Who sells their house and most of their belongings,
Okay, truth be told, our adventure is not going to be forever, but we ARE on a year-long (but probably to be extended to a year-and-a-half) Family Gap Year. When we tell people what we are doing, they respond (almost unanimously) with “Wow!” and then “That’s so cool!”
Yep, we are living the dream of full-time family travel, and let me tell you a secret. It’s easier than you’d expect! You can do it too, and I’m here to be your guide.
If you haven’t read it already, I recommend starting with my FGY overview post here: How To Take A Family Gap Year.
This post is all about accommodations, so let’s get on with it.
Where To Stay On A Family Gap Year
The way I see it, there are four different places you might stay while traveling: in a hotel room, in a rental home, in an RV, or in a tent! I’m going to talk briefly about the latter two and a bit more about the first
Full-Time Family Travel in an RV
RV traveling is a popular way to see the country. You’ve got everything you need right there, including your beds, kitchen, and bathroom! It’s a big initial investment to buy or rent one, but then you don’t have to pay to stay in a hotel.
The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to pay by the night. But you do have to plan ahead to ensure that you have a place to park, and, depending on where you go, some places do charge a nightly fee.
There’s also the upkeep and care of the RV itself, about which I know nothing except some horror stories about emptying the holding tanks…
You wouldn’t be able to travel overseas with your RV, unless you travel there first and then rent one there, but if you’re going to be on one land mass for awhile, then it can be an awesome way to travel with your family and see the sights!
Full-Time Family Travel While Camping
I think to travel full-time with kids while only camping would be a task for only the bravest of brave people! But it could surely be done!
We started our trip with some camping gear, thinking that we might camp every once in a while, but we ended up getting rid of it when winter came because it took up a lot of space in our van, and we hadn’t yet used it.
But if you’re a hardcore outdoorsy person, you’d just have to have all of your equipment with you and probably some idea of where to camp in different places.
A great online resource is freecampsites.net. There you can find a map and information about campsites all over the country, from full-service campgrounds to primitive camping areas.
Full-Time Family Travel Using Hotel Rooms
Another option is to stay in hotel rooms while you travel. We have done some of that, especially when visiting places short-term (1-3 nights). The benefit here is that you can pretty much know what to expect, and someone else will clean up after you! (But be cleanish- come on, don’t be a jerk.)
With a hotel, you’re going to get what you pay for. So if you’re traveling on a budget, that might mean cramped space and no kitchen. If you have the budget to stay in a nicer place or a bigger room, then you might have plenty of room and a full kitchen. But again, that’s going to come at a price. And not many hotels will discount for a longer stay.
I do have two great tips for getting free hotel nights!
First, I book almost all of our hotel rooms using hotels.com. It’s a great way to search tons of hotels in your area and filter by price, distance to popular sights, etc. AND, after you book and stay 10 nights, you get a free night (average of the 10 nights previously paid for). If you use the site enough, sometimes it will offer you secret discounts and upgraded membership features for free. It’s a great system that I’ve used for years.
Second, try using credit card rewards. We rack up the points by using our card when we pay for our accommodations (see the next section), and often when we need a hotel room we have enough points to cover it. Our card is through Bank of America, and when you use the points on travel (hotel rooms, airfare), every 100 points is worth a full dollar. Points are worth less if you cash them in for…cash, so it makes more sense to spend them on travel.
We never budget for spending those credit card reward points, so sometimes we are able to treat ourselves to a nicer hotel stay than we would normally choose if we were paying out of pocket!
Full-Time Family Travel Using Airbnb
Now for the method of travel accommodations that WE use!
Airbnb is an essential part of our whole plan. I scoffed at first when my husband suggested staying in
With our current budget, we can spend about $40-$80 per night on accommodations, but we are taking advantage of the fact that most Airbnb rentals are greatly reduced when you stay long-term.
Many renters will offer a weekly discount or a much-steeper monthly discount, often 50% off and sometimes up to 80% off the normal rate! Because of this, we have been booking our locations for at least 28-30 nights at a time, and we’ve been able to consistently find places plenty big enough for the six of us in the range of $1000-$2000 per month.
This does mean that we aren’t bouncing from place to place every few days, which is good because we do actually have jobs and kids who need a bit of stability. So it does reduce the number of total places we can visit in a year. But it also means that we get to stay long enough in each location to really experience the city like a local.
We have tried to choose locations that have a lot of things to do and are close to a major city that we can explore. And we almost always do a smaller visit somewhere, when traveling in between monthly rentals.
So, for example, between our month in Washington and a month in Arizona, we visited Portland, San Francisco, drove the PCH, and went to Disneyland. Before heading off to Texas, we spent a few days in Denver and a day in San Antonio before checking into our month-long rental on South Padre Island. Then we celebrated New Year’s Eve in New Orleans on our way to Florida. Our next stop is probably Nashville, and we’ll see Atlanta on the way there.
My one piece of advice when staying in an Airbnb is to take comprehensive pictures of the place as soon as you arrive. We had one owner who insisted we had broken a doorknob (we had not) and continued to pester us to pay for it. Luckily Airbnb has a conflict resolution system, and they determined that we were not at fault. If you have pictures of the condition of the rental when you arrive, you shouldn’t have to worry about having to repair or replace anything that you didn’t harm.
At the same time, keep in mind that you may need to replace something at some point if you cause damage. But you would need to do the same every once in awhile if you were living in your own house. You are also likely saving lots of money on utilities. For example, our kids cracked a plastic hamper at one location, which we replaced. Bottom line: just be an honest person.
So where will you stay on your family gap year?
If you’ve read this far, I have to assume you are at least considering taking your own family gap year, so where do you think you’ll stay?
There are definitely pros and cons to each option, and it will have to come down to your own personal preference. Whether you choose a tricked-out RV, a quirky Airbnb, or hotel-hopping, you’re definitely going to have an unforgettable time!