Will Travel with Kids (Travel Tips for a Mommies that Don't Want to Use Prozac)

I am a holiday lover.

I LOVE THE HOLIDAYS. Starting in October with Halloween and going through New Years, I'm just in heaven. This is an amazing time of the year! The Food! The Family! The Wine.

And the more family, the more wine needed. <---Yes, that. I said it. Oh, come on, you were thinking it too.

With six kids and a blended family stretching from California to Florida, Montana, and Massachusetts, PLUS the added bonus of custody time splits, you can imagine that holidays are hard and messy for us. We try to travel to see family far away (or guilt suggest family come visit us for the holidays) as it is important to us that the kids, although from separate families, feel like they have a real sense of belonging and family togetherness.

Last August we decided that since the holidays can't seem to be insane enough, we would take all eight of our little booties down to Florida to visit His family.

Last August...that seemed like a wonderful plan.

Eight people. One Chevy Traverse. Two 18-hour trips driven straight through.

Honestly, on the back end of November--I'm shocked we made it there and back whole.
Mostly, I'm shocked the 13 year old didn't get left on the roadside somewhere around Jacksonville. I was tempted...very tempted. His father was even more so.

The ride there started for me at 2:30 pm when I got on the train to pick up #4 and #6 from school. Then we took a cab to the train station and headed by train to meet Him and the four boys. He and I took turns driving and arrived around 10:30 am the next day.

Yes. That is 20 hours of travel.

I know what you are thinking...and NO. We didn't drug them with Benadryl. Much.

Honestly, the ride there was relatively easy. The kids were happy to be going, which made the ride less painful. Knowing that sun and palm trees awaited us and the anticipation of being spoiled rotten by grandparents (and of being ignored by parents) helped soften the blow of a 18 hour car trip. We had a great gig going with 30 minute intervals of Oregon Trail and Angry Birds on our two iPod Touches.

He lost his bank card immediately as we set off. We then realized as we stopped for dinner that we forgot half the food in the fridge at home.

Small snags, though. And how could they bother us too much when A) the kids slept over half the ride, and B) we got there to this:

A house full of grandparents to dote on them. A swimming pool and constant 80 degree weather. The boat, the sea breeze. Family.

There were 26 people for Thanksgiving dinner. Three turkeys, six pumpkin pies, two apple pies, five cans of cranberry sauce and two big dishes of sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping. YUM.

 


The kiddos ate themselves silly. Literally. What better to top off dinner and dessert with? Second dessert. That's right, roasted marshmallows, baby.

 

 

And the next day, more swimming and some beautiful sailing on the Gulf. I may be the only person that got home from Thanksgiving weighing less than what I did when I left. All the kids were so healthy and active the entire time we were there. #5 swam one day for 12 hours straight. So good for their little bodies! For all our bodies. Love that activity.

 

 

 

 

 

I know. How could we LEAVE?
If custody wasn't an issue, we may not have. And jobs. And school.
Reality bites sometimes.
I'm surprised we were able to tear ourselves, tear the kids, away!

The ride home was....less easy. But we survived. We did it, and we even made it home with all six kids. On time.
__________________________

We now have six of these long-distance 8-hour-plus trips under our belts. So how do I do it? How do I organize and pack for eight people...and FIT IT ALL IN THE BACK OF A CHEVY TRAVERSE?

Here are my tricks.

A bag for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Swim and PJ's.
 

1) Pack minimally. One bag for each day for all six kids. Label well.
We have tried packing many different ways: one bag for each kid, one bag per two kids, all in one big bag together. It seems like it is just always too much and too messy. I remembered reading a blog post from a big-family talking about how they pack all the clothes for one day into just one bag. I was lucky enough to have eight of these little backpacks made of parachute-like material with draw strings laying around. So, we used them as stuff bags, packing all six kids' clothes for one day into a bag. We labled them well, and I can't tell you how GREAT this was for packing out the back of the car and for clothing management. For so many reasons: 1) Without options as to what they wanted to wear, dressing each morning was easy and quick. 2) We'd dump out the clean clothes and they'd put the dirty clothes from the day before into the bag, minimizing messes. 3) When we got home it was easy for me to see which days' of clothes were dirty and which we didn't use. I knew going there that it was likely we wouldn't go through all the clothes because we had laundry facilities right there, and the kids would probably live in their swim suits!

 
 Names have been blurred to protect the innocent from the insanity of their mother/stepmother's blogging. ;)
 

2) Pre-pack LOTS of Snacks and Water.
Each child got their own water bottle and their own snack cup/Tupperware with lid. We refilled both throughout the trip. We pre-made snacks and froze water ahead of time, keeping it all in soft coolers at the two littlests feet. Sine most of our driving was done overnight, we really didn't have to feed the kids very often. Lots of dried fruit, fresh fruit, yogurts, nuts, lunch meat and Lara bars. I made each kid their own logo and labeled their snack cups and water bottles. No confusion, no throwing away. Doing this work ahead of time minimized stops and greatly minimized cost.

3) Take Care of Comfort and Entertainment. 
We don't have a video player in our car. So how do six children pass 18 and 20 hour trips? First, as I said before, we drove overnight, which provided us with at least 8-10 hours of down time while the kids slept. The kids wore their pajamas most of the ride and each had a small pillow/pillow pet and a kid-size blanket. It was tight, but they slept pretty well. Our car has two rows of seats in the back, so I packed a box of car games/drawing tools/books specifically for the age group of each row. #4 read two books on the ride, #1 read three. There was lots of drawing and travel Bingo/Shoots and Ladders/Candy Land. The best of all was that He and I used our old iPhones as iPod Touches. We had two that would go in 30 minute intervals back and forth amongst the kids. That means that for every half hour of video game time, the kids all had one hour off to do one of the other activities. I am a big proponent of not sitting staring at a video screen for the entire ride, and this seemed to be enough time for them to feel like they played. Nobody once complained when their time was up! Could be because of these:

4) The pièce de résistance: Name Pins.
I stole this idea from Less-Than-Perfect Life of Bliss when a fellow Pinterest-er pinned it. (I LOVE PINTEREST!). She calls hers Kid Clips. This is a brilliant idea that worked wonders for the kids. We stopped every 3 hours for bathroom/gas breaks. The clip stayed up as long as they were good and minding the rules. Once someone complained, fought, or anything else that might make the parents go ABSOLUTELY NUTS, their clip came down and they didn't get a treat at the next stop or to play the iPod Touch until after the next stop. Nobodies clip came down the entire ride!

Note: We felt that the 13 year old was too old for this kind of monitoring, so he didn't have to have a clip. Turns out, he was the only one that might have had his taken down had he had one! The ride back with that one...was hard. Ahhhh, teenagers. So.MUCH.FUN.

So, there you have it. A few tips and tricks. A ton of insanity/bribbery/candy.

And a really fun family vacation that the kids will remember...forever.

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