“Over the river, and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go! The horse knows the way to carry the 15 passenger sleigh through the white and drifted snow.”
Okay, so that might the Beth version of the song. We’re about to kick off travel season with Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up. But whether you are doing holiday traveling or leaving on a summer vacation, can we all just agree that going on a road trip with lots of kids in tow is a wee bit difficult?
I always enjoy taking my kids to see new places, but honestly, the preparation and packing makes my head spin. First you have all the planning, and then the laundry to take care of. And how are you going to pack everything and entertain the kids in the car? And what are you going to do with all the stuff once you are there? Indeed, there are a lot of things to plan for and consider when traveling with a lot of kids.
For the sake of complete honesty, I have never flown with my kids. Nor do I plan to at this point. The thought of flying with them stresses me out. I was just on a flight a couple days ago, and there was a little kid keeping her mom very stressed the entire time. I can’t imagine that times eight. Plus the cost!! So when our family travels, we road trip. Therefore my tips are all geared toward road tripping. Feel free to tweak these tips to work with air travel if you are a brave soul that attempts that!
Planning For Road Trips
The key to a successful trip with lots of kids is having a plan ahead of time. If you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person, or if you are married to one, I encourage you to go ahead and make plans anyway. Have an itinerary, know where you are staying and roughly what you will be doing each day. Know what the climate will be like so you can be prepared. For example, my family loves to travel to Wyoming to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. But when we go, we have to be prepared for rain, snow and heat all in the same trip—depending on which part of the park we are in that day.
A little tip you might consider, especially if you have little kids, is to plan ahead to have matching BRIGHTLY COLORED shirts for your kids. My older teens now would think it is ridiculous, but when they were all younger, I would make matching shirts for them each day. They don’t have to be elaborate if you don’t have a creative side. But I liked to create fun shirts that matched or at least coordinated so I could easily see where all of my kids were, whether it be an amusement park or national park. Plus, it’s like an automatic souvenir! I hand painted mine but you could even do cut vinyl or embroidery. Here are some cute matching shirts from trips when my kids were little.
Packing It All In
I am sure there are a million ways to approach packing for a trip. I’m going to tell you the two ways we typically pack for a longer trip (not just a weekend at the grandparents' house), because both work well.
Because our family is so large, whenever we travel, we have to have multiple hotel rooms or we rent a cabin or condo. And because of that, it can be very difficult to figure out who needs what stuff and when. And it simply doesn’t make sense to pack 10 suitcases. Where would we even store 10 suitcases?! So I personally always pack with storage tubs. They are easy to carry and easy to store. And super easy to wash out if they get dirty. And far less expensive than luggage!
Tubs stack perfectly in the trunk of our large van. If you are lacking the storage space in your vehicle, just switch to bags or something else that will fit better. Here's a photo of tubs I packed on a previous trip. Sorry for the low quality photo. When I took it, I had no way of knowing that five years later I would start a blog!
Packing With Older Kids
This year when we went to the Smoky Mountains for our vacation, we all stayed in one cabin with multiple bedrooms. So ahead of time, I figured out who would share each bedroom. And then I had them pack their items together into tubs. For example, there was a tub with 5 days of clothes for Josh and Abe, another tub for the girls, etc. And since 6 of my kids are pre-teens or teens, they are very self-sufficient when it comes to picking out clothes for the day. So having their own tubs in their own bedrooms worked well.
When we got to the cabin, everyone unpacked their items and used the tub to collect dirty laundry. We had a washer and dryer in the cabin, so I collected the dirty laundry each day and kept it washed. So by the time we left to go back home, the tubs were all clean and I didn’t have to worry about laundry when we got back. Super nice! (Also, if you find a cabin or condo with a washer and dryer, it means you don’t have to pack nearly as many clothes! Bonus!)
On the way to and from the cabin, we spent the night in hotels in different cities along the way. Of course I didn't want to haul in all the tubs just for a one night stay. In hotels, we stay 5 to a room, so I packed two separate hotel tubs (one for each room) with clothes for everyone who would be staying in a hotel room together. And then one bag with toiletries and medicines. That way every time we got to a hotel, we just had to carry in the two tubs and bag of toiletries. Easy peasy.
Packing With Younger Kids Or Special Circumstances
When we did long road trips and the majority of our kids were really little, we had to do a little more planning when it came to clothes. Otherwise, no one knew what they were supposed to wear that day and everything would end up getting dirty. And since our kids wore matching shirts each day so we could track them down, I had to be sure that every kid was picking out the same outfit, no matter which hotel room and what adult they were staying with.
Admittedly, this packing process can be a little more tedious, and it gives you a glimpse into my type A brain. But it really does work and makes for a seamless and stress free trip!
When I packed, I would pick out the shirt, the pants, and the underwear, and then I would fold and roll it all up together with the underwear inside. Like a burrito. And then I would take masking tape and run it around the bundle of clothes. On the tape, I would write whose clothes they were, and what day they were to be worn. This helped a lot because we had already done the planning and knew where we would be going and what the temperature would be like that day. We knew if they would need a sweater or a swimsuit.
Then I packed everything in tubs based on where we were stopping for the night. So when we divided the kids up among the hotel rooms, we could easily hand out the bundles of clothes for the next day. It didn't matter if they were staying in a hotel room with me or with grandparents. They knew exactly what they were supposed to wear. I had tubs labeled so I knew exactly which tub to grab at each stop. For example, when we would travel to Yellowstone every few years, our first stop was Denver. And then the second stop was Jackson, Wyoming. And then we would spend about a week at the same hotel in Yellowstone. So I had tubs for each location.
On top of clothing tubs, I also pack a toiletry tub (or duffle bag). Plus I pack a weather tub, depending on our destination. Since I’ve been talking a lot about our Yellowstone trips, for those trips, I’d pack ponchos, heavier coats, and gloves in the weather tub. We kept it in our car as we drove around that way we would be prepared no matter what weather we encountered at the different altitudes.
If you are headed to the beach, you might instead pack the tub with beach towels, sunscreen and other things you need by the water. Then all you’ll have to do is carry the tub to the beach. And then of course, depending on your destination, you might not need a weather tub at all.
Finally, I packed a tub with shoes and socks and swimsuits. And then we were all done with packing the clothes!
I know it sounds like a lot of prep work, but it really eliminated the stress once we got to the hotel. All the tedious packing is not fun, I’ll admit. But it freed us up to have fun on vacation. I truly don’t know that I would have enjoyed taking such large trips with little kids if I didn’t have my packing system.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series when I’ll share my tips for traveling in the car with kids. I’ll share my car organization tips, as well as the fun activities we use for road trips.