How to vacation with 5 kids and a budget

By Jason Thomson on August 12, 2013


Well. That was interesting.

We’ve never taken the kids on a major vacation. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind around here during the first three years. In having a baby, building a house and finishing law school, there hasn’t been a lot time for a getaway.

We fixed that this year by loading up a pair of cars and trekking from Toronto to Ottawa for a near week. Part of it was an experiment (how much does it really cost, how do we navigate five personalities and age groups), part of it was fun. Ultimately we made it there and back without killing one another or our budget. Here’s how we did (and you can too!).

Use airbnb

We were looking at 2-3 hotel rooms a night. Luckily, house renting services like airbnb have sprung up. We found a modestly-sized, well appointed place that was a five minute drive from most of the tourist stuff in town. 5 nights, less than $900. We had a kitchen (savings for breakfast, dinner), WiFi and a great big park right across the street (plus heated floors in the bathrooms!).

Crowdsource ideas

I hit Facebook and asked friends for unconventional ideas – which is how we ended up at the Diefenbunker (a personal highlight). Ask weird questions of friends to find local hotspots and hidden treasures.

Create a souvenir budget

This was a good idea. I allowed each kid $35 for the week. That way I wasn’t assailed at every gift shop for a pile of junk. Instead, I have fewer, smaller piles. It also taught the kids the value of saving, thinking ahead (for souvenirs at the Star Wars location).

Split up

We took one day and split the older kids and younger kids up for separate trips. The older kids got to enjoy a ghost walk, while the young ones headed off to Montreal for a Biodome trek. We all ended up better off for having some separate time.

Plan better

We wanted to cook more in the evenings, but we didn’t do a proper meal plan. That meant we got home late and didn’t have the right food on hand. Doing a little prep work during breakfast could have saved us a couple of hundred dollars – those pub meals add up fast.

Get away

As a grown up with young kids, I spend all of my time shepherding around the crew. Next time I’ll build in a little time with mom (a dinner out, even drinks) to enjoy the experience a little more.

Exhaust them

I can’t stress enough the importance of running the kids at the park and getting them to walk a lot. This guarantees a sleep in the next day.

Next year, we’re thinking of going big(ger) with a visit to the east coast. I’m already fearful.

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