We have been on an extended road trip for most of this year, and nearly every weekend last year. It’s called deputation and it’s our full-time job right now. It also means the van is our full-time home. I thought our Brooklyn apartment was small! There are a few things we have done to make travel with all these little people, and for this length of time, more manageable. Many of these suggestions won’t be helpful to most people, unless they are traveling for an extended period of time. But maybe some of you are just curious as to how we make this work!
For the Kids
We have tried a lot of things to help the kids stay happy in the car. Let me start with what doesn’t work. Keep in mind my kids are little – five kids ages six and under!
- Crayons – these ended up spilled next to the heater but underneath a bag we didn’t access often. The result? A multi-colored puddle of wax melted into the carpet. I also spent a good bit of my time reaching and moving in the van trying to pick up the crayons which were dropped. Magda doodle boards are better for young children who want to draw. Mine were quickly bored with the magdna doodles, though. So we don’t do much coloring or artsy activities in the car anymore.
- Dry Erase Games – before our first full-time trip, I printed off tons of car games, road trip bingo boards, mazes, and practice alphabet sheets. I put them into heavy-duty page protectors and purchased washable dry-erase markers. The idea was that the kids could each have a notebook and play road trip games, then erase and start over. Another epic fail. There wasn’t room for the binders to lay open in the carseat, but when we folded one side back, the binders broke. Just like the crayons, I expended a lot of effort searching for makers and lids. I spent a good deal of effort cleaning marker out of clothing. And my kids needed constant help to play the bingo games. In the end, I have four small game boards which are laminated and on a jump ring. We pull them out as a last resort, with only one marker instead of a rainbow of colors.
- School – I had hoped to homeschool on the road. But I tend to get motion sickness, and Elaine seems to have tendencies that way too. It’s hard enough for a first grader to learn to write, but less to do it on winding highways or bumpy roads. We don’t do school in the car unless absolutely necessary.
- Here are some things that do work – at least for us.
- Backpacks – each kiddo has a small backpack. They can pick five small toys before each trip to bring along. Things like matchbox cars, Little People, a baby doll with a bottle and a change of clothes. These are mostly for in the car. Many stops have a toy stash, so we just play with the “new” toys rather than mix things up and get confused.
- “Friends” – my kids are stuffed animal collectors. BUT…with five kids, we can’t bring all of them in the car. They each get to pick one friend who is their bedtime companion. This helps them feel more comfortable in each new location.
- Backpack of toys – we have a backpack in which we keep a few community toys. When we are at a prophet’s chamber with no toys, we bring in the backpack. It has a few puzzles, some coloring books (only one for each kid), a couple of games (Uno, matching, etc), and a couple of art supplies. Since they don’t play with it daily they don’t get bored with the small variety.
- Box of books – I have a box of books under the seat where I can reach it. Then I can hand out a couple of books to read when boredom sets in.
- Movies – Mom & Dad gave us a DVD player in the van for Christmas last year. Lifesaver! We watch one movie on longer trips, usually in the morning. I can also pop in a flick if I want to keep the kids awake on the drive between church service and host home. This is really helpful if it’s been a long travel day and they are sleepy! All of our DVD’s fit into one CD wallet, so we don’t have a bunch of plastic cases all over the van.
- I bring each child their own blanket. This gives them something consistent every night even though their surroundings are constantly shifting. I have been blessed with great sleepers, so as long as we follow a similar routine each night, they sleep fine. The blankets help with that!
We had a bit of trial and error on this. Do you have any idea how much stuff you have to carry inside the hotel/host home every night for seven people?!?! Even though we are traveling as compact as possible, I often feel as if there is stuff everywhere!
My friend Rachael Brown gave the best suggestion (so glad for other deputation friends!). We have a set of plastic drawers – actually two sets now – in the back of the van. It serves as a “dresser.” We each have four every-day outfits, and two church outfits. I have a duffel bag that gets loaded with jammies and clothes for the next day before we go inside for the night. ONE outfit for each person goes inside, and the rest stays in the car. This cuts down drastically on what we carry inside!
We have a community shoe bag (which we don’t access unless we need dress shoes), and a community toiletry bag. We use travel size toiletries so that there’s not as much weight to carry inside. In the car I have a small plastic “home” tub. There is extra shampoo to refill the travel bottles. We carry a travel iron, carpet cleaner for wet beds, shout spot remover, a small container of OxyClean and laundry soap, tissue purse-packs. It’s easy to get to when we need it, but we don’t have to carry it around all the time!
We have a set of plastic dishes and utensils for everyone also. Many prophet’s chambers don’t have dishes, and they are helpful for eating in a hotel room too. We also use them when we eat a picnic at a rest stop.
Being a family with lots of littles, we also take a couple of booster seats, children’s cots, whiffle bat & balls for rest areas, and swimming suits for hotel pools. We praise the Lord for a full-size van to carry all of this with us and make travel easier! The cots came from my mom, but they have been particularly helpful. They are lightweight and compact (like a camping chair). We often stay in a hotel room with two queen beds, but there are seven of us. The cots make sure everyone has his own sleeping space!
These are just a few things that have made a life of travel more palatable for our family. Maybe something will be helpful to you!