My side of the family had a reunion at the beginning of July. . . in Illinois. Guess who got to drive over 3,000 miles round trip with nine children but without her husband?
Yup, yours truly.
The reunion had been planned for a year but the timing for our farming was plain awful. The older girls cut the first pivot of our second crop the day we left. I took half the raking and swathing crew with me and we were gone for most of second crop. Joseph just could not go. I’m thankful for family, namely a nephew, who came up to try and help out so my kids could all go with me.
The kids all did surprisingly well as we traveled across five states to get to Nauvoo, IL. We rented a van in Utah because our 15 passenger beast is getting too old. Joseph didn’t want us to risk breaking down in that thing and I didn’t either. Here are several tips that made our travel more pleasant with seven total days in the van!
Tips For Road Trips With Kids
Tip #1: Use totes to pack clothes.
We took six containers or totes of clothes with us. One with pjs, one with church clothes, one with swimsuits and three with regular clothes – a set of clothes for each person in each tote. When we stopped at hotels we only had to take two (sometimes three) totes in with us. Much better than getting out 10 different suitcases or duffle bags! We would take in the pajamas tote and one of the regular clothes totes. If the hotel had a swimming pool and we felt like swimming we’d also take in the swimsuit tote. We also had one giant bag full of toiletries that we would take in filled with everyone’s toothbrushes, hair accessories, deodorant, jewelry, etc.
I made sure the totes fit under our van seats. I labeled them all for easier retrieval. Because we were also wearing regular clothes the day we left we all had four changes of clothing. I did laundry at the house we stayed in in Nauvoo as soon as we got there and again the day before we left. I explain our packing in more detail here.
Tip #2: Pack small toys or games that are new to your kids
I took a trip to the store and bought some fun small toys like Hot Wheels cars and surprise packs from Toy Story and Lion King, new coloring books, and a spirograph. Once a day I passed out a new toy to the younger kids. It kept them occupied for quite a while! The spirograph was a big hit with the older kids.
Tip #3: Audiobooks are awesome!
We love to listen to audiobooks while cleaning and working at our house. They are an absolute must while traveling! For our trip I downloaded the first three Little House books to listen to. Farmer Boy made us all hungry for good home cooked food, especially because we were traveling.
I have an Audible account where we have the whole Harry Potter Series, The Penderwicks, Peace Like a River, and are accumulating the Little House series, etc.
We also have a Deseret Book Bookshelf PLUS account. If you are LDS you need to try this! You have access to all of the audio books and talks and ebooks from Deseret Book. It’s different from Audible where you buy credits and actually own the audiobook. For a monthly fee or a yearly pass with Deseret Bookshelf Plus you can listen to as many books as you want! Or you can read as many ebooks as you want. It’s a pretty amazing deal. Take a look at all the audiobooks available here.
Tip #4: Use Booking.com to reserve hotels.
When I was making the plans to travel to Illinois and back I wasn’t sure yet how many days I wanted to travel in the car. I knew our family would need at least two hotel rooms each night. And since we were traveling the weekend before Independence Day I also knew if I didn’t reserve rooms ahead of time we would have trouble finding a place for all of us to stay.
I loved using Booking.com to get my hotel reservations because I could narrow the search to ‘Free Breakfast’ and most importantly ‘Free Cancellation.’ I made two different plans for going to Illinois (one for traveling three days from Utah to Illinois and one for taking two days) and made reservations at the cities we would stop. When I realized I wanted to take three days of traveling I cancelled the reservations at the hotels in the cities we wouldn’t stay in on the two day plan. Knowing we had places to stay and also knowing I could cancel without paying any fees was worth it to plan ahead! You do need to cancel 24 hours before your reservation date.
Tip #5: Plan your stops ahead of time.
Another website I used to plan our trip was Roadtrippers. Once you put in your starting point and your destination you can choose to see any number of options on your route: points of interest, outdoors & recreation, food & drink, attractions, accommodations, etc. It was a great tool for finding little points of interest along our route to stop and get everyone out for a few minutes. I also was able to print off our entire route for Joseph to see where we were going.
Tip #6: Utilize a cooler
While we did get an occasional dinner or lunch at a fast food place it was cheaper to bring our own food. I brought a cooler and packed it with sandwich fixings, fruits, and vegetables for us to eat. It was perfect because we could eat whenever we wanted instead of waiting until the next town. Have you ever traveled in Wyoming or Nebraska? There’s a lot of little towns with no fast food places! It was also nice to eat fresh healthy food. We had a cold place to store Henry’s milk and were even able to bring yogurt and string cheese.
Tip #7: Don’t stop at rest stops!
My biggest worry about traveling with my kids was stopping for bathroom breaks. Joseph even called me as I was driving cautioning me about sending Ira, Gideon, and Jason into the men’s bathroom. There have been some sketchy situations before and Joseph was with them! Then an idea came to me, I feel it was actually a wonderful prompting from the Lord, to stop at parks instead. And that’s exactly what we did. I would look up a small town along our route and find their park on the map for our next stop.
No one was ever at the parks where we stopped. The younger kids would have a grand time playing on the slides, swing sets, and playground equipment while the older girls helped me make sandwiches. The bathrooms at the parks were always empty and in good condition. Everyone took turns using the bathroom. We ate our sandwiches and then cleaned up and were on our way again in about 15-20 minutes. It was awesome!
We plan on doing this from now on every time we travel long distances in the car.