Heading Abroad As A Large Family Without Feeling Stressed
If your family is anything like ours, you LOVE to travel. And with any luck, you’ve already figured out on your own (or read my posts on) how to pack more efficiently (especially packing for longer trips in minimal space), how to save money on family travel, and some of my must-haves for traveling with toddlers and preschoolers. As well as family car trip basics and how to manage a car trip with kids when you’re the only adult. But I thought it was high time I write about making family travel easier (and more fun) – especially if you’re traveling as a large family.
While Dear Husband and I only have our two girls, we’ve coordinated several large tips with extended family over the years. Most recently, the four of us joined my mama, baby bro Evan, SIL Alicia, and niece Abby on a trip to Hawaii a month ago. Evan, my mama, and I have been doing trips like this since Evan and I were the ages my girls are now, and it was my mama’s baby bro and his family that traveled with us and my late father.
When you’re traveling with 6-8 or more people, there really is no such thing as a “spontaneous” vacation. Trips for groups that size don’t “just happen” – but with careful planning, they ARE doable. So if you’re contemplating traveling as a large family unit this year or next, read on for tips on making family travel easier. (Not to mention more fun, for everyone involved!)
This is a collaboration post. However, please know I stand behind everything written here, and only include links to products/services/resources I’m willing to recommend personally.
My Fave Hacks for Making Family Travel Easier (And More Fun!)
1. Plan (As Far) Ahead (As You Can)
That recent trip that Evan, I, our families, and my mama took to Hawaii? That trip was literally YEARS in the planning – and not just so we could save up for it! Coordinating our schedules was hard enough; finding a date that also worked for the unit we stayed in was another challenge.
When I mentioned to a friend of mine named Violet (mama to four kiddos between ages 2-10) that I was working on this post, she enthusiastically seconded every tip you’re going to read here – but especially the one about planning ahead. Their family of 6 vacations together at least once a year – but never without lots of advance planning to score the best deals.
Even if you’re willing to spend an arm and a leg, you won’t get your large family into the hottest Broadway show on short notice, if New York City is where you’re headed. Nor will you snag that extra-large group campsite at a popular national park at the last minute. But by planning far in advance, you can make those special “must-do” items on your list a reality.
2. Especially when it comes to lodging
Finding a place that’s big enough to handle a family of six or seven – or an extended family of several sub-groupings – is one of the trickiest parts of planning a family trip for a big group. It can be hard to find a big enough space for everyone, and renting out multiple hotel rooms can quickly get pricey.
Instead, think outside the box when it comes to places to stay. Instead of looking for rooms on a room-sharing site, rent out an entire house or condo. Rather than a hotel room, think multi-room suite. (For tons more great tips, check out this Q&A I recently read, asking a bunch of travel-savvy mamas how they plan their lodging when traveling with their families.)
You might also see if you have access to any group lodging options at your destination. (My first trip to London, when I was in junior high, my family stayed a week each at the international Boy Scout center and the international Girl Scout center. Because Evan was a Boy Scout and I was a Girl Scout, our family saved a bundle on lodging.) Or consider planning your trip around a destination that has custom accommodations designed for larger families and groups, such as https://www.grandleisuretravel.com.
3. Put the kids to work
Everyone knows I’m a huge fan of having my kids pitch in around the house. Unless you’re staying at a full-service resort, there is absolutely no reason the parents (or more specifically, the mamas!) should be everyone’s servants on vacation! EVERYONE, from the littlest kiddos on up, should take part in all aspects of the vacation, starting with the planning.
Especially if you’re going overseas, or to a place far from home where none of you have been, get your kids involved in all aspects of the planning in age-appropriate ways. Younger kids can learn about attractions and things to do at your destination, and cast their votes for favorites. Older kids can research distances and travel options between your lodging and the must-sees on your itinerary. A good “insider’s”-type travel guide or two can be helpful in this process. So can the website of whatever resort or city you’re visiting.
If every child has a stake in planning out what you’ll do on your vacation, they’re more likely to buy into the trip itself. (Plus, reminding them that everyone gets a turn picking out things to do will help them get through less-interesting options). If you’re staying at a larger resort, they may well have a range of programming options geared toward all age levels, so there will be something on-site for everyone.
And finally, everyone can (and should!) get involved in thinking about meal options. Which gets to my next point:
4. Plan smart on meals
Planning to eat every single meal out is NOT the most budget-friendly way to travel when you’re a big group. Just as bringing lots of kid snacks will save you a bundle during transit, there are ways you can plan ahead to feed your small army without breaking the bank.
My friend Vi totally agrees with me on this. Besides renting a suite (versus a single hotel room) for their family of six, they also make sure their hotel space has a fridge and at least a small grocery store nearby. This way, they can make their own breakfasts/lunches and just eat out at dinner time. Even better is if their hotel has a full breakfast included; when you’re talking 6-8 people, the money you’ll save on breakfast alone can really add up.
Another option, if you’re traveling with lots of littles, is to investigate kids’ board rates at all-inclusive resorts. For years, my family and I stayed at a particular resort in Mexico where kids under age 7 ate for free. The year before Kimmie turned 7, we told the resort we would not be back the following year, because she would have to pay as much for food as an adult. But when we were looking at vacation options for the next year, we learned that apparently we weren’t the only family that had complained; the resort had added a steeply-discounted board rate for kids age 7-11!
5. Research your transportation options
Unless you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort destination, you’re probably going to need to get out and about several times during your trip. And unless you road-trip to your destination, you’ll need to figure out transportation for your sizable group.
If you’re traveling with extended family, it will probably make sense to rent several vehicles. This will also make it easier for different age levels/family groupings to do different things, as needed. (When we went out to an evening show in Hawaii, Abby’s bedtime came about halfway through the show, so she and her parents left early in their own vehicle, while we stayed until the end.)
But don’t rule out public transportation, especially in larger U.S. cities or overseas. And keep in mind that many major cities’ public transport systems have multi-day passes available for tourists, which can save you a ton over individual fares. Doing your research ahead of time will help you determine what you’ll need for carseats (if anything), whether strollers are allowed on public transport (probably not), and other details so that you can get around as seamlessly as possible.
6. Balance planning and flexibility
You’ll want to determine ahead of time whether you have wifi access at your destination, whether your cell phones/calling plans will work, and other details of daily life that you take for granted at home. Figuring these things out before your trip is essential for minute-to-minute planning and coordination when you’re on-site at your destination.
And while it’s a good idea to have a rough sense of what you’re doing (or at least where you’re going) each day before you leave home, you need to keep things flexible to some degree. Little ones are especially prone to upset tummies from eating the food in places they’ve never been before. And a forecast of rain may mean you have to reschedule your day hike or trip to the beach. By having a rough plan but leaving wiggle room, you can help to minimize both the stress of not knowing what’s happening next AND the stress of being too tightly scheduled over what’s supposed to be a break from routine!
7. Everyone is responsible
Just as everyone should pitch in with the planning (and with the cooking, if you’re eating most or all of your meals in), everyone – including kids – should share the responsibility of keeping track of a small army and all their “stuff.” As I know all too well, when Mama is the only one filling everyone’s water bottle and making sure everyone has their hat and sunglasses, Mama is doing all the work while everyone else has all the fun. NOT a vacation for Mama!
Pair each younger kid with an older kid to be their “buddy.” Do head counts whenever needed (e.g., whenever getting on/off public transport). Get the kids involved in navigating, whether it’s reading maps, looking for road signs, or counting subway stops to destination. Make sure everyone is responsible for his/her own belongings (though parents and/or “buddies” will need to help the littlest travelers with this). This includes having everyone keep track of (and ideally, carry) their own jackets, coats, hats, water, etc. – meaning everyone will need their own backpack, beach tote/caddy, etc.
My personal favorite is figuring out the “magic number” whenever we’re traveling by air. As in, the number of items we have to collect when we go through security, deplane, leave baggage claim, etc. Usually it’s two per person for carry-ons. So before we head to our gate, even the girls help us count to make sure we’ve got everyone’s backpack and “extra item.” whether that’s a small suitcase or a purse. Not only do these activities help “share the responsibility,” they’re also excellent life lessons for your kiddos on how to be savvy travelers.
What about you? What’s the largest family group you’ve ever traveled with? What hacks helped your family manage the trip with ease? Let us know in the comments!