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How a big family with toddlers travels to Asia
The View from Our Favorite Rental Home for a Big Family in Beautiful Thailand

What are the essential features for your accommodations, when you are a family traveling with young children? Here are a few things that we have come to believe are the secret ingredients to a fun trip with a big family...

First off, determine if you're going to want a hotel room, or something bigger. Almost everywhere we've traveled, the best deal for our family, by far, has been a rented apartment or home.  No hotel has been able to offer us all of the extra space, appliances, and extras that an actual living space can offer.

Most people would say "location" is the most important factor - but that can have a lot of meanings. Being in a "central location" or "in the heart of the tourist area" is not usually our idea of a good location for a family rental. But then we're willing to take a metro or use a taxi service to get around, if it means being somewhere remote, quiet, and beautiful. It all depends on the destination. If staying in a big city, a good location might be a safe neighborhood with a metro stop located within a 3-minute walk.

Your search for the perfect house, apartment, condo, or bungalow should be customized to make sure you have everything you need to take care of your family, including:

#1.  Full Kitchen:  Let's Cook Breakfast Ourselves!
Why a full kitchen?  If you have a frugal family like ours, you're going to want to be able to cook at least part of the time, so you'll want a decent kitchen. There are only a few destinations where it is cheaper to eat out than to cook. Having a full kitchen typically means a sink, a refrigerator, and at least 1 or 2 stove-top burners, but of course this can vary, so check the listing (and photos) carefully.

In one place in Asia, the "kitchen" turned out to be located inside the bathroom! But generally, we've found the kitchens worked out just right. Cooking while traveling can give your kids a "taste of home," something familiar as a break from all the strange, wonderfully exotic foods they've been experiencing. Having a full kitchen in Thailand meant we could eat hot oatmeal for breakfast, rather than, say, shrimp and noodles from a street cart at 7:00 am.

#2:  Washing Machine:  The Never-Ending Story of Laundry
Why a washing machine?  As anyone in a big family already knows, your family produces an incredible amount of dirty laundry, every single day. Traveling is no exception. In fact, you'll probably produce even more laundry while on your journey than you do at home. This is such an important feature for your lodging to have, that I'll probably devote an entire future blog post to this one issue.  So, moving on...

#3:  Some Way to Dry Clothes: Washing is Only Half the Battle
Just because a listing offers a clothes washing machine, that doesn't automatically mean that you are ready to launch your laundry operation. You'll want to confirm that there is a way to dry the laundry, too.  This will rarely mean an electric dryer is on site.  But there are some good alternatives, and some much-less-good alternatives.  More on that in our "Laundry" post.

#4:  A Real Window:  Avoiding Dark Caves
Why windows?  You'll want a window or three so that you don't feel all cooped up.  Be wary of "windows" visible in the photos for rentals located inside of high-rises. In some countries (Thailand, for example), these are just opaque, frosted glass panes that can't open, and have no view of the outdoors.

If you could open them, you'd be looking at an internal air shaft inside the tower - in other words, a brick wall, with a dizzy-making view of a 15-story drop into a hungry abyss, sort of like this one:

Traveling with a big family, getting a room with a view
Not the Best View in Asia
This kind of "window" allows the developers to cram as many apartments as possible into a building. Sometimes light bulbs are placed behind a pane of glass just to make it look like there are windows. This is probably for some beneficial psychological effect for the residents, subtly tricking the brain into believing there is a window.  But if a having a real view, or fresh air, is important to you, you may want to think twice about renting a "15th story penthouse," especially if all of the photos show closed curtains or just a hint of light coming through the window.


#5:  Enough Beds:  "Mom, Where am I supposed to Sleep?"
This is not something you want to hear when you travel!  Unfortunately, we have heard it a few times when we made a booking decision a little too fast. Carefully verify the number of beds, bunk beds, and convertible sofa beds in any place you rent. Don't assume that a bed will be a queen bed - check first, or ask. I've had a few cases where I assumed a sofa bed would be a double, and it was a twin. Two kids might be alright sharing a twin bed, especially if on a short stop. But you don't want place that says "accommodates 4" if there are 6 of you. Also, your host's city or national laws may require the host to register each apartment guest's passport number, and possibly pay city taxes for each of you, so it's important that your host knows in advance the true and accurate number of guests in your party. This will also ensure you get enough sheets!

#6:  Safe Neighborhood:  Would You Walk Down that Street at Night?
Don't forget that the rental does not exist in isolation. Every lodging has surroundings of some sort. Is it a jungle, a swamp, an industrial zone, or a street full of nightclubs? Look for photos in the listing that show the outside of the lodging, and a view of the street out front or the neighborhood. This is very, very important for families. If a listing doesn't show any pics of the exterior, this is red flag for the structure's appearance and location. This is basic info that is essential to the booking decision. If it is missing, I'll email the host and ask to be provided a nearby landmark so I can check out the neighborhood online. For security reasons, the hosts won't usually tell you the actual address until after you book, but they are almost always willing to give you the name of a hotel, restaurant, or nearby street corner so that you can get an idea of what kind of neighborhood it is.

#7:  Sparkling Clean:  "Dad, Come Here!  This is the Biggest Roach Ever!"
That was something one of my kids yelled, late at night, in Asia. For families with little children, having a sparkling clean place to stay is pretty important. Read the guest reviews - all of them, or as many as you can - before deciding on a booking. Try doing a search within the reviews for words like clean, dirty, and bugsI've stayed in many, many kinds of rented homes and rarely has cleanliness been a problem. But when it's a problem, it can be a big problem. You don't want roaches crawling into bed with your kids. Your rental doesn't have to be clean enough to eat off the floor, but you do want your kids to at least be able to sit on the floor, right?

How to find the best place to stay on vacation with your family
One of our girls exploring a rented, traditional hanok home.
Incheon, South Korea (Republic of Korea)

More Soon!
We think finding the perfect place to stay is one of the key ingredients to a great trip, so we hope this series will prove helpful to your planning. Our next post has the rest of the details on finding the perfect place. We hope this blog helps make your family's next trip a great success! Could you help us?
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What About You?
What features do you think are essential when booking a great place to stay with a family?

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