If you plan your lodging wisely, you’ll save money and have a more enjoyable trip. Although it’s entirely possible to spend crazy amounts of money to stay in places, it isn’t necessary. People sometimes spend a thousand dollars a night—or more—to stay in some hotels and resorts. If you see places like that and think you can’t afford to travel, don’t worry. My target price is about $100 per night, and sometimes I can spend less than that.
Where to stay depends on how long you’re staying
If we’re only going to be in a place for one night, I usually book a hotel. It’s usually much faster to check in and out of a hotel than an apartment, and I don’t find it to be worth the hassle to book an apartment for one night.
If we’re going to be somewhere for more than one night, I look for an apartment.
The benefits of apartments for family travel
Staying in an apartment gives us more space, so we aren’t all on top of one another. Having a place to sit that isn’t also the bedroom makes the trip so much more relaxing. Our apartment in Barcelona was small, but had a separate living space with a couch. This gave us a place to hang out when we were back at the apartment. Having a table and chairs also means you can sit down to eat.
Apartments also come with kitchens, which gives you options other than eating out. This saves both money and sanity. At the end of a long day of exploring, it’s often so much more relaxing to cook and eat a simple meal rather than deal with a restaurant.
Having more than one room for your family to sleep in makes a trip more restful. Although I booked places with two beds when the kids were smaller, I now look for places with three beds. My kids are much less willing to share a bed, although they will share a room. The more beds you need, the earlier you’ll want to start searching.
Finally, I usually look for apartments with a washer, so I can wash clothes. We travel with carry on bags only. I am fanatical about one bag travel. It makes trips so much easier. You’ll have less clothing though, so being able to do a load or two of laundry is key. Just be aware that dryers are much less common outside the US. I’ve never stayed in an international apartment with a dryer—although I think all of them have had drying racks. Since you’ll be washing small loads, hanging them up to dry is simple.
How to find affordable lodging
I typically start with Airbnb. I know some people prefer VRBO, but I haven’t found as many lower priced options on VRBO or HomeAway. We did find our Paris apartment on HomeAway, but the places we’ve stayed at in Italy and Spain were all Airbnbs.
Start with a broad search, entering dates, number of travelers, and preferences. I always search for three beds, a kitchen, washer, and wifi. If we happen to be driving, or using a rental car, I’ll select for free parking, too. When I’m traveling with my family, I select for “entire place”, since I don’t want to be sharing a home.
If it turns out that I don’t find places that meet all of my criteria, I can become less picky—but so far I haven’t had a problem with this.
Find neighborhoods that fit your family
I switch from list view to map view and start looking at neighborhoods. While I’m doing the apartment search, I keep other browser windows open with information about neighborhoods in that city. I spend some time reading descriptions of neighborhoods/city areas. There are almost always a couple of neighborhoods that seem like good fits for my family. We tend to like more residential areas, rather than the neighborhoods with more nightlife and touristy spots.
Although the map view won’t tell you exactly where an apartment is located, you can generally get a good idea of the general area. I like places close to public transportation, so I’ll pull up a city map and compare to see how close the area is to a metro or bus stop. You can usually find some of this information is in the property description, as well.
Photos and reviews are critical
When you’re searching properties, I recommend spending a lot of time looking at the photos and reading the reviews. You can tell a lot from the photos, including how the place is laid out. You can also see what the bedrooms and bathroom look like, and if they are arranged oddly (all the beds in one room, for example).
Airbnb now allows owners to include a washer as a feature if there is a washer available in the building. When traveling, we often do a load of laundry at the end of the day, so I don’t want to deal with the hassle of a communal laundry room. I look for the washer to be visible in the photos so I know it’s actually in the home.
In my experience, reading reviews is critical—the more the better. I’ve found that reading a lot of reviews helps me to get a good feel for a place. If a complaint pops up more than once, I find that to be a reliable indicator of a potential problem. I realize that there are people out there who are never going to be happy (and of course, you aren’t one of those people), so I don’t worry too much if I see one ranting review.
Watch out for “reservation cancelled by host”
On the other hand, if I see that a reservation was cancelled by the host, that’s a big red flag for me. I don’t want to have my reservation cancelled and have to find a new place on very short notice.
I try to book our lodging several months in advance. The selection is better, as are the prices. I can almost always find expensive lodging with short notice, but the good inexpensive apartments go fast. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to look. I’ve found that six months or more in advance isn’t too early.
Although there are many factors to consider when planning your lodging, taking them into consideration can pay off with a more pleasant, less expensive trip.