It’s been a long time since we’ve taken a proper vacation. Actually, I can’t say that since having kids we ever have. I mean, we have family in other locations that we often travel to stay with and we’ve even gotten hotel rooms before for holiday overnights. But as far as a true vacation where our only purpose is tourism and relaxation, this might be a first. I’m still very much a budget-travel mama, so we’re still thrifty even with our downtime. So, even though we don’t officially vacation much, due the aforementioned family in other states, I consider myself (and my kids) consummate road trippers. So, here are a few things I know and some I learned by accident on our last week away.
Pack for Down Time
While we jammed packed our days with tourism and trips to the pool, there were still times where we were hotel room-bound. I had some work to do during the trip and we all needed some reset time now and again so a few hours before bed needed some occupying. I hate packing a lot of bags, especially without The Husband there to be my sherpa, so I looked for small games and toys to bring. The kids loved the game Speedeebee from Blue Orange games. It’s a word game with dice and cards that have you competing to be the first to make lists, name words or items all with the letters on the dice. It’s perfect for travel because the entire game is contained in a small tin that can slip in any bag. My bag o’ tricks also had playing cards, a charades game and the kids’ library books that they checked out right before leaving town. And since we drove, they also packed their own variety of electronic gadgets and gizmos.
Choose Travel Bags Wisely
I’m so lucky that just before we left I got this perfect beach bag from Simply-Totes. I intend to beat the heck out of this thing at the shore this summer, but it got it’s break-in use during this trip. It’s heavy enough material to stand up to a van full of kids pulling at it, but light enough that I didn’t feel like I was lugging three tons into the hotel elevator. It also stands up and open well, which means kids could toss books and such back into it from their seats in the car; something I didn’t realize was important until I cleaned a van full of detritus after our first trip. Also, it’s pretty cute which is always a bonus!
Budget for Everything
The first day of this trip brought us the classic East Coast “Wintry Mix”. We awoke to a lovely cover of snow that quickly turned to s a slushy, rainy mess. Needless to say, no hotel is close enough for tourism in that kind of weather. So, we headed to the movies, which as you know can cost an arm and a leg. The good news is I watched the weather ahead of time and thanks to our complimentary meals at Homewood Suites, I was able to set money aside for astronomical movie tickets. One warning though-check prices before you go. I figured nowhere would be more expensive than the NYC suburbs for movies, but I was wrong. The theater near our hotel was astronomical. It didn’t stop our show, but it may have if I hadn’t budgeted for it ahead of time and take advantage of free food!
When it comes to hotels, Family Friendly can mean many things.
Three kids makes for a challenging hotel situation. You can’t shove three kids in one double bed no matter how hard you try. One can always rotate to the floor but as they get older that gets less appealing. We have learned that if at all possible, a suite hotel is the way to go. Everyone gets their own space at bedtime and mom and dad can retreat to a separate zone at bedtime so it’s not lights out on everyone at 8pm. We also like to have a kitchenette if at all possible. Kids are hungry at hours that don’t necessarily jibe with hotel restaurants. Also, sometimes mom wants her own food. Beyond the room though, it helps if the hotel has a few key items: a pool and a staff that really is Family Friendly. If you’re surrounded by guests who are only on stressful business travel or posh romantic getaways and a staff designed to accommodate their needs first, then you might not feel terribly welcome with a brood of children-especially if you’re the flying-solo parent like I was.
You might think these criteria do not match my tight budget approach but you’d be wrong. The answer to our long-list of Family Friendly demands at a reasonable price, comes in the form of Homewood Suites by Hilton. I’ve long sung the praises of the Homewood Suites in Rockville, MD where we stay for Thanksgiving. We love that hotel and the kids think it’s like Disney World with its indoor pool and game room and The Husband and I like the bang we get for our buck as well.
So, for this trip it was a no brainer to try to book at Homewood Suites room. We stayed at the hotel in Silver Spring, MD and it was fantastic. The location is phenomenal as you’re near everything you need from restaurants to movie theaters to the Metro for quick rides to museums and the National Zoo. Then the staff, from valet to the pool lifeguard go so far out of their way to greet, joke, chat and accommodate any wish you want granted that we started to feel like they were family by week’s end. And the elevator pictures of kids having pillow fights helped me instantly relax. Knowing I was in a place where kids, and all their noise and revelry, weren’t just tolerated but welcome with warm smiles helped me truly enjoy the trip.
The best part of Homewood Suites is the and then some that they offer for busy, budget conscious families. Of course they have a pool that we used every single night, (Somehow my walking the kids to sleep never quite worked!) but they also offer free breakfast and dinner buffets every morning and night Monday-Thursday. The kids had a blast picking their own meals and I was most appreciative of the cold beer and wine offerings at the end of a long day. I can not say enough about how great Homewood Suites is for families. Not just the rooms and hotel amenities, but the customer service that really makes you feel like you’re welcome, no matter how much of a Circus your band of Travelers may be.
And finally, my number one piece of advice for traveling with families:
I don’t just mean in a vacation sort of way, I mean as a parent. After you plan everything to the nines, from budget to meals to daily activities, learn to let go if it all goes to crap. I let my kids mostly dictate the routine of the day-within reason. If they wanted to leave the zoo early to swim at the hotel pool, then we did just that. It helps that in DC everything is free so if you’re only in a museum for 20 minutes, then you don’t feel like you’re out anything. I’ve learned, that with kids, the Metro ride might be more exciting than Dorothy’s slippers in the American History Museum and that’s just fine. And never underestimate the glory of staying up past bed time. Watching The Voice together until 10pm (what?!?) might have been the highlight of the trip (for all of us). I planned my butt of so that I could say yes as often as possible, something both the kids and I enjoyed. We packed lunches for our day trips. We ate complimentary hotel meals (including Sprite!) and we utilized our room kitchen for our own budget friendly snacks. That way, when they wanted burgers and fries from a nearby restaurant the last day, I could say yes without worry to my bank account.
Disclosure: I received the Speedeebee game and the beach tote as review items. We also stayed as manager’s guests at the Homewood Suites in Silver Spring. However, all opinions in this piece are accurate and true. My kids are tough customers when it comes to games. I have impossibly high-standards when it comes to bags and as far as the hotel is concerned, we’ve paid for it in the past and we will again in the future. We’re big fans of Homewood Suites around this place.
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