We all know that traveling with kids can be tough. Traveling with kids who outnumber the adults? Challenging. Traveling with your own basketball team? Downright daunting.
Is the solution for those of us with big families to keep our rowdy selves at home? Heck no!
Side Note: Are there families with 5 or more kids who are not rowdy? If so, I’d like to meet you. Introduce yourselves in the comments and teach me your ways.
While traveling with a big family is not for the faint of heart, it is possible. And not just possible but even fun! As long as you have a few special skills. Let’s call them travel ninja skills to keep it interesting.
Travel Ninja Skill #1: ROAD TRIP instead of fly.
Hate to break it to you but road tripping is pretty much a given for traveling with a large family. Unless you’re wealthy (we’re not), being paid by someone to travel (we aren’t) or want to spend a large chunk of your vacay budget on getting to your destination, it is driving for the win every time!
In fact, once you embrace the road trip it can be fun and part of the whole magical travel experience. Seriously. My kids actually look forward to the driving part of any trip we take.
How, you ask? By having special road trip snacks, special road trip movies, special road trip activities and even special road trip songs. Yes, songs. It’s a thing, but that’s for another blog post.
Boredom in a minivan or SUV can create some memorable moments. Like the time my kids started deliriously making up their own TV advertisements and jingles while on our 20 hour drive to Marco Island. It’s memorable, it’s part of our travel tradition and we stand by it.
Side Note: It also helps if you have a travel ninja husband. Travel ninja husbands are the ones who insist on driving the entire 2o hours and allow their spouses to read, nap and throw snacks at the children.
Travel Ninja Skill #2: Take the kids out of School!
I know, I know. No one wants to prioritize taking a trip over making sure the children have a solid education. But that’s not what we’re doing here.
Kids can miss some school and be the better for it. Promise.
Taking trips during the school year, and specifically during weekdays, is important for big families because summer travel is generally more expensive and because prices are always lower for a mid week stay vs. a weekend (hello supply and demand)!
Lemme get on my soapbox for a minute:
Creating strong family bonds and family togetherness should be a priority for all of us. This crazy culture we live in has both parents working 40+ hours a week, everyone on their devices 24-7 and kids involved in any and ALL of the activities. All this busy has led to a HUGE family disconnect.
What’s one way to come together again as a family? Take those kids out of school and spend a week together. Or take baby steps and create a weekend away. It doesn’t have to be fancy and you don’t have to go far, but you do need to make it happen. Budget for it and then prioritize it.
Okay, soapbox rant over.
While taking the kids out of traditional school for a solid month to explore the Himalayas is unrealistic, taking off a well timed week or two for longer trips, coupled with some mid week days off (because discounts!) IS realistic.
Impress your school administration (and your boss) with your ninja skills by planning ahead and requesting all of your days off at the beginning of the school year.
Take days off during school “down times”. Think the week before Christmas break.
Side Note: Is anything really happening the week before Christmas break in elementary schools? I don’t know about your kids, but our elementary kids seem to have a lot of holiday party days, followed by holiday craft days, followed by holiday movie days. There isn’t a lot of learning going on and both the teachers and the kids have usually checked out by this time. Bless it and take your trip.
Also, most schools post their calendars for the entire year in August. Look at what days your kids have off for in-service days, and conference days etc. Take advantage of those days to schedule a long weekend trip.
Side Note: You will find that your kids will display an extra level of enthusiasm when missing school for a trip. They will think everything is more FUN and more AWESOME because their friends are currently sitting in Math class. Suckers!
Travel Ninja Skill #3: Use Home Away or AirBNB!
Let’s get real here. Hotels and resorts are generally not made for big families. There are some hotel chains like Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, and Hyatt Place who can serve you if you’re a family of six, but bigger than that? You are typically out of luck.
What’s a travel loving family of 7 to do?
Use Home Away or Airbnb!
Side Note: Since our family has personally never stayed with Airbnb (I find their site to be more expensive and less user friendly) I won’t talk about them here.
Instead I will focus on my love affair with HomeAway!
Home Away is a big family’s saving grace. We can get 3 or 4 bedrooms in a proper house, with a proper kitchen and our own proper private pool to make it fabulous.
There are trade offs of course. We usually compromise a bit on our location in order to have a nicer, bigger place to stay. Read: instead of staying ocean front, we opt to drive to get to the beach. Instead of staying right in the center of all the action, we choose to stay a bit further out and take public transportation to where we need to go.
This was our Home Away find in Marco Island, Florida. 3 bedrooms, big kitchen, private pool with a view and only a 10 minute drive to the beach, winning!
We have nothing but rave reviews for Home Away.
We find that dealing with individual owners, who often give us their cell numbers, is preferable to dealing with the underpaid maintenance staff at a big resort. Owners have been welcoming, attentive and quick to fix any issues we’ve had.
We also like Home Away’s website and find it very easy to book our travel and to email owners with questions.
If you have yet to give them a try, DO IT! In truth, no real ninja skills required.
Travel Ninja Skill #4: Let the kids miss their SPORTS
This is a sensitive topic and requires some serious ninja skill. Some of you parents out there are more attached to your kids sports than your kids are.
To some of you it may seem sacrilege to pull your kids out of their sport in order to take a trip. I’m serious. I hear parents say things like, oh we’d love to take a trip during the winter but Johnny plays basketball. Or we’d love to do a spring break vacation but Sally has lacrosse.
For us big families, if we waited to take a trip until none of our kids had any sort of sport activity we’d never go anywhere!
Listen, we are actually a legit sports family. Big Papi and I both played high school and college level sports and we loved it. We currently juggle soccer, cross country, track, lacrosse and football (and all there indoor, off-season counterparts). We love sports and camaraderie and the work ethic they promote.
Youth sports do not own us.
We are talking middle school and elementary school level sports folks. This isn’t the olympics. The primary emphasis at this level should be teamwork, having fun and getting exercise. Missing a couple practices or a game should not be a make or break travel decision moment.
Having said that, we are not complete jerks.
We do our best not to book any trips during an important tournament, a big rival game or if our kids being gone would mean a forfeit for the team.
We aren’t barbarians.
Travel Ninja Skill #5: Eat In!
Of all the Travel Ninja Skills required, this one is the biggest struggle for me.
You guys, I hate to cook. I mean HATE it.
The grocery shopping, the planning, the prepping, pretty much everything except for the eating part I hate.
When you’ve got a big family trip, going out to eat every single night is a budget buster.
One way we tackle this is to travel with other families and each family takes a night to cook. You have your assigned cooking night, you plan, you prep, you feed the masses and you get it all over with. The rest of the nights, the other families do their thing and you just ask when to show up and what’s for dinner. Perfection.
Another option is to get take out for the main dish and then provide your own sides and drinks to cut down on costs without actually having to cook much of anything. Think: Order in BBQ ribs and wings, provide your own potato chips, drinks and salad (because health) and call it a win.
Pizza. Thank goodness there is always pizza. Everyone loves it, it’s easy on the wallet, and it just shows up at your door. Done.
You can actually cook real, grown up meals every night. If you want.
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our family’s travel ninja skills and how it helps us travel as a big family without going broke.
If you’ve got some ninja skills of your own, come visit me on my blog, leave a comment and let me know!