Learning, Sharing, and Teaching > Mini Money Mustaches

How do you vacation with young kids?

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Where do you go? What kind of accommodations do you stay in? What do you eat? How do you get there?

I just got back from a long road trip with 2 young kids under 5 and it was somewhat stressful. The destination was a 10-12 hour drive each way, not accounting for stops (of which there were many). We stayed at a cheap 2-star motel, and while it was mostly okay, some corners and edges were dirty and I had to micromanage my kids so they weren't touching things like slightly chipping paint.

We ate a lot of fast food, mostly to save time. But we had a few enjoyable meals thrown in.

I couldn't help but think about how much more enjoyable the trip would have been if we had all flown there and stayed at 3 or 4 star hotels. Hotels that were clean with comfortable bedding and nice shampoo.

I've also tried Airbnb/VRBO in the past, and we had to bring our own bedding, blankets, towels, and cleaning supplies. And, of course, we had to clean everything and take out the trash before we left. Not exactly what you want to do on vacation, and it wouldn't have been possible had we flown to the destination.

What are your tips? Should I save up for the occasional nice vacation while embracing staycations more?

Hi. I have to start with an admission that Iíve loosened up about spending after years of being ultra-frugal. We have 3 kids and have gone on all sorts of trips!

My tips:
- Leave really early to get a day without paying for a hotel. 4am road-trips and 5am flightsÖ itís nice to start the trip with the kids quietly sleeping.
- we book nice hotels 3-star and up, but the cheapest room (no suites). This is a splurge for me. If we drive I bring a sleeping mat for our 5yr old so we donít have to pay for a roll-away. I put their blanket down on the floor first so our sleeping mat never touches the floor. I usually book the hotels saying that we have only 4 people so I can see more availability.
- we only do expensive things for 1 day. Like Disney was 1 day, but a long day! We go to Great Wolf Lodge or another water park hotel once a year, but only 1 night - you can start using the water park at 10am.
- we buy the basic flights with no extra. They are legally required to seat children ages 12 and under with a parent if you purchase the tickets in advance. We never choose our seats and they put the kids with us (frequently we are in 2 groups, not all together but I donít mind not sitting next to my husband). We also skimp on the bags. You can take a personal item (school size backpack) for free. If we need more luggage we share one checked bag. Car seats and strollers fly free. We frequently fly for $50 per person! I like Frontier, Spirit, Allegiant.
- when I book flights, I search on kayak, but book directly with the carrier because they frequently add $20 to frontier and spirit flights if you click kayaks links. I also check all the airports within 1 hr drive.

We splurge on hotels, but overall, just being strategic with decisions saves a lot of money while still letting you have a nice vacation! Visiting people and hosting friends at your house is also a cheap vacation.

Some low cost trips:
1 night at the water park resort (kid favorite)
Camping weekend
Visiting grandparents!
Visiting friends

Enjoy your vacation!! Splurge a bit, because one thing Iíve realized is that I might not want to travel when Iím old. Also vacations with kids are precious memories!

If these are vacations to see family that is far away a lot of the tips above are great if you are just wanting to vacation to have an adventure do stuff that is local. I just finished a book called ďadventuring together with kidsĒ by Greta eskridge. It was a good read and opened my eyes to a number of great small time local adventures. For context DW and I are doing things with 5 kids age 8-4 months.

We don't.

Outside of visiting family, we don't really travel with our kiddos. The big caveat here? YET.

We have a 7- and 4-year-old and tried to do a long weekend in a nearby big city this summer. It was pretty low-stakes: a short, sub-3-hour drive; hotel rooms paid for with points; 1 of our 3 "activities" was free due to reciprocal visiting privileges of our local museum membership. However, the then 3-year-old was still not quite big enough to have a full day without a nap, and the kids weren't old enough to be in their own room, which meant four of us were shoved in one (3 star) hotel room working around a cranky little kid. Where we were, all the food options (save an upscale food hall attached to our downtown hotel, which was a LIFESAVER) were geared toward adults and eating with children was either an exercise in frustration or constant apologetics. We had a good time at the activities and with each other, and I think good memories were made, but it wasn't exactly a "vacation" for DH or I.

As such, we've made the decision to not do any family vacations this summer and give the kids one more year to grow up before venturing out again. We'll continue to do long weekends at drive-able distances until the kids (and us!) can handle bigger trips as a family.

We did car camping trips, sometimes we would stay at fairly remote campsites but tried to stay away from cliffs or fast moving rivers; danger, essentially. Pretty lakes, pretty desert, not too far from a town. On the way back we would stay at a nice private campground with a pool (sometimes), laundry, swings and stuff, lots of well mowed grass for playing, etc. Boring for the adults, but fun for kids. And it's nice to do some laundry! We were in our ex rental REI tent while everyone else was in their trailers and motorhomes, so we were a curiosity. It was funny how many older folks with really nice set-ups would tell us how they traveled like us when they were a young family: kids, dogs, coolers, tent, stuffed in a station wagon (81' Mercedes td in our case). We got a similar reaction before kids when we traveled by motorcycle, folks would tell us how they did it, too, when they were younger. When you're on a bike you're more "out in the world", not hiding in a car, so people are more comfortable striking up a conversation.

Other than that we would go to Maui every few years. When DD was very young we traveled with the diaper bag, a playpen, car seat, and old beat up three wheeled off road stroller good for the beach. The next times she did boogie boarding and snorkeling in the calm water and spent a lot of time at the pool. The latest time she was old enough to take the car and go off exploring with her step sister.


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