Often when I research things about large families, I come up with tips for families that have only 2-4 children. We are a family of 8 (soon). These travel posts are to help bigger families figure out how to survive days of road travel with minimal tension, whining, and stress. Hope it helps, and happy travels!
Other travel posts in this series:
Special Tips You May Not Know
Keeping Kids Occupied
You'll want to have trash cans within reach of everyone. With younger children this will minimize the mess of passing items forward or back in the van. It also keeps mom and dad from being needed constantly whenever food is being consumed - which in turn allows you to focus on driving. And it helps the kids take responsibility for the vehicle's cleanliness. We used square utility totes from Thirty One lined with plastic bags, but even just a small trash can would do.
Utilize under the seat storage!
With a big family, you need every spare inch of space! Don't forget about the storage under seats. Even if your seats are low to the floor, you can still find small things that will fit underneath. If your van is like ours, you can fit larger items underneath your seats. This is a great area to store things you won't need to access frequently but still need for the trip. And underneath the front passenger seat is a perfect place to put that first aid kit that you'll invariably need.
Pack music you can all stand
This is sooo important! With younger kids it's easy to pack a bunch of toddler songs. Trust me, you'll go crazy if that's all you listen to for days on end! Likewise, if your teens like a certain genre of music that just grates on your nerves, either get the teen an ipod, or find a compromise by listening to some of their music and some of yours. One of the great things about vehicles these days is that you can set the music to play mostly in the front or back of the car.
For those without ipods, remember that a smart phone can also store music and typically will have a headphone jack. This can allow parents to listen to their own stuff on the phone while having kid music on in the car. And if you want some great kid music that most parents can stand check out Go Fish. Their harmonies are terrific and the music is fun.
Bin for cords
I can't take credit for thinking this one up, but it's a lifesaver. Grab a shoebox sized plastic bin at the dollar store and use it to keep all cords for electronics contained in one place. It's easy to grab as you head into a hotel for the night, and it allows you to find the cord you need quickly and easily.
We tried this on our recent trip and it was incredibly useful! Before packing I laminated index cards that had days listed on them. I then used ribbon to tie these onto the suitcases so we knew which bags were needed for which nights. It made unpacking the car each night so much easier and massively decreased my husband's frustration at having to bring in unnecessary suitcases.
Keep food organized and dole out snacks by day instead of prepping all before the trip
I'll be honest, this sounds great. But if you're on the road for a long time, it's a little harder to stay motivated. But for our first week, we did really well with this. We brought lots of fruit, veggies, and snacks with us. But instead of peeling all oranges before leaving the house, we just peeled them on the day we planned to eat them. Once peeled, we put them in their own container and then doled them out as needed in the car. Same with the grapes, apples, cheese sticks, goldfish, etc. We had a large bin full of snack items, a bin with bread and other lunch items, one with paper goods and a few knives, and a large cooler filled with drinks and refrigerated items. Instead of trying to access each bin in the middle of a drive, we just prepped things before leaving in the morning and then were set for the day.
Try to keep like items together - clothes, activities, snacks. Certain things must be in reach of the parents, others can hang out in the back
Suitcases just aren't needed while driving. Neither are swim gear, cots, sleeping bags, etc. However, you will need to access toys, activities, food items, trash recepticles, etc. Make sure your throw up bucket is also accessible! Doing whatever you can to have necessary items within reach will greatly decrease the amount of stops you have to make and the frustration level of mom and dad.
Use a grabber to get things to kids in the back
If you have a van, chances are you can't always reach your children. When handing out food, toys, tissues, etc., it's very helpful to have a grabber. These can often be found at toy shops and novelty stores. We've had ours for years and still love it!