Once our family decides on a destination for our next vacation, the discussion quickly turns to where we’ll stay. There are so many options on the market these days in a range of prices and each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Our needs have evolved as our daughter has grown and in the process, this is what we have learned.
Who’s It Right For: Parents with babies and toddlers; extended families.
Why: We realized when our daughter was a baby and toddler that a beach or mountain resort vacation wasn’t worth the cost because we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of most of the resort amenities. What we really needed was a living room where we could hang out and read, watch TV or talk and have a glass of wine during naptime and after her early bedtime. And we needed a kitchen and dining table so that we could prepare simple kid meals, cook for ourselves or bring in take-out food when the thought of yet another restaurant was just too much.
Vacation rentals are also a great option for extended families because they can offer more value for big groups than hotels. Having more privacy than a hotel offers, indoor and outdoor areas to gather in and a kitchen for preparing group meals are also pluses.
What To Look For: With little kids, take a good look at balconies, patios and stairs to consider whether they are safe or easy to child proof. Pay attention to how many people the house says it sleeps compared with the number of bedrooms and bathrooms to ensure everyone has the space they need. Extra amenities like a pool, a private beach and easy access to some stores are nice, too.
Who’s It Right For: Parents with small children or any families on a short visit.
Why: Hotels are more expensive than other types of lodging in tourist-destination cities, but they can put you right in the heart of things. This is handy if you are doing a quick weekend away and don’t want to spend a lot of time commuting between your lodging and things you want to do. We found it was also very handy when we had a child small enough to need nap breaks or who might need to be change clothes midday because of spilt juice or an all-too-attractive playground sprinkler.
What to Look for: Location. Map out the things you most want to do or neighborhoods you plan to spend time in and choose a hotel in proximity. A concierge and a refrigerator in the room are helpful and a good complementary breakfast will save you some money. A pool in invaluable with older kids.
Who’s It Right For: Families with older kids and plenty of time.
Why: In big cities, especially those where hotels and restaurants are really expensive (think New York, London, Paris), vacation rentals can offer lower prices and more room. They’re usually in residential neighborhoods with cheaper, more family friendly restaurants and have amenities like grocery stores, parks and playgrounds nearby.
The trade-off is a longer commute to the things you want to do and having to get by without a concierge to help you. But with older kids who can handle a long day of sightseeing and who will like having space to run around and a kitchen for stashing their favorite snacks and breakfast foods it’s more than worth it to living like a local, especially if you’re staying for a week or two.
What to Look for: Use Google maps to make sure your target neighborhood has good public transportation, along with a park or playground and a shopping street with plenty of restaurants and stores.
Who’s It Right For: Parents with older kids who just want to relax; extended families.
Why: I began to see the value in resort vacations once my daughter hit age 7 or so. A schedule increasingly full of work, school and activities meant we began craving vacations where we just relaxed. We could take advantage of all the resort amenities from the big pool and zip lines to mini-golf and morning yoga. Access to a good kids club freed us up to do things we liked but that kids don’t for an hour or two every day. And we could all find food we liked (that someone else cooked).
Resorts are also good for multi-generation vacations where folks want to be close by each other but might not want to do the same things all day.
What to look for: Make sure the resort offers the amenities that your family values, be it great water slides or a decent wine list. If the resort is not near a town you need a good selection of dining options so you don’t get bored of the same food. For really big resorts study a map of the grounds so you can request a room that will be convenient to the things you’ll do most.
Who’s It Right For: Families with slightly older kids who want to visit more remote areas or take a long road trip.
Why: In regions like Alaska, Western Canada or the American Southwest, RVs let you cover longer distances, be self-sufficient and visit more remote areas than you can if you needed to get back to a hotel each night. On longer road trips, say to series of national parks, they provide more way comfort than tent camping.
Older kids can deal with the small confines of an RV better than antsy preschoolers, and having kids out of car seats makes it easier to deal with RV seatbelts, which are not quite the same as car seat belts
What to look for: Class C RVs are easier to drive than bigger class-As but still provide a good amount of room. Rent an RV for a short trip to make sure you deal with the driving and space issues.
What’s your favorite type of family accommodation?
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Eileen is a journalist whose work has appeared in the HuffPost, U.S. News, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Parents.com and many other publications. She has traveled on five continents, three of them with her daughter. She calls New York City home. You can read Eileen's blog at Familiesgotravel.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.
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