They eat more. They laugh more. Big families are a blessing to those parents who are fortunate enough to have them, but the bill associated with taking them anywhere (especially on vacation) can be shocking. Before you resign yourself to a life of ho-hum campouts in the backyard and occasional visits to off-season tourist traps, get into the mood for an excellent travel adventure, and save big with these savvy tips.
Vacationing can be an eclectic mix of restaurant visits, museum tours, and live events for many families, and with a per person admission (or meal) price to be reckoned with, it may be tempting to stay in the hotel and watch HBO instead of getting out there and seeing the world. While not offered to just those with large families, “buy one, get one” discounts are popular among those whose children are old enough to pay close to the adult price on anything from food to thrill rides. (My daughter, for example, pays just a few cents less than an adult price for everything, when establishments employ their $X times their age policy.)
Kids Meal Deals gives parents lots of listing for places that let you feed your brood for less – they even have a smartphone app! Sites like KidsEatFree.com are just starting out in areas like Orlando, but parents can purchase a card that lets the kids eat free at any time when in select establishments. For promotions on tourist’s spots outside of the dining genre, Google the visitor’s convention site for the area you will be staying. They usually have coupon books or email codes to help get the kids in for free.
Bonus tip: When getting a “free” anything, make sure you use it up on the kid that would cost the most at regular price. Many restaurants, for example, will just randomly pick a kid to comp, but smart parents know to ask for the kid that will get the biggest discount.
Finding hotel rooms for families of five or more can be a nightmare. (Trust me, I have five kids!) If you are not using the well-planned and priceless tips from SixSuitcaseTravel.com, you are spending too much money. Instead of having to buy two adjoining rooms or dishonestly cram all your brood into one too-small suite, this site only lists hotels and motels that sleep 5, 6, 7, or even 8 people comfortably.
Bonus tip: While you may think that the type of room that will sleep 7 should be exorbitant in price, the places on this site are rather affordable. (Think $70-100 for most 2 bed suites with a fold-out couch.)
Some sites are better than others at relaying how “kid-friendly” they really are. What may be suitable accommodations for a business traveler may be impractical for someone with a stroller, car seat, and playpen to haul. TripAdvisor, Yelp, and other online locales are useful, provided you know how to decode the lingo. Look for reviews that are recent (provided within the past 3-4 months), give detail into more than just the cleanliness of the establishment (Are there elevators? Does the pool have a shallow end? Is the breakfast free?), and can be verified with photos or a call to the manager.
Bonus tip: If the hotel or motel site has a photo gallery and is viewable on a Google map, look to these to get clues as to the appropriateness for your family. You don’t need to do much digging to find out if the rooms have doors that open to the outside, balconies that are dangerously high, or are close to a noisy intersection.
In addition to using websites and smartphone apps to research and save, you’ll want to allow plenty of time to get your affairs in order. Book ahead of time for any large rooms (they sell out fast), and call ahead to verify that any restaurant or tourism event is participating in a savings promotion.