It's hard to put a definitive parameter around the definition of a large family. Someone once said that a large family is defined as having one more child than you currently have. Maybe so, because right now a family of seven seems huge to me. While I don't really consider our family of six to be supersized, sometimes other people do. It's not uncommon for me to hear people wonder how a family of this size can travel (or eat out or keep our laundry done or stay out of the loony bin.)
Any family with more than the average number of kids is going to use some creative thinking to solve the mundane details of life, and this couldn't be more necessary than during a family trip. As we have traveled we have picked up some big, fat family tricks of the trade and employed them to make a smoother ride for everyone. Luckily, most of these tricks can be used for families both big and small to make hitting the road a piece of cake. (Love me some mixed metaphors.)
1. Dress Alike. It's corny and it's certainly apt to encourage people to count in their head as you pass by, but it works in so many ways that we keep doing it. It completely eliminates the need to decide what everyone will wear each day and speeds up packing. It helps other people know that you are a group and makes it easy to spot your kidlets in a crowd. If you ever (temporarily) lose someone, it is easy to remember what they were wearing. And my personal favorite, everyone matches in pictures and there are no clashing colors when you scrapbook or blog.
2. Pack differently. When you are packing just for yourself, its easy just to put everything you need into one bag and take off. Packing for a crew takes a different way of thinking. If you are roadtripping, pack your suitcases by the day, not by the person. Pack everything everyone will need at each stop in one bag with another bag that you will need every night. Another way I like to pack is to pack all the swim suits, pajamas and underwear in one bag, saving me from having to dig through four different bags when it is time to hit the pool or the hay.
3. Color Coding. This is something that we do faithfully at home and it carries over onto the road. Plates, cups, bags, towels are all color coded for each child. Matching suitcases can be tagged with a ribbon or a piece of tape to distinguish one from the other.
4. Tighten the Reins. At home, I'm much more of a jump on the couch, eat cereal in the living room mom. On the road, I try to channel my inner drill sergeant. Sorta. Drill sergeant is not really in my nature, but we have a set of rules we set aside just for travel to make things go as smoothly as possible.
5. Relax the rules. Yes, I am contradicting myself, but stay with me. Traveling has its own unique set of challenges and that means that things that work at home won't work on the road. At home my couch jumping monkeys aren't allowed much screen time. When we travel, I relax this standard to virtual non existence. Same with bedtime routines and sleep arrangements. Sometimes a mama's gotta have standards and sometimes a mama's got have sleep.
6. Buddy System. Older kids are paired with younger kids to help take care of their needs as they travel. In our family, we switch off with the older two helping the youngest one, while we all keep our eyes on #3. He's a flight risk.
7. Kid of the Day. Another great at home trick that carries over to the road. The kid of the day has dibs on any special privileges that might happen. While traveling this means pushing the elevator button, unlocking the hotel room, and choosing the restaurant. Eliminating the arguing and helping each child have a moment to feel special are just two of the perks.
8. Manage the transitions. This is one of the areas of classroom management that can make you or break you as a teacher, and the same as true of a traveling family. Preparing kids ahead of time about where they will sit on the plane and where they will sleep in the hotel eliminates the need for fusses and fights. After you have schlepped your kids and all their gear onto a plane, you just don't want to have a meltdown about the window seat. Talk about it before your hit the jet bridge.
9. Don't Eat Out. Saving money on food is often the difference in taking a trip and staying home for a larger family. Food takes a huge chunk out of your vacation, and not just in dollars. Packing a lunch and making breakfast in your room will also save you time and calories. Some accommodations, like time share rentals, for example, even have full kitchens with dishwashers and ovens. The staff can arrange to shuttle you to a local grocery store if they don’t already have one on the premises. With a little planning, you can eat wholesome, precooked meals, save tons of money, and never need to plan you sightseeing around finding a restaurant. Try it. I dare you.
10. Tame the Laundry Beast. The power of laundry to multiply increases by a power of ten in a hotel room. There must be a plan to vanquish the monster! <Insert rousing sword fighting music> Instead of waiting to do the laundry at home, I like to find a Laundromat or use the hotel to wash all our laundry and repack nice, clean clothes. I can get the job done in half the time and it gives me an excuse to duck out of the hotel room and skip the bedtime wrangling for one night. (Sneaky, no?) Be sure to pack a laundry bag, a baggie full of laundry soap, and some quarters and you are set.