How to book the best family accommodation
We’ve all been there before. To that holiday unit you once booked where the beds were made of stone and were half a metre too short, or to the motel that gave everyone scabies. Or do you remember that place where no one got any sleep because of the noise, or was it the cockroaches that kept you awake.
Even though your family may never stop talking about that terrible holiday accommodation you booked once, you can win them back with some help from us.
Take a look at our guide that is designed to help you ask the right questions so you can make the best decisions for an unforgettable holiday. We’ve even got an insanely useful printable checklist at the end to hold your hand when booking day arrives.
1. How much are you willing to spend?
The first thing you need to do is to work out how much you want to spend on accommodation. Take a quick look at websites like Booking.com and AirBnB to see whether you are being realistic with your budget.
We recently booked our accommodation for a USA road trip and were surprised by how expensive it is, especially San Francisco. We had no choice but to revise our budget and the locations of where we’d stay, while also finding ways to save money elsewhere.
Tip: Save money by staying in one location for longer.
2. What is your family like?
Every family is different, so there is no such thing as one type fits all. We all have different expectations, different budgets and different personalities. Stay true to yourself and ask the following questions to lead you down the path to the best accommodation for you.
- Is anyone a light sleeper? Look for places in quiet neighbourhoods, or with soundproof walls and windows.
- Will the kids only sleep if it’s dark? Make sure the bedrooms have blockout curtains or similar.
- Are your boys constantly on the move? You’re going to need more space than a hotel room if you want to stay sane.
- Do you want to live like a local? Renting apartments and houses through the likes of AirBnB, StayZ or local real estate agents is the go.
- Does anyone need their own space? It can get a bit much being together 24 hours a day, especially for parents and teenagers. Find somewhere with separate bedrooms and living rooms so they can shut themselves off for a little while, without commandeering the bathroom.
- Do you want someone to clean up after you every day? A hotel room with maid service is the way to go.
When we are travelling, it is important to us that where possible we have two bedrooms, or at the very least one. My idea of a holiday is not sitting in the dark in the corner of a hotel room, whispering to my husband because the boys are trying to sleep. I want to be able to enjoy the peace and tranquility that happens after they’ve gone to bed, by doing whatever I want.
Everyone is different, so you need to work out what is important to you.
3. Should you stay in the city centre?
Here are some of the pros and cons of staying in the city centre versus staying in the suburbs.
City centre accommodation
- Most often will be hotel accommodation but may also find apartments
- Costs are usually higher
- Close to attractions, shops and restaurants
- More public transport options
- Can often walk to many places
- Difficult or expensive to park a car
Best for overnighters or weekends away.
Staying in the suburbs
- More likely to find a house or apartment giving you more room
- You can cook some of your own meals and wash clothes
- Often cheaper in price
- Live like a local
- Make sure you stay within easy walking distance of public transport if you don’t have a car
Best for stays of three or more nights.
4. Hotels vs Houses and Apartments
Hotels are great if you just need a place to lay your head for the night. They are usually centrally located but often lack space for anything but sleeping, don’t come equipped with a kitchen to feed starving boys and lack laundry facilities.
My preference when choosing a hotel room is that there is a door or window that can be opened to let in some fresh air (and let out the smells), a pool to relieve the boys of some energy, plus a separate space to sit.
When travelling without the boys for a few days, we usually choose to stay at hotels, but when the boys come along, we try to stay in apartments and houses that give us more space and sanity. Apartments and houses are also brilliant with a family because you don’t have to eat every meal out and you can wash clothes, significantly reducing your food and laundry bill.
5. Differences around the world
It’s not just the culture and language that changes from country to country. You’ll also find there are different standards in accommodation. Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way that differ from offerings in Australia.
- A three star hotel in Australia is not necessarily the same quality or price range of a three star in another country.
- Watch out for a myriad of taxes that are not included in the total price of accommodation. Many places have a city tax, tourism tax and goodness knows what else. Sometimes it even has to be paid in cash upon arrival. ALWAYS read the fine print.
- If you are heading off to some of the older cities in the world, you need to consider how many stairs you will have to climb to reach your accommodation. That beautiful apartment in the centre of Rome, Paris or Copenhagen on the fifth floor might sound perfect, but chances are it doesn’t have a lift.
- Many countries around the world, including the likes of Italy, do not require swimming pools to be fenced.
6. Read the reviews
Do not skip this step!
Reading a number of reviews from other guests will give you a good indication as to the pros and cons of each place. We have decided not to stay at a lot of places based on the reviews they have received.
Tip: Always look at the map view on the booking website to see what’s in the immediate area. I bet no one will tell you about the nightclub next door, the train line that runs past your window, or the major freeway on your doorstep.
7. Always read the fine print
No matter where you book your accommodation, you need to read the fine print. Check for things like:
- Are there any extra costs to pay when you arrive such as cleaning or a city tax?
- What are the cancellation costs?
- Do they supply the sheets and towels?
- How do you check-in?
- What forms of payment will they accept?
Insanely useful printable checklist
It’s hard to remember everything when you’re booking family accommodation, so we’ve come up with a handy checklist to help make it easier for you. Sometimes when you’ve read so many listings it’s not obvious if sheets are provided or if the fridge will fit one bottle of water or enough food for a football team.
We recently found a perfect place to stay in a rainforest, only to find upon carefully checking their photos that there were no doors. I require doors in a rainforest, for fear of waking up with an animal in bed with me!