Whether you have 9 kids like we do, or only a few, traveling with younger children especially can be challenging. Here are my tips for traveling as a large family that we have learned that help us to maintain a semblance of sanity while still enjoying our trip and each other!
We recently returned home from a 10 day road trip to the west coast to visit the ocean and extended family. I grew up in the Northwest visiting the ocean beaches every summer, so it was so meaningful to get to share this area with our kids.
With it’s large luscious foliage, majestic evergreens and crisp salty beaches, it was a sensory delight for the kids. We were blessed with gorgeous weather most of the trip and loved every minute of juicy black berry picking, forest trail exploring, digging in the sand and splashing in the waves!
What tips for traveling as a large family I will cover
We had prayed before we set out asking specifically that we would not have any vehicle issues because our previous long trips had been full of those! Well, God heard and answered our prayers! The van did great, so did all the kids, and we had lovely weather most of the time with no derailments! A first for us!
Because we are a homeschooling family, we already spend a lot of time together and naturally have some strategies and systems in place which makes these larger quantities of time together more manageable. However, no matter what the size of your family is, in order to avoid a state of constant chaos with kids, some systems and strategies are very helpful.
Tips for traveling as a large family– packing
- Create a printable packing list for everyone
- Pack 2 bags if staying in multiple locations
- Limit toys & extras to a specified size bag
Create a printable packing list for everyone
I give this list to the older kids in time for them to have rounded up what they need for the trip or have it washed. The kids ages 10+ do their own laundry, so they can have their things washed and ready for packing the day BEFORE we leave. I usually only have to help the 10 year old and supervise the 12 year old. I go through their bag with them on packing day just in case anything was looked over. The oldest kids do well enough on their own.
I pack for the youngest 3 kids with them helping as desired. It takes me a few hours to pack for them, myself and the baby for a long trip like this, so I plan accordingly, and don’t expect to be able to throw it together in a jiffy! I gather what we’ll need and put it in the garage or by the front door we’ll be loading from as I go. This way I can see the progress and keep track of what’s left. I take care of the packing and my husband (and older kids now) do all the loading into the car and pack the miscellaneous items like strollers etc.
Pack 2 bags if staying in multiple locations
We usually road trip with a maximum windshield time each day of 8 hours. Which means we often have a stay over on our way to our final destination. We try to plan our route to stay with friends and family on our way in, too, so we don’t try to max our day driving and show up fried. It’s more fun to leave a little time margin to visit or swim in the hotel pool.
Because of this, we pack a backpack with the nights on the road’s worth of clothes, jammies and a swim suit. We leave a larger duffle for our extended stay that we don’t even need to open until we arrive. This saves sanity when unloading and reloading. All the kiddos can carry their own backpack in and know where to find and put their things on the short stays.
Limit toys and extras to a specified size bag
We let the kids pack whatever toys or fun things they want as long as it fits in a reasonable sized bag. We use small backpacks, but even if you want to make it a ziplock they love to have freedom within limits. Pillows and a blanky are freebies. But, if we let them pack whatever they want it can quickly get ridiculous! For the size of our van a backpack easily fits under their seats and is a manageable amount for them.
Tips for traveling as a large family– travel time (air or car)
- Activities tote to share and rotate
- Set timer and alternate activities (plus screen time)
- Pack healthy snacks along with fun treats
- Play interactive games together
Activities tote to share and rotate
I used to buy everyone some fun activities for their backpacks, but I learned that was just too much for them to keep track of and created more chaos in the car and quick boredom. Instead, we keep a small flat latching lid tote that has drawing, writing, and reading activities for the kids in it to rotate and share. This has helped keep things more clean, while also keeping things fresh and new. Plastic trays like these also work well for this, as well as providing a place to play and keep track of small toys.
I can usually find enough options at the Dollar store and pickup extra coloring things while I’m at it.
I include things like:
- Crosword puzzles
- Word search books
- Trace by number
- Coloring books
- Clipboard with plain paper
- Fun sticker activity books
Set timer and alternate activities (and screen time)
If there are a limited amount of devices to share, we like the kids to take 30 minute turns to share them fairly. Or, you can set specific timers for reading, devices, listening to music, etc. It helps break up the time between stops and creates less boredom if they aren’t playing until they choose to be done. We also have certain things everyone does while the baby sleeps. It’s easier to say- “Everyone can play the iPad when the baby falls asleep!” Than “Not yet, not yet, not yet.” Also motivates kids to be quiet so the littes can fall asleep!
Make sure to bring enough chargers for devices, and maybe try downloading some fun new games or movies for the kids to watch on the trip.
Audiobooks and fun music are a great things to do together as a shared activity. Create a playlist before you leave of your favorite songs, or get some books downloaded everyone can enjoy together. We have such a diverse age demographic in our family and fairly large van, so we usually just listen to books individually. But if your kids are closer in age, this a fun thing to do together. Most quality juvenile lit is usually enjoyable for we adults, too!
Here is a great list on READ ALOUD REVIVAL of audiobook recommendations to get you started.
Our kids’ favorite iPad games currently are:
- Sneaky Sasquatch
- Asphalt 8
Pack healthy snacks & special treats
We like to bring a cooler that sits between us in our big van that we pack with healthy snacks and treats. Usually the snacks help ward off low blood sugar between stops for a heartier meal, but also help aid boredom in between activities as needed.
We usually include things like:
- fruit: grapes, clementines, blueberries, bananas
- cheese sticks
- healthy bars
- rice crackers and crisps
- breakfast items: muffins, egg bake cut in pieces
- Special treats make the trip fun and can be another activity! (see below)
Play interactive games together
Playing games together is part of the fun of traveling together. Have set times you do things alone and then together keeps the atmosphere fun and inviting. Here are our top 10 favorite games to play in the car or anytime we are tempted by boredom.
- License plates by state
- Scavenger hunt for kinds of places/ signs/ words etc
- Letters of the alphabet in order on signs or cars
- Sequential numbers from license plates
- Pick a make and model of car to look for- winner gets to pick next car (boys love this)
- Sing songs with rounds if you know them!
- Play I packed my bag and brought “_____” in alphabetical order taking turns and the next person has to say all items previously said then add one.
- Look up funny jokes or memes to share
- Play “I’m thinking of something”
- Treat fun- Who can blow the biggest bubblegum bubble? Who can suck the sucker without biting it the longest?
Bonus tips for traveling as a large family- on the road with littles
Tips for traveling as a large family- stay
- Designate a space for your things
- Unpack clean clothes in drawers if staying an extended visit
- Keep dirty clothes separate from clean ones
- Have a clean and dirty swim outfit if staying near sand/dirt
- Have designated tidy times
- Get kids ready for bed before they are tired
- Keep similar sleep routines
Designate a space for your things
Assign a space for your things- especially shoes! This makes heading out the door for fun easier when you can find the toddler’s shoes. Hang coats on hangers, keep bags in the same spot and have a place where the kids know where and how to hang their wet swim clothes or towels.
Unpack clean clothes in drawers if staying an extended visit
If staying an extended stay, unpack the clean clothes into drawers and put dirty clothes in the bag as they go. We’ve found this makes it easier for little kids to find their clothes in a drawer than stuffed back in their bag or all over the floor. This keeps things more familiar for them, and easier to keep the space tidy. It also makes packing to go home easier and unpacking once you get home.
Keep dirty clothes separate from clean ones
We find it helpful to keep dirty clothes separate from clean clothes, whether they are in drawers or different bags. The kids have an easier time finding something clean to wear without dumping the contents of the bag or drawer out this way. This is super helpful when camping, at the beach or anywhere there is sand and dirt that will get all over the still clean clothes.
Have a clean and dirty swim outfit if staying near sand/dirt
We had a pool swim outfit and a beach swim outfit so we weren’t getting pool suits sandy, and having to wash between. If you can have more than one of each- even better- as they never seem to dry out fast enough for the all the swimming fun!
BABY POWDER IS A LIFE SAVER FOR GETTING WET SAND OFF! RUB IT ON AND WIPE IT AWAY WITH THE NOW DRY SAND! PLUS EVERYONE SMELLS FRESH AFTER. 😉
A HAIR DRYER COMES IN HANDY TO DRY A WET SUIT IN A PINCH
Have designated tidy times
Vacation is certainly not the time to be uptight about cleanliness and organization, but a certain amount of order goes a long way toward a more relaxing stay for everyone. We have found just having some set quick pickup times, like before nap or bed, before we leave or get back can keep the place in reasonable order. Have everyone just put their things where they belong. Don’t worry about crumbs on the floor or stress if the bags are untidy, just putting things back in their area and pathways clear will help everyone find their things when they need them and keep Mom from being the designated finder.
I like to make our bed and the little’s bed for the day. I think it helps to be able to sit, snuggle, rest and relax easier on a made bed, but I don’t ask the older kids to make theirs. It is my preference. Whatever sounds to you like it would make your stay more enjoyable for minimal work is what I’m getting at here.
Get kids ready for bed before they are tired
At first sign of tiredness try to get kids in jammies BEFORE they’re exhausted and the inevitable melt down takes place. Ask me how I know! 😉 Even if they get to come back to the campfire etc- not having to go get teeth brushed, or find blankies when they are already exhausted can prevent a stressful bedtime. It’s so nice to have a little one fall asleep on dad’s lap while visiting when they are ready and their beds are, too.
Keep similar sleep routines
We’ve found it doesn’t have to be at the same times, but the same order helps the most. Do they always have a bath at home before bed, then a story? Than keep that routine as much as possible. Do they have a fan on or sleep sound machine? Make sure to pack one or use a music app on your phone. Our little guys love listening to an audio book, music or sleep music on the first few nights of adjusting. A few extra minutes of reassuring pattern can make such a difference to a peaceful put down and sleep.
Tips for traveling as a large family- organizing attitudes 😏
Togetherness can be stressful
Part of travel is having to all adjust to “togetherness”. This is likely easier if you homeschool as you are already used to dealing with conflict resolution on a regular basis. Otherwise, that is likely the biggest problem to come up. And it WILL come up. Kids will get irritable, littles will melt down, teens will argue about seating arrangements but it is how we handle it that makes all the difference. If we expect these occurrences and have a plan in action of how to deal with them it will make the outcome so much better.
Try to decide ahead of time with your hubby how and who will deal with public outbursts/ meltdowns (if you don’t already have an action plan) remember their frame and give as much warning time, and preemptive notice and warning as you can. For example, a quick reminder of how to behave in a restaurant, what’s expected and consequences before actually going in, helps to minimize problems.
Also we like to encourage beforehand toward the positive IE- “How nice for Auntie and Uncle to host us, let’s be kind and pick up our toys and say lots of pleases and thank yous so they know how happy and grateful we are to stay with them and eat their yummy food!”
Remember this isn’t the time to deal with larger deeper issues that you might notice while you have this concentrated time together- those can be noted and dealt with later. This is, however, a great time to affirm and encourage all the great things you do see new in your kiddos and correct and maintain your current discipline strategy without trying to invent a new plan of action. You might go home with a list of things to reinforce in training, but don’t make vacation all about that.
Tips for traveling as a large family- return home
- Unload dirty clothes bags immediately
- Put away clean clothes as you go
- Vacuume out suitcases
- Let them down gently 😉
Unloading everything into the house and immediately putting the dirty clothes either in hampers or the laundry room will help your mind feel more at ease. That way any clean clothes in bags can be found, if needed, before the bags are all unpacked.
Have the kids put any clean clothes back into their drawers and bring you their suitcase. I vacuum the suitcases out real quick before tucking them away because there is always something left in a pocket, even if it’s just sand that we don’t want on our things the next trip!
Coming back from a vacation whirlwind of fun can be a hard left down, so I like to ease us ALL back in gently, if I can. I try to do one small fun thing the next day, like a special movie and popcorn, a trip to the park, or even just new coloring pages to color. Plus, I try not to get so caught up in getting everything back in order that I am not as present to just be there for the little ones who are not quite readjusted and might need more reassurance time from Mommy. Things will get there in time, the clothes will eventually be washed, the kids will be adjusted and excited to play with their own things again, like most things, they just need a little time.
Plan, pack and travel with intention and you will have some extra bandwidth for a creative fun time together! Hope this was helpful for you today, friend!
Tried any of these? Let me know in the comments below which were the most helpful and add your own!
Thanks for being here in my little corner!