10 Essential Travel Tips for Large Families

Key advice for a smoother and more enjoyable family vacation.

Family sleeping at airport

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The idea of packing your bags and traveling with your entire crew of kiddos may sound like an exercise in self-created chaos, but it’s entirely possible to enjoy a family vacation from beginning to end. The key is to sort as many details as possible in advance, to adopt a “go with the flow” mentality, and to not put too much pressure on yourselves to do and see everything. Below we’ve outlined seven essential travel tips for large families that will allow you to do exactly that. 

Consider a Stocked Home Rental

Hotels are always an option, but also consider booking a home rental through a website such as VRBO, AirBnB, or HomeToGo.

Home rentals will save you money while giving your family more space and privacy with individual bedrooms and a shared living area that you can all hang out in. Also, rented homes almost always come with a moderately stocked kitchen that allows you to prepare meals.

“A stocked kitchen means that these rentals will carry all of the provisions you may need, including kitchen equipment, coffee, tea and oils needed to prepare meals. All you have to do is pop into a nearby shop to get your ingredients,” says Nancy Atkinson, former chief travel officer for TripActions. "This can be a real cost and time saver for large families."

Research Local Restaurants Ahead of Time

Going out to eat as a large family can easily become a bit of a headache, but planning ahead can help circumvent potential stress, including the dreaded bickering over what kind of food to eat, which restaurant to go to, and long waits to be seated. Atkinson says, “Make sure you research restaurant options before getting to your destination and make any reservations in advance to avoid scrambling last minute.” 

If you want to have more flexibility, you can alternatively come up with an abbreviated list of restaurants, cafes, or eateries and work off that. It’s still wise to call ahead earlier in the day and make a reservation. You can also check to see if the restaurant takes online reservations through a free service such as OpenTable or Yelp Reservations.

Hire a Local Tour Guide

Part of the joy of traveling is taking the time to explore your destination. While some enjoy the process of researching the city in advance and creating a list of must-hit sights, others find this "homework" overwhelming. An excellent way to relieve the research burden is to book a local tour.

“Hiring a private guide can be worth the investment — especially with larger families — to tailor the experience to everyone’s interests,” notes Atkinson. Even if you’re a great planner, local guides are often privy to “insider” information that visitors may not be aware of, which can make your trip more fulfilling.

Your tour can be as long (multi-day!) or short (a couple of hours) as your family desires. Consider history tours, sightseeing tours, biking tours, bus tours, or destination-specific tours that appeal to your family. You can even have a vote on which tours to partake in so that everyone feels like they have a say. 

If cost is an issue, poke around the internet or pick up a local guidebook for self-guided walking tours. In addition to being free (aside from any entrance fees), this affords your family ultimate flexibility since you can skip over stops that don’t appeal and allows you to start and end whenever you desire.

Budget in Plenty of Time for R&R

A go-go-go mentality may mean you’ll see and do more, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have fun doing it. A super packed schedule creates a sense of frenzy and also puts an enormous amount of pressure on yourself and your children. For that reason, it's important to budget several hours into the day to simply relax and recharge so that you'll all have more fun doing the prioritized items on your to-see list.

Book Any Necessary Rentals in Advance

“If you’re going on an outdoor vacation that requires equipment rentals — like skis or boats — be sure to reserve all necessary items before you arrive if you aren't planning to take your own,” Atkinson advises. This becomes particularly important as a large family since you want to make sure there’s enough equipment to meet everyone’s needs, and because it can be a huge time commitment.

For equipment that needs to be fitted, such as skis or snowboards, Atkinson says to consider a rental delivery service that will bring your rentals directly to you and fit you in the comfort of your own room. She says, “They’ll even pick the equipment up from you when you’re finished so you don’t have to worry about fitting rental returns into your itinerary.”

In cases where it's impossible to reserve rentals in advance, allocate at least an hour in your schedule to pick up rentals and 30 minutes to return them.

Create a Buddy System

Though a Home Alone scenario isn’t likely, it’ll bring peace of mind to know that each and every person in your family is always accounted for. If all your kids are still too young to account for one another, have each adult in your group keep track of specific children.

Before driving anywhere, boarding your airline, moving on to another part of the museum, or crossing a bridge on your hike (you get the point), make sure that every child is present. If you still feel like it’ll be difficult to keep track of the whole family, considering bringing along another adult — such as a set of grandparents or a close family friend.

Purchase Plane Tickets and Seat Assignments Early

Anytime you’re buying four or more airline tickets at once, it’s imperative to do so at least four to six months in advance. While there might be some deals at the last minute, you’re more likely to find lower prices and, more important, better flight options when booking ahead.

For example, when traveling with a large group, and especially children, you’ll likely want to avoid extra-long layovers and late-night arrivals. Depending on how well your children do on planes, you may want to book a red eye, or you may want to avoid a red eye. The sooner you buy, the more flexibility you’ll have, and the less likely you’ll be forced into buying very expensive tickets.

In terms of saving money, many budget airlines do provide low ticket prices. These can be a way to cut costs, but do make sure you’re looking at all the fine print. Basic add-ons — such as seat selections, carry-on luggage, and checked baggage — rack up very quickly with a large family.

On that note, save yourself the headache and opt for an airline that allows you to choose your seats at the time you book. We’ve all seen parents scrambling to sit with their kiddos while boarding; don’t let that become a potential issue for you.

Review Your Layovers and Prepare for Them

Once you have your plane tickets in hand, take a careful look at any layovers you may have. This becomes even more important if your layovers or short, or if you’re traveling internationally and may need to go through customs and immigration.

Download a map of the airports to your phone (or print out a copy) and familiarize yourself with how you’ll need to get from Point A to Point B in order to make your transfer. If an airport requires shuttling from one terminal to another, you’ll save yourself a ton of time and stress by knowing how to navigate this in advance versus trying to figure it out at the airport.

This sort of thing isn’t a big deal when you’re alone or with another adult, but when the whole family is involved it can become quite stressful.

Arrange Airport Transfers in Advance

In addition to sorting out layovers, arrange any transfers you may need from your lodging to the airport and vice versa. Maybe this means having Grandma drop everyone off at the airport and arranging for an extra-large Uber or Lyft upon your arrival (just make sure your destination provides rideshare services).

Hotels often provide or can assist in shuttle services, and home rental owners will also usually provide helpful advice, as well. When in doubt, take to the Internet. Other options include taxi services — some of which you can book in advance or large groups — and van or car rentals.

A Word From Verywell

A picture-perfect vacation isn’t the goal, nor is it realistic. Whether it’s a canceled tour, a reservation that doesn’t hold up, a child throwing an embarrassing tantrum, or getting lost for a solid hour, there are bound to be hiccups along the way. Have fun, don’t stress too much about bumps in the road — figurative or otherwise — and remember that you’re creating life-long cherished memories for not just you as a parent, but also for your children.

By Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a lifestyle reporter with over a decade of experience covering health and wellness topics.