Whether travelling for a quick trip or on the road for a month or two, booking accommodation for families when you have three or more kids can be challenging.
We’ve had some incredible experiences and some absolute shockers. Once, we booked a fabulous Art Deco converted loft apartment in Mexico that looked amazing online. However, we discovered it was an Art Deco death trap, with massive gaps in the upstairs suspended landing, the only thing connecting the bedrooms and bathrooms. We had to make an expensive last-minute change for fear of a potentially fatal night-time bathroom trip!
No matter what site you’re using to book your accommodation, here are some things to consider when making your booking:
1. Plan your trip
An obvious place to start! But before you start booking accommodation, it’s always worth creating a plan for your trip so you know the dates, number of nights and how much you want to spend for the whole trip, so help you work out an average rate per night that is realistic for your budget.
2. Set a budget
When setting your budget, remember that the size, facilities and location will impact how much you pay for any accommodation. If you want high-end luxury on a budget, this will affect how long you can travel. When we travel for more than a few weeks, we typically aim to look at cheaper options when we’re only staying a night or two in one place, so we have more money left to spend where we’re staying longer or if we want a splurge.
3. Consider the layout
The layout is relevant no matter what type of accommodation you’re booking. But when booking an entire house or an apartment, it’s essential. When booking, check you’re booking ONE area and not separate apartments or a separate room outside that’s not connected to the main house – it’s definitely not ideal with little ones and, again, something we’ve experienced which ended up being wasted space that you really can’t use.
Some hotels offer great options for families if you book a hotel room. Look for connecting rooms typically offering much more space (and comfort!) where the kids are in one room, and you’re in the other. One recent example was the Shangri-La in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. This family room was awe-inspiring, with bunk beds, funky kids’ decorations, a pull-out third bed, a TV, and a sliding door leading through to the main bedroom, balcony, and bathroom— a top-notch layout for a few days.
4. Think about your preferred location
Location can make or break a great travel experience. It can be one of the most important factors when booking your accommodation. Where you stay comes down to your preference. We’ve experienced staying in remote areas and being right in the thick of things. It depends on where you’re travelling to, if you’ll have access to a rental car (we typically don’t), how easy it is to get around on public transport or via taxi and how often you want to get out and about, either eating out, visiting supermarkets or seeing the sights.
For example, we stayed for a month in a little place in northern Peru called Vichiyito. It was 30 mins walk along the beach to the nearest convenience store (which only had a few options). Fortunately, our Airbnb paid a local guy who came to clean the pool and pick up groceries for us whenever we needed them. Most times, however, particularly when we’re only spending a few days in an area, our preference is to be central, so we can walk to the main areas we want to explore.
5. Work out how much space you need
For extended stays, space is essential if you spend a lot of time in the apartment between sightseeing. Of course, a cheap family room will often do the trick if you’re only spending a few days in one spot. But, for example, if you’re planning on being out at the beach in the mornings and chilling at home in the afternoons, it’s worth finding somewhere where there are some separate areas for everyone to have a little more space if possible, making an Airbnb or self-catering apartment a much better alternative.
6. Decide if you want to self-cater
If you’re interested in saving some cash and sticking to a bedtime routine, you can’t go past self-catering with your own kitchen. When booking, check out reviews to see how well-stocked the kitchen is. There’s nothing worse than seeing a kitchen listed and turning up to one electric hot plate that doesn’t have a pot large enough to cook in and only one plate.
Another good idea is to compare properties that include breakfast vs those that don’t. If there isn’t a kitchen available and depending on the size of your family, choosing somewhere where breakfast is included (particularly buffet style) can save you more money, even if the per night room is slightly more expensive, as it’ll be cheaper than eating out every morning.
7. Read reviews
While I typically take reviews with a grain of salt, they can be invaluable as a last check when you think you’ve found the perfect accommodation, especially when using sites that allow you to see if other families have stayed there. These reviews can give helpful and practical insights about whether it suits your family.
For example, if there is lots of street noise until all hours it’s probably not the best bet with kids, or if there are no curtains on the windows (as happened to us in Mexico City), it’s going to be challenging to get your kids to go to bed at a regular bedtime if it’s still light out (been there, done that ;p).
You can filter your selections by ‘family friendly’ on many accommodation sites and search for family amenities, such as pools or children’s playgrounds. Or, if you’re fortunate, babysitting services or kids clubs!
8. Check if there are enough beds
Families of five and larger can be tough to book for – particularly in some Asian countries, where many family rooms have one double and one single bed with no option to add an extra bed. If you find somewhere that offers extra beds, check how much (if any) you have to pay per night and factor the cost into your budget – it can make a big difference for extended stays.
A private apartment or house obviously gives much more space, though you won’t have the amenities of a hotel. But, if you’re lucky enough to get an experienced and thoughtful host using Airbnb, you can often access lots of helpful information about where to eat, how to get around and more.
9. Look for free Wi-Fi
While we are happy to go off the grid for a few days to get a unique jungle or island experience, typically, we prefer staying connected for work and ease of travel. So check if your hotel or Airbnb offers free Wi-Fi – usually, these days, most do, depending on where you’re visiting.
10. Contemplate washing needs
Travelling for more than three days with our family of five usually means a tonne of washing. While it’s not a typical feature in most places, a washing machine is a real bonus if you can find one when travelling, particularly for long trips. It can save you considerable time on hand washing and money by not having to pay for laundry services.
Where to book
I typically use Booking.com as it is super easy to filter and sort by budget and location. Many places offer free cancellation, which is handy if plans change. It also gives you flexibility if you find a better option or something cheaper. I’ve found cheaper specials at the same accommodation and cancelled the original booking to rebook at the cheaper rate. In Miami, this ended up saving around $800 over four nights!
I also check Airbnb but usually find it more expensive than similar listings on Booking.com. However, it can depend on the region you’re travelling to. But there are plenty of other great sites available depending on where you’re travelling to find the best family accommodation for you, such as –