7 Things that Make Family Travel Easier

I know that school is beginning soon enough for most of us, but as I’m preparing for a family pilgrimage to Spain and Fatima, I thought I’d share some of those things that have made traveling with the whole family far more manageable — dare I say, even enjoyable?

To be honest, I love the adventure of traveling with my kids — but it’s not easy.  A few years back, we made a little shift in our mindset about traveling and it has made all the difference for us.

It’s hard to believe, but just recognizing that family trips aren’t easy or relaxing has helped tremendously.  Honestly, if you keep your expectations low, you are going to be a lot happier in the end.  Yep, just expect the worst, and you won’t be disappointed. 🙁

In recent years, we’ve taken it one step further.  We’ve decided to try to make all of our trips pilgrimages of sorts.  Deciding to take a family pilgrimage, rather than just a vacation,  has actually helped to keep perspective when those inevitable moments of difficulty comes our way.

Let’s be honest, traveling with 6 kids is going to be full of trials and tribulations — might as well get some grace from it.  Surprisingly, the very worst moments always end up being real moments of grace, looking back.  More on that in a future post.

You might be wondering, what exactly separates a pilgrimage from a family vacation?  In a nutshell we try to get to Mass as often as possible, we say the rosary daily, and we target one pilgrimage site as part of our trip.

That little shift has made the inevitable difficulties just a part of our pilgrimage, and an important one at that!

What we didn’t expect, was the joy that came with that shift.  I must say the “highs” of travel seems to be higher when you’re in it together — as a family — on pilgrimage.

And it’s so good to be reminded that we’re all pilgrim people on  a journey back home to our Father.  It has transformed our approach to the family “vacation”.

That’s the spiritual side of approaching family travel, but there’s also a practical side.  There are those practical things that have helped to make our trips a “success”.  We definitely have a list of “must bring” things that make it all work.

I thought I’d share our travel must-have’s with you.  So without further ado, I give you 7 Things That Make Family Travel Easier.  Hope they help.


The Itinerary

Our attitude is not just, “Let’s see where God leads us” — no, no, no.  That would be disastrous.  There are so many moving parts with 8 people having to take planes, trains, and automobiles to get to our destinations that I have actually started planning out an itinerary to keep us on track.

It’s actually fun to do the research ahead of time, and it really helps to give enough structure to ensure we’re going to make the most of our time in whatever our location happens to be.

Doing the research ahead of time, purchasing tickets so that you don’t show up at the train station with no seats available, finding the great restaurants that don’t cost an arm and a leg, mass times at local churches, events that might be going on — the itinerary proves invaluable.


The Stroller

This stroller was a life-saver on so many occasions

I have to give a shout-out to my friend, Karen.  A few days before our trip last year, she offered to lend us this stroller.  We had some archaic stroller that wouldn’t have lasted a day on the cobblestone streets of Rome.  What a generous offer.

This thing was amazing.  It fits two tired children.  They loved sitting in it, and it carries all of our little bags, water bottles, etc.  It’s a Phil and Ted’s Escape.  We loved it so much that we found a second-hand version similar to this on craigslist.

Ours looks a little worse for the wear, but to be honest I prefer that.  No would-be thief is going to bother  us — with our duct-taped handlebar grips, mis-matched back seat, and stained stroller.  They know they’re barking up the wrong tree if they try to rob us.


The Carrier

Beco “Cool” lives up to it’s name.

Again, this thing has proved invaluable when you are walking in a place that isn’t very stroller friendly.  It keeps babies close when they’re tired, and it does allow for relatively good airflow.  You can also carry the baby on your back and it has a sun screen to cover the baby’s head when he’s sleeping.

It’s a toddler Beco “cool”.  I’ve even carried a three year old down the cliffs of Positano with this thing.  It’s pretty sturdy.  Good thing to have with littles.

It also nicely fits both John or I, so it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who will be sweating with a baby attached to me in the 90 degree heat.


Emergency Food

Honestly, these things kept us going on several occasions.

Last year, we had a major disaster getting off to Italy.  We ended up in Finland — and we had no cash on hand so we resorted to eating our protein bar stash to keep us going an entire day.

Also, there were moments when these protein bars just gave us that extra boost until we could find real food.  Besides, I get “hangry” when I don’t eat — so all the more reason to keep these things on hand.

And the fruit snacks — who doesn’t like these?  I realize that they have no nutritional value, but they will keep our baby occupied for at least 15 minutes — and sometimes that 15 minutes is gold.


Fun Distractions for Long Flights

The kids always look forward to the special books and treats that they find in their backpacks on the morning of the flight.  We have some basics:  cars, coloring books, puzzle books, and even a few DVD’s for the little ones.

Little Kid Distractions…
Middle Kid Distractions…

These just make for fun little moments and it really helps us when we are feeling super tired or need a break to regroup.

Typically, I try to find books for the littles that will give them a little more information on where they are going. I actually often learn a thing or two when I find myself reading them to the kids as well. Win/Win.


The Elusive Sleep

Never sleep much, but even a few hours can make a big difference.

We fly in steerage, so there’s not a lot of sleep to be had, but whatever might help us to get even a little sleep is worth bringing along.

Eye patches, ear plugs, whatever might help.  Throw any sense of pride out the window, sleep however you can.  We bring little pillow for our kids and we hope for the best.  It’s never fun, but fits in well with the pilgrimage aspect.

As an aside, I did a lot of research last year, knowing I’d have a nursing baby in my arms for most of the flight.  I found the Trtl Pillow.  It works like a turtle neck.  It does a decent job of supporting your head so you can sleep in a sitting position.  I give it an 8/10.

Ironically, a few days before our trip last year, one of my girls took it to her room to try out — and never brought it back. Two nights before we left, I stayed up until 3am looking for it.  So I actually lost sleep looking for that thing that was supposed to help me sleep better 🙁 .  Oh well.

Moral of the story,  keep all those things up high away from your kids and pack it at the last minute.


Duct Tape

Is there anything Duct Tape can not do?

Duct Tape.  It’s saved us on many an occasion.  Just last year, I used it to tape a window that wouldn’t lock in our hotel room.  Yes, I do realize it won’t actually keep anybody out, but I slept better knowing that at least I’d have time for an act of contrition before intruders could get through the tape.

But it serves so many other purposes too.  It has closed bags with broken zippers, patched tires and side-view mirrors, served as a “rolly-thing” for the baby.  It does just about everything.  Bring it.  You’ll most likely find a use for it.

Well, that’s about it.  I hope this encourages somebody out there to brave a family trip of their own.  Some of our fondest memories have been time together as a family experiencing the people and places that make our faith so darn amazing.

It doesn’t have to be in far off places, but if it happens to be, hope these tips make it that much more special for you.

Have a great weekend.

Linking Up With Kelly.

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