By Nancy Coleman
Traveling with eight children can be daunting. You have a larger than normal number of bladders, diapers and empty stomachs to manage. Add to that the number of hands or legs that might touch someone else's and you could experience a volcano-sized meltdown.
But with enough preparation and forethought, that meltdown doesn't have to happen. Here are some of the travel tips I've accumulated over the years.
1. A Box
We don't have a television in our vehicle, so when the kids were younger, I had to be a little more creative when traveling. Each child had a small, plastic, sweater-sized box with their name on it. In that box were crayons or colored pencils (markers never go in the van!) paper, a small journal, and a folder. Beyond that, they were allowed to pack whatever they wanted, as long as it fit in the box. With eight children, there wasn't room for the kitchen sink, so they just weren't allowed to bring it. Now that the kids are older, they each have a backpack they can fill. Same rules apply ... if it doesn't fit, it doesn't go.
2. Be Prepared
Miguel De Cervantes said, "To be prepared is half the battle." So, if you know what your children enjoy doing, and can create something special for the travel time, your battle is half won.
Our family loves books, so we would go to the library and check out a laundry basket full of books to take with us. These books were never allowed to leave the van, so we didn't lose any. We also purchased, borrowed, or checked out audio books and audio dramas. Our favorite was Focus on the Family's The Secret Garden and The Anne of Green Gables series.
Cracker Barrel also offers audio books to rent. You basically pay for them first, then return them to any Cracker Barrel when you are finished. They refund your money minus a fee for each day you had it. If you keep it longer than about two weeks, you just keep it. Warning: Many of the audio books at Cracker Barrel are geared more toward adults. You have to search to find one suitable for younger children.
Music is huge in our family as well. I preload the i-pod with a variety of music we all enjoy. We listen to everything from the Veggie Tales' "Are We There Yet?" to Danny Gokey's album.
I or one of the older children would visit a few websites to download and print free activity pages. I have a neatness fetish, so the pages were three-hole punched, put in a folder, and placed in the plastic boxes. A couple of great sites for these pages are http://familyfun.go.com/printables/ and http://www.enchantedlearning.com/support/index.shtmlhe. The first site is from Family Fun Magazine and includes things like travel games, coloring pages, and dot-to-dot. The second site is from Enchanted Learning. Enchanted Learning does have an annual subscription of $20, but their pages are educational and fun, so it is worth the fee. I also would print a map of our route so they could track our progress.
No trip is complete without food or beverage. A few years ago, my husband was shocked when I waked in the door with $60 of Nalgene water bottles. He couldn't grasp why I would spend so much money on plastic bottles. But now I don't have half-empty disposable bottles falling out of the door when it is opened. Instead, each child is responsible for getting his water bottle before we leave home as well as taking it into the house upon our return.
If they don't take care of their water bottles, they get thirsty ... and I get to look at them and remind them that they are thirsty due to their own lack of responsibility. Their discomfort (as long as there is no danger of dehydration) is a great reminder that next time they might want to remember their water bottle. Nalgene does make some cool water bottles that are spill proof. Spill proof is key unless you like stains on the carpet and the odor of spoiled milk or fermented juice.
There is nothing quite like a screaming toddler whose tank is on empty to set the entire vehicle on edge. Whenever possible, use foods on the lower end of the glycemic index. The more sugar children eat, the more energy they will want to burn. The more energy they want to burn, the louder the wailing.
Nuts, trail mix, and whole grains are packed with nutrition and have the added benefit of being easily vacuumed. The chocolate candy in the trail mix doesn't vacuum as well, especially when ground into the carpet, but that is easily remedied by mom eating those little tidbits before handing the trail mix to the munchkin in the back seat. We call it the mom tax and it is non-negotiable.
Traveling with children can be challenging. But a little preparation, a few travel games, and a stash of healthy snacks make sure everyone enjoys the trip.
Nancy Coleman is the mother of eight in Spotsylvania County. She homeschools and doesn't lose library books when she travels. Nancy, the magazine staff bows before you. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.