Our van was great. There was enough room for just two kids on each row and plenty of room in the back for luggage. It is a 15 passenger van but we took out the back row. With the back row of seats in there is no room for luggage. We had portable DVD players and extra outlet plugs for electronic equipment.
Putting the clothing in bags was a great suggestion. Before we put the clothing in the bags I had each kid try on their outfits to make sure that they fit, were appropriate and matched. There were some issues after the half-way point when we did laundry and we hadn't kept all the bags. Some of my kids just can't match. But at least they all fit.
All my kids have their own small suitcases. Overall this was fine. However, when moving to a lot of different hotels it got annoying. For the trip back we determined what they would need for three days and combined it into one suitcase. That way at each stop there was less to unpack and repack.
Hotels, we stayed in places with either a suite with two rooms or we reserved two hotel rooms. Our best hotel experience by far was a two bedroom, two bath suite outside of Chicago (Staybridge Suites). We prefer suites over two separate rooms because of safety and communication. When we had two rooms Sarah stayed with the girls in one room and John and I shared the other room with the boys so there was an adult in both rooms. If Sarah hadn't been along we wouldn't have had the option of doing two rooms unless they were joined. Although we tried to get joined rooms anyways it was difficult.
Years ago when travelling we would drive until we were tired. We would stop and get a hotel. However, in the past few years we have noticed that more and more hotels would be booked. Most of our stops were pre-planned and we had reservations. Coming out of Canada we did not have a reservation since we weren't sure of our plans at that time. We did have a problem finding a hotel and had to travel further to find one.
Even with reservations you just don't know. We made our reservation for Chicago in April. They called us while we were at Niagara Falls to see if we still wanted our rooms, they were full and wanted to make sure we were coming. One reservation we made through Expedia and when we got to the hotel Expedia hadn't sent our reservation. They did take the money our of our account. Thankfully there were rooms available (rural area) so we were able to get our rooms. I do need to contact them, the hotel charged us less that what Expedia took out of our account. Thankfully that was the only hotel we had booked with Expedia.
On this trip we actually stayed with family for a few days. It was great and the best way to connect with family we don't see often. It was also a stressful time. We had to ensure that our kids didn't damage anything. We watched Emma manipulate them and when we pointed it out they said it was OK. Most concerning for us was our baby. The house wasn't child proofed and they lived on a river. Beautiful home and property.....and Benjamin knows how to open doors. At hotels we could lock the door and he was safe. We used our transfer method at their house to keep him safe. In our transfer method a specific person is responsible for him. Even if 15 people are sitting outside with him, one specific person is responsible. If they having been watching him for a while they transfer the responsibility. You ask another person if they can now be responsible and make sure that they respond back to you their acceptance. He is a fast mover and loves water so that was very important.
Staying with family gave us a break from hotel breakfasts. The free breakfast is great. We are pros with flipping the waffle machines. However, I must admit that even I got tired of the food choices. It is amazing how similar they are at all the different hotels. Some have a little more choices with fruit and yogurt and such. However I personally don't like the way the eggs and meat are prepared. I mostly do the waffle and fruit if offered. Naturally the kids loved the buffet style eating and seemed to like the eggs.
We found that when driving the best daily mileage was 350-400 miles/day. It was also best if the day ended somewhere were everyone could get out and walk around. Even when we drove longer we stopped and did something physical at some point. The Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was at a great stopping point. We waked around Niagara Falls another night. For travelling through we visited a Children's Museum and visited Rock City. We tried to do as much physical activity as possible. I loved using roadtrippers.com to find places. I also used that program when we decided to make some small changes to our trip.
The kids behavior wasn't bad. They had some squabbles and Benjamin a few tantrums, but nothing severe. Nothing really out of the range of normal. I think that my biggest concern is the children s sense of entitlement. Also, they didn't seem aware that some of the homes that we visited didn't have ice machines and such. I see a need to work on these issues more. More on that issue in another post. Actually, we saw adults acting worse than our kids.
We had planned ahead and collected change and dollars. When travelling up north we always spend a lot on tolls. I don't miss them one bit! We don't have any around here in the south. It got old spending up to $4.50 just to cross a bridge. Stopping at toll booths is also a loss of time. I guess that spending a lot of money on them can allow me to appreciate that I live an an area without them.
Overall we had a great trip. We visited all the relatives we planned on seeing (and even a few extras) and saw a lot of great places. I loved driving along the corn fields and looking at the different architecture.
We made sure that we ate at places that we don't have here.
And yes, we got stared at. Actually it was so obvious that the kids asked me why people were staring at us. I tell them that people are curious because we have so many kids and to just smile back.
Now we are planning for our next trips. Tubing/rafting trip next summer in NC and a cruise in December.
Stare if You Must