Many people think I’m crazy. They are right. It is true that I have 5 kids. I also have a sister who lives in Texas and because of work conflicts, a husband who cannot travel with me. So what’s a girl to do? Undertake a 17+driving trip to Texas, that’s what. I had planned to do so solo but thankfully my other sister, Jessalyn, was able to come this time. I have, when we had “only” 2 year old triplets and a 5 year old taken the return drive solo while my husband flew home to go back to work. I managed to survive that trip even with a croupy 2 year old who on the second day of our drive, in an Urgent Care in Joplin, MO was diagnosed with Influenza B and a second 2 year old who also started displaying symptoms. It was a rough trip. However, I persevered and if I can do that trip then another trip “should” be cake.
Travel details: Drive from MN to OK to spend the night and finish the drive through to a southeast suburb of Houston on the second day. We did this pretty much in reverse for the return trip.
Head count: 2 adults (sisters) along with 6 children (mine: 9 yr old, triplet 6 yr olds, and a 22 month old hers: 5 yr old)
Total miles traveled: 2510
Hours spent traveling: Approximately 20 hours each way (includes potty breaks and other small stops
How I didn’t go crazy:
- Pack lots of fun and tidy snacks. There seems to be a direct correlation between boredom and hunger both with the adults and the children. Snacks revived all of us and kept the whining at bay. Stay away from things that melt for the kids (chocolate type candies) or things that are especially crumbly and messy:
- Ideas of healthy snacks: applesauce pouches, baby carrots, tube yogurt, protein bars, grapes, fig bars, pretzels and cheese sticks.
- Ideas of “fun” snacks: fruit snacks, mini muffins, Cheez-its
- Fun “treats”: suckers, Swedish fish, Pez dispensers, jelly beans, and gum.
- Pack lunch. My thoughts on “stopping” for lunch was that if we have to sit for any reason, like to eat then we might as well be moving. When we stopped, it was to use the bathroom, stretch or get some energy out. So to make sure we were making the most of our travel time, we packed lunch. Packing a lunch can be pretty simple. We picked up hot dog “plates” from a gas station, loaded it up with protein (lunch meat), dairy (cheese stick or yogurt), fruit (grapes or berries), and a veggie (carrots). Easy belly-filling meals that the kids enjoyed from their van seats.
- Bribe them. There are many Pinterest ideas for this but the easiest way to get my kids to behave is to bribe them with money. At the beginning of our road trip my kids each received a cup filled with $10 worth of quarters. The deal: every time they whined, hit, fought, yelled/screamed…they would have to forfeit a quarter. If they made a mess (garbage, toys or food)…they would have to forfeit a quarter. They were each allowed two warnings each day. How they benefit: any money left over was theirs to spend as they wished when we reached Texas. For the return trip I took 1/2 of the quarters ( I used our travel cash to purchase the souvenirs) from each of them to refill my toll money and then gave them $5 on our return home.
- Provide various forms of entertainment: I filled a bag with goodies to keep them entertained. I packed headphones and tablets with downloaded television programs and videos, rented the Magic Treehouse series on C.D. from the library, and had Adventures in Odyssey radio adventures on my phone. Plenty of things to keep them entertained. See this post for more ideas for entertaining your kids.
- Dress in layers. All of us have have different internal thermostats. Some of my kids run warm, some are always cold. My kids wore comfortable clothes, sandals (because they could be put on or taken off quickly), a light t-shirt and a sweatshirt. This way they could control their temperature as no matter what a mom does nobody is happy with the van temp. This was also especially important as we left MN on a chilly 14 degree morning and by evening had hit 60’s in Oklahoma. Plus, someone is always on the “sun” side of the car getting direct sunlight and roasting. So don’t forget yourself. I dressed for warm weather but had a light jacket and infinity scarf to stay warm.
- Let the kids pack a few of their favorite things. Does your kid have a favorite lovie? Shopkins their latest craze? Have a favorite book or 2? Need just a bit of home to make them feel secure? Let them pack it in their own travel bag. My kids each have a canvas bag, which they received as a gift from my sister with their names on them. I let them fill them with a few mom-approved items.
- Movies are a travelers best friend. Some times us moms just need QUIET! Kids may be starting to get restless or the day is starting to wear on everyone. The toddler needs a nap and doesn’t need any of the other kids to make a peep. Now is the time I passed back the kid’s tablets. We are fans/subscribers to Amazon Prime and Netflix, so before leaving home I downloaded some episodes of favorite shows and a few movies. I also purchased these headphone splitters and headphones for each kid. Last thing this mom needs is to hear 4 movies going at once.
- Don’t forget about the driver. Staring at the wide-open spaces of some of our states can be, let’s face it, BOR-ING! Don’t forget to figure out what you will be doing while behind the wheel. I love podcasts and made sure I had those on hand to listen to, downloaded some new songs on iTunes, and qued up Amazon Prime music app. My husband found THREE Jim Gaffigan C.D.’s on the Amazon app and it provided so many hours of driving entertainment that I chose to drive the whole last day myself just because he was so funny. Other things I did, was keep “for mom’s only” chocolate on hand like white chocolate Lindt’s and salted caramel dark chocolate bars. We also made sure to make a couple of stops for good coffee.
- Pack light. With people, food, and entertainment alone we were packed in tight. Add in all the luggage that 7 people need and there isn’t much room to spare. Since we were staying with family and would have a washing machine/dryer available to us, I chose to not pack enough clothes to last us the 1o days we were gone. Instead I packed 4 shorts, 5 shirts, 1 pair of pants, 2 pairs of pajamas, and an extra sweatshirt for each kid. This cut down on luggage and I was able to fit the older 4 kids into one large suitcase. The toddler and I into a smaller carryon size luggage. Since I have so many children, wearing certain types of clothing only once creates too much laundry so my rule is that jeans (unless they were playing in dirt or slopped food on them) should be worn 2-3x. Same rule applies to sweatshirts and pajamas. So I expected that I would only have to wash clothing once during the week and then just before heading home. If we were not staying with family I would run to a laundromat once or twice because having room in the van is worth the time inconvenience of a laundromat.
- Surprises. Sometimes a mom’s best traveling plan is to plan surprises. When the kid’s started to get restless I would pull out a new activity or bought a pack of gum. They loved getting special treats that I rarely give them at home. Some of the best “surprises” come from the dollar section at Target or the dollar store.
- Remove as much non-essentials from your vehicle as possible. Let’s not be stupid. Leave the spare tire. But if it can be pulled out…do it. Or if there is a pocket…utilize it. I have a Honda Odyssey and the middle console/cup holder is removable. Thus on long trips that sucker is out. On our trip, this is where the kids entertainment bag sits as well as my chocolate. Extra pockets were used for the money cups or to hold markers so that they were not lost. I have this random small compartment, which is where I stored my quarters for the tolls. Take a good inventory of your vehicle and figure out what is removable and what extra spaces can be used. Our Chrysler van had a big space under the back see where bags could be tucked as well as the stow-and-go compartments which became my favorite storage areas.
- Go with the flow. I wanted to leave at 8am. We left at 8:21a. I wanted to reach Muskogee, OK before stopping for the night. We made it to Vinita, OK. We had to stop for bathroom breaks within 1 hour of another. My son, approximately 45 minutes from a bathroom stop informed us he left his bag at the gas station. We didn’t pack/buy quite enough snacks for the trip home. Life happens. Kid’s can’t help their bathroom habits, even if we make them all go at every stop. We can’t leave or arrive exactly as planned. Kid’s make mistakes. Food can be bought at an Aldi’s on the way. Be ready to be flexible. Plan for the unplanned. Plan to give grace. Plan to find humor in the situations.
Do you have any more solutions to add? Comment below, I’d love to use them on my next trip!