How to Travel with a Large Family

In many aspects of life, sending kids to school, chauffeuring them to activities, counseling them on navigating friendships, and helping with homework- having a large family is not very different from what life is like in a smaller-sized family. It’s just a bit busier. But when it comes to traveling for a family vacation…. having a large family definitely makes a difference! Here’s why:

Where to Stay on a Family Vacation

Once you get past 3 kids, staying anywhere in just one hotel room isn’t really a (legal) option. Perhaps for just one night on your way to your final destination, you might decide to resort to sneaking in a few of your kids through the hotel’s side door and avoid traipsing the family through the lobby at all costs! But whenever I do that, I am worried that at some point there will be a knock on the door from the hotel manager asking us to leave! If we need to stay in a hotel room for more than one night, our preferred hotels are Residence Inns, and Embassy Suites because they have more room so we are not so on top of each other. But even these hotels rarely allow for 8 people in one room.

Often we try to stay in a rented home or a condo, so that at least every person has a bed for the week (even if 2 kids have to share a bed). And renting a home or a condo can actually be a less expensive option than staying in a hotel for 7 nights. The downside is that there is no daily maid service, but the upside is that you can bring food in and cook some of your meals, which saves you money too.

And since our family also enjoys camping as an activity, campsites are a great way to travel as a large family and stay very inexpensively. Of course, often when we travel to visit our families in Michigan and in Florida, we stay with them at no cost, and just bring lots of sleeping bags and pillows for the kids.

If you are looking for hotels that will work for larger families, check out Six Suitcase Travel, a website that allows you to look up listings for hotels that allow up to 8 guests in a hotel room.

How to Get to Your Destimation

When most families travel more than a few hours from home, they typically consider flying to their destination. But when your family has 8 people, flying is a much more expensive option. At a low-average of $250 per ticket plus luggage fees plus the cost of an oversized rental car when we arrive at our destination… we’ve already racked up thousands of dollars in vacation costs, and we haven’t yet seen or done a thing! So we tend to save our vacation dollars for the attractions and choose to drive everywhere we can. Of course when you drive a big Mommy bus, as I do, there is plenty of room for everyone, including all of the luggage that we bring along, and it makes for a very comfortable trip.

Dining While on Vacation

We certainly enjoy dining out while on vacation, but it can get to be pretty expensive. So we try to balance eating out at restaurants, and on-the-road fast food, with some home-cooked meals whenever possible. We also pack snacks from home to eat during our travels and to satisfy an over-tired child who has been dragged to a few too many attractions on any given day.

An idea we use to save some dining dollars: consider eating lunch out rather than dinner. Menu prices are generally lower and restaurants are less crowded.

Visiting Attractions

I like to direct the bulk of our vacation budget towards the attractions… because when it comes down to how everyone will remember this vacation, it will be based on the fun things that we did. Not where we stayed or how we got there! But there is always the issue of a balancing price against the fun. For example, a trip to a museum might be a cool thing to do, but if we are paying $17.95 per adult and $13.95 per kid, we are shelling out $120 for that attraction. So it should be something that everyone will enjoy, or at least learn from, and should entertain us for at least several hours. I also try to mix in some free activities each day. Hiking in local parks, visiting a beach, and walking around a city costs nothing, and the kids love doing these things just as much as visiting a museum!

Since we have family members that live in Orlando, we can stay for free while there. But taking the kids to a day at Disney is a serious vacation investment, admission alone costs our family of 8 $684! And we’ll spend at least another $200 on food! and that’s for just ONE DAY! Yikes! So visiting Disney is certainly not something we do every time we visit our family in Florida!

Plan Ahead

It is tough to be spontaneous with a large group. You can’t just show up at a restaurant with 8 people and expect them to easily seat you. So it makes sense when traveling with a large family to plan ahead in all areas of travel…. make hotel reservations, reserve campsites, make dining reservations, etc.

Research online before you leave home to take advantage of specials and discounts at places where you will be staying, visiting, and eating. For restaurants, you can usually view menus and make sure that the places that you are selecting are truly “family friendly”.

Have a definite itinerary with back up ideas of things to so. Again, since spontaneity can be hard with a large group, and with varied opinions and interests, it is much better to tell the kids the activities that you have planned each day, than to solicit suggestions while on the road! That’s not to say that our schedule isn’t flexible, and we won’t change it all up when we find something appealing right in front of us, or if the attraction we are visiting is not any fun. It’s just good to start off with a game plan!

If you enjoyed this post you might want to check out these two posts on taking family road trips:

Packing for the Great Family Road Trip

Prepping Your Car for the Great Family Road Trip

And if you are interested in some destination inspiration, you might want to check out:

Washington DC with Kids

Spring Break Idea: The Great Wolf Lodge

How about you? Do you find that there are unique challenges to traveling with a large family? Or just with kids in general? Please leave a comment and tell us about it!



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  1. says

    I’m always amazed when I see big families away together on vacation – the parents seem more like army generals directing the troops, making sure everyone is where they need to be.

    • says

      Yes… And I often think that the army moves troops with less effort, less planning and less stuff than me just taking my family on vacation!

  2. Erica Filpi says

    Wow we have alot in common, I seem to be posting on a few of these *L*…

    I have six kids and me and I am proud to say we survived a 5 days at Disney with no casualties. One woman was amazed; as she said “I’m going nuts with my three and I have my husband here.” I laughed. It’s not to say my kids didn’t have me going batty at times. But come on, it’s Disney World. They are supposed to have fun and we are supposed to ensure their safety.

    – I packed in advance
    – If you fly consider mailing your clothes and snacks to your destination, it’ll probably be cheaper
    – We put everything in a car carrier because we drove in a KIA Sorento (no trunk room at all). Here is a hint, not all brands are rain proof, even if they say it. Put your bags into plastic bags and tie them shut before putting them in the pleather roof carriers.
    – Call the pro’s and tell them your needs. I purchased 35 tickets for Disney (7 people, 5 days), 2 motel rooms for 5 nights, and the meal plan for $4,500. That sounds like alot, but you have to realize that meal plan covered snacks (pop-tarts, small breakfasts), unlimited drinks at the motel, a nice sit down meal (at one location our meal total was over $200 all I paid for was the tip thanks to the meal plan), and a quick meal daily. Was it more than I had expected to pay? Yes it was. Was it worth it? YES IT WAS.
    – Oh, and know your kids. Don’t try and foist them in a situation you know that they cannot handle. My teenagers can handle anything, but my little ones are still acclimating (it was our first big vacation as a family). So I made all of the grand sit down meals at lunch time, so we could do the quicker meals where they were able to jump around (sitting around the lake) and be silly without disturbing other diners.
    – We had buddies. One teenager to one “baby” (my babies are ages 6, 8, and 9) and I just looked for the teenagers while we were walking through crowds. This was great since some of my kids/babies are thrill seekers and some weren’t. Everyone ended up being exactly where they needed to be.

    • says

      Erica- I totally LOVE your tips! Especially the one about the non-water-porrf roof top carrier and “know your kids”. I couldn’t agree more! The last one that you didn’t say, but I could tell you embrace is “bring along your patience, and find the joy in what you are doing.” Far too many families head to the happiest place on earth and everyone is just tired and cranky and tries too hard to force everyone to have a good time. It sounds as if you really did!

  3. Michelle says

    Thanks so much for the tips. My husband and I are about to embark on a 12 hour journey from New Zealand to LA with 7 kids! (10 to 1). We are going to Disneyland for a week, and given your comments about food spending at Disney World, I think I better change my food budget!

    • Erica Filpi says

      Michelle, call them in advance and ask about a meal plan. My sister packed sandwiches and stuff in a cooler which went into their car. Her daughters were 22 & 11, I can’t imagine trying that with six kids lol.

    • says

      Hi Michelle-
      We’ve flown to China dn back three times with our kids- a 16+ hour journey….. the nice thing about long flights is that the kids are well fed and usually well entertained by the TV screen on the back of each seat! As far as Disney goes- my advice would be to bring in snacks if you can, eat breakfast before you hit the parks…. and try not to worry too much about the details. A week at Disneyland is a trip of a lifetime- so focus on enjoying it! 🙂

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