Our family loves to travel; it’s one of the experiences we value most. But as a family of six, we often run into challenges that smaller families don’t face. And although the term large family can be interpreted in many ways, we define it as a family that doesn’t fit in a standard hotel room.
Finding ways to save for trips is certainly a challenge, but the challenges extend beyond finances. Despite the obstacles, our family has been fortunate enough to travel frequently, creating lasting memories and strengthening our bonds. Planning awesome trips for large families is possible, whether you’re staying local or venturing far.
Here’s a look at seven challenges that most large families face when traveling and how we’ve solved them.
7 challenges of large family travel
1. Racking up enough credit card points
Paying for a family vacation using only points and miles is difficult for large families, but not impossible. We’ve been able to pay for most of our travel expenses (except for food) for several years using rewards points earned from credit cards. Keep in mind that points won’t pay for everything, though. Although we’ve put miles toward most of our flights, we still had to pay taxes and fees on each ticket.
The main expenses we try to cover with rewards points are flights, accommodations, and rental cars. If we can cover those expenses through points and miles, we’re OK with paying cash for everything else.
There’s no secret to using points for large family travel — it’s just simple math. The more people traveling, the more points and miles you need to save up. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to maximize your rewards. Here’s how we earn and use rewards points to fund travel for our family of six:
- Take advantage of welcome bonuses. The key to saving enough points to fund large family travel is to focus on cards with generous welcome bonuses.
- Have each adult sign up. Both my wife and I sign up for new credit cards. Opting for two-player mode helps us maximize our travel rewards.
- Stick to brands we like. There are certain hotels and airlines we prefer as a family. We stick to credit cards that earn points we can use with those brands, whether directly or through rewards programs that allow you to transfer points.
- Use versatile rewards programs. Some rewards programs, like Chase Ultimate Rewards, have portals where you can book travel directly. We can stick with our favorite brands or book travel based on current deals elsewhere. Chase Ultimate Rewards also allows you to transfer points to more than a dozen travel partners.
2. Earning enough cash to make it happen
Although most of our travel expenses are paid for using rewards points, other expenses are paid for with cash. Additional costs include food, attraction and event tickets, souvenirs, and more. We tend to use points for larger trips, opting to pay for weekend getaways and shorter road trips with cash.
Large family travel gets costly. We had our share of struggles paying for vacations in the past until we created a separate travel fund. We budget money each month for travel and transfer it to a separate bank account. That way, it doesn’t get mixed up with everyday funds or other savings goals. Plus, we can see our progress by tracking it online or through the bank’s app.
By budgeting money specifically for travel, we ensure that we have money set aside to book our trips without stretching our everyday budget.
If you have trouble finding room in your current budget for travel, you may need to find other ways to make money. Starting a side hustle or picking up a temporary part-time job could be exactly what you need to afford to take your large family on vacation. Think about any skills or talents you have that you can use to make money. Before going full-time, freelance writing was my side hustle. We used most of my writing income to pay for multiple family trips. The list of best side hustles is almost endless.
Tax refund checks and work bonuses are also great ways to build your travel fund quickly. If your current job offers overtime, why not work a few extra hours each week to pay for future travel?
3. Coordinating our schedules
Sometimes paying for travel is easier than scheduling a trip. This is one of the biggest travel challenges for our family. We have four teens in public school, and my wife is a teacher, so we can't just take off whenever we want. Our travel dates are limited to school breaks — Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, spring break, and summer. Of course, these are typically the busiest travel times of the year.
We also deal with our kids’ involvement in extracurricular activities like sports and music. We try to not let these things take priority over travel, but the reality is that they often do.
Although we haven’t completely solved the scheduling problem, we have taken steps to deal with it better more recently. Here are a couple ways to navigate travel around busy work and school schedules:
- Create a family calendar. Everyone in our family is connected to Google Calendar. When school, sports, and work schedules are released, we input important dates into our calendar. This allows us to plan and book travel as early as possible.
- Be flexible. Having a flexible travel schedule often means cheaper travel, fewer crowds, and more options. Even though we travel during busy seasons, that doesn’t mean we have to book a vacation somewhere that’s going to be crowded. You can find plenty of travel deals by visiting destinations during their offseason.
- Take mini trips. Not all family travel needs to be an all-out vacation. If your work or other schedule doesn’t allow you to plan a big vacation, try planning several weekend trips. If you stay local or regional, you’ll cut down on costs like flights and travel time. Sometimes these short trips end up being our family’s favorite travel adventures.
4. Finding the right lodging
We outgrew standard hotel rooms years ago. We love staying in hotels, but our options are sometimes limited, depending on where we travel. Some hotel chains offer suites that sleep more than four people at select locations. Many also come with a full kitchen or kitchenette, which helps us save money on meals with a quick trip to the grocery store.
Some of the family-friendly hotels we’ve found suitable accommodations at include:
- Residence Inn by Marriott
- Holiday Inn Club Vacations
- Homewood Suites by Hilton
- Staybridge Suites
- TownePlace Suites by Marriott
- Hyatt House
- Wyndham Hotels & Resorts
- Choice Hotels International
- Sheraton Hotels & Resorts
Some of these hotels allow you to book suites using points, but it’s often hit or miss. Sometimes, it’s just easier (and cheaper) to book a vacation rental through VRBO or Airbnb. Plus, having larger accommodations comes in handy halfway through the trip when everyone needs a little extra personal space.
5. Getting seats on flights
Most of our family air travel is done on Southwest Airlines. Its flights tend to be more economical than most other airlines. But Southwest doesn’t have assigned seats.
Getting seats together on flights used to be a bigger issue when our kids were younger. Now that they are teens, we’re OK with them not sitting right next to us. If you have young kids, this is pretty much a non-negotiable. Depending on where and when you are flying, finding more than a handful of seats next to each other is difficult. Here are some things you can do to improve the odds of getting seats together:
- Book flights early. The easiest way to ensure you get seats together is to book your flight as early as possible. The longer you wait, the more likely your family will need to split up to end up on the same flight.
- Look at multiple airlines. Look at numerous airlines any time you are flying in case there are deals. But you should also do this to check for available seats, especially if the airline allows you to see available seats during the booking process.
- Pay for upgrades. Southwest Airlines doesn’t have assigned seats, which means you want to end up in an early boarding group to ensure your family sits together. Boarding earlier also gives you earlier access to overhead bins. When we fly together on Southwest, I pay extra for EarlyBird Check-In, which automatically checks you in 12 hours before general boarding access is available. EarlyBird Check-In starts at $15 one-way per passenger.
- Pair up family members. One thing we’ve done since our kids were little is pair up family members. We used to have one parent with each of the youngest children and then the two oldest kids together. That way, everyone has a flight buddy, even if we don’t get seats in the same row. Now that they are older, they naturally pair off boys and girls and let us adults sit together.
Some airlines grant early boarding to families with young children. Check with your airline to see whether this is an option.
6. Managing luggage
Traveling as a larger family also means more luggage. The last thing you want to do is add costly baggage fees to your travel costs. This is another reason we fly Southwest — it allows two free checked bags per person.
There are plenty of ways to avoid baggage fees, including signing up for select airline credit cards, buying a premium fare, and avoiding overpacking.
7. Finding the right rental car
We typically rent a car for any trips that include flights. That usually means renting a minivan or SUV that holds at least six people. Depending on where you travel, rental cars can get pricey. We’ve addressed this two ways in the past:
- Booking with points. Many rewards programs allow you to use points or miles to book rental cars. Is this the best value for your points? Probably not, but I also value saving money and time. Booking a rental vehicle with points is easy and keeps money in your wallet.
- Using Autoslash. We’ve also saved money on rental cars using Autoslash. It’s a car rental comparison site that not only compares prices but also searches possible discounts. Autoslash even lets you track price drops on existing car rentals.
The bottom line on large family travel
Traveling as a family is a wonderful way to strengthen your bonds, whether you're headed to Disney or taking a weekend road trip to a nearby National Park. If you want to pay for part or all of your trip using rewards, look for the best travel credit cards that line up with your family’s needs. Find ways to be flexible with your travel plans to find deals. Keep your family engaged and excited by including them in the planning process.
It can be a challenge to travel as a big family, but planning a trip doesn’t have to be a burden. With extra planning and creativity, you can provide life-changing travel experiences for your kiddos without breaking the bank.