A Family Trip to Washington, D.C., Part 7: The Hotel Selection Process

In case you missed the first few posts in this series, we will be chronicling our family trip to Washington D.C. over the course of the next couple months. The first post in the series is here. You can find the rest under the travel menu on our main page. Last week’s post discussed how we kept motion sickness at bay during our 3200+ mile road trip.

We are not fancy people, so when we stay in hotels we are not looking for anything extravagant. This is a good thing, since there are five of us. Finding rooms that will sleep five people without violating hotel fire codes is often a challenge. Especially when you are trying to find rooms on a budget. As a result, finding hotels for our trip took quite a bit of effort and time.

Besides the usual safety and security criteria, we had a few other considerations when choosing lodging.

Location
As I said in a previous post, we wanted to travel between 6 and 7 hours a day. Sometimes that left us in the middle of nowhere, so adjustments were necessary. Having a target travel time provided a rough geographic region in which to look for lodging. We wanted to make sure we were staying somewhere with sufficient hotel choices.

Restaurants
I wanted to stay in areas that had a good selection of restaurants in close proximity. We knew we would be eating dinner out every night on our travel days, so we wanted choices. Melissa found a great way to earn free Restaurant.com gift cards through Swagbucks, so we planned many dining experiences around the places where we could use those certificates.

restaurant swagbucks fun dinner

Sleeping arrangements
We did not want anyone sleeping on the floor during our trip. It is not comfortable or fun. Besides, we did not want to listen to the fighting about whose turn it was to sleep on the floor. In order to set the kids up for success during the day, we needed to make sure they got good, restful sleep.

Complimentary breakfast
We do not have any picky eaters in our family, so finding food they would eat was easy. What we wanted were hotels that included breakfast in the cost of the room. We needed to make sure the kids had full stomachs (but not too full) when they climbed in the car at the start of the day. We also did not want to have to drive somewhere to eat. It is more convenient to have everyone else eat while I pack the car. Especially with the amount of stuff we brought with to be gone for two weeks.

In-room internet access
Melissa and I wanted to be able to check in on the world after the kids were in bed. We also needed to verify our plans for the next day and make any necessary adjustments due to weather.  And, in full disclosure, we watched a little Netflix with ear buds in once the kids were in bed.

Pools
We wanted to have pools at our hotels so the kids could burn off steam. There is nothing worse than trying to put kids to sleep when they have too much energy. We especially focused on finding hotels with pools on the way to D.C., since the kids would have lots of anxious energy for that portion of the trip.

The day’s activities also drove the need for a pool. On days where we had been mostly sedentary, a pool was a must. Days like the one spent at the Creation Museum, where we did a lot of walking, negated the need for a pool. We were all exhausted from a long day on our feet.

Jo Rex

With these criteria, I spent a significant amount of time on the Hotels.com website. With it, I was able to see the variety of lodging along our route and could select the cities to sleep in. I also used it to narrow down our choices to a handful for each night.

After I had the list of finalists, I went to the specific hotel websites to check on all the details. On a few occasions, I found the Hotels.com information to be incomplete or slightly inaccurate. This was especially true when it came to room occupancy rules.  Once I was equipped with all the important information, I asked Melissa for her opinion on the remaining lodging options. She usually had a reason to eliminate at least one.

When we had looked at the list together and selected our favorites, I looked into booking options. For some hotels, it was cheaper to call and book directly through them. They often matched, or beat, the lowest advertised price we found online.

Hotels.com has an arrangement with Swagbucks so we were able to earn “points” if we booked through them. Any hotels that we could not find a lower price elsewhere, we booked this way. We were able to accumulate quite a few points. We will have a future post on the many ways we used Swagbucks for this trip.

All this effort paid off for us. We spent on average less than $100 per night on lodging for the road trip portion of our vacation. That is not an easy feat for a family of five.

Do you have any good ideas on finding budget lodging when you travel? Leave a comment or send us an email.