When my friend Ashley told me about the trip her family of 6 took last fall, I was excited for her. When she told me that the majority of their stay was free, I was floored…and asked her to write about it. Ashely and her husband Kyle have four kids. She is smart, funny, and a wealth of information. I adore her because we geek out over the same things – knitting, musicals, and traveling (not always in that order). She blogs over at Not Supermom, so check that out, too. And now, my friend Ashley Cox….
My husband and I love to travel, but we also have 4 kids, whom I homeschool, and (essentially) 1 income. (I do work from home but let’s face it—it’s entirely different than if I were to have a full-time job.) So how in the world do we make travel work? The answer: a lot of planning.
It is definitely possible to travel with a family of 6 and stay within a budget and not have to stay in a tent the whole time, unless of course that’s your thing, and then by all means, go for it! We have taken some great trips with our family, but our most recent big trip was this past November to the Granby, Colorado area.
Our trip planning really got going the previous May. We had been in San Antonio on vacation, and before we left we were invited to attend a 1-hour time-share presentation. Our gift for attending would be an 8 day/7 night stay in our choice of a condo pretty much anywhere in the world. So we said absolutely! The 6 of us were taken to a nearby property where we watched promo videos, toured the property, and had our own personal sales pitch. I’ll be really honest with you here. The hour we were promised turned out to be 2 hours, and it was extremely high pressure. They don’t like to take no for an answer. Nevertheless, we stuck to our guns and kept saying that no, we didn’t want to sign up for a time share right now, and 2 hours later we were driven back to the mall with a gift certificate for a week-long vacation. And that’s all, folks! Despite the high pressure, they were always very polite and never contacted us again; there were no time-share presentations at the resort we ended up visiting, nothing like that. It ended when we left. I had always been hesitant about time-share presentations, but it was well worth it for us.
The gift certificate we received allowed us to go to a website and view properties still available 1 month out at a time. So we quickly started checking the website regularly, getting a feel for the properties available, narrowing down where we might like to go, looking at how far away we wanted to travel, reading reviews on other travel sites, etc. Some of the properties also had additional fees, so we quickly decided that we didn’t want to go that direction. We watched the website carefully the entire summer, but definitely got more serious about it during late-September/early October since we knew we wanted to go in October or November. One of the downsides was that we really couldn’t pick an exact date, or location, until we got closer to time, so we narrowed it down to a 2-3 week time period and 3 different locations we were interested in, and then we waited to see what would be available. It was quite the adventure for my plan-ahead self.
Our family enjoys going to the mountains in the fall (I think it’s something about the flatness and lack of trees where we live), so we chose Colorado: it was within a day’s drive of us (it took us about 10 hours), there was a lot to do nearby, and we could go during the off season. This was both a positive and a negative. Positives—no one was around! We had the whole place virtually to ourselves. The kids got to go sledding on the ski slopes that were right across the parking lot from our condo. We had a condo with an amazing view. We could go on our day trips and not have to fight crowds. Many things were also cheaper during the off season. Negatives—quite a few things were closed, including many of the restaurants and some tourist attractions, or the hours were more limited than during the peak season.
For us, restaurants being closed really wasn’t a big deal. To help save money and time on our trip, I prepared a bunch of meals that my family likes and froze them. The morning we left I popped all of them in the cooler, and they were still frozen when we arrived at our condo. This gave us a week’s worth of dinners and several breakfasts and lunches that I didn’t have to cook once we were there. We filled in what we brought with food from a local grocery store.
At the end of the trip, we did spend a few additional days in nearby Colorado Springs on our own dime so we could see a little more. Our entire trip ended up being about 10 days, and during the course of the trip we went to Rocky Mountain National Park several times ($20/carload admission is good for 7 consecutive days) where our kids were able to do the (free) Jr. Ranger Program, the science museum in Denver (free with our local science museum membership card), several cute mountain towns (free), Garden of the Gods (free), Air Force Academy chapel and visitor’s center (free), Olympic Training Center (Adults $5, Children 5-12 $2, under 5 free), Focus on the Family Visitor’s Center (free), Ghost Town Museum (Adults $7.50, Children 6-16 $5, under 6 free), Cliff Dwellings Museum (Adults $7.50, Children 7-11 $7.50, under 7 free), and Capulin Volcano in New Mexico on our way back (free because it was Veteran’s Day, and our kids also did the Jr. Ranger Program there, too). Plus, our condo had its own private indoor hot tub attached to our unit, and they loaned out games, books, movies, sleds, cooking appliances, pretty much anything we could want. The hotel in Colorado Springs had an indoor pool with a water slide, and since no one was around, we only had to share the pool once in the 3 days or so we were there. Needless to say, we were never bored! This was an amazing trip, and we didn’t break the bank. With gas, the extra hotel, and all the activities, including eating out a few times and grocery stops on the trip (excluding the meals I brought since those came from our regular grocery budget), our trip came out to well under $700.
We’re already on the lookout for great deals for our next big trip, hopefully Disney World!