Are we crazy for taking multiple trips a year with our family of seven? Maybe. Is it worth it? You better believe it. At some point during the trip there is destined to be a tantrum or twenty, but the memories that we make as a family always make it worth it.
My husband and I are not planners, by any stretch of the imagination. So how do we survive family trips if that’s the case? You will quickly learn that our family LOVES a good routine. We have found that having a strong foundation for this is everything for us. We have learned that with our routines, most outings have become manageable and even enjoyable.
I think that this easily benefits everyone in the family no matter the age. Everyone knows what to expect, and when to expect it. Does this mean it needs to be a time sensitive rigid schedule? No, absolutely not. In fact, I would urge you not to have a rigid schedule. You never know what to expect when you have kids, especially young ones and that means that you need to be able to roll with whatever they’re throwing at you and tweaking your day accordingly. You may get the impression that we are planners while reading this, but I think that you will come to see that this is just another one of our many routines.
When I talk about routines, I mean keep things familiar. If every morning your family wakes up, eats breakfast, gets dressed, then brushes teeth, do that on vacation too! If at bedtime your kids take a bath, read a book, then go to bed, do that! This gives kids a sense of consistency while on vacation and away from their comfort zone. Should you skip naps? The answer to that depends on the age of your kids, the personality of your kids, and what you have planned. Sometimes, it may depend on the day. There have been times where skipping a nap or taking a short car nap completely made sense for our kids. There have been other times where this would have completely ruined a day, and we needed to prioritize nap time. You need to be able to know where your kids are at, and what is going to work best at that time. Depending on what you’re doing a specific day may also be a factor here.
There are people who have every activity of a trip planned out, and as much as I would love to be that person I’m just not. Honestly, more often than not, when we actually do make plans further than a day in advance, we tend to cancel them. We have a rough idea of a few things going into a trip that we would like to do, but that’s about the extent of our planning.
Obviously, I think carrying whatever routine you do at home with you on your trip is the most important. After the routine, my next piece of advice is not to change who you and your family are when it comes time for the trip. Trips are stressful enough as it is, traveling with kids, especially small children, magnifies that stress even more. Why add something else to your plate that is typically out of your comfort zone? If your family is like us and you typically plan only a day out or just sort of fly by the seat of your pants, then do that. If your family is one that needs to have everything planned out weeks or months in advance, then do that! There is no right or wrong here except for doing what works best for you and your family.
One of the biggest pain points for me used to be packing. I’ve learned that having a washer and dryer on vacation can ease a ton of stress when it comes to this. Did I just recommend that you do laundry on your VACATION?! You better believe it! It may sound crazy to add a chore to your vacation, but you will thank me later. This has been a gamechanger for me when traveling. Once I learned to do laundry on vacation, packing became so much easier. The pressure of, “Am I packing too little? Too much? Too warm? Cold?” was taken away. I didn’t need to pack as much, which meant I wasn’t packing TOO much. If I packed too little, I could just do a load of laundry, etc. Also, you can them come home with mostly clean clothes that just need to be put away, which makes unpacking so much easier! Why did it take me so long to figure out something so simple?
Next, and this may go without saying, but check the forecast of your destination before going so you know how to pack. Also, even if it’s going to be warm, I would urge you to pack at least one sweater or sweatshirt per person. I always pack my kids first because I stress about them the most. This lessens the pressure on other things, once I have the thing I’m dreading the most out of my way. Don’t forget to lay out travel day outfits for everyone, I typically do this while packing because you are already going through all of the clothes.
I realize that some parents don’t love letting their kids use electronics, and we do limit the screen time, with the exception of traveling. Netflix and Hulu both allow you to download movies and tv shows so that you can watch them later when you are not on Wi-Fi. I highly recommend utilizing this feature. The trick here is that you need to check it both before the trip and then before heading back home. Some shows will only allow for viewing once, and some have a time frame in which they are available. You don’t want to be thinking, I just downloaded a bunch of stuff a week ago so we’re good, and then not have anything to watch on the way home. (Hello meltdown!)
Aside from electronic entertainment for your kids, there are some great travel activities that you can purchase, mostly from the dollar store too. There are games specific to traveling, coloring books, dry erase markers for writing on the windows (if you’re okay with that), Etch A Sketch type activities or Doodle Boards all make for great things to do. My husband and I also enjoy playing trivia. I typically quiz him on trivia, because a little random fact about him is that he knows a TON of extremely random things, like what year pretty much any movie you can name came out. Why is there a need to know this?
Prior to having the twins, we would typically fly. Since having them, and food allergies becoming a concern, we have started driving everywhere. This has changed the way we would pack. I try to consolidate the number of bags I use the best I can; however, I still always end up with a ton. Martin, and the two oldest kids get their own suitcases. Deklan, Maverick, Jamison, and I all share one large suitcase. Then we use small bags for things like kitchen supplies, road trip snacks & drinks, activities, chargers, etc. This ensures that everything has a “spot”.
We have tried leaving at different times throughout the day to figure out what works best. For some people, this means leaving at bedtime and driving through the night while the kiddos sleep. For others, it means leaving in the afternoon, possibly after work, and driving halfway to stay at a hotel then finishing the drive the following day. We have tried both of these; they just don’t work for us. We like to leave EARLY morning, I’m talking 2-3am and driving straight through. By doing this, we can get a decent night of sleep and not be overly tired from having a full day of work or whatever earlier in the day. It is also early enough in the morning that our kids can fall back asleep in the car for a good chunk of the trip.
We pack as much of the car as we can the night before we leave. What needs to go in the car last minute, goes on the kitchen counter so that nothing is left behind. This ensures that when you wake up in the middle of the night to leave, you can basically just grab last minute items without thinking and hit the road. The suitcases go in the car first as we won’t need them until we are at our destination, the bags that we may need along the way but not while driving, like the diaper bag for example go in next. I obviously will need access to diapers but won’t be needing it while on the move so those can go in the far back closest to the door, but they need to be easily accessible once the door is opened. Things like snacks, drinks, and road trip entertainment for the kids go on the floor in the middle row, that way we can easily access them while on the move.(I do realize that this is not recommended from a safety standpoint as they could become projectiles in case of an accident, but we do try to secure everything down.)
Remember those clothes you put aside while packing? Make sure to put those out where everyone knows the night before traveling. On our travel day, Martin and I always wake up first to shower and get ready. Then, one of us goes to finish the last-minute packing of the car items and the other goes to wake up the kids and to get them ready for the trip. We are usually done around the same time, so we load everyone up and take off. By having everything done beforehand, we don’t have added stress the morning of, when things are hectic enough, it’s also helpful to discuss who is responsible for what prior to the morning of travel so that there is minimal bickering. (You know it’s inevitable with little sleep & travel!)
CONCLUSION: No one ever said that traveling with kids was easy, but with the tools I’ve mentioned above I think it’s totally doable and even enjoyable. I used to have a love/hate relationship with family vacations because I was just so overwhelmed. Don’t be scared, just do it!! You won’t regret it, and the sooner you start traveling with your kids, the better acclimated they will become and the easier it will get for everyone involved. Safe Travels!