We are on the move a fair bit as a family on mission. This summer, we are visiting our ministry partners in the Midwest. The last time we did this, was four years ago and we had a three year old and a one year old. Now, we have four kids: 6, 5 & 3 years old and 5 months old. Here are a few of our best practices as we travel and set up “home” in six different houses.
Our flight from Orlando to Minneapolis was at 8 A.M. so we woke the kids a bit before 6 A.M., got them dressed and tucked them in their carseats. Our faithful friend, Joe, took us to the airport in our own car (so nice!). Since we were flying domestically we checked our luggage in curbside. Read that again, families: check in your luggage & carseats in curbside! This single detail started off our trip on such a light and positive note. The guy checked in our three carseats and two suitcases in like five minutes. A few pounds over, no problem. We tipped him $10 for his amazing help and it was worth every penny. (Two luggage carts would have cost that much!)
We ate our breakfast of PBJ, yogurt and juice and then headed to TSA. We dumped or drank our drinks (and kept the empty bottles to fill after security.) Often there is a line for families or because we have a Delta Skymiles credit card we might be able to get in a faster line. In France, they are SUPER kind with mamas with young (and pregnant mamas), so we have had special treatment for about 7 years! We have been sent to the front of almost every crazy long line in Charles de Gaulle airport. I digress; we weren’t flying to France this time.
Security was about 10 times easier than normal because:
1. We didn’t have a stroller to unload, fold and put on the conveyor belt. We decided to leave the stroller at home. I front carried Theo and the three “big kids” walked. We felt so free going through the airport without a clunky stroller with three bags hanging off it and shuffling the kids around when it was time to go through security.
2. Each kiddo had a small backpack that they were responsible for. It was pretty cute watching our older kids put their backpacks on the conveyor belt.
3. They let Theo stay in the front carrier, plus the kids and I got to skip the “put your hands on your head and let us scan you” line. I got my hands swiped and that was it. Maybe a female guard patted me down… I can’t remember. I seem to have a lot of hands all over me these days.
The kids’ backpacks In the past, I’ve kept the kids’ things in my bag. The main reason was because I didn’t want them to get bored of all their toys before we took off. As it turns out, Dave was right all these years. (Yes Dave, you were right.) It was much easier to put all their things in their bag. They didn’t get bored and if anything, it gave them more autonomy because they could dig in their bags and find new things to do. Each backpack had:
-a change of clothes in a ziplock bag
-a sucker for after we were in the air
-a small playdough
-a game: puzzles in a small tin from the Dollar Tree for the two older kids and a magnetic game of tic tac toe I made for Chloe. I used an empty tin mint box, drew a tic tac toe board on it and then put little round magnets on it. It keeps her really busy.
-a workbook/coloring book that is age appropriate
-One of the kids had anti-bacterial wipes. We give each one of them a wipe when we sit down and have them wipe everything down around them: the window shades, tray table, armrests, seatbelt… everything.
-there maybe one or two “favorite” things each child added
Our kids also watched some of the in-flight TV shows, looked through the in-flight magazine and reviewed the safety features of the plane on the information folder. ; )
Also, next time, I would put a sippy cup in each of their bags to have the flight attendant pour their drinks in. We’ve also had great success in the past with bringing a roll of Scotch tape and putting a long piece across the kids armrests. Then they can stick things on it. This is great toddler aged entertainment. Our toddlers have also loved putting pompoms in a little plastic container with a hole cut out. They could do this forever.
Luggage A quick word to those with only two arms and two or more little kids. Dave insists one of our pieces of luggage being a large backpacking backpack. Our first 7 years of married life, I tried talking him out of it every single time but now I see the sheer genius behind it. He can put the backpack on his back and push the stroller or roll two more bags. (Yes, the man is a natural sherpa.) The backpack that we have can also be a carry-on because of its dimensions. It’s pretty great.
The next challenge is setting up “home” wherever you land. For us, this means we’ll be staying in at least six different homes during our 8 weeks in the Midwest. We can’t exactly travel light but there are a few things that help us travel/live organized.
Plastic drawers We started unpacking the kids’ clothes into a small plastic dresser (Sterilite) four years ago. Instead of repacking their things in suitcases when we travel, we just pop the plastic dresser in the back of the van. “Pop” makes it sounds effortless. But the truth is the drawers aren’t made to be carried while full… SO, Dave carries them from the bottom and then it stays together. The three big kids each have one drawer containing: pjs (2 pairs), shorts (5 pairs), t-shirts or dresses (5), pants (2 pairs), a jacket, a sweater/sweatshirt, underwear, socks (3 pairs) and a swimsuit. The baby, Dave and I have our things separately. Depending on where we’re staying, we’ll unpack in an empty dresser or keep our things in a suitcase.
Shower caddy Remember using one of these in college? Well, it is super practical when you’re packing up your family and on the move often. We put all the toothbrushes, shampoos, etc, hair products, my small make-up case and medicine we use frequently in the caddy. It doesn’t actually go in the shower, it just lives wherever there is room, depending on the house we’re staying at. We carry in the bathroom each morning and night if necessary. Or, it stays on the counter if there is room. Then, when it is time to move houses, we pop it in the car, as is.
Laundry essentials We do a lot of laundry and so even when we’re on the move, we need a good system. I travel with:
–a collapsable laundry basket (I’d like to buy another one). One to put dirty clothes in and one to put the clean clothes in.
–delicates bags. I am picky about certain things not going in the dryer, so I put them in delicates bags to protect them and to communicate to whoever may be flipping the laundry: “please don’t dry this.”
Towel hooks Currently, I don’t travel with these but I would like to start to. I like to know who’s towel is who’s (um, I want a dry towel) and that’s impossible when all 6 towels look the same! At home, I took six large S hooks from Ikea (in their hanging organizers in the kitchen section) and put one of our names on each one. Then, I hang all six on a towel bar. I wish I had a photo to show you because it makes more sense. Anyway, we can hang six towels, neatly, on one towel bar, and we know who’s is who. You could also use command hooks or travel with a set of over the door hooks.
Kids’ toys I used to pack a lot more toys for the kids but learned that they often pick toys up on the way (birthdays, garage sales, grandparents, etc) and usually there are toys where we’re staying. This time, I was radical- we only brought the toys that were in their backpacks on the plane and their special blanket or dolls that they sleep with. It has been SO nice! As they clean up the toys at the end of the night, they are learning to put their toys back in their backpacks. (Another brilliant idea of my husband’s.) We are also spending a lot of time outside because the weather is so nice.
That’s it for a few of the things that have helped us keep our sanity as we move around a lot- and with four kids. I need to say we still have a lot of crazy and way too much stuff to lug around. If you could see the ten bags stashed in different corners of this very room you may wonder why I bothered writing a post on organized traveling. I don’t blame you. But I assume you are a real person, not a robot, and get that life is a gray scale. Um, except if you live on Pinterest or Instagram. Then forget everything I said and stop peering into the photo of our plastic drawers and trying to see if the piles of clothes are all tidy… because they aren’t. ; )
Those are a few of our best travel practices that we’ve come up with over the years. What are some of yours?
Also, we are gearing up for a longer road trip (5 hours: I know, this is laughable by American standards) and would love fresh ideas on how to make it a great trip. What would you suggest?
3 thoughts on “Traveling with four kids, ages six and under.”
Hey are you guys going to be near Michigan at all?
Sent from my iPhone
love these suggestions, Heidi! It makes me wish we could start again with young kids… well, not really!
We also found the point of kids having their own backpacks and even pack their own suitcases very freeing. Around age 3 Our youngest was able to use a packing list with drawings. For everyone who can read I use the same spreadsheet and just redo the numbers and print out a few columns for each kid. (If you make a new tab for each trip, it serves as a historical record, too!) We have learned to check the packed items. And I mean learned from experiences– children with no underwear (which for appearance sake is actually the best thing to forget!) or no pajamas (my fault because I first forgot to put them on the list!)
I love your plastic drawers and shower caddy idea!
For car travel, magnetic drawing pads are great… and a few small toys they play imaginative games with… our kids loved little realistic animals, or random McD’s happy meal toys we acquired on the way. We found audio books great… when they worked. You may be in the hard stage where your 6yo is ready for stories but nobody else will be engaged. Family sing-a-longs…. We eat while driving so that stoppage time is for running around. Balls, baseball gloves, jumpropes for the breaks. The kids tolerate heat for 20 min of activity better than we do, and then we all enjoy the cool car! (Beach balls are one of my favorite travel items for air travel as well. Our oldest once had some great interactions with businessmen walking the (mostly deserted) enclosed bridge from the Frankfurt Hilton to the airport. So fun to see their spontaneous play despite their suits!… if you can find a quiet corner it’s amazing how fun bouncing or kicking can be.)
Kara, I like the idea of having a packing list for the kids and having balls for the rest stops and quiet corners. I also like to have a small bottle of bubbles stashed away as we travel. Bubbles make everyone smile.