Lodging & Accommodations
My sister and I look similar but we are literally night and day on so many things. For example, that girl LOVES a true vacation. It pretty much isn’t worth it to her unless she is staying somewhere nicer than her house. AND I TOTALLY GET THAT! Everyone has a different idea when it comes to using their precious and rare free-time.
Our family doesn’t usually mind roughing it. I thought they would, but they’ve grown accustom to showering with frogs in less than 2 minutes, sleeping on an air mattresses, and hiking to great lengths (to find a cell signal). Personally, our family finds value in living with less for part of the year. It gives us a bit of perspective and helps us appreciate home. That said, we avoid claiming that our family is roughing-it more hard-core than any other family… When we are tent camping out of the Prius, we will inevitably see a family with toddlers backpacking it…
No doubt, traveling isn’t cheap; there are a whole bunch of ways to save money here or there, but the area with the largest financial impact is lodging. That said, there can’t be a discussion of lodging without first clarifying the difference between vacation and travel. It isn’t entirely based money or destination (often times both help), but the spectrum of vacation or travel is primarily about intent:
The goal of a vacation is relaxation, leisure, & comfort
while focus of travel is exploration, experience, & adventure
Most families and couples don’t match-up exactly on the vacation – travel spectrum, but usually an agreement can be reached. PLEASE make an effort to figure out that balance BEFORE EACH TRIP so that expectations are on the same page. Discussing the time, energy, and financial impact spent on vacation verses travel is just as important as the budget and where to go, but certainly effects the lodging. Saving money and lodging cost-effectively does not mean slumming in squalor! There are some really cost-effective but beautiful lodging options, even if the primary objective is vacation!
The Lodging Scoop (CHEAP):
A Friend — I don’t like putting people out, but if someone offers a night at their house… TAKE THEM UP ON IT! Most times we’ve stayed with friends and family were delightful. We could do laundry, visit, have some drinks, get to know them better. Some places we’ve had lavish quarters, but more often than not, we just setup a blow-up mattress in the living room. It is all good. If you want to travel but have no money, strongly think through your Christmas list.
Your Car — You laugh but the struggle is real! Gone are the glorious 80’s when kids could roll around unbuckled in the back of a van on a mattress… but alas, people can still catch a few winks in their car! I have a very frugal Aunt Mona who seriously will drive 19 hours through the night and have everyone with a permit take a shift driving so the others can sleep. It isn’t a bad plan. I mean, no offense to Kansas, but the $100 stop in Topeka might be money better spent.
Tent — The ambiance of a tent can’t be beat. I never sleep better, I actually miss it just thinking about it. I’m way more comfortable in our tent than in most motels. Camping is pretty cheap but it involves some gear and set-up. Not as much as you would think, a couple of bags, $300 all in, and about 30 minutes up & down (someday I’ll do a post on camping tips…)
- The footprint, tent, spikes, & hatchet go in one duffle
- Air mattresses, air-pump, fitted sheets, blankets, & pillows all go into another duffle
- The price for a site is usually reasonable but the good sites can fill up quickly and often they only take cash.
- State Parks – Usually the cheapest and easiest to get a good spot. Rarely do they have online pre-orders.
- National Parks — These aren’t necessarily cheap and they usually have pay showers but they are BEAUTIFUL, usually a mixture of pre-orders and first come. Good sites fill fast, especially on weekends
- Private Campgrounds –Usually a bit more expensive, not IN the parks, but cleaner and have nicer showers / pools.
- KOA — The chain places tend to be the most expensive. They are fine but they are usually our last resort.
Camper / Travel Trailer — People love their pop-ups! We did one summer in a pop-up! It was great to be off the ground, have electricity, and be out of the rain but you have to really commit to them. The expense, storage, dragging everywhere, and campsite availability are all things that should be considered. Sometime, on a lazy evening when we are crashed in your Guest Room… ask about our travel-trailer story. I won’t spoil the whole story, but it ends with selling the thing on Craig’s List, in the middle of Sacramento.
The Lodging Scoop (COMFORTABLE):
AirBNB — AirBNB is so hip right now. It is when you just rent a crash-pad in someone’s crib. There are a range of options (and prices): a couch in their living room, a tent in the backyard, a private room, or a whole house/flat. Especially if you just need a place to spend the night because days are spent exploring, this is great. The host(s) are usually around and awesome. I love the local stories and suggestions– and the lodging options are so unique! I totally want to be a host house someday! but to clarify, the hosts don’t generally serve breakfast even though it is called an AirBNB.
VRBO — Vacation Rentals by Owner are what we currently check first (I know, we are getting classy). These are so great, especially if staying longer than a few nights in a location. You literally get someone’s vacation house while they aren’t there! You can pick a place where everyone in the family gets their own bed! You can make food back at the kitchen. You can wash clothes! By the time you leave, you love the place and want to write volumes in the guest book. We have loved it every single time and found it the best way to merge travel and vacation.
VRBO & AirBNB Caveats: With both AirBNB and VRBO, you are staying at a personal property and need to be accepted by the host; there is also a public review afterwards by both the host and the renter. Also important to note, this hasn’t happened to me, but someone I know had an AirBNB cancel at the last minute! With no reason! Just refunded the money and now they need to find another place to stay!
Sometimes there are fun surprises! Like the place we stayed in the Rockies was 2 bedrooms, beautiful view, heated resort pool, $600 for 7 nights… on the 3rd floor… no elevator… All sounds fine, until one factors in 9,173′ higher elevation than home… We took solid advantage, with many variations, of the line “Oh My Dear Wifey! You still make me breathless after all these years…”
Hotels — We stay in hotels primarily as a one night convenience. We try to find a frugal option with free breakfast, but honestly, it is rare that a hotel ever feels like a vacation to me. As a family, it is just too crowded in our room. But when we do, I check in this order:
- Preferred Member– especially if an educator or military discount (love Hampton Inn)
- Hotwire — is fine if you don’t care where you are staying. It works, but not always perfectly and rarely free breakfast
- Hotels.com, Travelocity, Kayak, etc. — They are great for price shopping and deals. Check if refundable.
Resorts & Cruises — This option caters toward vacation but there are usually options to merge in some travel. It isn’t even always the most expensive! In fact, sometimes they are down-right a good deal! Sometimes there are family suites (like in Orlando), often included in lodging is all food (and sometimes all drinks!) There are usually planned excursions and events. The best deals on these are often last minute. We seriously went to a 4 star Jamaican resort on a last minute couple trip for almost nothing (which is why we have our pre-trip list and bags nearly ready at all times). This is a great option, especially for people who need a true break and vacation.
Miscellaneous Lodging Advice, Tips, Randomness, and Minutia:
- Some places are best with very local lodging (ON Mackinac Island), others are fine to save some money and stay outside (most cities with public transportation -like Boston).
- Do a quick cursory check before final booking ANYWHERE to check for Red Flags:
- Yelp (how local is food / coffee / grocery)
- Pinterest (what is there to do nearby)
- Public Transportation (cost, time, and distance) & Traffic
- Internet (free, fee, limitations?), Parking (fee or free), Pool, Laundry, Highway Access
- Tent camping can feel a bit like vacation after a routine is established (about 5 set-ups)
- Check that a campsite isn’t primarily RVs – especially when in a tent. It is just weird.
- Camping in the baking sun is almost worse than in the pouring rain or freezing cold
- Only one night in a tent involves some exhausting set-up and take-down
- Skipping campsite food prep makes it feel more vacation-y & saves massively on gear
- If someone offers a guest room, assume that they are sincere (and send a thank you note later)
- Hostels aren’t on the list above because I’m yet to stay in one! Hopefully that is remedied!
- Vacation — Travel is a spectrum for most people and changes often based on budget, stress, and access to free-time. One may need a vacation right now and a couple months later prefer to travel.
- With practice (and usually without kids) travel & vacation can magically happen together in happy balance
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