vinci’s codices.

More info and resources

The permanent exhibit in Venice

History Channel DaVinci and The Code He Lived By

Ondeck! Circumnavigating the globe

London, England

While exploring the southbank of the River Thames, we were delighted to come upon a reconstruction of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, The Golden Hinde, nestled in the tight alleys near London Bridge and Borough Market. The kids had fun playing hide-and-seek from the main deck to the gun deck to the hold, among thick cannons and wooden barrels, steep ladders and rigging. We identified the fo’c’sle and poop deck, and poked our heads into the captain’s quarters and great cabin where the officers would play chess, dice and cards. This reconstruction of the original ship (England’s first to circumnavigate the world) is a fantastic way to imagine life at sea in the 16th century and leads to great discussion about history and science of the time.

The Golden Hinde ship used to circumnavigate the globe
A reconstruction of The Golden Hinde warship captained by Sir Frances Drake
  1. What kinds of challenges did the crew face on their three year voyage to circumnavigate the globe?
  2. Which countries in Europe lead maritime exploration and how did this link to colonization?
  3. What were the most important items traded at this time (1600s) between the different continents?
The helm of Sir Francis Drake's ship, The Golden Hinde
An historic playground on the southbank River Thames in London

Selecting Family Travel Destinations

Ideas and Inspiration

Exploring London and features from Harry Potter books during family travel

This week we share 13 perspectives from seasoned travel moms contemplating how we chose our next destinations, resources for researching and booking, and tips for making it work with kids. This is the first of an 8 topic series. Enjoy getting to know us all. We hope you are inspired to follow your dreams and explore!

Deb at World Wise Kid

With so many places on our travel wish list, we focus on the educational value and age-appropriateness of our choices when deciding where to go next. Nature, books and language have had particular influence.

Nature – Diverse wildlife and dynamic landscapes have motivated journeys to Alaska, Utah, Florida, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Mexico, Iceland, New Zealand, and Australia. With kids under 10, our ideal travel activities included discovering wildlife, waterfalls, walking trails, and beaches.

Books – Now that the kids ages are in the double-digits, their favorite reads influence where we go. The book Tua and the Elephant by R.P. Harris catalyzed interest in traveling to Thailand. The Percy Jackson series will guide our spring travels to Greece and Italy. London means Harry Potter and The Thief Lord sparked excitement for Venice, Italy.

Venice, Italy during family travel

Exploring the narrow streets and bridges over the canals in Venice, Italy.

Language – As multilingual parents, exposing the kids to different languages is a key value. Spanish immersion influenced our travels to Mexico and Costa Rica. We regularly stay with family in Germany to secure the kids’ fluency. This spring as we travel Europe, we will delve into Latin and Greek word bases, comparing phrases in Italian, Spanish, French and Greek.

It is exciting to speculate on future destinations as the kids’ grow and their interests become more sophisticated.

Shannan at Captivating Compass

As homeschoolers and travelers, we love learning on location, but we don’t so much like taking a bunch of textbooks with us (unless they are digital) and we are planning on an extended slow travel itinerary with numerous day/weekend trips over several weeks.

Most of the time I build our itineraries around our curriculum. If we’re studying ancient history, the great philosophers or epic poems like The Iliad or The Aeneid, then this is the year to go to Italy and spend as long as possible exploring the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

An itinerary packed with great places to learn about ancient Greek and Roman history, culture & lifestyle, would include, Rome and Athens, but don’t miss out on kid-friendly destinations such as Viterbo, Naples, Paestum, Erculano and Sorrento in southern Italy. These ancient cities are bursting with artifacts, ruins, hand-on exhibits and even archaeology digs for families.

With that type of school work, what kid wouldn’t want to grab their passport and go learn on location?

Regina at Fulltime Field Trip

Involve the kids. That’s my number one tip for choosing your family vacation destination. I want our kids to be excited about going somewhere and experiencing new things. Sometimes you’re boxed into a season or budget; you can still involve the kids. Here are three ideas.

• Ask them “what type of shoes do you want to wear on vacation?” Flip flops, snow boots, athletic shoes, dress shoes, etc.

• Give them three destinations that fit your needs and let them vote.

• Choose your favorite two cities then ask the kids to help you make a list of things to do in those areas. Pick the location that ticks the most boxes for your family.

Selecting a destination for family travel from Regina at Fulltimefieldtrip.com
Guide the kids through the decision-making process!

Keep it fun, anticipate how you would handle disappointment if it happens. By involving the kids, wherever you all decide to go, it becomes their vacation or holiday too. They aren’t just being dragged along on the family trip.

Kris at Gadsventure

When travelling with 4 young kids, the destination is so important! We choose places that are safe above all, and just a short and cheap flight away. I also like it if they are relatively cheap too! We shortlist our destinations by considering the time of year and the type of activity we want to be doing. This usually boils down to surfing or snowboarding.

There has to be some kind of attraction to keep the children occupied and entertained, this could be a beautiful beach, a fun city or an interesting outdoors. Our kids will be much more excited about a trip and its lead up if we can talk about these things beforehand. As homeschool parents we like to add an element of education here too, so bonus points for a place with historical or cultural significance!

Choosing the destination is the most fun part, and after our flights are booked, then everything else falls into place. Some of our favourite easy family trips close to home are New Zealand, Bali, Japan, Hawaii and of course Australia.

Kirsty at World for a Girl

How do we choose the perfect family holiday destination? Well, the process looks a little like this. First, we pick somewhere on our travel bucket list that seems suitable for the length of time/ season/ cost. We have a very long bucket list that covers most areas of the globe and grows by the year.

Next, we spend hours on Skyscanner.com and travel websites researching accommodation and flight options. For whatever reason, we usually decide that the first idea isn’t suitable. The flights are too expensive. There’s malaria present. The hotels look dreadful. And so on.

Eventually, we crack open a bottle of wine and type ‘Everywhere’ into the Skyscanner search bar and our dates. This amazingly useful Skyscanner function means that you can see all the flights leaving your chosen airport on the date you’re interested in.

Selecting destinations from World for a Girl.com
When the options seem overwhelming,
just go for it!

We then filter the results by flight times and cost. And voila, we book a holiday. To a completely different place than the one that we had planned. I wish we had a more organised process… but we do get to go to some unusual holiday destinations!

Nikki at Yorkshire Wonders

When we are deciding on a destination for our next trip, where we stay is very important to us, not just the location, but the hotel or resort too.

I look at what the rooms are like, whether the hotel has a child-friendly pool, kids club or possibly evening entertainment for the children. Does the hotel give off a relaxed family friendly vibe or do they just tolerate families? Finally what is the restaurant like and will we like the food?!

Annette at Tips from a Typical Mom

We have 5 kids and most of them are teenagers now, so that is a big determining factor on where we choose to vacation. Money is another thing we have to think carefully about when we are planning a family vacation.

There are a few things we take into consideration while planning a vacation:

1. Distance – Do we need to pay for airfare or can we drive?
2. Things to do – Are there enough places to see and things to do to keep our teenagers engaged?
3. Cost – Can we afford to get there, sleep there, eat there and pay for activities?

Most of the destinations we choose are places we can drive to so we don’t have to spend a fortune on airfare. I’d rather go someplace close and spend money on activities than spend a fortune on airfare. Since we do live in Utah there are a lot of cool places we can drive to.

One of our favorites is California. San Diego to be exact. My kids love going beach hopping and that’s just fine with me because beaches are cheap!

We know we can save a ton of money on hotels through wholesale sites like Jifutravel.com so we use that site to help us determine the hotel we stay in and the activities we do.

Yamy at Go Fam Go

Are you traveling alone, as a couple, as a family with children, or as a group with your best friends?

As a multi-generation family who travels with seniors, we first bear in mind who is tagging along before we decide where to head next. Knowing each person’s interest or limitations is important in choosing the appropriate destination first hand. When you’re planning a family vacation, you must cater to the different strengths and interests of everyone. Evaluate the limitations of the party.

Traveling with the whole family from Yamy at Gofamgo.com
Go Fam Go with Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

For instance, the grandparents on wheelchairs are coming as well, this might mean skipping the hike in sandy and hilly Indiana Dunes National Park and opting for a more accessible location like a museum.

Melissa at Disabled Disney

Selecting a destination can be a very intimidating part of a family vacation. To help you narrow that down, what are your family goals for a vacation? Take Insta worthy photos, eat delicious food or try a new adventure? These are all things my family likes to take into account for our vacations.

We like to go to Disneyland because I have mobility problems and have to be in a wheelchair. One of our priorities is disability accessibility. Disney is great on accessibility and a Disney trip hits all these important buttons for my family.

When you have narrowed down your family goals look up your possible destinations on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. This will help you narrow down your possibilities! I think the most important thing is to remember you are doing this as a family and to have fun!

Tiffany at Mommy and Me Travels

Do you love the idea of a vacation but always worry about planning one the whole family will love? First and foremost, get the kids involved! Vacations are more fun for all when everyone provides input. Have everyone think of their top 2 or 3 vacation wishes. Do you want to go to the beach or skiing, and so on?

Second, once your list of wishes are completed start thinking of locations that can accommodate your family wishes. Are you planning on flying, driving, or taking the train? This helps to narrow down which part of the world you will visit.

Third, here is where the real fun begins. Now that you have a list of activities and locations take the kids and head to your public library. This allows you and your kids to enjoy an afternoon together looking through books of everywhere around your desired locations and activities. Kids love being able to see, feel, and touch the pictures. This helps them start to get excited about learning and planning for upcoming adventures. Family vacations are about building family memories and this starts with the planning phase.

Sarah at State by State

First, proximity, meaning how close is it to where we are, can we get there in just a few hours, is it close to the places we want to explore, these are the questions we concern ourselves with.

Second, what inexpensive, family friendly activities are available in the area, things like museums, playgrounds, and National Parks are great options.

Last, the weather, this is a tricky one because obviously this is out of our control, but we try to keep an eye on the temperatures and go where the weather will allow us to spend time outside, if it seems like it won’t be nice we make sure we have plenty of indoor options to choose from.

Shannon at Grab My Passport

When we plan our own family vacations, pricing is typically our biggest determining factor when deciding on a destination. We do have a never-ending bucket list of places we’d love to visit, and activities we’d like to do one day, so anytime a sale or special promotion pops up that matches something on our list, we try to jump on it. We are subscribed to all the airlines’ email lists, and we follow a bunch of travel deal pages on Facebook so that we are alerted to all of the deals, promos, “error fares”, and discounts that are available as soon as they come out.

Most recently, we had a bit of time during my maternity leave to take a family vacation before returning back to work. We didn’t know where to go with a 2-month old, but I knew I wanted somewhere warm to escape the cold DC weather. We’ve really been wanting to go to Universal Orlando to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but since we both work full time, and we have to work around the school calendar, we’ve been hesitating for a few years.


Well, Universal announced a “Buy Two Days, Get Two Days Free” promo, so we checked the crowd calendars for the parks, researched flights on Google Flights and Skyscanner, and then booked our trip. Since it was off-season, rates for everything were a bit cheaper than normal. We used a combo of credit card points, airline miles, and money from our travel savings fund to pay for the trip.

Take advantage of email subscription lists. It’s one of the best ways to learn about discounted travel deals, which can really help you narrow down your destination choices. Also, try to travel to popular destinations in the off-season, if possible. You’ll end up saving a lot of money and avoid the big crowds.

Selecting a direction to travel from Sarah at dandelionseeds.com
Finding your way to a new place is wonderfully challenging!

Sarah at Dandelion Seeds

I’m pretty practical when I choose a destination, so my advice centers around ‘must haves.’ They’re the filter through which I look at each possible place to visit.

With that in mind, I suggest deciding what your ‘must haves’ are. It’s amazing how easy it is to choose a location (or at least a top 10 to investigate further) once you clarify what you need, making sure to consider everyone who’s joining you.  

For us, my two most important considerations are whether everyone will enjoy the ‘vibe’ of the destination, and whether we all can eat safely (we have food allergies). I know, for example, that my introverted and highly sensitive child loves exploring, but she also requires plenty of downtime to refuel her energy tank. After all, new experiences are wonderful for growth, but she needs enough peace and quiet to be able to process them.

As a result, we choose vacation destinations that are near the activities we want to enjoy, but without making us feel like we’re sleeping in the middle of an amusement park.Some destinations that worked well for us with ‘just enough’ activity were Playa del Carmen, Mexico; just outside Vancouver, B.C., Canada; and Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A.

It’s worth the effort to figure out transportation if it lets us find quiet time along with food we can trust (usually from local grocery stores rather than restaurants). When I plan a trip with ‘must haves’ in mind, it helps narrow the options and simplify the planning process considerably.

Next week’s family travel blog topic: Saving money on transportation.

Let us know what you think of these ideas. We hope they provide you with some inspiration to plan that next travel adventure. The world awaits.

 

Family Travel Blog Series!

World Wise Kid is excited to participate in a series of posts with other seasoned family travel bloggers. Each week we will write about a topic giving insight and tips on:

  • Selecting A Destination
  • Saving Money On Transportation
  • Choosing Accommodations
  • Sightseeing And Activities
  • Packing Tips
  • Saving Money On Food While Traveling
  • Road Trip Tips
  • International Travel Tips
  • Making Memories With Your Family.

Meet our excellent network of moms –
each of us has a unique niche in the family travel world!

  • Regina is the initiator of our awesome travel blog series. She’s a worldschooling mother of five and travel writer at www.fulltimefieldtrip.com.
  • Kirsty is a British family travel blogger currently living in sunny Malaysia. Her blog “World for a Girl” includes women’s history and global feminist issues.
  • Shannon is the creator and voice behind Grab My Passport offering practical tips, itineraries, travel budgeting hacks, and inspiration to traveling families.
  • Sarah is a positive parenting educator and wellness advocate who shares her adventures at https://www.dandelion-seeds.com.
  • Kris is a fun-loving Australian on an international gap year with 4 kids, documenting every step at https://gadsventure.com.
  • Nikki is based in the UK, writing about days out and family-friendly holidays at Yorkshire Wonders.
  • Annette is a mother to 5 kids in Utah. She writes the blog Tips From a Typical Mom where she shares family-friendly recipes and activities, travel and parenting tips.
  • Tiffany travels with her 2 young sons and provides reviews, guidance, and helpful tips to traveling parents at www.mommyandmetravels.com
  • Yamy is the creator of Gofamgo.com writing articles from the perspective of traveling with young children and a terminally ill elderly member of the family.
  • Shannan – based out of Scotland – shares her digital homeschool resources and itineraries at https://www.captivatingcompass.com “The World is your textbook!”
  • Melissa is the creator and lead author of Disabled Disney specializing in disability travel and navigating Disneyland.
  • Sarah is a full-time RV traveling mother of three that loves adventure and sharing off-the-beaten-path travel destinations at https://statebystate.net/
  • And ME – Deb – at worldwisekid.com. I am a California-based environmental educator, polyglot and mother of two adventurous kids writing our travel blog to inspire international understanding and perspective through educational discussions around the globe!

Check back each week for our insightful posts or Follow the blog to get updates. Merci!