Thursday, July 14, 2011

Family Roadtrip Tips (and notes)

We've taken a lot of road trips throughout the years. It's been an important part of our family experience, as well as a necessary element to our children's home education. We've journeyed to California (northern and southern) two different times, Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Denver, Colorado (a few times), St. Louis, Missouri, the East coast of the U.S. (we flew out and rented a car), and our three week grand adventure to Portugal a few years ago. I think I've learned a lot of what it means to travel in a car with a large family. Today, before we head out on the road again, I thought I'd share some ideas of what we've done to make the whole experience a little bit easier. I also want to jot down some notes, for memories sake, from this year's roadtrip vacation experience.

It's nice to have a roomy, reliable car or van. Especially when you are hauling 5 kids and all the stuff you'll need for the duration of the trip. We were grateful to borrow Nana and Grandpa's Toyota mini-van. It has more leg room and storage room, a CD player, and is newer than our van at home. A friend from work offered Keith use of his overhead storage bin. That's helped tremendously, especially stowing away things we didn't need immediate access to.

It's certainly necessary (and we find it entertaining, as well) to have a large U.S. atlas and Google maps handy. (A GPS would be nice, too.) You need to know where you are going. It's best to study them the night before, to become familiar to how you'll get to your destination. Sam has taken the role as trip navigator. I don't think we could have made it to certain places without his skills. Especially when the driver can't stop to look at the map.

Keith has done most of the driving. I have taken my turns when he needed to sleep and when the roads were long and uncomplicated. (I do well here.) Note: it's good to get plenty of sleep the night before you know you'll have long stretches of drive-time. The night before we left, we both got to bed late from preparation work, and we both had a hard time that first day driving. You can always pull of the side of the road (and we have) to take a few winks. 

It's best to make arrangements of where you are going to sleep before you go. We've had our fair share of pulling up to a town really late and desperately wanting to find a place to crash. We prepare by doing research before hand on the Internet, compared prices, etc. As far as expense goes, yes, it's cheaper to camp. We've done our fair share, but now with the size of our family, it's almost impossible to pack a camping gear with all our other stuff we need into the car that we have. Most of the time, we stay in economical hotels and motels. We've found good deals staying in condos or rental homes where we can have access to a kitchen and our own washer and drier. It saves us so much money to be able to cook our own meals and catch up on laundry. Note: our three nights here in Nauvoo were spent in this type of facility

To Pack

Bringing our own food saves a lot of money. For this trip, Keith brought home a cooler that plugs in and serves as a sort of "fridge". It stands upright in the center of the first aisle of the van, making it so easy and accessible to open the door and keep things cool. (as well as bringing home smelly, smoked salmon and Wisconsin cheese for co-workers and family.)
~We packed sandwich making stuff, (when we stop for gas or before exploring, I make sandwiches on the front seat.)
~fruit and veggies in ziplocks.
~hummus and dips
~green smoothies (for moi.)
~water bottles
In another box that sits below the fridge/cooler we store:
~trail mix
~nuts and dried fruit
~napkins and other paper products (utincles, plates, cups, ziplock bags)
~wipes (a few drops of citrus essential oils makes them so refreshing)

Other helpful things to have handy:
~tissues or toilet paper (so helpful for Oliver's huge bloody nose episode in South Dakota)
~empty plastic bags on each row for trash
~each family member has their own backpack filled with personal stuff. In Isaac's (he's almost seven) I put some crayons, paper, pencils, coloring U.S.A book, puzzle books, Mad Libs, chapter books.)
~a first aid/medical kit (this was used constantly throughout this trip. I was so glad I felt the prompting to put this comprehensive kit together before we left. I'll post about this later.)

~books on tape (This year's trip: Freddy the Detective, Henry and Ribsy, and Man in the Family~ Little Britches series by Ralph Moody)
~music CD's (Gypsy Kings, Coldplay, Bach, Rachmaninoff, Mormon Tabernacle Choir- getting us in the mood when we were approaching Nauvoo)
~Mp3 players with earbuds (if you are a teenager and want to zone out.)
To note:
Eliza and Isaac: Harry Potter series
Jane: Agatha Christie mysteries
Sam: Isaac's Great Brain series I brought originally for Isaac.
Emily: Holocaust and China foot binding themed fiction, The Scarlet Letter, herb and nutrition books, Azure Standard catalog.
~Cousin Oliver's camp songs and knock-knock jokes

Other tips:
~It's okay to stop and ask for directions. It really is.
~It's okay to change your plans and route. It's an adventure when you can take time to explore and try something new.
~bring light blankets and pillow for comfort and sleep. I like to have a pair of socks in my bag. I get cold with the air conditioning.
~have (or make) everyone get out and go to the bathroom when you stop for gas. We all need to stretch and get some fresh air.
~enjoy the journey. I've learned to let go of focusing on the destination. Normally, I'm an impatient person. I want to get going, see things, and use the time wisely. I'm learning that it's hard to do this when you are traveling with lots of people, especially children. You just have to let some things go. Be content with the now and go with the flow. Learn to adapt. It's the only way to stay happy, be positive, and make the trip a memorable experience.
~Be prepared for the not-so-good times that happen on any vacation. Kids argue. They complain. They bicker. Big people want quiet; little kids naturally like to make noise. Babies and toddlers cry and yell, "My bum hurts!!" People get tired. People get ornery. Sometimes you get lost. Accept imperfection.

It's all part of being in a family.
It's all part of what it means to have a roadtrip vacation.
It's what memories are made of.
A gift.


  1. makes me want to get in my van and GO!

  2. It sounds like you have figured out how to travel well with a large family. It sounds like a fun trip!

  3. Great tips! We have to pick what long distance trips we can make by driving with Kevin special needs to consider but some of these tips bring lots of good information to consider! Roadtrips are a new media of intimacy for families! Miss you guys! Safe travels!

  4. Wonderful tips, Emily! I will have to consult this post before our next trip. I love that you travel together to so many great places. :-)

  5. Oh yes, these tips are definitely useful. Kids and long road trips can be tricky, as you try to keep them from getting bored. It's best to be very ready for moments like that. Make sure that the car is fine working condition and your roadtrip will be smooth sailing from start to finish!

    -Leisa Dreps