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5 Do’s and don’ts of traveling with a large family

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What an only child learned from his wife's childhood vacations.

As an only child, traveling always seemed like a breeze for my family when I was growing up. Only one kid to worry about packing for, keeping occupied on long road trips, and (most importantly), keeping track of en route to the destination.

When I married my wife—the 6th of seven children—I began to understand how traveling with more than one child is a completely different ballgame. Since then I’ve learned a lot about the do’s and don’ts of traveling with a big brood—mostly from the memorable stories of my wife’s family, and increasingly from my own experiences as my family continues to grow. These are five do’s and don’ts I now take to heart:

1. Do pack a bag with your clothes and take it with you to the airport

When you’re rushing out the door with a bunch of kids in tow, praying that you’ll be able to make it to the airport before the plane takes off, forgetting things seems par for the course.

When my wife was 8, the whole family was at the airport headed all the way to Australia when my brother-in-law (then in his early teens) asked his mom if someone had taken his bag. When she told him not to worry and that no one had stolen his suitcase, he clarified that he was asking if someone grabbed his bag from the house as they headed out the door to the airport.

They hadn’t, and he was left Down Under with nothing more than the clothes he was wearing on his back. For the whole trip, he had to borrow clothes from his brothers (luckily there were four boys in the family), but he only had one pair of shoes—his “church” shoes—that he had to wear for the entirety of the trip. Imagine walking around the Australian Zoo in loafers and oversized shorts!

2. Don’t leave your keys in the car while it’s running

We’ve all had the terrible experience of locking our keys in the car. For my wife’s family, locking the keys in the car was taken to a whole new level on a family trip to Austin.

After not being able to find the plane tickets (they were eventually found — in the trash) and with a Texas-sized rainstorm pounding down, they were running late to the airport, rushing as quickly as they could. As they barreled down the highway in an uncle’s car, they missed the exit and had to turn around, finally pulling up at departures and unloading everyone to begin the mad dash for the gate. In all the craziness, with the car still running and the windshield wipers running full tilt, the doors were all slammed shut — and locked. They had no choice but to push on and leave the car there.

An hour later, as the plane took off, my father-in-law glanced out the airplane window and could see the car still sitting there, running, windshield wipers going, even though the rain had stopped. It was hours until my wife’s uncle could get back to his car and drive it away from the airport.

3. Don’t forget to make sure your child doesn’t trade all his clothes for a skateboard

I’m not sure what it is about kids, but they always seem ready for a good trade. My kids are always looking to trade snacks, plates, and just about anything else because it always seems like the other sibling has the better end of the deal. Trading on vacations, however, far away from home, is a totally different matter.

While on an international trip, my brother-in-law met some local kids his age that were envious of the Vans and Levi’s he was wearing (this was the 80s, mind you) so he offered to trade them for their skateboard.

He’d been begging his parents for a skateboard forever with no “yes” in sight so when this opportunity presented itself, what other choice could he make? Thankfully, the kind soul who traded his skateboard was happy to also throw in his pair of generic shoes and pants so my brother-in-law could still get around.

4. Do feel comfortable handing your baby to the stranger on the airplane

Boarding an airplane with kids is always a stressful event. You’re walking into an enclosed area full of strangers, and are mortified that even the slightest misbehavior from your kids could sour the experience of another passenger — some of whom you may have to blindly rely on for help if an emergency pops up.

As my mother-in-law walked onto a plane with a baby and a toddler, the toddler decided it was a perfect time to throw up—right there on the floor in first class. As he spewed, my mother-in-law had no choice but to hand the baby to a stranger sitting near the incident with the simple instructions, “HERE!” while she attempted to clean up the malodorous mess.

When you have a big family, you have no choice but to rely on the kindness of strangers.

5. Don’t forget to have fun

Yes, traveling with a large family is stressful, strenuous, and tiring as all heck, but you have to remember that above all else, it’s fun! While there are sure to be difficult situations that arise as you do your best to successfully get your family from one destination to another, it’s important to remember that when you look back — just as my wife’s family looks back now on all of these stories– all you remember is how much fun the adventure was.

That’s right, world! Big families are fun! Even when the rental car keys fall to their death down a dingy elevator shaft, never to be seen again. (Yes, this also happened!)

 

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