|We planned a stop at Sunday Mass in the middle of a long drive back home, which is why Sly's in a bow tie!|
As soon as baby #4 was born, we started encountering a frustrating problem. Most hotels would no longer allow us all to stay in one room, because it's against the fire codes to fit more than five people. Booking two rooms for the night was too expensive and seemed like way too much of a hassle. Not all hotels offer suites, and if they do, they're too expensive as well.
But we had a handful of out-of-town weddings to go to recently (and yes, our kids were invited!), so we started looking around for cheaper alternatives. We decided to check out Airbnb, which we only had a vague understanding of at the time. And let me tell you, we are never going back!
We've now stayed at four different Airbnb rentals with the whole family, and even the least nice of those was so much better than staying at a hotel (and I promise, they aren't offering me anything to promote them - this is just me, wanting to sharing some advice). We've paid between $80-110 per night, which is definitely comparable to the cost of a hotel room. But the amazing part is that with an Airbnb, you're getting multiple rooms. I especially recommend looking for a place where you have the entire house or apartment to yourself, to avoid the awkwardness of having to share space with your host. If there's a kitchen too, you can save a ton of money by not having to eat out for all your meals.
How it used to look when we stayed in hotels: We're all crowded into one room with not much to do besides watch tv, or let the kids jump incessantly from bed to bed. When the kids' bedtime arrives, we tuck them all together into one of the queen-sized beds, turn out the lights, and pray they won't fight over the covers or mess around for too too long.
All the lights need to be off, and a quiet atmosphere maintained to encourage the kids to actually sleep. But Tom and I don't want to just sit around silently in the dark, and we're nowhere near tired enough yet for sleeping ourselves. So we huddle in the bathroom with the door shut. One of us sits on the toilet lid, and one of us on the edge of the tub. We might crack some beers, and talk in whispers, occasionally taking turns to go out and yell at the kids to stop messing around, because they aren't used to sharing a bed and the novelty of the experience is just too much for them to handle. Once or twice, we've done the old cell-phones-as-baby-monitors trick, and sneaked down to the hotel bar for twenty minutes, but I always felt way too paranoid doing that.
Eventually, we get bored and uncomfortable, and force ourselves to go to bed much earlier than we'd like....because there's literally nothing else to do.
How it looks at an Airbnb: Just like at home! When it's bedtime for the kids, we tuck them into beds - usually individual beds, since there are often multiple bedrooms - turn out the lights, and shut the doors. And then Tom and I have the run of the house where we can leave all the lights blazing if we want, have normal-volume conversation, watch tv, or just do whatever we like until as late as we want! And in the morning, we can cook our own breakfast and coffee, or eat cereal at a table with milk from the fridge.
The other great discovery we made in the past year about traveling involves eating meals during long road trips. Fast food from rest stops gets really tedious - and expensive - after a while.
Also, last summer when we replaced our old mini-van with a slightly nicer old mini-van (which had been kept pristine inside and out by the previous owner), we made a new rule for our kids: absolutely no eating in the car, EVER. They can have water in an unspillable cup, and that's it. No exceptions. It was tough to adjust to in the beginning, but I don't regret it at all. It's amazing how much cleaner - and less sticky - your car can be when there's no food eaten in it [except for the adults. We totally still eat food and drink coffee in the front seats :-P]. But it necessitates a little more planning in terms of snacks and meals, when you're going to be in the car for long periods.
We've always been big fans of small independent diners. Those little places down some quiet road, called So-and-so's Diner where you can get any meal on the menu for a maximum cost of about $6. So now when we're traveling, we save up our appetites by not snacking, and we wait until mealtime to fill up. When hunger strikes, I pull out my phone and search Google Maps for the nearest diner that looks appealing. W follow the directions off the highway to some random country exit, and stop. We've had mostly great luck with the little places we've found. There's always plenty of seating, they're very kid-friendly, and so inexpensive. Often, the entire family is able to eat a huge and satisfying meal for under $30! It's nice to get a little break out of the car and stretch our legs and be able to talk face-to-face, instead of calling back and forth between the front seat and the back of the van.
I highly recommend you try finding one of America's little gems like this the next time you're on a long trip with your kids.