I really wanted to write this post before we left on our trip. I thought “ooo, how organized would that be?” to be on top of my writing schedule and tackle some travel hacks! But, as I sit here now, having been home from our trip from Texas to Virginia for 24 hours now, I can look back with my hindsight is 20/20 perspective of all the elements of our trip fresh on my mind. I see now that the “write” time was definitely looking backward.
This post is going to be primarily aimed at large family travel tips, but can be easily adapted to fit YOUR family! It is a LONG post, friends, so scroll for topic headings and cruise on down to what you need to read the most. It’s going to be a lot like a recipe post with a LOT of useless words (and where is the DANG recipe!) if you’re looking for one specific thing, so go ahead and scroll down if you need to – it won’t hurt my feelings one bit. 🙂
WHO ARE YOU?
So, because this series is centered upon sharing the practical tips of Mom So Hard, let me back up a bit if you’re new here. First, welcome! Lisa Canning and I have been divvying up this series and enjoying sharing different perspectives with each post. I’m Martina, mom to seven children (and three lost littles we pray we meet one day) and one on the way in December (Merry Christmas, kids! 😉 ). My children’s ages range from 23 down to 2 (and in utero, of course) and God has an infinite sense of humor because the birth order has been girl, boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, girl, so naturally the next one should be…I guess you’ll have to stay tuned to find out, wontcha? 😉 I was born and raised in Texas (native Houstonian here) and my dear husband was born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia (Northern Virginia, just outside of Washington DC). Spanning nearly three decades, we have made the trek to NoVA many a time in a Sentra, a Trooper, a Santa Fe, and Yukon XL. As our family grew, we discovered many tricks of the trade to making the trip go smoothly. In September 2017, after a couple of years of researching, test driving, asking a ZILLION questions, scrapping ideas, we felt like we made our peace with the Yukon. A large passenger van seemed out of the question, given our eldest was then 21, but we got the prompting to go forward with a passenger van at a relatively odd season of our family life.
Why did we go with the van we chose?
What led us away from other passenger van choices?
Well, friends, in addition to sharing those valuable packing and travel hacks, I’m also going to share with you why we chose the van we did – which turned out to be, in my humble opinion, the providential choice that I would later discover less than a year after buying it.
A Long and Arduous Decision
WHAT DID YOU BUY AND WHY?
“The Kreitzer Tank” as my kids have come to call the van (among other names, like “Shadow Maker,” “Sun Blocker” and “The Beast”), is a Mercedes Benz Sprinter. Formerly made and sold by Dodge, MB bought the model and started selling them as the complete utilitarian vehicle, for commercial and passenger vans. You see these everywhere if you have Amazon Prime in your neck the woods. In the time we’ve owned ours, I have seen a significant jump in the number of these passenger vans that are on the road.
NISSAN NV QUICKLY BECOMES AN N-O
Our search for a passenger van began almost five years ago. Some family friends had bought a Nissan NV when their passenger van line was brand new and, I won’t lie to ya, friends, I drooled in the parking lot one night when she opened the side door. ENORMOUS, I thought to myself. I want one. Nay, we NEED one. My husband laughed at the idea and life went on. Our Yukon XL was paid for. Why would we go get a vehicle with a hefty price tag if we didn’t need it. After all, our SUV seated 8 – and that was good enough. And…it was. Until #7 was born. Prior to her birth, we had test driven an NV and soon discovered the cargo space was non-existent. Not at all suitable for our growing family traveling across the country. When I test drove the NV, I asked the fella where we would stow our things and he replied, oh, you can take that last row out completely and increase your storage space. I said sir, we already have one of those – it’s called a paid for Yukon XL, lol.
I have no use for eight seats, fella. ?
And that was the end of the NV research. For our family of eight at the time, it just did not deliver on necessary cargo space, and that was a top need for our family. The only plus was it could fit in a garage, if you so desired, and can fit in a regular parking space, and go through drive-thrus. I didn’t care about any of those things, so our search continued.
MERCEDES BENZ SPRINTER DISAPPOINTS
Wait. You just said you ended up with the Sprinter…what happened? I think a lot of friends would be surprised that this did not go well the first time. Three or so years ago, after we said sayonara to the NV, we ended up at the MB car lot (lucky us, we live two exits from the Nissan, Mercedes Benz, and Ford dealers) and started looking at the Sprinters. I’ll be honest, y’all. It wasn’t love at first sight for me. Even worse, when you have NO clue what you want and you are truly kicking tires, the salesman put us in about the worst possible model to test drive. It was the shortest Sprinter, with zero head room, and NO bells and whistles. I was VERY nervous driving it and thought maybe we could revisit the NV after that test drive that’s how bad it was for me. My husband was not crazy about the van – it was TOO utilitarian and for the price tag, it just didn’t cut the muster. So, we went back to the drawing board. Dang.
FORD TRANSIT WINS OUR HEARTS
Soon after the MB test drive debacle, we went next door to the Ford lot and started poking around at the Transit.
These were like “the bed that was jussssssst right”. It had plenty of upgrade options to make it a smooth ride, the test drive was a breeze and handling the vehicle was VERY easy to navigate (meaning, I didn’t feel like I was a whole body above people on the road), and the height and length options seemed really good. AND…they were running an end of month special we really couldn’t beat, naturally. Except one thing. The model we wanted wasn’t on the lot. It was across the street and that particular lot was locked up at that time. So, we left with a promise and a handshake that the salesman would be in touch with us the next day and we’d set up a time to see it.
Except neither my husband nor I got a phone call or voicemail. Frustrated with the process, we dropped the whole thing…again, until we went back to the Ford lot on a Sunday to walk around and see if we were really feeling the purchase.
VISUAL COMPARISON OF THE CARGO SPACE OF EACH VEHICLE
MERCEDES BENZ SQUEAKS BY
The itch was too much. We went to the Ford lot one Sunday afternoon to look at the Transits and still did not see the one we were promised we could test drive. The Mercedes Benz lot, also closed for business, was right next door, so we walked around and looked at the Sprinters…again. I was so turned off by them the first time, I’m not really sure why we went back. As luck (fate/providential Hand) would have it, one of the Sprinters was actually unlocked, so we hopped in and had a look around. THIS Sprinter was like an entirely different experience than the one we had test driven. It was black, had the high roof (my 6 foot tall husband was able to stand in it and move around with ease), appeared to have some pretty dang good bells and whistles like a technology package with a camera, lane assist, and sensors, and even navigation. Ok, I was LIKING this one. We went home and I drooled at the possibility. We decided to call the dealer the next day on Monday about that particular van and could we test drive it, only to find out it was already SOLD. I went in, anyway, and wanted to look at more of the models that had bells and whistles. I needed those, I rationalized to myself, because it would make driving that huge van easier. But, I’ll be honest, of any of the vans we drove, the Sprinter would take me a full month to find the driving sweet spot.
The dealer quickly showed me other van options and then showed me the LONG Sprinter, the 273” long fella. I quickly looked at the one thing that mattered most to me, just after the technology package – the cargo space – and it became VERY obvious the long van was the right choice for our family, now and going forward. After YEARS of traveling to NoVA and Myrtle Beach for a trip one year in the Yukon XL and seeing how the kids were BURIED under things the whole trip and not even having basic comforts like being able to feel their own legs – y’all feel me on this one? – I immediately fell in love with the LONGEST, TALLEST (it even has the roof AC on top, too, y’all – it’s so ridiculous looking, I heart the darn thing so much) Sprinter passenger van.
I had to have it.
Except it was silver.
I don’t do silver.
So, we tracked its twin down, a black Sprinter, and had it driven in from a neighboring Texas city. We bought the durn thing that Friday evening. Two hours before we picked up the van, guess who we heard from? The Ford dealer. I had somehow missed a voicemail from him (not even sure how because I was waiting for his call!) Alas, it was too late, and we were more than committed to the MB purchase. We celebrated with an inaugural trip to the Waco Zoo the next day as a family (and a stop at Buc-ee’s on the way home) – SQUEE!
Sprinter Specs and Features
ALL ABOUT THE TANK
Let’s get started with some bullet points – FINALLY! Please note, some features are specific to our model and purchase, so keep that in mind when doing your own research!
- THE TANK SPECS – we bought the 2500 12 passenger 170′ high roof, extended body with the roof AC. It is a 4 cylinder engine with 7G-Tronic transmission.
- UTILITARIAN – it’s not your typical MB luxurious experience. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! ? On our van, we have to manually open and close the van door and adjust our seats. For me, the “fancy” comes in the form of its practicality, the technology, which I’ll explain further down.
- DIESEL – this was a HUGE selling point for me, as we did not want another gas guzzler, thankyouverymuch. The Yukon XL was good for what it was, but it did not get the gas mileage the Sprinter does. We spent around $400 on gas to AND from Virginia and it averaged about 21/22mpg. It takes DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) which helps convert the emissions to harmless nitrogen and water.
- FREE CAR WASHES – this quickly became a huge selling point for me. Because we purchased directly from the dealer, we can bring it by anytime for a free car wash, which is GREAT after long road trips. ?
- HIGH ROOF – this allows folks as tall as 6’2” to stand up inside the van. This has been a VERY nice feature, as my husband is 6’ and son is 5’11”. Even at 5’6” myself, I like being able to move around with ease. One thing to note is that the base of the vehicle is structured such that it is not top heavy (I used to drive a CJ-7, so I know well of what I speak in driving vehicles that require you to take turns very cautiously). Even so, the sheer height of the vehicle (9’6″ with the roof AC) can be an issue, as we found out as we drove through some pretty treacherous conditions in the van – this last trip the winds were so rough in Arkansas, it did cause the van to shimmy and shake. That’s something to be aware of.
- NO CARPET – the van does not have carpeted flooring, which I LOVE. I have a broom, a vacuum, and can even mop the durn thing. Kids spill something? No big deal! Easy to clean!
- NAVIGATION – even though we tend to use our phone as our primary GPS, I always have the NAV running so I can see where we’re going. You can opt to pay for a service that updates your map, but we don’t do that.
- BLUETOOTH – though I opt to hardwire my phone when I’m driving (the sound is louder and crisper vs. the bluetooth option), you can use bluetooth through the van and it will recognize your phone immediately. I also love that it will pipe your phone call throughout the van, even if you aren’t using bluetooth and choose to hardwire it with a charging wire.
- REAR CAMERA – the back of the van has a camera over the double doors that act as not just back up assistance, but you can also hit the SYS button and hold it and it will run the camera anytime you need it. I use it when I think someone is tailing me and they are out of my vision. It does not, however, beep when it backs up. 😉
- CARGO SPACE – the long Sprinter appears to be able to fit a queen-sized mattress inside the cargo space alone. While I haven’t tested this theory directly, every person I’ve mentioned it to who has seen the back has agreed it’s pretty dang close, so take that for what it’s worth. ? That said, it has two 12V outlets in the back and another just under the driver’s seat and one in the front drink holder. The driver’s seat outlet plug came in handy in a very unique way on one of our trips, as I’ll explain below.
- TECHNOLOGY PACKAGE – this was a non-negotiable for me. I would be the primary driver of this vehicle, so it needed to make sense for me to feel comfortable and safe. That meant having not just the backup camera, but the lane assist (it “screams” at me when I cross the lines), blind spot assist (this was HUGE considering the blind spots are pretty big in this vehicle), and a distance sensor on the front of the vehicle. As a mom, you can never have too many safety measures in place.
- PARKING – this may sound crazy, but you actually CAN park in regular parking spots! There are tricks to the trade, but the long Sprinter is able to park in spots that have enough clearance for the front or back of the vehicle to get the wheels to the curb. If there are shrubs or trees obstructing the curb, I will simply park somewhere else. At Costco (here is a GREAT large family tip), I have to take two spaces. So, I put the nose into the second spot and leave the back even with the rest of the backs of other vehicles. Why this way? Well…have you ever done it the other way, only to discover some LOVELY person has parked their car RIGHT up on your car’s butt and you can’t even open the back? Yeah, learn from my mistake. If you don’t need to get in the back for anything, then just pull your nose right up to the end of the space and leave the back end hanging over the edge. My favorite is when short cars (smart car, anyone?) park behind us. They get it. 😉
- FAST FOOD – unless you have the gas station Sheetz near you, you will not be able to order fast food through a traditional drive thru, but more and more FF restaurants have curbside pickup and we’ve been able to utilize that just as well in a pinch. The van towers at 9’6” with the AC unit on top. Also, do you REALLY need that junk food? ??
- CAR SEATS – the seats themselves are wide and comfortably fit boosters and Britax car seats. The first and second row (three seats each) have the metal clips to secure the car seats safely. Note that the row of four seats does not have those metal clips (our model is a 2016).
- SEATING – our Sprinter seats 12 because we specifically wanted appropriate cargo space when it came to big trips. Because these vehicles are great for customization (should you have the time and money and inclination to do so), you can pretty much get any configuration of seating, up to 16 seats or so. All you have to do is check out YouTube Sprinter conversions to see what I mean. The sky’s the limit!
- EVERYDAY DRIVING – we’re coming up on two years of owning the Sprinter and while there was that initial learning curve going from a large SUV to driving “the Tank”, overall it has been a great van to drive, with more ease than I originally thought. I don’t venture to fast food drive thru’s in this vehicle, but there aren’t many places I can’t take “the Beast.” We have now put over 30K miles on the van after three trips to Virginia from Texas. One thing I did need to get used to is tree limbs and clearance driving on neighborhood streets and roads not well maintained.
- WHY I’M ENDEARED TO THIS VAN – last May, we learned of the tragic death of our 18 year old nephew. We immediately made plans to leave to be with family in Virginia. The only thing that stood in the way of our departure date was quickly tying up loose ends for work and school. We did not have to make the expensive decision to fly. We did not even have to decide which family members would go and who would stay. The van size made it possible for us all to go, right away. We drove the 24 hours straight there and straight back. It was one of the hardest trips we made, physically and emotionally, but one that I will never forget. When we went up for Christmas in 2017, our same nephew came to Mass with us and he was the one who nicknamed it “The Kreitzer Tank.” In addition to daily prayers for the happy repose of his soul, keeping the nickname is just one of the ways we honor him to this day. ?
Essential Travel Hacks
I’ve broken down our essential travel hacks into three groups of tips: prep, pack, and drive. I’ll show you what we did for each and how we were able to maintain the organization throughout the trip. Keep in mind that I am not naturally organized and some of my tips vary from trip to trip. Most of these we do each trip and some we revise, modify, and implement new strategies with new trips. The goal is not to be tied to the method, but allow for organization that allows the trip to be enjoyable. We’re going for survival, not perfection!
- SHOPPING – I break this into three separate trips. So as not to overwhelm the week prior to our departure, I buy dry snacks/non-perishables two weeks ahead of schedule. One Costco/Sam’s trip (ok, that’s two, but you get my drift – warehouse shopping is one excursion), one local grocery store run for things we don’t need bulk items, and one last trip a few days before we leave for the perishable foods so they don’t spoil.
- SNACKS – A couple of days before we leave, and using plastic snack bags, we divide the bulk items (think animal crackers, pretzels, popcorn, etc.) into smaller portions, making it easy to grab a quick snack at a gas/bathroom stop.
- WATER BOTTLES – Minus the times my husband and I want to treat the kids and allow otherwise contraband drinks, we primarily stick to water only during our drive. I am NOT getting paid to advertise for Contigo, but friends, I have to say the designs of their water bottles (especially the auto close bottles) make it a GREAT travel cup choice. My husband and I have different mugs for coffee and water because who wants water that tastes like coffee, lol, but everyone else has one travel cup. We initially tried these portable drink holders, meant to attach to the window, but soon found these were a complete bust. That was why we switched to self and auto close water bottles.
- WATER COOLER – Soon after we bought the van, I purchased an orange Igloo cooler to use on our outings and trips. The day before we leave, we fill it with ice and buy large jugs of water from the store so we can fill on the go and not be bogged down with unnecessary stops looking for essentials. As I mentioned before, we drink water on our trips and when we stop for gas or bathroom breaks, we reload our water cups at that time.
- COOLER – we changed this method this trip and the jury is still out for me if it was the right decision. Instead of two coolers for food (one refrigerated cooler in the front and one in the back), we decided the day before our trip to get a long cooler. It worked overall, but I would put less ice in it next time and just plan on getting ice along the way to prevent it from ruining any food that isn’t properly sealed. Ask me how I know this… ?
- SNACK BAG & LOCK – I use the large insulated Costco zip cooler bag as our primary travel bag for snacks. For overflow snacks (think trip back home), we tossed those into a plastic bin and put them at the back of the cargo space. This saved us the hassle of having to do any extra shopping. When we arrive at our destination, I use a combination lock on the Costco bag to “protect the food investment.” ?
- PREPPING DEVICES – I delegate this to my older children because I’m busy with “all the things.” They are in charge of charging all devices, downloading games and movies (you apparently can only download certain movies from Netflix for a certain length of time, so the closer you do this to your departure date, the better), gathering all necessary charging wires, and making sure they have the proper cases on them, suitable for repeated falling/throwing…I mean…children.
- HEADPHONES – I changed things for this trip – last time, I bought cheap headphones (like, $3 each). They didn’t even make it all the way back home. This time, I invested in some headphones that were relatively inexpensive, but have much better longevity and fabric cords. Each kiddo was assigned a color, eliminating the whole SHE HAS MY HEADPHONES!!! debacles. Or does this just happen to us? ?
- CLIPBOARDS – Through our homeschooling years, the kids have used clipboards that keep papers and such. After some perusing on Pinterest for travel game ideas, I printed up, laminated, and gave each kiddo a set of games and dry erase marker they could play, from car bingo, to the alphabet game, to the states plate game! We even ventured to the dollar store for some new crayons, coloring books, small notepads and other miscellaneous items to keep them entertained on the trip. We used to use these collapsable travel trays, but found they lacked sturdiness, so the clipboards have been a nice compromise.
- TOYS – For the toddler, I invested in a travel tray that straps to the car seat. It had a car mat on it, so I took a zip bag and put a few of our hot wheels in it for her to play with. It also has a plastic sleeve to put a device that she could use when she wanted to watch a movie.
- WIRES, CHARGING PACKS, & CONVERTER UNITS – Mostly delegated to the older children, we gathered up all charging wires for devices, laptops, including charging packs and converter units that convert a 12V connection so you can use a wall plug. I highly recommend this! One thing we didn’t do this time that I am definitely doing next time is to invest in a few more portable charging packs so the kiddos can charge from their row vs. sending it forward and waiting hours for it to charge.
- LAUNDRY – This is done the day before we leave. I start running laundry first thing in the morning and as clean clothes come out of the dryer, all laundry moves to our “packing room.”
- PACKING – As laundry finishes, all kids have their primary travel bag and a secondary travel bag, which I will elaborate more on under the loading and stowing bullet point. I tend to give my kids the opportunity to pack their things by themselves. As their laundry basket is handed back to them, they pack in our “reading room” turned “packing room” knowing how many of each item they’ll need. That usually ends up in…
- REPACKING – Yep. We usually go through their bag/s and help them finish their packing. Did you know just one pair of underwear and mismatched socks don’t usually cut it? ? By the time it’s all said and done, they have their main travel bag, a backpack with their toiletry bag and blanket and pillow all stacked in our reading room. Once we see that, we know who has officially finished their packing. Then it’s on to…
- LOADING AND STOWING, TETRIS STYLE – This is both my favorite part AND the bane of my existence. Did I mention how I’m not naturally organized? In my mind, nearly every time, I forget the things my husband wants to bring – like all his guitars (ok, kidding, not ALL of his guitars ??) and his golf clubs and then at FIVE in the morning, we are loading things up and trying to figure how best to configure these items. There’s nothing worse than getting down the road and making a turn and hearing luggage fall down, creating an enormous mess you know you’ll have to clean up at the next rest stop. So…loading properly on the front end is essential. We have come to have three packing zones in the van. 1) We seriously don’t need that until we GET to our destination. It goes in the very back, and at the bottom. This includes our luggage. Stay with me. 2) We need this here and there throughout the trip and someone in the back row can reach over and grab these items for everyone. This would be pillows and blankets, primarily. Sometimes a bag of fruit, too. The third zone is covered in the next bullet point…
- QUICK AND EASY ACCESS ITEMS – I LOVE this zone. When not properly packed, it is a NIGHTMARE stepping over everything else trying to repack neatly, so make sure you have this area exactly as you want it when you close those doors. SIDE NOTE: One thing I LOVE about the Sprinter is the rear doors open up FULLY. There are magnets on the sides of the van, so you can pop the doors open and swing them ALL the way around and they will magnetize and stay open. This is especially nice on windy days. Quick and easy access items can be seen in the photos. We need easy access to several things: 1) the orange igloo for quick water reloads, 2) the main cooler with our homemade lunch and foods we want to eat to keep eating out to a minimum, 3) the Costco insulated bag with the dry snacks goes on top of the cooler, 4) extra jugs of water to reload the orange igloo, 5) diesel exhaust fluid to top off when making long trips, 6) our Kreitzer bag, which is always filled with paper plates and bowls, plastic cutlery, napkins, disinfecting wipes, hand wipes, antibacterial gel, paper towels, extra plastic bags for leftovers, and even a roll of toilet paper we hope we don’t have to use, lol, and 7) the backpacks the kids packed separate from their main travel bag. I will cover how we used this at the hotels in a moment and what we used to do in the next section under the hotels bullet point.
Now you’re on the road! Woohoo! Now all that’s left is just…getting there…in one piece. In this final section I share how we did it and my conclusion on what we would do differently going forward.
- EVANGELIZE – Did you know we’re all called to evangelize? It is THE mission of the Church. But when you’re traveling, you’ll probably not feel like doing just that. That’s ok. Let the van door slide open and the endless stream of children falling out do the job for you. Your big family is, in and of itself, one of the best witnesses you can make on the road. I highly recommend some cool vinyl stickers for your vehicle. Does your parish make or sell car stickers? Those can be a great way to witness – no, we’re not Mormon, just Catholic, thankyouverymuch. ? If you’re like me and maybe want to add something cheeky in addition to your parish and Jesus Is Lord stickers, you might LOVE this one. After purchasing the door mat last year with the same wording, I tracked down this amazing Etsy store owner and asked if she could make a custom one just for our van. And she did a GREAT job. What’s the point of having “all those kids” if you can’t get some mileage out of the laugh zone, right? ?
- COOLER CHOICES – We did not use our refrigerated cooler that uses the 12V outlet this time. Though it came in handy when traveling with an infant, we forgot to take it out of the van on our family emergency trip and are pretty sure it drained the battery. While I love the practicality of this cooler, we ended up buying a rather long cooler with wheels and a handle that made it easy to unload for lunch.
- GAMES – Looking through Pinterest, I found a whole section of fun travel games. This time I printed up several free downloads and laminated them for all kids with clipboards to use. These will get lots of mileage for future trips, too.
- HOTELS – This is one area that we do not have nailed down, but thanks to the Orbitz app, we were able to find hotels as we got close to our stopping point. When we drive to VA, it is a HARD two days of driving. We always push for Knoxville or thereabouts, making it about an 18 hour day, but truly it all depends on the time we get out the door (I’m a 6:00 a.m. gal) and how many stops and how long each takes along the way. I’m a business stop gal, and my husband is a stretch our legs kinda guy. So, some stops go my way, and some stops go his way. Compromise is always the best bet on a long trip. ? We officially moved into the two hotel room family a couple of years ago, but we’ve found the best negotiating can happen in person. So, use the app to see what’s booked and then stop and see if you can talk them down a bit more. Oh, remember those backpacks I mentioned? We used to one big bag with everyone’s pajamas, clean change of clothes, and toiletries. Then our family wouldn’t stop growing, lol, so we made a change that everyone uses their own backpack filled with those items and it works out BEAUTIFULLY. Seriously.
- GAS/BATHROOM STOPS – To the extent possible, try to combine these two needs into one stop. Of course, you may have some kids who are members of the TWBC (teeny weeny bladder club) ? and end up making some unplanned stops along the way. For the most part, we stopped at large gas stations (Love’s, Pilot, Sheetz, Buc’ee’s, etc.) or McDonald’s since their bathrooms are known for being pretty clean. Other times, we utilized rest stops. One was completely empty and even played super fancy Gregorian chant in the ladies room, lol. Over time, you’ll gravitate towards the same stops and if you’re weird like us, you’ll even reminisce in the other times you’ve stopped at a certain location. Remember that time we stopped at that Sheetz and a beaver crawled under the van? Yeah, good times. Seriously, that happened, y’all. ??
- MEALS ON THE GO – The day we leave, we have breakfast in hand, hot coffee loaded up, our water bottles filled, and we pile in the car, say our prayers, and hunker down for two days in our large, but small prison, lol. We did breakfast burritos from Costco this time for breakfast, made some Costco tacos the night before and had that for lunch. I made some fruit salad and chicken salad for myself and my husband, boiled some eggs to take with us and packed bread and lunch meat and cheese for day two. We try to allow for just one meal from a restaurant out of the two days traveling and so far, we are able to make that manage. Finding a hotel that includes breakfast makes that second day possible with sammies, snacks, and vitamin waters as a treat for lunch. We usually arrive to our destination just in time for dinner!
- DEVICES – We have a no device rule until we get to Dallas, which is close to three hours. We have been doing this for YEARS with no problem and the kids all expect it and no fuss is put up. Once we get to Dallas, however, it’s a free for all and we don’t really care how long you play, lol. Grab your headphones, your device, and enjoy! We do have a curfew, though, and that is around 8 p.m. Devices are stowed and charging, we say our bedtime prayers, and the kids start powering down for something that roughly resembles bedtime. With pillows and blankets handy, they settle in and that’s what my husband and I can get a real stretch of driving in.
- STORAGE BINS (AKA trunk organizers) – Traveling or not, we always have two black storage bins that are located under the front row seat and another at the back of the van. The front row storage bin while traveling contains diapers, wipes, changing pad, tissues, hand wipes, emesis bags (you NEED these, friends – we had an unprepared vomiting incident during 11 degree weather driving home from VA that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy) that we keep handy in every row, and grocery bags to use for trash. (When not traveling, the front row storage bin holds pens/pencils for schoolwork, wrap-ups for practicing math, books to read, and some toys. The back of the van bin keeps cleaning supplies, microfiber cloths, dusters, and paper towels.) For odds and ends, such as shoes and pillows and blankets, we used collapsable crates and laundry baskets. These served a double purpose when we arrived because we didn’t need to inconvenience our guests for a laundry basket. We kept everyone’s extra shoes in one of the laundry baskets and placed it inside the house. This worked well for us. We only ended up with one stray shoe, lol.
- PILLOWS & BLANKETS – Everyone brings pillows and blankets, although to keep the chaos to a minimum at the hotel, I insisted that those stay in the van overnight. I also insisted that for each stop, all pillows and blankets be kept on the seats. This ended up being too much policing on my part. Restroom breaks in downpours and dirty feet at gas stations sets off the gagging reflex and the thought of the kids stepping on those pillows and blankets on the floorboard made me want to retch. And while I love bringing pillows and blankets overall, we will be doing that differently next time…
- CLEANING OUT THE CAR UPON ARRIVAL – OK, who does this? LOL, but seriously I end up having to clean when we arrive. That’s when the broom, vacuum, and dust pan and brush all come in handy. You know what else comes in handy? Having a bunch of kids to pull their own weight! At each gas/bathroom stop, we had them do what I call a “quick sweep” of the van, emptying the trash cans and gathering trash on the floorboards. I keep an old beach towel in the van at all times and we use that when it rains or snows so the kids can dry their feet when they get back into the van.
- WHAT WE’LL DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME – I bought baskets with “essentials” for each row in the van, thinking this would solve some problems. Each basket contained a dollar store mini trash can, hand wipes, headphones, and enough room to stow the clipboards and devices. Initially, it was to be placed between kiddos on an empty seat, but they ended up going under the seat entirely. Next time, I may toy with the idea of each kiddo having their own under seat organizer. The nice thing about the size of the van is that the kids don’t have to be bogged down with items. We’ll just need to work on improving that part more. The last thing we’ll do differently is to leave both pillows and blankets at home. They’re just too big and bulky. My solution is to invest in some neck pillows for everyone and get smaller, lightweight blankets.
- OVERALL – The trip went about as smoothly as possible. I’ve learned over the years to let things go as much as possible. We did all that we could to make the trip as pleasant as possible and after that, we just learn and modify for the next trip. We made a stop in DC at the Holocaust Museum because I absolutely LOVE DC and so do the kids and decided in the end not to drive the van into the District, but instead drove the in-laws mini-van so we could park easily. Maybe next time we’ll venture in with the Sprinter and test out parking on the Mall – after all, I can parallel park that van with the best of them! ? In the end, the visit itself was priceless and worth all of the planning.
We are already planning our trip for next summer, y’all. Happy travels, friends. No matter where you go, may God bless your trip with good times, good food, and good memories.
Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments!