Three Tips On Choosing Budget Family Accommodation

budget inn

Image by lindyjb via Flickr

I stay in budget hotels. With kids. And, you know, it’s more feasible than you might think.

It’s much more common to see reviews for expensive resorts and luxury properties in travel magazines and on travel blogs than to see reviews for budget hotels. Sometimes I wonder who really has money to pay $250+ per night just for a room to sleep in on a family vacation. It’s not that I never stay at more expensive properties, I do, but for my family, that’s the exception rather than the rule – and that’s one of the reasons why we’re able to travel frequently.

Choosing budget accommodation for a family trip requires you think about your accommodation choice in a different way than if say, you were looking at staying at a four-star hotel on a beach somewhere. If we’re going to hit the beach to relax and reconnect and plan to laze about a pool or beach (i.e. stay around our accommodation) for most of the day, then a dingy hotel or condo would spoil the whole trip. If, however, we’re road-tripping, making one-night stops along the way, or staying somewhere for a long weekend which will be filled with outdoor activities during the day I always consider the budget option.

A budget hotel is cheap, that’s the benefit of the proposition. By saving money on accommodation, you can spend more on activities or maybe just travel more often. The potential down-side is that you may sleep on a sagging mattress, share your room with colonies of creatures you’d rather not ever see anywhere near your toes – not to mention crawling across them – and the cleanliness of the bathroom facilities may be questionable. Oh, and you may hear more of the conversations and nocturnal activities of the guests in the rooms around you than you ever really wanted.

But not all budget hotels are bad. In fact, most of them aren’t. Here’s three things I do when choosing a cheapie hotel to try to make sure we get a good room at a decent property:

Learn As Much As You Can About The Property In Advance
I read prior guest reviews on TripAdvisor; I ask friends who are familiar with the area; I Google the hotel name for information which may be on personal blogs; I review every detail on the hotel’s website – particularly the pictures. It was because of this that I discovered that the Budget Inn in Walla Walla (where we stayed this past weekend) had been recently remodeled. Our room was scrupulously clean with new beds, new carpet and a new flat-screen TV.

Make Sure You Have A Backup Plan
This maybe something as simple as taking the time before the trip to call a more expensive property in the area and verifying that there is availability on the night in question. Or checking out hotels in the surrounding area online before you travel. The point is to have spent even a little time thinking about what you’ll do if you arrive at your chosen hotel and discover it’s an absolute dump and that staying their might actually endanger your childrens health. Which also means that realistically you can’t plan to show up at 11:30pm at night.

Drive Away If Necessary
This happened to us this past summer. We were driving from Las Vegas to Santa Barbara and since we’d taken a fairly long stop during the day, we decided not to push on for Santa Barbara that night. We thought we’d be fine with a budget motel in one of the coastal towns just for the night but when we drove up the place was a disaster. We didn’t even bother getting out of the car but instead drove across the street to a Marriott for a pricier, but more secure night’s sleep.

If you’ve got any other ideas or suggestions for families looking to make their travel dollars stretch further this year by saving a little on accommodation, do leave a comment below.

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Related posts and topics:
Family Weekend Getaways: Walla Walla

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About wandermom

". . .life is short and the world is wide" - Simon Raven I'm not sure I've ever consciously planned a trip based on this sentiment, but it definitely influences my subconscious! I've been traveling as frequently and widely as possible since I finished school. And I love it. I love the research, the planning, the fervent packing and the curiosity of exploring somewhere I've never been before. My husband & I are both Irish - as in born-in-Ireland. But we live in Seattle. We have two boys: wild, boisterous, regular boys. So, since becoming a Mom, I've been a WanderMom. Given our slightly-unusual family situation, routine "visits-to-Grandma" are international trips requiring passports, 10hr-flights and (oh joy!) airport transfers. I have rants, raves and opinions about how, where & why to travel with kids (start them as young as you can, I say!). I hope to learn even more by researching topics which other wandermoms may be interested in reading about on this blog. Passports, pacifiers, diapers and gameboys at the ready - off we go! Contact Info: Email Michelle: michelle (at) murphnduff (dot) org

7 thoughts on “Three Tips On Choosing Budget Family Accommodation

  1. Amy @ The Q Family

    Great advice! We are the same way. The 4 stars hotel is not really our go-to accommodation when we travel. My other tip is to use Priceline to lower the hotel price. You can get 3 stars hotel for the same price of retail price of budget hotel.

  2. Family Travel Mom

    Our family “vacations for a living” so we found budget hotels the norm. We joined hotel memberships and charge cards. We will not stay in places that are dirty. Second, we look for hotels with indoor pools and free breakfast. For some reason, if they offer both, they are more likely to be clean and family-friendly environments. Usually, adult groups stay away from hotels that offer indoor pools and breakfast, so we don’t have to explain poor behavior to our kids. In suburbs, I spend no more than $70 per night. Beach properties, no more than $100. Those rates are with the extras I look for.

  3. Surfing Mom SC

    Great tips but I have one question. If you drive away or use your backup plan are you ultimately loosing the money you made on the reservation for the budget hotel. Or do you not make a reservation?
    I ALWAYS use tripadvisor. What a great resource.
    Thanks for the great blog

  4. wandermom Post author

    @surfingmomsc I hear you! No-one wants to love money spent on a reservation. That’s why I try not to make reservations in advance for budget stays. If I need somewhere for longer and I want to pay as little as possible, I use

  5. Mara

    I’m not going to shill for any specific chain here, but I will add that there’s a certain amount of consistency in a given chain, so if there’s one you like, that can be your go-to (that’s what I do on long road trips). Of course, parents are advised to also follow your excellent tips and check the individual hotel out.

    After spending a night in a truly scary hotel with my 6-week old son, I can very much vouch for gathering some info – if possible, know your options in advance so that you have some flexibility.

  6. darngooddigs

    I hear what everyone says about staying at adequate chain hotels with a family, but it still is possible to stay at places that are both budget and original with kids. Or at least with one kid – two or more might get exponentially more difficult. We have a four year old boy, and we run a website about authentic budget accommodations. We spent three weeks in northern Spain this summer and stayed at small, locally owned inns (except in Madrid), and they all worked out beautifully. We did our research, though, first, to make sure the owners didn’t just allow kids, but that they welcomed them.

  7. Caroline Gelson

    I definitely agree with you that budget hotels are a much better option when traveling with a family, especially if you want to be able to vacation often. Next time you are on your way to Santa Barbara there is a fabulous budget hotel there that my family and I always stay at – two pools, amazing views of the ocean, and an overall awesome property, all for a great price. It’s right on State Street, the Sandman Inn ( I love to share great budget hotels I’ve found in local cities so check it out next time you are in town =)

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