Planning a family vacation? If you are going to splurge on ONE thing, make it your hotel or vacation rental.
It can be challenging to decide where to spend your limited budget. And lodging is already one of the biggest expenses of a family vacation. But after 18+ years of traveling with my kids, I've learned that spending a little more money to get a bigger room, better location, or more fun amenities is usually worth every penny.
When your budget is small, you may have to stay somewhere cheap or you can't afford to go at all. I've been there. And I have no regrets about (most of) the no-frills hotels we've chosen because they allowed us to check some amazing places off our bucket lists.
And I still choose budget hotels when we are just staying for 1-2 nights.
But when your travel budget gets bigger and you are staying for several nights, lodging is the FIRST place I would splurge. Here's why.
Have you ever come home from a family vacation feeling totally exhausted? If you were sharing a small bed with your spouse in the same room as your kids, that could be one big reason.
You will enjoy your vacation more if you sleep well and feel at home (or better) in your lodging. For most families, bigger rooms, comfortable beds, big fluffy pillows, thick walls, and quiet air conditioners will help accomplish these goals.
Look for multiple bedrooms, multiple bathrooms, a living room, and a full kitchen. When it comes to hotel beds, pillows, sheets, and towels, you usually get what you pay for.
Renting a vacation home through VRBO or Airbnb is an easy way to get more space for a good price. We often choose a vacation rental for a stay of 3 nights or more. However, there are many hotels and resorts that also offer comfortable family suites.
We were wowed by the size of our suite at the Little America Hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona. It had two bedrooms, two baths, a large living room, and a full kitchen, plus all the convenience and amenities of a hotel.
Paying more for a hotel or vacation rental in a better location generally pays off with a richer vacation experience.
Instead of driving to the beach, wouldn't you rather walk out to the beach? A hotel in the heart of a city is usually a lot more fun than a hotel in the suburbs. Staying close to the action lets you immerse yourself in your vacation, instead of commuting to it.
In London, we booked a budget hotel with a great location – the Travelodge London Covent Garden. It didn't offer a large room or on-site activities, but it was a short walk from EVERYTHING. We enjoyed Westminster Abbey, West End theater, the London Museum, shopping on Oxford Street, and much more all on foot.
When we visited Yosemite National Park, we were lucky to book a room at Yosemite Valley Lodge inside the park. We took twilight walks to waterfalls, easily beat the crowds every morning, and soaked up the incredible Yosemite vibe around the clock. The room was old and nothing special, but the location was worth the premium price.
There is nothing better than booking a beach house. We have done this in Nova Scotia, Washington State, and Oceanside, California. My college-age daughter recently stayed at an Airbnb in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico with a private beach, within walking distance of the town and resorts. She and her friends split the cost and had an amazing trip.
Better hotels, resorts, vacation rentals, and campgrounds often include fun on-site activities for no extra cost. These may include
- swimming pools
- water slides
- sport courts (like basketball or pickleball)
- game rooms
- movie nights
- bicycle loans
- beach gear
- and many more
When you book a hotel or vacation rental with lots of fun built-in activities, you'll want to spend more time there. This gives you the option to spend less time and money on outside activities.
When my family spent an off-season weekend at the luxurious Montage Deer Valley in Utah, there were so many complimentary on-site activities that we never left the hotel. We swam in the indoor and outdoor pools, took an archery lesson, went bowling, and toasted gourmet marshmallows over a fire pit. It was so much fun!
Other great places with LOADS of fun activities include:
- KOA – Santa Cruz-Monterey Bay, CA
- Arizona Grand Resort and Spa – Phoenix, AZ
- Lakedale Resort – San Juan Island, WA
- Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort – Lake Placid, NY
- Tahiti Village – Las Vegas, Nevada
- Las Palmas Resort – St. George, Utah
I recommend that families build in at least one “day off” into their vacation itinerary. Use this day to relax and enjoy the activities at your hotel or rental. Even if your hotel just has a pool, it'll probably be your kids' favorite day of the vacation.
Lower Transportation Costs
When you stay closer to your activities and leave your lodging less often, you can spend less time and money on transportation. If you spend less money on fuel or public transportation, you may be able to spend more money on a better hotel or rental.
We visit Disneyland almost every year, and we no longer stay in hotels that are not on-property or across the street from the entrance. This allows us to fly in, take an Uber/Lyft to our hotel, walk to Disneyland all week, and then take an Uber/Lyft back to the airport. Don't forget to schedule a day off for the hotel pool, Downtown Disney – and maybe a character meal!
Staying on the property or across the street allows us to skip expensive shuttle passes and parking lots. Disneyland parking is currently $30 per day. It also allows us to easily come and go from the parks when we need a break.
Here are our favorite Disneyland hotels:
- Disney's Grand Californian – BEST location and atmosphere
- Disneyland Hotel – Great pools, and it's THE original Disney hotel
- Best Western Park Place Inn – BEST off-property location for the BEST price
- Courtyard Marriott Anaheim Theme Park – great location, family-size rooms, and a water park
Hotels and resorts in better locations and with more amenities often add resort fees and parking fees to the base room rate. I've seen parking fees at $50+ per night in Washington D.C. and New York City – but didn't pay them because we walked and used public transportation. Look for these fees and factor them into your decision before you book.
Splurging on a hotel, resort, or vacation rental that offers more comfort, a better location, or more activities is usually worth every penny. As your travel budget grows, spend it on your lodging first. It will make the rest of your vacation better.
I hope that my family's experience will help your family plan a great family vacation.