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How to… travel as a large family

Mum-of-six and travel agent REBECCA MASON wrote Holiday Dreaming: The Expert’s Guide to Large Family Travel to help other clans like hers. She shares some of the best tips from the book

three generations of the mason family in hawaii
Three generations of the Mason family in Hawaii

My large family of eight consists of my hubby, Ian, and our six children aged between 11 and 21.  At one stage, we had six children under the age of 10. Yes! We do own a TV. No! We don’t have twins, triplets, or quadruplets! Yes! They have the same parents. And yes! We DO go on holidays, here’s how…

IF YOU CAN DREAM IT... YOU CAN DO IT!

Having a large family has not stopped us from travelling and embracing life. For road trips, we have invested in large cars. Our first road tripper and our most trusted vehicle was the VW Caravelle nine- seater van. For many years we stayed in self-contained accommodation, but then we purchased a complete site camper trailer. This purchase was a game changer and what a camper trailer it was!

When the children were younger, we were content with domestic road trips and flights. Jetstar, the dominant Australian-owned budget carrier, would often have sales, and I watched these sales with intense interest, eventually mastering tracking the sales patterns and finding low-cost flying days. When the low-cost carriers started flying further internationally, to neighbouring Asia, my Disney dream became a little more real! Our first overseas trip with the children was to Hong Kong. We chose Hong Kong because it has a Disneyland!

WHEN TO GO? SEIZE THE DAY

rebecca mason and her family with talking mickey at magic kingdom disneyworld in 2018
Rebecca Mason and her family with Talking Mickey at Magic Kingdom Disneyworld in 2018

For many families, the task of trying to fit in a holiday is seemingly impossible. How can you go on a holiday if there is no time, and whenever you eventually decide to book, there are no seats left on the cheap plane flight, or the weather is meant to be horrendous at the destination at that time of year? It’s time to PLAN. Download a free planning template, which is flexible for as many children or extended family as you need to include, at travel.mrchocolate.com.au

First, block out all the non-negotiables. When planning when to go, the primary considerations include school commitments, sporting commitments, work commitments and social commitments. Once you have filled in the “gaps of available time” for everyone, you will be pleasantly surprised at the possible opportunities that will open up.  If budget is your ultimate consideration, then plan your holiday times around the cheaper travel days, which are usually on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and the low season which is typically February and May worldwide.

Another consideration with specific destinations is whether the time you are travelling falls during public or school holidays at the destination. If it falls during these times, then the costs will increase due to local and overseas visitors, and the crowds will be heavier. On the flip side, more attractions will be open.

EATING: NOT MACARONI AND CHEESE AGAIN!

shave ice is a popular hawaiian trea. picture hawaiian tourism authority tor johnson
Shave ice is a popular Hawaiian treat. Image: Hawaiian Tourism Authority-Tor Johnson

Eating is necessary; however, it is not necessary to blow the budget when on holiday with your family. On our five-week trip to Hawaii, we survived quite nicely on wraps and dips for our lunchtime feast. We would team this up with a local delicacy such as shave ice or an ice-cream.

Many hotels and resorts offer “all you can eat breakfast”. Our family loves this option as it works particularly well with our somewhat varying tastes in food and appetites. If your chosen accommodation offers this, do the maths before adding the breakfast. Usually, this addition increases the price dramatically; but it is sometimes a genuine bargain. If we choose this option, we tend to enjoy a big breakfast, grab some yoghurt, fruit, and a dinner roll on the way out, have a quick snack at lunchtime, and we are not usually hungry again until dinnertime.

Bakeries are an excellent source of variety for the family, and baked goods are usually at a lower price point that will fill up rumbling tummies. In Hong Kong, near a train station, we discovered an affordable and delicious bakery that fed our entire family for only $10!

kynan and kobi tasting shave ice in hawaii
Kynan and Kobi tasting shave ice in Hawaii

Consider sharing meals between family members, particularly in places where the servings are large. Our favourite dishes to share as a family are hot chips, nachos, pasta, chicken dishes, and salads. If you are on a tight budget, don’t order soft drinks, juices or milkshakes and allow jugs of water only, which are usually free.

Book in restaurants as early as possible, as many establishments at peak periods cannot cater to a large group on short notice. It is certainly not ideal for young children to have to wait to be seated and encounter slow service, so try and be organised. Of course, takeaway meals are also an option. Our favourite “go-to” is pizzas. Margarita and garlic pizzas are generally the most cost-effective.

ROAD TRIP: ARE WE THERE YET?

the familys vw van
The family's VW van

If you are road tripping, you need a reliable vehicle and one that fits enough baggage for all travellers. We have cars big enough to take the whole family road tripping, but sometimes it can be very cramped. Change around the seating configuration at each roadside stop, as there are usually some more popular seats than others. This helps to avoid conflict amongst the siblings and makes the trip tolerable if they think they’re in the worst seat – at least it’s only until the next stop.

The idea of a technology-free holiday is good in theory, but for the sake of sanity, sometimes it’s best to give in to the lure of the little screens. I’m all for family singalongs and road trip games, but let’s face it – after 32 times guessing “something starting with T”, even I Spy gets tiresome! Parental sanity is important too! Embrace technology and use the Google Maps app for the children to follow the trip along in the car. This will help reduce the classic “Are we there yet?” query and hopefully make the journey feel quicker.

PACKING: LET IT GO!

rebecca mason and her kids waiting at a long term car park ready for adventure
Rebecca Mason and her kids waiting at a long term car park ready for adventure

Many years ago, we purchased six small, lightweight bags that were well within the size allowed for cabin baggage. Ever since the children were young, we “colour-coded” everything to the extent that the kids were somewhat brainwashed into thinking these “colours” were their favourite colours. Ever since I devised “The Packing Game”, I cannot pack any other way. Before the packing game begins, I ensure the washing is completed, and clothes are hanging in the wardrobes. Children as young as three can help and play the game, particularly if they have assistance from their older siblings. I go through the master packing list and announce the first item we are packing, the children choose the items from their wardrobe, bring it to me to approve, and then put the items in their suitcase. Once the first item is ticked off, we continue through the list. It is vital to double- check everything before zipping the bag shut. Kobi, our youngest child, isn’t yet an expert at packing and has sometimes omitted an essential item.

Prior to zipping the bag closed, ensure the clothes the children will be wearing on departure day remain out of the bag.

Remember, there are three necessities to pack when embarking on a holiday – two changes of clothes (summer and winter), money/cards and passport/ID. Everything else can be replaced.

holiday dreaming book covers

This is an edited extract from Rebecca Mason’s Holiday Dreaming: The Expert’s Guide to Large Family Travel, available online at travel.mrchocolate.com.au/book

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