Cheap family accommodation is the cornerstone of budget family travel. If you can find a reasonably priced place to lay your and your kids heads at night that is safe, clean and comfortable then you’re going to really increase your chances of having a great holiday.
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Of course, budgets are relative and what is cheap for one family may be way out of budget for another. My advice for you if you’re not sure what to do is to try lots of different ideas that are on this page and discover what works best for you family.
How to find cheap family accommodation
I’m afraid research has to come high on the to do list of anyone wanting to book a cheap family break or long term stint. If you want to stretch your travel budget you’ll need to put in some leg work up front. It can be frustrating, but well worth it if it gets you where you want to be.
Getting your budget accommodation also may well depend on not only the size of your family but also the ages of your children and also where you’re planning to stay.
Often you’ll find that you might get free child places but only if your children are under 12 – not so fun when travelling with teenagers! If you’re in North America a single room will accommodate 4 people normally with two double beds. Again, awesome if you’re a small family, but not a great choice of large family accommodation. Budget hotels in the UK and Europe are a bit different and rooms are quite often just for two people and you’ll pay a premium for a family suite.
Before you think that it’s all too complicated though, take a look through the options available to you to find cheap accommodation. Below you’ll find my ideas to get you some great, cheap family accommodation with some quirky ideas thrown in too. If you’ve any other ideas I’ve missed give me a shout in the comments section.
Budget family accommodation – the main contenders
The first thing I check when planning a holiday is how much apartments cost. I always check them first because I find that for our family (which consists of two teens, a boy and a girl) it works best for us. After I get an idea of prices per night for our destination, I’ll check out some hotel sites and see what’s available there, and perhaps even take a look at some hostels too.
Apartment stays are getting more common with the rise of sites like AirBnB. I think that they can be a great option for a kid friendly holiday as it’s really like having a home from home. If you’re looking for large family accommodation apartments can be a much better than booking a couple of hotel rooms.
We’re quite slow travellers, often going out to explore for an hour or so and then coming back to base for a little while and then heading out again in the evening. Having a place that we can relax in and that is large enough for our family is great for us.
We also love to self cater as not only does that help the budget, but I find it gives us a good insight to how locals live and what food they use on a daily basis. It can also help with fussy eaters! (not just the children in our family though – I’m quite fussy too!)
Sometimes you’ll find that your host provides a great insight in to the local culture as well which I find is an added bonus!
For finding budget apartments that are suitable for your break I recommend checking out the following sites:
HomeAway – I find this is certainly better to use in the UK, but also good for other destinations.
Turning up and looking – great if you’re intending to have a long term trip. I know many people who swear by just finding somewhere to stay when they get there. We’ve not been brave enough to do that on our longer term trips though!
Things to remember about booking apartments are:
- How far are you from amenities and where you want to be? If you’re in a city, can you walk or will you need to take public transport. If the latter, is that expensive? No point in getting a cheap apartment if you’ll then need to spend lots on getting out and about.
- Are there any further costs – especially important if you’re renting for a month or so. Will you be charged for utilities?
- Does it have good reviews. This is a growing area of business and as such lots of people are jumping in to renting out their apartments, sometimes not with the customer’s experience forefront in their minds. Going to somewhere with good reviews will help finding the right place.
Hotels and Motels
Hotels with family suites or extra beds that can be added are also a great idea for a cheap family holiday. Hotels aren’t always so great for longer term travelling, or long stays in one area, mostly because you’ll not get a kitchen and food preparation areas. If you’re in a cheaper part of the world like Asia, this might be fine, but if you like to self cater to keep food costs lower then perhaps not so much.
After I’ve searched apartments I’ll always look at hotels. Sometimes it’s a much better idea and much better cost wise, but not always. If they are situated in the centre and we are in the thick of where we want to be then we’ll forego the most budget options for that!
If you’re travelling quickly, as we did on our Route 66 road trip then hotels and motels are far superior to apartments in my mind. It just depends on what you’re wanting to get out of your trip. You can also find really quirky motels such as this wigwam motel!
When searching for hotels I recommend checking out the reviews and see if you can find any from families to gauge whether the hotel is family friendly or not. Then check out the sleeping situation – will it work for your family?
I always use HotelsCombined which searches all of the big booking sites to get the best family rooms at the best prices.
I don’t always find that hostels provide good value accommodation for families, mostly because they charge per person and that can add up substantially, but they are definitely worth checking out as an option especially if they might be in an area that is good for you.
You do get family friendly hostels though and sometimes they have entire rooms that you could book out with 4 or maybe even 6 beds. If you’re a large family then this could be a great option.
Bear in mind the location of the hostels – are they close to party areas or nightclubs (believe me, one time we stayed in a hostel in Edinburgh and I wish I’d thought to check this one out!) and do they have a party reputation in general.
HostelWorld is the place to find out what hostels for families are available in your destination.
Camper Van / RV travel
Our 2013 gap year adventure consisted of us travelling around Europe in a camper van. We loved it and it’s a great idea for keeping costs down for longer term travel.
Similar to apartments, you have your own space, your own kitchen and you can come and go as you please. It’s a lovely way to see some smaller, lesser known areas of a country and really do a deep dive in to the culture.
When we were in Europe and France in particular, we often had free nights camping as they have motorhome stops set up to encourage visitors. In our whole time around France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands I think the most we paid for a nights stop was €15.
Campsites were often a little extra than that, but have the advantage of amenities like washing machines and swimming pools.
RV travel in North America is also something that can keep costs down – especially for larger families. I’d love to give it a try there.
Of course there are set up costs for this kind of travelling – if you want to have a look at our pre trip costs for our 5 month camper van trip then look here.
Being even more basic than life with a motorhome is perhaps travelling with a tent.
Tents have evolved so much recently with great family size options – if you’re looking for a budget trip then camping might well suit you down to the ground. It’s perfect for seeing the great outdoors, nature and less populated parts of a country.
I’d probably recommend car camping if you have a family, if only to make sure you can bring all that you’ll need for a good trip. You can extend your trip as long as you need to like this. Go for a weekend, go for a week, or even for longer by travelling between places.
We camped lots in the UK and you can find campsites for as little as £10 per night. If you’re a big family, look for places that charge by the tent and not per person.
This is a great place to check out campsites in Europe and you can also pick up a camping card which gives cheaper nights out of high season.
Other options for bargain family holidays
Looking outside of the box is often where you’ll come across unique ideas for travel and often they fit really well with budget trips!
Housesitting is something we have done a lot of in the past and it has helped us spend time in areas that we’d not have been able to afford otherwise. We did a month stay in London and also another month in New York City at Christmas.
Housesitting is where you look after pets or a home in exchange for accommodation. Some people get paid, but there is a growing trend of it being a skill exchange.
You CAN do it with kids, although it can be a little harder to land a house sitting job. You also have opportunities for not just long term travel, but also short term travel. It’s actually a great place to look if you’re confined to travelling in school holidays as you might find other families travelling at that time too and looking for sitters. If they’re families themselves you might have a better chance at getting the gig!
Check out my post here if you want to know more about it.
Couchsurfing is the ultimate in budget accommodation! It’s a network of people that are willing to host you for free in their house. Sounds great doesn’t it?
However it’s worth noting that you’ll want to be gracious to the hosts, perhaps offering to cook or bringing a food contribution, so might not be totally free, but may well be a great experience for you and your family.
We’ve never done this ourselves, but have heard that some families have done it. Obviously it’s not a long term solution to travel, but is a useful one to think about.
If you own your own home and it’s in an area that might be nice for others to visit then house swapping could be a great option.
Basically you’d find a person who would like to swap for a similar time in an area that you want to visit. It’s a fantastic way to make friends and live a bit more like a local! Who knows, you might make it a regular thing.
This is a new site, but one to check out if you’re interested in swapping with other families.
Have you ever fancied working on a farm, or helping out in a hotel to pay for your accommodation costs? It will help you see a part of countries that you’d never see any other way and can be a great experience.
Friends of ours did a whole year working around the UK on organic farms using WWOOF, with their kids, and we’ve considered it ourselves (but decided we’re not quite cut out for it!). It can be family friendly and as long as you’re up front with hosts about what you can and can’t do then it should be a brilliant opportunity.
Some organisations to check out are:
I hope this will get you started on finding cheap child friendly holidays and longer term travel. It really can be done and doesn’t need to be second rate. Researching, much as it takes time, can turn this large holiday cost in to something much more reasonable!
Feel free to share this with others who might find it useful in planning their trip!