“Family friendly” chain motels just don’t do it for me. The tiny rooms, out-of-the-way locations and lack of mini-fridges make vacationing with a small child challenging. If you’ve hidden in the bathroom or sat in a dark room waiting for your toddlers to conk out so you can stay up past 8:00, or wondered what the heck to do with the yogurt or string cheese your fussy eater can’t live without—I’ve done it all— you’ve probably wondered if there’s a better way.
In fact, there are several. Here are some easy-on-the-wallet ways to get a kitchen, some space to read or watch TV at night, and a better location than what the budget motels can offer.
Try a Home Swap
Home swapping is one of those things that’s been around forever, but has been made exponentially easier by the Internet. The price—practically free—can’t be beat, and you literally get all the comforts of home while you’re away.
Companies like HomeforExchange and HomeExchange.com charge membership fees of $59 to $120 a year (about the price of one night’s stay in a bargain motel) for access to their listings, sample letters of agreement and sometimes the chance to buy trip cancellation insurance. You’re still on your own to vet your swap partners and decide you’re okay with them being in your house for the week, but email and skype make that easier, too.
We know people who have bypassed the expense of the home-swapping sites by going through Craig’s List. And of course if you swap with friends or friends of friends, it takes away some of the uncertainty about who you’re trading places with.
Try a Vacation Rental
If you just don’t feel like cleaning your house for a vacation trade, then consider just renting someone else’s home instead. Websites like VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) and Homeaway offer vacation cottages in traditional vacation spots as well as urban apartments and suburban homes that can be right where you want to be.
On Homeaway, in the Orlando area we found a three-bedroom, three-bath condo in a resort community with a stylish pool and free shuttle service to Disney World, a few miles away. The price: $109 a night. A two-bedroom “villa” style room at one of Disney’s hotels can top $500 a night (and that’s off-peak).
Try a Timeshare
Timeshare communities often stake out prime locations in vacation hot spots and offer some of the amenities a hotel would. If you can, rent directly from the timeshare owners rather than the resort management; it’s often cheaper and you get to skip the pesky sales pitch.
A friend of ours recently found a Bahamas timeshare on eBay. The family got a one-bedroom pad adjacent to the Atlantis mega-resort at a 55% discount, and had access to all of Atlantis’ pools and attractions.
Additionally, websites like Redweek and MyResort have plenty of listings for popular destinations in the US, the Caribbean and Mexico. But watch out for the ones that ask you to commit to sitting through a “presentation” when you’d rather be at the beach.
Try a Hotel Suite
No, they aren’t just for rock stars. More hotels are offering a sitting area and mini-kitchen or “wet bar” (a refrigerator and sink and possibly a microwave) in their standard rooms. In cities, these hotels are often aimed at business travelers and empty out on the weekends, which means families looking for a quick getaway can get a break.
At the Quincy, a hotel in the heart of Washington, D.C., “studio” style hotel rooms tend to cost about $20 less from Friday to Sunday than they do from Monday to Friday.
The nearby St. Gregory, which offers suite-style rooms among its offerings, has a family value package that offers discounts of 5% to 20% from Thursday to Sunday.