Often when I research things for large families, I come across 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:
Keeping the Car Organized
Keeping Kids Occupied
Expect the unexpected!
From switching hotels because of filth, to driving extra hours in a day, to massive sightseeing plans obliterated by a snowstorm ... you have to be ready to roll with the punches when traveling as a family. We've had so much go wrong over our years of roadtrips, but most of it has created fun and lasting memories. We've had a few ER visits, a cartop carrier fly off the van on the highway, detours that lasted hours, traffic jams, horrible illness, car troubles that had us walking a mile with a baby to the nearest hotel in the middle of the night, and much, much more. When you are able to look at the situation calmly you'll make better decisions and be able to lead your family in a much more gentle way. No trip will go exactly as planned or hoped, so expect to have a few bumps on the road and pray that you can laugh at it in the days to come.
Plan kid activities in chunks
We've found that giving kids chunks of time to do things makes the day go faster. For two hours, have them play with the stuff in their backpacks. Then get out a snack and an activity that will last an hour or so. Next stop for lunch. After that, a movie can take up the next two hours while any babies nap. Continue the day in this way, and you'll find the kids are happier. Not only does it remind you to keep food in their bellies, but it also forces you to stop every few hours to get out new activities. Breaks for stretching and bathroom visits will keep the whole family in a better mood.
Drink those fluids!
Don't allow yourself to become dehydrated so you can avoid bathroom breaks. Your body needs the fluid to keep you going - especially lots of water! Water will even help with those swollen hands and feet that come from salty take out food and long hours of sitting. Bathroom breaks don't have to be long, but they need to happen. Plus, a little fresh air and stretching will help your brain stay alert as you drive.
Laundry in hotels
Personally I haven't had to take advantage of this service. But it's good to know about just in case. When in a pinch, many hotels will allow their guests to use the laundry services for a fee. The fee and policies will vary by hotel, but if you've had a child get sick in the car, this is a great option to avoid a late-night run to the laundromat.
Check food policies
Did you know that some hotels don't offer a complimentary breakfast? And some will include a complimentary dinner with your stay! We love staying at the Drury Inn. Not only do they give you a hot breakfast each morning, but they also have a dinner option in the evening. The hotel puts out hot foods - simple fare such has hot dogs, nachos, baked potatoes - and you can feed your family for FREE! (Well, it's really in the hotel cost, but it feels free.) They also have a complimentary drink for each adult and beverages for all hotel guests. And popcorn. Not to mention that we've always found the Drury to have excellent service and cleanliness.
AAA and hotel points
Perhaps you don't have AAA. I would argue that it's worth getting even just for one long road trip. Why? Most hotels and sightseeing places will offer a discount for AAA members. You can also request trip tickets from AAA to help you plan your journey. These are brochures that tell all about the areas you hope to visit. Lastly, God forbid you get stranded on the road! But if you do, AAA will pay for itself by coming to the rescue. We arrived in one city and had no clue what to do. We stopped by the local AAA office and received a bag full of ideas. Sooo helpful!
In regards to the hotel points ... some hotel chains offer credit cards that allow you to book within their company and earn points toward a free hotel stay. We got the Choice Hotels card for our recent trip and looked online to find which hotels in each location were within that company. For the most part we were very happy with the hotels, and the one time we weren't we received a full refund after canceling our reservation. The card also helped us to find some great deals online for hotels in this chain - a must for a family as big as ours which requires two rooms each night.
And after 5-6 nights, we earned a free stay at our next hotel. Totally worth it!
Kids just don't handle trips the way adults do. Adults can push through for hours on end in the car. For us, it's easy to rationalize fewer stops by getting to the end goal faster. For kids, it's different. They aren't watching the miles tick by. They are agonizing as the minutes seem to pass slower and slower! Letting them out to run and stretch every couple of hours will actually HELP your travel. When our kids get tired of being in the car, they begin making up reasons to stop: I don't feel well, I need to go potty, my legs are cramping. In the end, we have found that stopping at regular intervals allows us to reach our destination more quickly than if we just power through and end up with lots of made-up excuses toward the end of the trip.
Check the toll road rules.
If driving through Illinois, get an IPass. Otherwise, it'll cost you double if you pay cash at each tollway. The Ipass also works in states that use the EZPass - which seems to be used most in the Midwest and East Coast.
Army cots and sleeping bags
Having a couple of army cots is not only helpful for guests at home and camping in summer, but are also great in hotel rooms. They cost little, take up little space in the car (can usually fit under seats), only require a sleeping bag and pillow, and work beautifully in hotel rooms. If kids tend to argue about bedspace when sharing a bed, these are a life saver! Or if you have a large family like ours. :)
Remember to keep social security numbers on hand
There is a chance you'll run into medical issues while traveling. During our most recent trip, our littlest had a run in with a rusty nail. Because I didn't have his social security number on hand, I was unable to access his records online to see if he needed a tetanus shot. Our doctor's office was closed and it was a huge hassle to figure out whether or not we needed to visit an urgent care facility. Just remember to NOT put names with the numbers. We keep ours written on a small piece of paper in a special spot and have a code to remember which number belongs to which child. Just be careful! If those numbers are ever found and matched with names, it could spell big trouble for you!