If your family trips look anything like ours, there are coolers, pillows, cameras, and elbows sticking out of and into every corner of the mini-van. When it comes to taking a family vacation on the road, we pack that thing in like we are practicing for moving day. Over the years of raising 4 children and travelling the country with them in tow, I have learned a few things I must do to prepare to survive, and enjoy, our family vacations (and I few things I should never do again).
- Car bag. It is our code word for the little (emphasis on little) bag that each child is allowed to bring. In the days leading up to the trip I help each child pack a few special toys, books, handheld games, and comfort items. The older kids pack their own, but I do a double check to make sure that there are more than tiny army men packed – too much of a good thing can lead to boredom quickly. I also add in one new fun thing for them they only get to see when we are on the road. One more rule for the car bag – it must be able to close, as in seal shut and not drip any army men onto the backseat floor.
- Snacks. I load up on healthy snacks, gum, and bottles of water, juice, and milk. There will be plenty of stops along the way where someone will want to consume a chocolate bar in the shape of Mt. Rushmore, so the healthy snacks balance out the splurges.
- Car games. I invest in inexpensive travel bingo, Mad Libs, and other group games we can play as a family while the wheels on the van go round and round. There are also tons of games you can develop along the way, such as predicting how many more miles until the next farmhouse or town. We even like to use our imaginations and come up with stories about the people in the vehicles next to ours – maybe the truck driver is on his way home to see his new baby for the first time, but he has to drive his truck to WalMart first to buy diapers.
- Maps for everyone! If your kids can read, or even just barely follow along, get simple maps for them and laminate them, or invest in small atlases for each child. There won’t be as many, “How much longer?” whines from the backseat, and they can learn valuable navigating tools by following along.
- Special supplies. I carry a small bag with special (or odd) supplies. Garbage bags for wet pool or beach clothes, a small sewing kit, my multi-head screwdriver, scissors, markers (for labeling souvenirs the kids want to keep separate), and zipper seal baggies (these work great for kids who lose their first tooth on the trip).
- Books on tape or CD. There are places along the highways of the great United States where there are simply no radio stations a family of 6 can agree to listen to. Changing up the pace with audio books can help provide entertainment for everyone.
- Ounce of prevention. Let’s face it – vacation is no fun if the kids get sick because suddenly vacation from home means vacation from sanitary practices like hand washing. I pack instant hand sanitizer, wet wipes, rolls of paper towels, disinfectant spray, and baking soda (great for nettles from hiking and general cleaning as well).
Family vacations are wonderful ways to reconnect with your kids and learn about the world around you. Travelling with 4 kids, even when they were babies, taught me many lessons. Thanks to the body shape God gave me, I can nurse a hungry baby while he remains safely in his car seat. Double strollers are sometimes good for ramming elevator doors open when young children try to ride off alone in them on tours of museums. My compulsive need to create lists for everything, including vacations, does help make our road trips our favorite family memories.