Preparing for a Family Vacation: Lodging (with a free printable!)

So, we’re taking this circus on the road.  And in the skies.  Yep, we’re taking four of our five children on vacation (the oldest has a job she can’t get away from and it is good and sad and wonderful and you know, kids and growing up and love and so on).  We are even taking the non-sleepers because we believe in travel.  Okay, I believe in travel.  I specifically believe in kids and travel.

2013 118

A two year old’s viewpoint while traveling around town

My husband accommodates slightly less than graciously during the planning but then has a great time when we’re there.  Which means he is no help during this pre-vacation part.  I find the deals, the lodging, obsess over flight prices, allllllllll the things while he amps up and starts to stress out.  So here is how I help the process, starting with this post on lodging, which is where I start:

We pick our general area, like this or that state.  Then I start looking to see what lodging is available.  I’ll totally change our actual destination city based on lodging if we aren’t visiting for any specific purpose, so this is where I start the whole thing.

If it makes more financial sense, and it often does, we book a vacation home rental instead of a hotel.

For our family, we do much better if we have a little space (see husband: stress), actual bedrooms (see kids, no sleep), a bit of a yard, and a real kitchen.  A rental home does WONDERS for lowering the stress of a vacation and for us, it’s nearly always cheaper.  We usually need two hotel rooms if we go anywhere and most often, a vacation rental is cheaper.


If we’re going somewhere for a night or two, this might not actually be cheaper than a lower to mid-budget hotel.  Often, vacation rentals have added cleaning fees and nearly always taxes.  Price it out for your family to see what works best.  Keep in mind all fees, taxes, and how you will be eating meals.  Does your hotel have a kitchen you can cook in or does the vacation home have the advantage?  For us, eating out is super expensive and our almost three year old currently is a nightmare in a restaurant, so being able to cook at home saves us a boatload of money and keeps at bay the gray hairs and gritted teeth whisperings of, “Get down, get down, get up, GET UP!”

How to find a place:

Look at sites like,,, and (sister site to to find homes to rent.  We’ve had the best luck with and so far, have only booked through them by chance.  The houses we wanted just happened to be with them so far.  Bookmark the houses you like in a shortlist…or you can make a excel sheet like I do.

How to narrow down your choices:

Yep, I make a spreadsheet out of everything and this one helps keep my brain organized.  (No sleep, remember.  The thinks don’t always work correctly.)  Here is the quick and dirty spreadsheet I actually use to make our vacation plans and to compare the homes I think might work best for our large family.

Click to download: Sample Vacation Workbook

You can adjust this to your heart’s desire, this is just what worked for me and is a starting point for anyone else.  The spreadsheet helps me eyeball similar places and often a clear winner comes out, usually one with the best fit for us with a great price.  Without the spreadsheet, I’d never be able to pick it out quickly.

How to get your best deal:

Once you narrow down your choices, double check their availability calendar to make sure your dates haven’t been blocked out.  Then, start contacting the owners.  I tend to use the forms on the websites that are provided.  For me and my intense and loud two year old, phone calling isn’t very productive so an email sent through works for me.  I send a message that states our interest for the specific dates, tell them quickly we are family of x number with a toddler and a baby, and ask if the place is still available and what is their best price.

Basically I’m saying this: I want to book your place, I totally have a large family and small kids…beware, can we have it for these dates pretty please, and are you willing to give any discounts.

Sometimes a house just isn’t suitable for small kids, one house we liked had a cliff-like dropoff into the sea that made for great views but was super dangerous to kids and the pictures on the site didn’t make that clear, but the owners immediately shared that information when they saw our family composition.  Sometimes owners just don’t want small kids in their homes.  I understand that and want to give the heads up.  On our last booking, the owners even went out of their way to buy and provide a booster seat high chair for us.  They were already in the market and I suggested the one we use at home that costs about $25.  So it was there for us when we got there instead of them buying it at some future time.

And I’m telling you, if you ask nicely what their best price is, about 50% of the time there is a discount.  But you might not know if you don’t ask.  Even if you can book immediately through the website, send the message and ask.  I’ve gotten everything from the taxes waived to a 7th night free kind of thing.  Doesn’t hurt, might help.

How to book

If you are choosing a rental home, the owners will tell you how they like to be paid and when.  Paypal is awesome because you can use your credit card through it without having an account.  And if you do have an account, you don’t need to log into when going to pay if you want to use your card.  Just bypass it and it takes you to a page for credit cards.  We like to use our card for the extra protection it provides plus we get cash back on the purchase.  Just remember to pay it off on the next billing cycle so you aren’t hit with fees and interest.

This just my first step with planning a trip.  Stay tuned for upcoming posts about flying with kids, packing lists, and car travel with two non-sleeping balls of intensity in your backseat who are riding with surly teenagers!


2 thoughts on “Preparing for a Family Vacation: Lodging (with a free printable!)

  1. These are great tips… and thanks for the download. We’re flying transatlantically with our 16 month old next week… wish us luck! I am hoping your trip with your melange of kiddos goes really smoothly! -WanderingKate (

    • Melissa says:

      Kati, thank you for stopping by! I’m glad the little worksheet might be helpful to you. It’s not particularly fancy, but it certainly helped me keep things a bit more organized. Good luck to you on your upcoming flights! I’ll be posting about how I’m preparing for the flight soon and if we’re lucky, things will go all right. We do have pretty low expectations though.

      I hope your upcoming travels will be easy and wonderful! We flew with a 12 month old a few years ago and you know, it was just fine (knocks on allll the woods).

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