What’s the Best Fit for Family Travel: Flights, Hotel Hopping, or RVing

What’s the Best Fit for Family Travel: Flights, Hotel Hopping, or RVing?
An avid traveler and mom of four compares the pros and cons of each travel type.
By: Tera Wages

Wages family running at the salt flats

When Wes surprised me at our wedding with tickets to Rome, Italy, I knew I was in for an adventure. From that moment on, we were on airplanes exploring far-away places and trying every bite of food we could afford. But, like many newlyweds, we didn't have a lot of money. And at 21, we certainly didn't have a lot of wisdom. 

Travel hacking wasn't a popular phrase at the time and our jobs needed us to be in the states (at least long enough to make money to afford another plane ticket – which averaged $950 per ticket at the time). From 2008 to 2013, we explored more than 25 countries across the globe. And while it was an absolute joy, we knew it wasn't sustainable long term, at least not for the lifestyle we wanted to build with our kids.

Traveling by Plane: The Pros vs. The Price Tag

The pros of traveling by plane are easy to see. You get there fast. It is relatively easy. You book the flight, you show up, and you arrive at your destination. But the more we did it, the cons became more obvious.

Tera and Wes backpacking in their twenties

Wes and I like to fly by the seat of our pants. Who knows how much we will like a place until we get there? I cannot tell you how many times we would arrive in a city then discover we wanted to stay longer. But, at that point, we were on someone else's schedule. We would call to find out it would cost anywhere from $500-$1,200 to extend our stay, even by just a day or two!

We wanted our own freedom to choose how long we stayed. And, at the time, that just wasn't a realistic option.

Not to mention the price. I can remember standing in front of famous museums and thinking, “well, we made it here ... too bad we don't have enough money to go in.” So much of our budget was wrapped up in the journey that we really had to pick and choose what we did once we reached the destination. Plus, we still had to pay to eat, sleep, and travel between cities.

Because we were paying around $1,800 to arrive at our first destination, we would backpack around and plan our trips to be a minimum of four weeks. We would jump on trains and bounce between hostels every couple of days because we wanted to maximize our experience while keeping it affordable. 

First photo: Tera sitting on bunkbed working on computer. Second photo: Tera sleeping on bus seats while backpacking

There were many nights we would share a room with eight other people and just pray the guy sleeping in the diagonal bunk wasn’t going to snore. At the time, it was worth it to only be paying around $40 (per person) a night for accommodations, but the days would be extra-long after those nights with a loud bunkmate … I still think about that guy coughing all night in Rome. I don’t think I slept an hour.

We were definitely still happy. At 24, the extra layer of unknown was an adventure. And I didn’t mind all the peanut butter and banana sandwiches to save an extra $6 at lunch. We just wanted to experience as much as we could.

Photo collage of Tera and Wes traveling internationally

However, once we started having babies, we knew that the price for travel just skyrocketed. Buying six airplane tickets every time we wanted to see something new just wasn't in our budget, especially if we plan to save money for these kids to go to school one day.

Testing Out Road Tripping Paired with Hotel Hopping

So, we started driving. Our first two cross-country trips were done in a minivan and then a Sprinter van with all of our belongings packed in the back. Our goal was to alternate nights between cheap hotels, camping, and a nicer Airbnb so we could be comfortable. We are still a family on a budget, so balance was key.

First photo: Wes with all four children sitting on totes in front of tent on grass. Second photo: Tera loading van

We quickly discovered we LOVED the freedom having our own wheels provided. We could easily spend as much time in Yellowstone as we wanted, we got to choose our route, and best of all, we didn't have to check in with anyone. We finally owned our schedule, and we could wake up and choose where to go next.

But, with four tiny humans, the inconsistency was too much. They were sleeping in a new bed almost every night, then waking up not knowing where they were. There was no routine or sense of normalcy. It was taking a toll on their attitudes and sense of safety. Kids thrive with a routine. Despite how much Wes and I were enjoying seeing the Grand Canyon and Salt Flats, if our kids aren't thriving, we aren't thriving.

We also were constantly packing and unpacking. We were stressing over finding accommodations at the last minute each day only to arrive and have to unpack all of our things. Every couple of days, we were reloading the car or having to run back out to grab something we forgot. There were so many nights we would pull in and carry sleeping kids in one arm and luggage in the other. Unless it was an Airbnb night, we were all cramping into one space – either a hotel room with two beds or our tent. As a family of six, this was exhausting. 

We never had our own space.

Wages family posing for a funny photo in front of bridge over water

And, of course, this kind of travel could also get pricey. For a four-week trip, we would average two nights a week in an Airbnb priced at about $120 per night, three nights a week at a hotel at (hopefully!) around $85 a night, and two nights a week camping for $30 per night. As you can imagine, this got old fast.

However, our two trips gave us a taste of what was possible. Despite the drawbacks, we ultimately knew this type of travel was what we were looking for, it just needed a few adjustments. 

Photo collage of Wages family road trips

It was no surprise when Wes said he was ready to buy an RV. I always knew it was in the future, I just thought it was a more distant future. Little did I realize .... RVing checked every box for what our family needed.

Finding the Right Fit for Our Travel Needs (& Budget) with RVing

For Wes and I, RV life gave us the freedom we desired to make our own path. It gives us the options to save money on flights and hotels so we can hit up the Modern Museum of Art – I will never stand outside of a museum again wanting to go inside. We can easily boondock for a night or two OR, for less than $50 per night, we can find an RV park with a pool, playground, and view when our kids need to run.

Wes kissing Tera on cheek in front of Minnie Winnie

For our kids, they get to sleep in their beds every night. We now have the availability to show our kids corners of our country that many dream of seeing, while giving them consistency and comfort to make them feel safe. They have their own personal space where they can find their books, pillow, and favorite stuffy. 

Photos of Wages' RV travels

I can honestly say it is a night and day difference from our first road trips where we were working through meltdowns in downtown San Francisco simply because they were mentally exhausted from the unknown.

With RVing, we get to create our own path … on our schedules. And be able to afford to go so many more places without hesitation.

RVing gave us the best of everything. We get to look outside the same window every day and, while the view changes, our perspective gets to stay the same.

Tera and Wes with two children in renovated Minnie Winnie

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