Have you ever struggled with finding large group accommodations while traveling? Whether you’re looking for family friendly accommodations or just a space for a large group of friends, it can be tricky to coordinate. Read on for pros, cons, and tips for the different types of lodging for families and friends!
I wrote previously about our process for our family of 6 to find accommodations while traveling. Here, I wanted to elaborate a bit more on which types of large group accommodations we use most commonly, the most family friendly accommodations, and some pros, cons, and tips for each.
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Large Group Accommodations: Lodging for Families and Friends
FAMILY FRIENDLY HOTELS
Hotels are the first option most people consider for accommodations while traveling. While hotels can get tricky for large group accommodations, here are a few tips that have helped us when choosing hotels:
Apartment-Style Extended Stay Hotels
Some of our favorite family friendly hotels offer 1-and-2-bedroom suites, which makes it much easier when searching for large group accommodations. I personally don’t love splitting our family over two separate rooms. That creates all kinds of complications for luggage/toiletries, and my husband and I would rather be in the same room to chat (and eat treats, haha ;)) after the kids go to bed. It can also be tricky to find connecting rooms that are available.
Because of this, extended stay hotels that offer suites can be great when looking for large group accommodations. The kids get a separate space, but we’re all in one unit together. Many of these rooms also offer a full kitchen, which is helpful when purchasing groceries while traveling. Extended stay hotels also typically offer a hot breakfast as well as laundry facilities, which is so helpful!
Here are some of the most popular kid friendly hotels that offer suites:
- Marriott Residence Inn
- Marriott TownePlace Suites
- Homewood Suites
- Embassy Suites
- Staybridge Suites
- Chase Suite Hotels
Kid Friendly Hotels (Suites, but Not Apartment-Style)
Hotels such as Fairfield by Marriott, SpringHill Suites, Extended Stay America and Comfort Suites tend to have extra space and often beds, but not apartment-style rooms. These types of extended stay hotels can sometimes sleep up to 6 persons and may have room dividers, but not separate rooms.
We prefer having completely separate rooms when possible, so those are not our first pick. Our preferred hotels are probably Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites, but try the different family friendly hotels out for yourself to see which you prefer. Since those are both Marriott properties, they have the added advantage that we can often use points from our Chase Sapphire Reserve card and stay for free!
We’ve made lots of other kinds of “normal” hotels work for our family, as well. Keep reading below for some tips and tricks for creating your own family friendly accommodations even if you’re not staying in typically kid friendly hotels!
Pros of Staying in Family Friendly Hotels
The best pros of staying in family friendly hotels versus a more self-catering arrangement are because of the level of service. My husband drank some contaminated juice in our last few hours in Istanbul, and got incredibly sick on our flight from there to Amman, Jordan. We were in Jordan for 8 days and he couldn’t eat a single thing for the first 7. It was rough.
At the time, we had two little kiddos with us – our almost 4-year-old son and our almost-2-year-old daughter. Plus, I was traveling while 7 months pregnant with our 3rd. Needless to say, it was a bit tiring on all counts.
We were ridiculously grateful to be staying in an amazing and kid friendly hotel with a high level of service. The staff was fantastic and brought us snacks and drinks. They even offered to go pick up food for us at a restaurant we wanted to try! They also had a doctor on staff, who came to see Daniel and provide him with medications multiple times.
And let me tell you, when I’d taken two toddlers out on my own and walked around in the desert sun for a whole day while enormously pregnant while my husband couldn’t move from his bed? I was REALLY glad to come back to a fresh and tidied room. A nice hotel isn’t always the best lodging for families, but in this case, it was perfect.
Oh, and don’t forget possibly the biggest perks of all when staying in a family hotel – BREAKFAST and POOL. There’s something about a hotel breakfast and a hotel pool that is thrilling. I’m pretty sure we could just go stay somewhere with these things and my kids would be happy to never leave the hotel!
Cons of Staying in Family Friendly Hotels
While some hotels have perks such as extra rooms and kitchens, many don’t. This is especially true when traveling around the world; larger rooms are scarce. Even when you can find them, they may not have basic cooking tools and foods (oil, salt). Laundry facilities may also be difficult to find. Family friendly hotels are great when they’re available, but oftentimes, they’re not.
Hotels also often put you with a bunch of other tourists, rather than interacting with locals. Everyone around you is a tourist. Hotel staff tend to recommend the most popular food and outings, not necessarily the best. (One hotel manager recommended IHOP to us…instead, we googled and found some really fantastic Neapolitan pizza.) If you’re trying to get off-the-beaten-path and connect with locals, staying in a hotel makes it more difficult. Figure out what’s most important to you when searching for lodging for families, and make sure your chosen accommodations fill those needs.
Is a Hotel Best for My Large Group Accommodations?
When deciding whether a hotel is the best option for your group or family friendly accommodations, consider which perks are most important to you. Do you appreciate a high level of service? Do you want to feel like you’re on vacation, not just living life in different place? Are an on-site restaurant, housekeeping, provided toiletries, and room service important to you?
When choosing a hotel for large group accommodations, be sure to look into suite options. See if you can find one with multiple rooms, connecting rooms, or extra floor space.
VACATION RENTALS FOR FAMILIES
Home rentals have become so ubiquitous in the family accommodations market that it seems like they’ve been around for forever. Can you believe they really only debuted a little over a decade ago?
Regardless of time on the market, home rentals have developed a reputation for providing great, family friendly accommodations and for making it easier to find lodging for families and large groups. Instead of renting a bunch of different hotel rooms, you could all stay together in a single house! Or instead of having to eat out for all your meals, your family could prepare food and snacks in the kitchen!
It’s kind of been a game changer for family friendly travel.
Vacation Rental Options for Large Groups
It seems there’s a new home rental company popping up every other day. Since we rely heavily on reviews before choosing a rental, though, we prefer to stick with the major ones.
- Airbnb. Arguably the most popular/well-known of the home rental sites.
- HomeAway. This is the parent company of VacationRentals.com and VRBO. With its multiple brands, it is the largest player.
- Homestay.com. This one usually involves a stay with a local individual family. Oftentimes, you’ll be sharing a house, bathroom, or meal. The goal is to provide a more authentic travel experience.
- Flipkey. Connected with TripAdvisor, and offers cross-selling opportunities.
- Onefinestay. Luxury rentals, with much higher fees and services.
- Kidandcoe. Aimed directly at families with young children, and provides kid friendly perks.
A question I hear a lot is, “Is Airbnb or VRBO cheaper?” And I’d say it depends entirely on the individual property. Overall, both platforms take a similar commission from the host, although their fee structures are slightly different. Same with the guest – Airbnb’s fees after the initial price tend to jump more, but in the end, the pricing works out to be similar. (This article goes into more detail about the difference between Airbnb and VRBO.)
In general, as a guest, there are usually more options in urban environments on Airbnb, and more large group accommodations in vacation areas on HomeAway. Check both and see which offers what you need.
Here are some pros and cons of using a home rental for your large group accommodations:
Pros of Staying in a Home Rental
The biggest pros with home rentals revolve around space. You’re in an actual home/apartment! This can be such a win when choosing lodging for families. It means you have all the conveniences of not living in a hotel room. Some of those perks include the possibility of multiple bedrooms within one unit; a full kitchen, often with basic cooking necessities; and possibly even a washing machine.
Some travelers may also appreciate staying in a normal neighborhood and receiving local tips for a more authentic travel experience. And for others, it may be purely cost-driven. Home exchanges often provide more space for less money, which can be useful when searching for large group accommodations.
Cons of Staying in a Home Rental
Home Rentals aren’t perfect, however. There are some definite downsides to choosing a home rental over a hotel for large group accommodations.
One of the biggest cons is also one of the major perks – the self-catering nature of apartment-style accommodations. It can be really nice to have your own space to spread out and make meals. But you also likely won’t have a housekeeper to come make your bed and tidy your room daily. You won’t be able to call down for a toothbrush to be delivered in 5 minutes because you forgot yours. You won’t have valet service. Some rentals may expect you to remove linens from beds or take out the trash before leaving.
Of course, for many, the convenience really outweighs the lack of personalized service, but you should definitely consider this in advance.
Another con is uncertainty. Hotels, especially branded, established ones, typically have a certain level of guaranteed service. You arrive expecting a clean room, a spotless bathroom, and well-made beds. While many home rentals also provide that, some don’t – and it’s harder to determine beforehand.
For this, I recommend reading reviews very thoroughly and messaging with the host beforehand to get a feel for the vibe. Ask questions about the layout, the specific location, parking/transportation options, WiFi, toiletries, etc. It’s always better to know beforehand than to be unpleasantly surprised! HERE is a great list of questions to ask a home rental host before you book.
Is a Vacation Rental Best for My Large Group Accommodations?
Do you want to live like a local in a new place? Are you more interested in being a “traveler” than a “tourist”? Do you value the flexibility of added space? Are you keen to make some of your own meals while traveling for cost or health purposes? Do you pack light and are comfortable carrying your own belongings, and hope to have laundry accessible? Do you value local tips and relationships with residents?
If you answered “yes” to many of these questions, a home rental may be an excellent option for your large group accommodations. Be sure to filter for amenities that are important to you, such as number of rooms, washing machine, kitchen supplies, or availability of baby items.
Also, double check the layout of the accommodations. Many large group accommodations are separate units that are completely private. Others, such as with HomeStay.com, may be multiple rooms within someone else’s home. If that’s the case, will you have a separate entrance? If not, are there locks on the bedroom doors? Especially when traveling with kids, it’s important to be aware of security features and privacy issues.
HOME SWAPS FOR LARGE GROUP ACCOMMODATIONS
Home exchanges involve two groups switching places, typically simultaneously, and staying in each others’ homes. (Think The Holiday.) The biggest perk of a home exchange, is, of course, finding large group accommodations for FREE! When it works out, it’s pretty great to be able to find free family lodging.
Unlike the vacation rentals, these do not typically involve any sort of payment. (The platforms themselves do charge a nominal annual fee.) Like the other options, there are multiple platform to make this possible. Here are some of the most popular home exchange sites:
- HomeExchange.com. With over 400K homes in 187 countries, this is arguably the most trusted of the home exchange sites. You earn guest points through hosting and can stay by using your points. Reciprocal and non-reciprocal exchanges are available.
- HomeLink. No points system, so primarily direct exchanges.
- Love Home Swap. Another bigger service with reciprocal and points-based exchanges.
- INTERVAC. An older service with reciprocal exchanges.
- WWOOF. Do a homestay on an organic farm!
- Trusted House Sitters. Not an exchange, but allows individuals and families to watch homes and pets in exchange for free accommodations.
Pros of A Home Exchange
The biggest advantage to participating in a home exchange is, of course, cost. Instead of paying for large group accommodations around the world, you can stay for free! Home swaps can make travel more accessible for families and groups.
Home swaps also have the added bonus of getting a highly authentic, local experience. While a home rental starts to give you that opportunity, home exchanges take that a step further. There is typically much more communication and discussion in advance, as most people want to be certain of the folks staying in their home (without payment).
This is especially true with reciprocal exchanges, as you know the other people are also staying in YOUR house. There’s a big incentive to get to know the family and provide fantastic information, resources, hidden gems, etc. The lovely family with whom we exchanged in Paris recommended a delightful restaurant down the street from them. It was in a residential neighborhood we never would’ve visited otherwise. But we were the only non-French customers, and it felt authentic and lovely. Another little boy came and befriended one of our kiddos and they sat and shared a dessert. It was delightful.
Finally, it can be really nice staying in an actual HOME – not a rental, and not a temporary space. Our home exchange had towels, toys, books, shampoo, etc. And while our hosts had slightly older kids, they offered to borrow a pack n play and high chair for us. It was so kind!
Cons of a Home Exchange
The trickiest part of a home exchange is getting the dates and locations in sync. While some platforms offer non-reciprocal exchanges and allow you to stay using points, that means you still have to find someone to stay in your place during those times to accumulate points. You may also need to figure out a way to host at a time that’s not as convenient. There may be fewer options in the places you want, and reciprocal exchanges are tough to organize (you have to find someone who wants to come to where you are at the exact time you want to go where they are). Exchanges also tend to be for slightly longer periods of time – they don’t work as well for short stays.
Like home rentals, home swaps do not have many of the conveniences of hotels. You’ll most likely be living very similarly to how you would when not on vacation, only in a different location and home. You’ll still have to clean and cook and wash dishes.
Your group will also need to be careful to care for the place well. After all, it’s someone’s home! While that occurs on home rentals, as well, there’s something to knowing you’re staying in a new friend’s place that makes you feel extra cautious. You may try to fix something that’s broken, or care for plants or pets. You may need to take extra care with belongings. If there are any issues, you will typically need to work them out directly with the host family, instead of having a guarantee from the platform.
Is a Home Swap Best for My Large Group Accommodations?
Home swaps can be really fantastic if you can find one that’s the right size for your group. While rental units may be smaller, it may be easier to find a full house for an exchange – without payment!
Here are some questions to ask beforehand to figure out if a family home exchange is right for your group: Am I okay staying in someone’s personal space, and with someone staying in mine? Do I mind cooking and cleaning while on vacation? Am I willing to take on added responsibilities, such as caring for pets or plants? Are you willing to be flexible in your dates/locations to find an exchange that will work? Will you take personal responsibility for any damages to the property/belongings? Will you be heartbroken if something happens to your property/belongings? Are you willing to trade vehicles? Are you willing to forego the conveniences of a hotel? Do you want to build a relationship with another family? Can you find a home the right size for your large group accommodations?
CAMPING/RVs/CAMPER VANS FOR LARGE GROUP ACCOMMODATIONS
Of course, there’s always the option of sleeping outside or on the go! Camping and camper vans are typically cost-effective options, especially when hunting for accommodations for large groups.
Pros of Camping/RVs/Camper Vans
There are set sites camp/RV sites and often places where you don’t need to reserve at all. That means you can stay for free! You’ll already be paying for transportation, so it may be nice to cut out the accommodations cost (or minimize it by renting an RV/camper van). You’ll have a lot of flexibility in not needing to return to the same spot every night, and can explore deeper and further.
For places that don’t have a lot of accommodations close to the most beautiful attractions, camping can be a really attractive option. You waste much less time in transit, and can spend more time exploring!
Cons of Camping/RVs/Camper Vans
Gear is a difficult part of choosing one of these options for large group accommodations. With tent camping, you’ll need a tent, sleeping bags, pads, cooking items, etc. Even with an RV or camper van, you may need bedding, or may need to pay extra for the vehicle. In some places, it may still work out to be significantly cheaper than paying for a hotel/home. In others, the RV/camper van itself may cost more than typical accommodations.
RVs and camper vans may also not have enough room for your group all in one vehicle. Look carefully at different layouts and prices before making a decision. And be sure to be careful where you set up your tent/park. There are plenty of areas where it’s forbidden, so know the regulations in whatever area you’re visiting.
Is Camping/RV/Camper Van Best for My Large Group Accommodations?
This option requires some serious forethought, so be sure you’re prepared if you choose it. Are you willing to purchase plenty of food in advance in case you’re in an area without services? Do you have space to pack extra gear for sleep and cooking? Are you willing to give up nice showers and more comfortable beds? If you have small children, will they sleep well in these spaces? Are you comfortable driving a large vehicle in unfamiliar areas? Do you have gear that’s sufficiently warm? Do you understand the risk of animals/bugs/caring for nature?
While this option can require more prep, it can also be a wonderful time to spread out in nature with groups of loved ones!
COUCHSURFING WITH A GROUP
I’m writing this option last because it tends to be the trickiest when trying to find large group accommodations. We used Couchsurfing extensively before we had kids, both as surfers and as hosts.
For those who are unfamiliar with the platform, folks can sign up to host a certain number of people in their home – for free. Those participating in Couchsurfing agree to not request or pay money. If people don’t want to host someone in their home, they can also sign up to host someone for dinner or just meet up for a meal or activity. It’s beneficial for the guest to get to know locals and have an authentic traveling experience, and it’s beneficial for the host to get to know people and perspectives from around the world.
Couchsurfing With Kids and Without Kids
The summer before we were expecting our first child, we traveled for 2 months before starting a job and graduate school. That summer, we couchsurfed almost exclusively. And it was wonderful. We loved getting to meet locals in each of the places we stayed, and get their tips and cultural insights. We even stayed with one family in Paris that wanted their little daughter to practice English. The father was a former Parisian firefighter and knew the streets backwards and forwards. He took us on a nighttime driving tour of Paris that was incredible (though I was a little terrified in the passenger seat!).
Since having kids, we’ve couchsurfed a few times because we love the platform and the cultural benefits it provides. We stayed with a baby in South Africa. Then we stayed with one little toddler in multiple places in New Zealand, including on a sheep farm. Our hosts were so kind and he loved meeting all the sheep and watching a shearing. Then we stayed with three kids in Iceland. The family was so kind, gave us traditional Icelandic delicacies to try from their farm (including sheep head and testicles), and provided all kinds of tips on off-the-beaten-path sites.
In all of these places, the hosts were generous enough to give us our own room or rooms. We, personally, have only surfed when we have a private space. We’ve also hosted many times, and only hosted when we had a separate room for guests.
Why We Stopped Couchsurfing with Kids
We would’ve loved to continue Couchsurfing for its cultural benefits. However, we decided we weren’t comfortable any longer when our kids were no longer sleeping in the same room as us. We also decided that we weren’t comfortable hosting surfers in our home with young children without a completely separate space with a lock.
For these reasons, I hesitate when suggesting Couchsurfing as an option for family lodging or large group accommodations. It can get tricky, especially with privacy and safety concerns. It’s also just difficult finding someone willing to share that much room! Still, if you have a smaller family, or if the host has a completely separate space, it can be a wonderful option to really connect with local people and customs.
Tips for Couchsurfing with Kids
Couchsurfing with kids can definitely be not only doable but also really rewarding, both when surfing and hosting. Here are a few tips for how we made it successful:
- Communicate extensively with the host beforehand. Make sure they’re aware of your kids and are comfortable hosting them.
- Find out as much as you can about the space. Will you have a separate room or rooms? Bathroom? Are there locks on the doors? Will you have a separate unit?
- Figure out how to handle meals. Will your host allow you to cook or store food there? Can you make a meal for the host? Are there any dietary restrictions or allergies?
- Is there anything your host would like you to bring from your home country?
- Is there room for baby gear, such as a baby bed? Or even better – does the host have one available?
- Are there any pets?
- Should you bring your own towels?
- Are your hosts very light sleepers? Will it be okay to use the bathroom in the middle of the night?
- Will your hosts mind if you play a white noise machine?
- Clearly explain any house rules. Is there a time after which guests cannot arrive? Do you have quiet hours?
- Explain the space. Will the guest have a separate space? Bathroom? Do you have certain schedules (work, school) around which guests should plan?
- If hosting children, do you have any gear (baby bed, high chair, baby bath, etc.) you can provide?
- Do you have any dietary restrictions/allergies?
- Do you expect guests to help out in any way, such as with cleaning or meals?
- Are there certain noises guests should avoid? Some examples include showering after a certain time, music late at night, or even flushing the toilet in the middle of the night.
- Do your children wake up at night/very early?
- Is there anything guests should bring, such as towels?
- Do you need your guests gone during certain hours?
TIPS FOR CREATING FAMILY FRIENDLY ACCOMMODATIONS
Sometimes, ultra family friendly accommodations just aren’t available. Maybe there aren’t any large group accommodations available for your dates or location. Perhaps you’re not interested in cleaning and cooking while on vacation. Whatever the reason, here are a few tips for turning even small spaces into kid friendly accommodations.
- Check the closets. We’ve stuck many pack n plays and Peapods in closets or extra bathrooms. See if you can use oft-forgotten spaces.
- Make a bed with cushions. Little kids can seriously sleep anywhere. Request extra sheets and blankets and couple them with chair/sofa cushions to make a perfect kid travel bed.
- Sleep Kids sideways on a bed. With queen beds that are a bit longer than wide, this often works well, especially with smaller kids. Just make sure to put pillows or something off the end just in case.
- Put kids in a king bed. Similarly, if there’s a king available, that’s usually more than enough room for our 3 older ones to sleep normally. Heck, we’ve even had the three of them sleep across in a queen pull-out couch. 😉
- If all else fails, have the kids lie down wherever they’ll fall asleep, hide out in the bathroom with your phone and some chocolate, then move them later. 😉
Which of these large group accommodations options is your favorite? Have you used them all? Are there any that I missed? I’d love to hear your experiences with finding family friendly accommodations while traveling!
MORE POSTS ABOUT LODGING FOR FAMILIES AND FRIENDS
IF YOU LIKED THIS POST ABOUT FINDING LARGE GROUP ACCOMMODATIONS, YOU MIGHT LIKE THESE POSTS, TOO:
- How to Find Family Friendly Hotels and Accommodations
- 10 Tips for Renting Out Your Home on Airbnb
- An Unsponsored Airbnb Review for Traveling Families
- Our Routine for Renting Our Family Home on Airbnb
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