Vacations and road trips can be expensive. When you have six children, they can be costly in both money and sanity.
But I love to travel, and I want to give my children memorable experiences, so I try to find a way. It doesn’t always work out, and it’s certainly not cheap, but I’m trying to set my anxiety aside and embark on some family adventures.
So what have I done to make traveling more reasonable for our large family?
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Don’t Travel Like the Joneses
Flying to Hawaii would be amazing, but the cost of airfare anywhere for a family of eight is cost prohibitive. Our trips are going to be road trips; there just isn’t another option.
But there are several ways we try to keep the cost within reason.
- Use hotel points to book our hotel, especially when there is a night on the road
- Stay at rental houses or condos which are much cheaper than hotels for a large family
- We don’t frequent theme parks
- Go Camping
- Visit family
As much as I would enjoy an all-inclusive resort or flying to an exotic location, I prefer more frequent, less expensive trips that don’t require years of saving.
Plan Ahead, But Not Too Far Ahead
For me, I enjoy a trip more if I haven’t been planning it forever, but that’s just me. If I have to long to worry about the cost and stress, I’ll back out.
When I have plenty of time, I get frustrated looking for the perfect rental and eventually give up. So I plan, maybe 3 to 6 months in advance, so I don’t get overwhelmed with making decisions.
When planning our biggest trip ever, I only started making arrangements about two months ahead, knowing I had to get accommodations booked before they were full.
Pack the Cooler and Plan the Food
As a child, I took a lot of road trips. We drove from Arkansas to Arizona at least once a year and sometimes twice, but I don’t remember ever packing a cooler. Our family of four didn’t break the bank at a gas station pit stop.
Now, I pack that cooler.
I pack the snacks, I plan for a picnic lunch, and on our upcoming trip, I’m even planning dinners so we can avoid the $70 road trip dinner every day.
We choose hotels offering free breakfast, or we stay somewhere with a kitchen that allows us to eat in. Three meals a day for a family of eight can ruin any travel budget.
So what do I have planned for our trip?
- Refillable Water Bottles
- Various portable snacks (i.e., bananas, crackers, granola bars, and dried fruit)
- Shelf stable ingredients for dinners (i.e., pasta, tomato sauce, ready to serve rice, and couscous)
- Travel kitchen with my Instant Pot, bowls, cups, cutlery, and other needed items
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Focus on the Free
Traveling with a family of eight means you never fit in one hotel room. If you’re lucky, you can find some hotels with two bedroom suites that will accommodate everyone, but those are few and far between.
Because of this, our hotel or rental costs are usually the most significant ticket item of a trip. With so much of our budget going to our lodging, I look for other ways to save.
Besides food, my next significant saving is in what we choose to do on our vacation. I know there are Disney lovers who don’t think twice about the cost of tickets, but it would cause me physical pain.
So instead, I focus on free things to do such as National Parks, state parks, historical sights, and museums.
For our family, the cost of a museum membership is usually just a few dollars more than a single visit, so I have several memberships locally. I then look to see what museums are near where we are traveling and see if any reciprocate. This incredible benefit allows us to visit great attractions wherever we go without the $20 per person price tag.
- National Parks
- State and Local Parks
- Factory Tours
- Museums and Sites with membership reciprocity
- Scenic Drives
Scope Out the Lay of the Land
We know we’re going to forget something, but I certainly don’t want to pay $4 for two ibuprofens at the gas station. So for our upcoming trip, I’m finding my low-cost options along the route.
So what am I locating and why?
- Costco for inexpensive lunches and gas
- Aldis close to all of our hotels to keep food cost down
- Dollar Trees where we’ll be staying so we can pick up those odds and ends
By knowing where my favorite spots are in advance, I save myself from the big costs of tourist towns. If you ever bought groceries at a beach town supermarket, you know why this is important.
Have Some Perspective
I always get in the car sure I forgot something. It happens, and we can’t remember everything, but the positive is most anything we forget can be found along the way.
There will be mishaps, arguments, and wrong turns, but it will only make for better stories once we get home.
Certain things will be expensive, but if I save in other ways, I’ll be willing to pay for some great experiences when the opportunity arises.
For me, I need to maintain a realistic vision of what our trip will be and what we can accomplish. Having a family of 8 with younger children means we have to work in some time for rest and recuperation.
I Hate the Cliches
I’m not going to tell you there are only 18 summers with your children or that you should spend on experiences and not stuff.
We can all be made to feel guilty by these well-meaning statements. We’re just doing the best we can at the time.
What I will say is that your children will love a road trip whether it takes you across the country or across the county line to go camping.
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