My Best Tips for Traveling With Kids

When we were planning our trip to Colorado, I probably should have been more nervous about hauling 6 children 9 and under 15 hours away from home for two weeks, but I really wasn’t. We had a game plan, and, as evidenced from this post, I’m used to carting my children with me every-stinkin’-where I go, so I was pretty confident that we’d at the very least survive.

I realize this is supposed to be the part where I laugh at my own naivete, but honestly? The trip went off without a hitch. We didn’t have car trouble. No one got (seriously) sick. No epic traffic jams. Nothing.

And we had so. much. fun. I’m already pining for next year. Because–yes–we’ve vowed to do everything in our power to make it back to Colorado every summer from here to eternity.

So! Even though I can only credit God’s amazing kindness with a great deal of our trip’s success (because, let’s face it: stomach bugs aren’t exactly something you can control, and they can bring the fun to a screeching halt in a hot upchucking second), there were some things that worked really great for us, so I thought I’d pass them along on the off-chance that they help someone else.

1. Just say no to over-packing.

I’ve been known to pull the, “I can’t decide which necklace I want to wear. I’ll just bring all of them,” move before. Which is all well and good doable when you’re single.

But that kind of mindset just doesn’t fly when you’ve got 6 (or even a lot fewer) little humans and their junk to think about.

Which is why I’ve become increasingly sparse in my packing methods. So much so that I brought ZERO necklaces with me on that trip…and ended up regretting it. (Good thing I found two squirreled away in the pocket of my makeup bag, eh?)

ANYhoo, I used the same spartan approach when packing my kids’ clothes and managed–somehow–to get ALL 6 KIDS’ stuff in one large suitcase. I brought plenty of socks and undies but limited each kid to 5 or so outfits that could easily be mixed and matched (except Theo, who is kind of the king of blowouts and needed lots of extra onesies). Of course, it helped that we were going to a place with a washer/dryer.

Which brings me to…

2. Just say yes to vacation rentals

I’ve already sung the praises of VRBO and Airbnb several times before on the blog, but this is the part where I tell you that I will never again stay in another hotel for longer than two nights if I have anything to say about it.

We found our adorable vacation rental on Airbnb (which is where we also found all of our rentals for our European anniversary adventure last year and 2 out of 3 of the places we stayed in Cali for our 10th anniversary).

Not only was it super affordable and a pleasant place to stay in a great neighborhood close to all kinds of restaurants and shopping and parks and, and, and…

But it had everything you could possibly want to make an extended stay possible–fully stocked kitchen, washer and dryer, extra towels, toys, etc.

Because that’s the beauty of renting a real house from a real person. You get access to all of their real life stuff (like a double oven and muffin tins) and you get some of the perks (like shampoo/toothpaste/lots of extra linens) of a hotel, since most owners have planned ahead to make their guests’ stays the best possible.

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{There’s a strange man in my bed! Oh well, at least my pillow cases are cute}

I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve stayed in vacation rental houses or apartments at this point, but we’ve never had a bad experience. If you do your research and communicate well with the owner, you can be sure you’re choosing a reputable rental, and most of the time, the owners will go out of their way to accommodate your needs.

If you want to try Airbnb, you can use this link for a $25 credit towards your first rental (I get a $25 credit too, so we both win!).

3. Plastic snack baggies are the bomb!

I’m aware that nobody uses the phrase “the bomb” anymore, but I just don’t have it in me to say, “on fleek,” so now that we’ve got that sorted, let me tell you about the snacking system that–while not eco-friendly–definitely made life easier on our long drive.

In case you hadn’t noticed, pre-bagged snacks are…expensive. So, I brought along a big box of sandwich baggies + a club-sized box of a certain brand of fish-shaped orange crackers universally loved by children, raisins, pre-washed grapes, pretzels, etc.

And every time (pretty sure it was once a minute for the first two hours of our drive) that one of my offspring (and then, of course, all of them) said, “I’m huuuuungry,” I simply dumped a little bit ‘o something in a baggie and handed it back. The older kids were able to keep up with their bags for a couple of uses, but the twins usually “misplaced” theirs as soon as they were done with their snack. Which was okay (though not my favorite) because a) I brought a LOT of baggies and b) the kids have to clean out the back of the van, so they were the ones cleaning up all of the dropped bags.

4. Drive all night long (all niiight)

I was extolling the virtues of night driving to a friend of mine at church the other day, and she told me they’d tried it, and it was disastrous. So, I guess I’d include the disclaimer that I highly recommend driving at night IF you’ve got good car-sleepers. All of mine are, which resulted in a much more peaceful and speedy (fewer stops for food/potty) trip for us.

I also highly recommend audiobooks + earbuds for distraction on those 6-hour stretches through flat, featureless, sleep-inducing West Texas. (Which is pretty much the opposite of hilly, green, tree-filled East Texas, where I live).

5. Coolers are the coolest

I can’t actually tell you exactly how we ended up with 8 people’s stuff + 8 bottoms in 8 available seats and didn’t feel crazy cramped (because we didn’t), but I tell you this: our cooler would have been worth every last square inch of space that it took up, even with a tighter fit.

We brought raw milk + farm eggs + a few other thing that we didn’t want going bad with us on the way up, and it was really nice not to have to immediately head to the grocery store for supplies. And then, on the way back, we were able to bring all of the perishables that we hadn’t polished off during our trip. Which I loved because I’m not a fan of wasted food (but then, who is?).

Plus, it’s pretty sweet to have chilled water bottles with you on a long trip.

6. Keep the toys simple

I know it’s tempting to bring every gadget and doojabber (this, along with my “the bomb” reference, just cemented my status as an old lady) that might possibly capture your children’s attention and keep them from spending the entire vacation hanging onto your shoulders and saying, “Mooooommmmm, I’m booooooored”…

But honestly?

Our best toy purchase of the entire trip was a giant pad of drawing paper and a new set of washable markers in bright colors. We bought them to make Father’s Day cards for Shaun, but we used them almost every single day, and all 5 of my drawing-capable children spent hours (spread out) doodling and scribbling.

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Other than drawing, we spent most of our time at home hula-hooping or kicking the soccer ball in the backyard. Although, the little girls did log some hardcore time accessorizing the Barbies that the girl of the house had left for us to play with, and the boys + Della got some serious Minecraft time with Shaun (usually, they only get 30 minutes of game time/week).

7. Scope out the kids’ eat free nights

If you’re traveling to a well-populated area, chances are, you have several kid-friendly chains near you, some of which have a kids-eat-free day/night (with the purchase of an adult meal)…which can translate into big-time savings in the eating out department. A couple that pop to mind are Chick-fil-a (kids eat free night varies) and Jersey Mike’s (all day Sunday).

Oh! And PSA: Today is the day of all days to make a total doofus of yourself and dress everybody in your family like a COW. Because if you do, and you have a Chick-fil-a near you, everybody in cow-gear gets free food! If you do and don’thave a Chick-fil-a near you…well, your neighbors will still get a kick out it.

8. Bring the stroller. Leave the pack n’ play

We used our stroller constantly–while hiking, while shopping, while trolling the local farmer’s market, while sampling food at the street fair, while jogging around the neighborhood. Pretty much everywhere.

And we contemplated bringing a pack n’ play for Theo to sleep in. But it was going to take up a lot of space, so we opted for making him a pallet in the closet (what we’d done on our anniversary trip as well). It sounds a bit ghetto, I realize, and might not work if you have an older baby. But it worked great for Theo (6 months). Just make sure there’s nothing on the floor or within reach for them to fiddle with and turn into a potential choking/strangling hazard.

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{I should have said, bring the stroller AND the baby carrier…and then let your husband do all the wearing}

9. Picnic every chance you get

We ate most of our evenings meals out or had them delivered because this mama–who cooks dinner almost every night of the week–was on vacation, if you know what I mean. But other than dinners out, we ate a lot of cereal and eggs and sandwiches at home. Any time we could, though, we packed up a picnic or took our food outside in the backyard, which made turkey and PBJ sandwiches (again) seem festive and cut down on clean up inside. More fun and less cleaning? Count me in!

10. Do a little research

With just a few clicks of a keyboard, we found more activities–VBS! Free movies! Street fairs! Craft mornings! Music festivals!–than we had time or interest to go to. Summertime, especially, is ripe with opportunities to get outside and do something fun, so be sure to check out the local offerings for kid-friendly activities because they’re sure to abound.

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{My kids loved tickling the ivories on one of Fort Collins’ “pianos about town”}

What are YOUR best tips for traveling with kids? I loved all of your ideas of doing errands with kids and picked up some new tricks for our outings, so I can’t wait to hear your travel wisdom too!

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7 thoughts on “My Best Tips for Traveling With Kids

  1. Yes, yes and yes! Mom of 6 kids 9 and under as well (no twins)…we road trip at least once every year. Great tips! Although, I’m a bit of a germophobe, so I like my pack and plays for my babies…trips are fun! Kids eat free night is genius, never tried that one before!

  2. I think a rental would be a neat thing to try since we have 8 kids and being smooshed in hotel rooms and “sshhing” them down the hallways isn’t always so relaxing. But, we still do enjoy going to hotels, and a big reason is because of the POOLS as swimming is a major part of our vacations! I’m sure there are many rentals in the warmer climates that have pools with them, but we live (and travel mostly) in New England, so there aren’t as many pools with the rentals here. But, still the rental thing should be an option since we do have to get 2 hotel rooms now, which isn’t so cheap or convenient. We have rented beach cottages before and that was nice.

    1. Check out eBay! We have bought a week of other people’s timeshares for crazy cheap…lots of room and still has a pool! Definitely the way to go for a big family.

        1. I don’t think so…I think we just searched for the general area we wanted to go and 2 or 3 bedrooms. Most of the resorts have a limit of how many people per room, so having 8 people narrowed the search down quite a bit. :) Just beware – sometimes it is such a great deal that there is some caveat. Our first time, we were at a gorgeous resort in a presidential suite, 3 bedrooms with a bathroom in each room, super fancy and brand new. But it was in Panama City Beach, which we learned very quickly upon our stay that it is spring break city for college kids. Never. Again. Anyway, you’ll get the hang of it while searching and the good deals will be easy to spot. We try to aim for $100-$200/day. Trips are such fun memory making times!

  3. this is what is so great about your blog. No prima dona here, facts to help and explain things that work and caveats from others that may not work for them. PLUS all those adorable pictures of those beautiful children and the handsome husband. not just a bragging entry but the real deal. of course, what else would we expect from a Christian Mama walking the talk. thank you

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