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Long trips (4 weeks +) with family / kids

Long trips (4 weeks +) with family / kids

Old Jan 31, 16, 10:38 pm
  #1  
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Long trips (4 weeks +) with family / kids

I'd like to hear from others who travel for several weeks at a time with children. These kinds of trips raise different kinds of issues and I'd like some resources for helping me plan my own trips. Some of the issues I'm thinking of:
  • Award availability for families, esp in J and we need 5x
  • Hotels with suites for families, esp with 3 kids
  • Fatigue!!!
  • Trains and other public transportation vs car rental
  • Competing ideas about travel/length of stay/endurance from spouse/older kids
  • Apartment vs hotel for long stays
  • Cost

We are in the unusual position of having careers that allow us to take up to 7 weeks off (all at once) every year. We also take 1-2 weeks off at holidays etc. And we have 3 children (7-16 yrs) who are, of course, off every summer. Generally we spend 4 weeks somewhere. At our beach house, in Europe at one or two locations, some combo of FL and Caribbean. Two years ago we did Europe (2 weeks) and South Africa (3 weeks) and it was incredible, if a bit stressful (little one was 5...sigh). This summer we are 2 weeks at beach house then 3 weeks in UK.

I'm already gearing up for summer 2017 when I want to do a RTW with Europe, SE Asia, and Japan. It takes me 6 months to figure out what we're doing and then I usually book air 330+ days out. I'm thinking we need 5-6 weeks. But the family will most definitely push back because they are homebodies.

How do you all plan? How do you prioritize? How do you persuade the naysayers? How do budget?
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Old Feb 1, 16, 7:42 am
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Long trips (4 weeks +) with family / kids

You will want to consider splitting up the family. It is much easier, although not easy, to get 3 awards on one flight and 2 on another, than 5 on one flight.
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Old Feb 1, 16, 8:23 am
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I traveled with my parents a fair bit as a kid, for longer trips. i can't comment on award availability but I can comment on some of the other bits.

Hotels - As your eldest kid is 16 (and will be 17/18 for the future trips) I would consider 2 hotel rooms (possibly interconnecting). Most suites still only have one full bathroom, and 5 people getting ready every day takes a lot longer with only one bathroom. On longer stays in the same location, the extra space / privacy of two rooms can go a long way. I know in some countries (e.g. Japan) large family suites are not the norm, so you may have to go the multi-room option there (a friend of my traveled last year with his family of 5 and hotels were tough - he ended up doing Air BNB in a couple of cities as he just couldn't find hotels that would sleep 5 (his kids are young) ) Some hotels offer second room discounts - e.g. Westins offer second room at 50% off at some properties.

We stayed at some hybrid properties, half hotel (all the amenities, including room service) half apartment (full kitchen, 2 bathrooms, 2 bedrooms, living room etc.) These properties were largely timeshare properties, that rented out unoccupied suites to normal 'hotel' guests. They worked out very reasonable, and you can save a lot of cash making breakfasts, sandwiches etc. especially in higher priced resort destinations.

With hotels, I would scope out the viability of using a single brand - you can accrue points and status - 5 weeks' worth of rooms can translate to a large number of free nights for use on a future stay (especially if you can combine it with some of the deals around) and get extras (like club lounge access, room upgrades, etc.) on future stays.

Competing ideas / how to get everyone on board - consulting with them, and seeing what they want to do / where they want to go. As a kid we always got input into a plan, e.g. my parents would say 'we are going to go to Australia - where do you want to go / what do you want to do while we are there', and we would get some input. My thoughts generally revolved around the coolest places I could ride horses, my mother always insisted on some culture, my father wanted some 'exploring', and my brother would normally pick something he knew I would hate (normally involving a long boat ride) because he was an annoying younger brother! Maybe your 7 year old really wants to go to Disneyland Paris, maybe your 16 year old was studying Shakespeare and really wants to visit Stratford - some give and take, letting them be involved is the best way to get them excited about it. Also, at 16/17/18 I didn't want to do everything with my family, I needed some me time - so I wandered around Sydney by myself while they went to the Blue Mountains, I hung out at the beach in Hawaii while they visited yet another historical site, I went and rode horses in the surf by myself in St Lucia while they took a snorkeling trip. A little independence is a good thing in my book.
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Old Feb 1, 16, 8:54 am
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My parents took me and my two* siblings on extended summer camping trips when we were kids. The most memorable were two summers in Europe. They bought VW Campers each time, which they shipped home. They sold the first one in the States, but kept the second and used it for North American trips for years afterwards.

The asterisk is because the oldest sibling spent most of the first summer in a camp in Switzerland.

These trips shaped my whole life, though clearly the idea wouldn't suit everyone. The family on the second trip mapped yours pretty closely, as we kids were 14, 11 and 6 years old. My dad was traveling to Moscow to present a paper at a scientific conference. We spent a few nights in hotels here and there, and ten nights in a borrowed apartment in Prague while my parents worked to secure a Polish visa for my mom. (She had left Poland just after WWII. As a defector, she was no longer welcome in the socialist paradise. My dad finally resolved the issue by pointing out that preventing an eminent American scholar from delivering his paper would create an international incident and asking the consul whether he wanted to be responsible for such a crisis.)

Camping in Europe had a lot of advantages back then, many of which I think are still available. We had a great many interesting conversations with other travelers; we kids got to run around and burn off energy exploring new campgrounds every few days; in the Communist bloc, we escaped the bureaucracy that made tourism maddening for Westerners. That last bit is happily just history now.

The money saved on hotels made dining out more economically feasible. My memory is that we ate one meal a day in restaurants, but I don't think we really did it that often.
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Old Feb 1, 16, 8:54 am
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This may be better suited for the "Travel with Children" forum.
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Old Feb 1, 16, 9:53 am
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Originally Posted by dchristiva View Post
This may be better suited for the "Travel with Children" forum.
You are totally right. I didn't even know that forum existed...and I searched. Gah. I alerted the mod to move it b/c I didn't know how. Thanks!
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Old Feb 1, 16, 10:20 am
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We've done a month in Europe with 5 total. Also gone back for a couple of other trips in the 2-week range with 4 or 5 total. We did a mix of Booking.com and standard hotel awards. The challenge is that in some cities, most hotels are max-2-per-room for legitimate fire code reasons (e.g., tiny rooms - you wouldn't want 3 in them). So a little 2-bedroom flat ends up being a lot more enjoyable. Booking.com is a good spot for these - probably better than VRBO.com in some cities. (We chose not to get into the AirBnB thing, although that may be an option for some.)

We always rent a car. Our trips often involve smaller towns, visiting friends in different countries, etc. I always do the due diligence and look to see if trains, cheap flights, etc. would reduce the need for a car, but it rarely does. Obviously if we were just going city-to-city, the hassle of parking and driving might not be worth it.

We almost always redeem Y seats. J seats for kids seems like a waste, and finding 5 together in the summer is going to be a tough task anyway. A few years ago, we got all of our seats together on EI, a decent airline if you don't hold any relevant elite statuses. The last couple trips we've gotten 4-5 together on AA via secondary cities. Even in the summer, when MAD, CDG, etc. are booked solid and LHR has lots of junk fees, look at the German cities with an AB connection. Last year, with only a few weeks' advance planning, we saw some options here and ended up on an ORD-DUS flight that wasn't 100% full. All awards, all ended up in MCE.

The lesson we learned over time is to *not* move from city to city as much as we did traveling without kids. The act of travel has high overhead, even just loading/unloading a van, so we learned that 5 people trying to hit a new town every day was a little too much. If you know you *have* to do some rapid-fire travel for whatever reason, follow it with a few days in one place that you know the kids will enjoy.
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Old Feb 1, 16, 11:07 am
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Originally Posted by dchristiva View Post
This may be better suited for the "Travel with Children" forum.
I quite agree so I am moving this thread to The Travel With Children Forum.
Please continue to follow there.
Thanks...
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Old Feb 1, 16, 3:57 pm
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Originally Posted by pinniped View Post
We've done a month in Europe with 5 total. Also gone back for a couple of other trips in the 2-week range with 4 or 5 total. We did a mix of Booking.com and standard hotel awards. The challenge is that in some cities, most hotels are max-2-per-room for legitimate fire code reasons (e.g., tiny rooms - you wouldn't want 3 in them). So a little 2-bedroom flat ends up being a lot more enjoyable. Booking.com is a good spot for these - probably better than VRBO.com in some cities. (We chose not to get into the AirBnB thing, although that may be an option for some.)

We always rent a car. Our trips often involve smaller towns, visiting friends in different countries, etc. I always do the due diligence and look to see if trains, cheap flights, etc. would reduce the need for a car, but it rarely does. Obviously if we were just going city-to-city, the hassle of parking and driving might not be worth it.

We almost always redeem Y seats. J seats for kids seems like a waste, and finding 5 together in the summer is going to be a tough task anyway. A few years ago, we got all of our seats together on EI, a decent airline if you don't hold any relevant elite statuses. The last couple trips we've gotten 4-5 together on AA via secondary cities. Even in the summer, when MAD, CDG, etc. are booked solid and LHR has lots of junk fees, look at the German cities with an AB connection. Last year, with only a few weeks' advance planning, we saw some options here and ended up on an ORD-DUS flight that wasn't 100% full. All awards, all ended up in MCE.

The lesson we learned over time is to *not* move from city to city as much as we did traveling without kids. The act of travel has high overhead, even just loading/unloading a van, so we learned that 5 people trying to hit a new town every day was a little too much. If you know you *have* to do some rapid-fire travel for whatever reason, follow it with a few days in one place that you know the kids will enjoy.
I did not know about booking.com having flats! I like this option. We ALWAYS get either a flat or 2 hotel rooms. Long gone are the days of cramming babies/toddlers into 1 room with 2 doubles. We have even taken a twin air mattress with built in foot pump so that (even with 2 rooms or flat) no one has to sleep in the same bed. I've got big teenage sons! We also always leave the mattress (it's like $20 on amazon) when we know we won't need it any more. But it does give us a bit more flexibility (and sanity).

I agree with you about car rental, too. Many folks on tripadvisor push trains in Europe and can't understand why I'd want a car. With kids, I find the car absolutely essentially. Leave snacks and toys in there, stop when you want, etc. And it's always been cheaper than 5x train tickets. We like driving, anyway.

I've debated this issue with J vs Y for kids. We've managed to find the J we needed (x5) a couple of times (and always find Y), but I always book WAY in advance (10 months). It kills me to spend the miles for my littlest (he's 7 and just doesn't value the champagne and caviar the way I do!). But on super long hauls, I want to sit in J. And I don't feel right putting the kids back in Y (I'd feel ok about putting the teens back there but they'd whine that the 7 year old got J...blah blah blah). Mind you, I wouldn't abandon a trip just b/c I couldn't find J, but I'd probably do a split 3x2 and stick spouse and a kid in Y (and trade for another segment).

I've been wanting to try EI. They have excellent fares BOS-DUB and that flight isn't long, either. I'll give them a look soon. We are 6 Y to GLA this summer (my dad is coming along). I booked via DL on VS. Had to pay steep fees but I wanted to burn the DL miles. It's a nonstop GLA-MCO and we'll arrive 11 PM our time, so didn't seem worth the J.

I don't know if this thread will be useful for others, but already I feel like I'm getting and sharing tips. Thanks!
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Old Feb 1, 16, 4:06 pm
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Originally Posted by whimike View Post
You will want to consider splitting up the family. It is much easier, although not easy, to get 3 awards on one flight and 2 on another, than 5 on one flight.
Yes, I know people say to do this. We are flexible enough that I'd rather move dates or cities, but if we weren't then we would likely have no choice but to split. If we have to, I think I'd rather split 2J and 3Y, with spouse in back with 2 kids!

Originally Posted by emma69 View Post
Hotels - As your eldest kid is 16 (and will be 17/18 for the future trips) I would consider 2 hotel rooms (possibly interconnecting). Most suites still only have one full bathroom, and 5 people getting ready every day takes a lot longer with only one bathroom. On longer stays in the same location, the extra space / privacy of two rooms can go a long way. ...Some hotels offer second room discounts - e.g. Westins offer second room at 50% off at some properties.

We stayed at some hybrid properties, half hotel (all the amenities, including room service) half apartment (full kitchen, 2 bathrooms, 2 bedrooms, living room etc.) These properties were largely timeshare properties, that rented out unoccupied suites to normal 'hotel' guests. They worked out very reasonable, and you can save a lot of cash making breakfasts, sandwiches etc. especially in higher priced resort destinations.
Yes, we abandoned the 1 room cram a couple of years ago. My older kids wear men's size 10 and 11 shoes, so no way could we all smash in one room. But it usually doubles the cost, of course. I've seen that Marriott has had a second kid room discount before, but I did not know about Westin! That's a great tip!

Originally Posted by ajGoes View Post
My parents took me and my two* siblings on extended summer camping trips when we were kids. The most memorable were two summers in Europe. They bought VW Campers each time, which they shipped home. They sold the first one in the States, but kept the second and used it for North American trips for years afterwards.

These trips shaped my whole life, though clearly the idea wouldn't suit everyone. The family on the second trip mapped yours pretty closely, as we kids were 14, 11 and 6 years old. My dad was traveling to Moscow to present a paper at a scientific conference. We spent a few nights in hotels here and there, and ten nights in a borrowed apartment in Prague while my parents worked to secure a Polish visa for my mom. (She had left Poland just after WWII. As a defector, she was no longer welcome in the socialist paradise. My dad finally resolved the issue by pointing out that preventing an eminent American scholar from delivering his paper would create an international incident and asking the consul whether he wanted to be responsible for such a crisis.)
I love this. I want my children to see landscapes and cultures and people different from their own. Already they seem more compassionate and more curious and more global than they were. It's exciting! And yes your age spread is like ours. My guys were 15, 12, 6 last year. One hard part is figuring out things that ALL of them will enjoy (and that we, the parents, will enjoy). In Jamaica we went ziplining and snorkeling among other water activities and it was fantastic b/c everyone could do it.
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Old Feb 1, 16, 7:48 pm
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Originally Posted by Stgermainparis View Post
And yes your age spread is like ours. My guys were 15, 12, 6 last year. One hard part is figuring out things that ALL of them will enjoy (and that we, the parents, will enjoy). In Jamaica we went ziplining and snorkeling among other water activities and it was fantastic b/c everyone could do it.
If your oldest is anything like my big brother was at 14, he'll complain no matter what you decide. On the second trip my dad actually called the camp my brother attended two years before to see if there was a way to get him enrolled again immediately.

I got sick of churches, my then six-year-old sister acted up in museums, but somehow my mom and dad put up with us and mostly enjoyed themselves. You won't be able to consistently find things they'll all enjoy, but hopefully you can keep the average acceptable.
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Old Feb 1, 16, 7:53 pm
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Accor are another that offer 50% off for a second room when travelling with kids
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Old Feb 8, 16, 10:45 am
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Great tip re: second room discount when travelling with kids. Is there a way to get that rate online, or do you have to call in to get it?
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Old Feb 9, 16, 10:55 pm
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Originally Posted by Stgermainparis View Post
I'm already gearing up for summer 2017 when I want to do a RTW with Europe, SE Asia, and Japan. It takes me 6 months to figure out what we're doing and then I usually book air 330+ days out. I'm thinking we need 5-6 weeks. But the family will most definitely push back because they are homebodies.

How do you all plan? How do you prioritize? How do you persuade the naysayers? How do budget?
Originally Posted by Stgermainparis
If we have to, I think I'd rather split 2J and 3Y, with spouse in back with 2 kids!
So you're planning a trip that it appears nobody but you wants for 5 to 6 weeks, and you'd happily stick your spouse in Y while you sit in J?

Anybody else see some red flags here?

If I were the OP, I'd rein in my enthusiasm and listen to my family. They, especially the spouse, are people who deserve to have their perspectives respected and included in an undertaking of that magnitude.

If the rest of the family is coerced into spending 5 or 6 weeks taking a trip they hate, you might not like the consequences, and odds are good your kids could make the trip absolute hell if motivated to do so.

Or maybe they could be persuaded to happily join in a simpler, smaller scale trip.
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Old Feb 10, 16, 10:51 am
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Good point. 5-6 weeks is a long time for a family to be on the road... my wife and I love travel (kids are too young to care), but after two weeks we start feeling kind of antsy to go home.
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