Road trip destination from Austin with 2 small kids
September 23, 2022 11:45 AM   Subscribe

We are a family of 4 with 2 young boys, ages 2 and 4, and we have 2 weeks over the Xmas/New Years time period for a vacation. Flying and getting the necessary stuff for kids seem more stressful than if we just drive once we factor is the cost of flights, travel time, waiting in line at the airport, car rental, car seats, etc. This is particularly the case since one of the kids has some sensitivity issues and being flexible is not a strong trait at the moment. The problem is that we are in Austin and everything is an obscene distance from us. We are loosely considering Destin/Pensacola area since we can break up the travel into a few days and still have a nice chunk to spend at the beach. I have two questions: 1.) Do you have specific hotel or airbnb that would work for us or for families in general. We are open to family resorts or airbnb. 2.) Is there another location (and related link for lodging) that is within driving distance from Austin?
posted by allthingsconsidered to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total)
My family stays in LaQuinta Hotels though we typically travel west to California rather than east to Florida. They are not terribly expensive, generally relatively well updated, and they take pets, generally without an upcharge. My young kids love them.

In December, we typically go to New Mexico to see some snow rather than to the beach, and Ruidoso is super cool for small kids, though snow is generally manmade in the slopes that time of year. Pagosa Springs is cool too, so really pick any mountain town. Ruidoso has wild horses and deer running through town. It's only 9 hours from Austin according to Google.

Your kids are pretty small - have you considered going south? According to google, it's only 5 hours from Austin to South Padre Island, which according to Google has a water temp of 71F in December. My kids didn't spend more than an hour at the beach until they were like 7 or 8 years old. Texas beaches are generally kind of subpar, but South Padre might be ok since it's a decent Spring Break destination, and probably has some 'ok' beach vibes to go along with that.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:23 PM on September 23, 2022 [3 favorites]

New Orleans would also be pretty nice, though I'm not sure it's a small kid destination. I went as a high schooler, and it's way better in the winter than the summer when the humidity is horrible.

I also have friends who go to Gulf Shores in Alabama, where they have family. It's nicer than you might imagine.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:29 PM on September 23, 2022

I completely understand that flights with kids is so stressful (I have two with the same age difference, albeit now teenagers. One tip for having less stuff is to accidentally leave the carseats at security, do not recommend.) And everything is so far from you.

I was going to suggest Phoenix, which is ~15 hours away. We've stayed at the Arizona Grand Resort (known in our house as the "Ariana Grande"), which was really nice. Not the fanciest, but the rooms have a separate bedroom with a door, there's a restaurant on-site, and at least when we went there were tons of water features and pools. There's plenty to do around that area in the winter (both indoors and outdoors) if you have a car.

As a side note, as a real curveball suggestion maybe consider a train? The Amtrak Texas Eagle goes west from Austin, leaving at a reasonable time of day (in theory, it is Amtrak), and it looks like ~24 hours to get to Tuscon/Phoenix. I would price out what a "family bedroom" sleeper car looks like, there's no way you can do that in seats without it being a nightmare.

I have fond memories of this kind of trip as a kid, but only you know if you have kids for whom a 24 hour train journey would be the worst thing ever (for you) or the highlight of their lives. I will say that the lack of airport drama, the ability to walk around in the train and go to a snack bar, and have your own room makes a world of difference.
posted by true at 2:18 PM on September 23, 2022 [2 favorites]

What if you drive up to Dallas and stay at someplace like Great Wolf Lodge? Or stay in San Antonio and plan trips to Sea World, local playgrounds, messy art activities or family festivals.

It's been a while since my kids were that young but they don't really know the difference between far away, expensive vs next town over, new swings. I would save the big memorable trip for when they are a bit more likely to remember it.
posted by CathyG at 3:32 PM on September 23, 2022 [4 favorites]

This is why when our girls were young (three years apart) we had a tiny fifth-wheel and a pickup. Vacations were a week camping locally with relatives who had kids the same ages.
We saved family out-of-state travel for when the girls were closer to age 8 or 10, when they could sit with a book or headphones while we drove.

Texas has much to offer for children (zoos, amusement parks, science museums, outdoor activities). Our girls still remember Galveston and "Corpus Crispy," the San Antonio Riverwalk and sampling multiple roller-coaster rides.
But the favorite memories are with their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.
posted by TrishaU at 5:11 PM on September 23, 2022 [2 favorites]

At those ages and given sensitivity issues (and Christmas logistics but you didn't ask about those!), I'd probably aim more for Christmas at home and go to some place closer like a beach house in Galveston. Be aware to book very early as many families do Galveston as an annual Christmas/NYE trip. Rentals may be more expensive than expected but usually there's no hidden fees and most will come with at least a few beach toys for the kids. There's also a lot of fun things there in addition to the beach: the Children's Museum, the Train Museum, the Strand, and Moody Gardens are good even on rainy days. And it's close enough you maybe can consider driving at off-hours; as with many resorts, here's really only one way to get there and traffic can be terrible.

If your family doesn't celebrate Christmas, then I'd maybe extend the holiday but still leave some time at the end for decompression once back home.
posted by beaning at 8:32 AM on September 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

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