Sarah Reese is a 36-year-old Bellingham mom to 15Â kids. And she loves family travel. Yes, you read those two sentences correctly.
Sarah was a single mom to just one child when she met her husbandÂ Robert, who was a single father to four children. Like a Super BradyÂ Bunch, the duo combined their children, then adopted foster kids andÂ Haitian orphans. Eleven children live at home; four are grown and haveÂ moved out.
She blogs (beautifully and with vulnerability) about her journey and parenting struggles at Mom to 15. Many of Reeseâ€™s children have special needs â€“ physical, medical orÂ psychological.Â Seriously, her blog sucks me in. I admire her ability to parent with such reflection and compassion. She also takes excellent photos (the photo below is in Pioneer Park, in Ferndale, Washington). It’s difficult to get that many kids arranged and smiling!
â€œWeâ€™ve found that travel and having adventures is whatÂ brings us all together,â€ Sarah says.
So as you can imagine, Sarah knows a lot about how to travel as aÂ larger family, how to save money on trips and why travel is soÂ important for families. Let’s discover how she does it:
1. Where have you gone recently?
The most recent trips have been overnights to Seattle. We often try toÂ combine Children’s Hospital appointments with adventures in Seattle.Â Typically we have all the little children plus a few bigger ones withÂ us too.
Last summer we did several local camping trips, including OlympicÂ National Park, Vancouver Island (including Victoria) and the NorthÂ Oregon Coast. On the Oregon Coast, we were with another family who hadÂ five children. It was a wild time!
2. Whatâ€™s your family’s biggest challenge while traveling?
The amount of “stuff” that it takes for our family to travel,Â especially when we are camping. It’s difficult to not over pack and IÂ am someone who always likes to be prepared. Now we have a good systemÂ down for camping and we typically make a list of each item and whereÂ it is; which bag, which container, and so on.
3. How do you save money when staying in hotels?
When we stay at hotels we typically stick to two brands: MarriottÂ Residence Inn or Embassy Suites. The Marriott Residence Inn has aÂ “penthouse” suite that we can get for less than two hotel rooms. ItÂ has two bedrooms and a fold out sofa. It has a full sized kitchen soÂ we are able to stay on budget with food costs. Both hotels have freeÂ breakfast and swimming pools.
Embassy Suites we love because they have a room with a living roomÂ area that has a fridge and microwave. We do get two rooms but it’sÂ almost like having four, because of the way that its set up.
If we have to stay outside of these two options we always call aheadÂ to the hotels and let them know how many children we have and see ifÂ they have connecting rooms or can guarantee side by side rooms soÂ there are no surprises.
We also always have extra sleeping bags and single air mattresses inÂ the van in case we need to have an extra bed for someone on the floor.
We participate in reward programs, and use AAA or other discounts weÂ can find online. We also always keep our options open to staying at aÂ KOA or renting a cabin or home from VRBO.com.
Weâ€™d love to house swap, and have offered severalÂ times. Yet no one is taking us up on our offer- might be the familyÂ size!
4. How do you save money on food expenses when traveling?
We have half a family of vegetarians and several picky little eaters.Â This is how we save the most money — by not eating out.
We do try on each trip to have one meal out where we go someplaceÂ local and have the experience and the great food! In Victoria, BC, weÂ had fish and chips on the water at a popular place and it was a heftyÂ price, but well worth the experience.
I know that this doesnâ€™t sound luxurious, but spreading out paperÂ towels on the dashboard and laying down PB & J’s works just fine withÂ us. Saving our money for great locally made ice cream or otherÂ indulgences is much more rewarding then going through a drive throughÂ each time.
We also try to bake muffins and other things so that we have them inÂ the car for snacks and meals on the go. We pack fresh fruit and cut upÂ vegetables and take a huge cooler that we restock on the road.
We also sometimes order pizza and have that in our hotel room or evenÂ heat up something in the hotel microwave. Our children are just asÂ happy eating some cheese and crackers with fruit salad for dinner asÂ anything else.
5. How about on things to do; how do you save money on activities?
We did our research and bought family memberships at many big placesÂ like the Seattle Aquarium, Pacific Science Center, The Seattle Children’sÂ Museum, and so on. We bought the memberships specifically because theyÂ have reciprocal programs in many other places. We try to utilize themÂ as often as we can.(Read more about reciprocal memberships)
We also divide and conquer. We split up and go to the activities thatÂ are really important to us. We would rather split up and give everyoneÂ the chance to do the things that they really want to do instead ofÂ paying entrance fees for everyone even though certain children areÂ indifferent about going.
We also do our research ahead of time on Tripadvisor and otherÂ websites so we can see what other people recommend for visiting. WeÂ try to go to as many “free” places as possible. We use local swimmingÂ pools and recreation facilities if they are unique. We attend freeÂ events and try to avoid big theme parks and other money suckingÂ places.
Each of the children typically have their own money saved ahead ofÂ time to spend on something for themselves but we don’t go overboardÂ with buying things or shopping on vacations.
6. So many people give up traveling after they have kids. WhatÂ do you think?
Travel is what keeps life exciting! Living in such a wonderful area ofÂ the world (Pacific Northwest) is certainly a blessing that we should all be takingÂ advantage of. There are so many options for travel of any size familyÂ on size of a budget.
The longest trip that we have taken as a familyÂ was two months long. My husband was working from home at the time andÂ was able to work on the road.
The farthest trip was across the country â€“ yes — with all of ourÂ children. Once your family gets into a good routine of traveling theÂ whole concept becomes second nature to the kids.
I would suggest for families who are able to travel outside ofÂ the busiest travel times to do so. Itâ€™s been incredible being able toÂ go places that are popular and save a ton of money and have free reignÂ because the crowds are non-existent.
Next Monday, for part two of this interview, weâ€™ll find out what SarahÂ thought of her trip to Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia.