5 Tips for Big Family Travel


We are a family that loves to travel and dedicate a lot of our budget and time to this passion. But as our family has grown, travel has gotten a bit trickier and a lot more expensive! We still happily travel with our four kids, but we have adjusted our plans and expectations.

5 Tips for Big Family Travel

1. Book Alternative Lodging

We still stay in hotels but have found that suite setups, like Homewood Suites and Embassy Suites, work best for us so we don’t have to book two rooms. Plus, they often come with a door that separates the main bedroom and a living area with a pull-out couch. We also travel with a sleeping bag in a compression sack because sometimes our older kids don’t want to share a bed but the hotel setup doesn’t allow for a cot.

We also look for vacation rentals through AirBnb or VRBO, which is our favorite way to travel. Not only have we stayed in some cool destinations like an apartment above a coffee shop in Two Harbors, Minnesota, but having a kitchen allows us to cut down on food costs. Rentals also can come with beach or hiking gear, access to bikes or arcade games in the basement — all wins for our family.

2. Cut Down on Transportation Costs with Points

I won’t show you my very Type A travel spreadsheet, but we plan our trips out years in advance. That allows us to building up airline points or hotel points to pay for the transportation to a destination. I am not an expert on this topic, but utilizing credit cards to add to your point totals is a very effective way to work toward free flights. We have a Southwest Chase Card that we put most of our expenses on and pay off each month that has allowed us to earn a Companion Pass each year which means one free plane ticket.

I’d also encourage you to consider road trips! Not only does it allow you to bring more stuff you need for all those kids, but it can be significantly cheaper than plane tickets these days. Don’t shy away from long trips! One of my favorite road trips was to the Grand Canyon and four other national parks where we drove more than 45 hours in a week. We just break it up with shorter drives and more mini destinations.

3. Consider Walkable Destinations

Transportation costs once you’re at a destinations can really add up (I’m looking at you, Chicago). Discounts for public transportation in cities often exclude tourists. But many cities offer discounts or even free rides for kids. In New York City, our kids all rode free on the subway, and we walked a ton so our travel costs once there were pretty minimal. We have found that sometimes lugging our family on several different legs of transport feels not worth it, but Ubers are expensive for larger vehicles. Having the option to walk makes a huge difference in the amount we’re able to experience and our stress levels.

4. Rethink How You Experience Attractions

Our kids range in age from 1 to 12 and no surprise, are interested in different attractions. We used to do everything together but are slowly recognizing that dividing and conquering is much more enjoyable and budget friendly. There is nothing worse than paying $50 for a museum admission for a kid that asks if we can leave five minutes into the tour. There are other destinations that have minimum or maximum ages like children’s museums or theater performances. We plan our itineraries now with some all together activities and some where each parent takes kids to the attractions they will love the most. Make sure to mix up which parent goes with which age group so everyone has different kinds of fun.

5. Set Aside a Travel Budget

Traveling is a family value for us so we match that with a designated travel budget. The money comes out of our paychecks and gets deposited directly into our travel savings account just like it does for insurance, savings, kids’ college funds, etc. Whether you want to travel several times a year or one big trip every decade, it’s important to budget this and save otherwise it might not happen!

Traveling with a big family IS possible. Just like anything you do, the more people (and opinions), the more planning ahead is needed!

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Sarah McGinnity
Sarah is owner of Manhattan Moms and is passionate about encouraging and connecting moms - we weren't meant to do this alone! She grew up in Manhattan graduated from Manhattan High and K-State, worked for newspapers and for several marketing departments, and eventually got her master's in public administration. Sarah and her husband, Shea, have four kids - Henry (12), Clark (9), Lucy (7) and Caroline (1). She enjoys reading historical fiction, beating her kids at board games and traveling as often as possible.


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