EXTREME Family Road Trips: Mom of 15 Tells All!

Large family road trips don’t have to be a logistical nightmare!

large family road trips

I am the mother of 15 children and I have not only gone on numerous road trips with my family, but I’ve actually been able to enjoy myself and relax while doing it.

Of course, this hasn’t happened by accident; there are a number of different elements to enjoying a large family road trip. First of all, it takes prayer. If you are familiar with my blog, you know that this is always where I begin! I am firmly convinced that, through Jesus, God has been able to give us numerous gifts, not only for the life to come, but for life on planet earth as well:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

James 1:5

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:

2 Peter 1:3

After prayer comes plenty of planning, planning, planning! After all, when a large family travels out of town for more than a few hours, it’s sort of like moving an entire army, and you know what they say in the army, everything is all about logistics.

“An army marches on its stomach.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

We started taking trips as a family when we had nine children, the oldest being only 14, and our stays were usually four or five nights at a time. This meant that I needed to plan for everything a family of at least 11 would need (we added more people as the years wore on) for at least six days, including on the road and at our destination.

Oh, and did I mention that we didn’t have a lot of extra money? The gas and the hotel were covered usually, but we needed to come up with food, clothing and all the other supplies we would need out of a budget that was already so stretched it screamed!

The very thought of traveling with our large family (with many young children) could have been overwhelming, but I knew that when I signed up for this job, I wasn’t alone, God promised that, if I trusted Him, He would always help me. I trusted, and the ideas began to flow. I started with a list of questions like these:

  • Traveling there and back–how would I keep a whole car full of tiny and not-so-tiny people happy, fed, and relatively clean on long trips?
  • Lodging–how would I be able to keep track of everyone, where would they all sleep, how would I keep them quiet?
  • Clothing–since this would be for a scheduled event where our family would be seen by others, how could I make sure my children looked well-dressed every day for every meeting? Since we hardly owned any luggage, how would we carry our clothing with us?

  • Food–eating out was way out of our budget, so how could I feed everyone in a hotel environment? How would I clean?
  • Entertainment (crowd-control)–besides bouncing on the beds and watching hours of questionable television, how could I keep the children, four of whom were boys, occupied?

Even though I had months before the actual event, I didn’t waste any time before planning and preparing. Almost immediately I began making lists and compiling all the extra items we would need, which is greatly recommended if one plans to take the best advantage of thrifting and sales to fill the list.

Traveling there and back:

We have owned a number of different vehicles over the years, from regular passenger cars to a Volkswagen van to a Suburban to a minivan to two 15 passengers (at one time we even owned a 1974 Crown Victoria station wagon with a 460 engine that I actually drag-raced another mom with, but that’s another story…). There were times when we doubled-up on seat belts, and even times when we traveled long distances with one child sitting on the wheel well. Generally, the kids loved riding together, and they seemed to keep each other occupied, although there were tricks I learned along the way that made our times on the road go a bit more smoothly.

gmc van


Would you believe I actually made up seating charts? This was really essential, since the tendency was for everyone to pile into the vehicle and squabble. If I made up a chart, and actually showed it to everyone and explained the reasons behind the assignments, there seemed to be less fussing (well, there were sometimes a few objections, but it was much better to handle any objection days before we actually got on the road!).

I tried to put each little child next to an older sibling who could watch over him/her. This person was also the “bathroom buddy” for pit stops (if necessary) and handled snacks, toys, etc.

No one owned any gadgets–we still don’t own many of those–but I wouldn’t have brought them, anyway. Too much to fret over; you know, loss, damage, and teens tuning out the rest of the family. Nope, the entertainment was run totally by the pilot and co-pilot or created in the old organic ways; sing-alongs, license-plate games, etc.

At one point we invested in covers for the seats, ones that allowed for seat belts, but there were times when old sheets were used (you have to be willing to cut holes in these). This is a wonderful save for upholstery!

In our van we hung a grocery bag at the end of each aisle for trash. We also carried a small broom for sweeping crumbs and dirt out periodically (I can ignore a little mess, but with our large crowd things can get out-of-hand in a hurry!).

We were sort of like the airlines; we allowed stowed “luggage” that wasn’t opened until we arrived, and a few small “carry-ons” which contained personal items (for the older children) and a few playthings for the younger ones. In fact, I had two separate packing lists; one for the hotel, one for the car. Here is what my packing list for the car contained:

  • Baby bag.

This included diapers, wipers, extra pacifier, change of clothing, bibs, snacks, diaper rash ointment, appropriate toys, etc. and even a change for the toddler, especially if potty training was new!

  • Kids’ bag.

This one was filled with things I had been squirreling away for months: Ziploc packages filled with balloons, bubble gum, small books that were new, tiny boxes of cheep crayons and homemade pads of paper (I would take discarded 8 1/2 by 11″ paper from my husband’s office, cut it up into fourths, then staple together 20 or so into small tablets–so much cheaper than purchasing small tablets for the children to scribble, doodle or even play games on), some cheap stickers, small baggies filled with individual snacks, etc.

  • A small cooler.

This one was for drinks, baby carrots, cheese sticks, sandwiches, or anything perishable we wanted to enjoy on the way.

  • A crate or box that would fit under the first row of seats for snacks.

This one contained chips, cookies, and anything else we would be needing immediately as we drove.

We also planned the trip out–we estimated when we would need to take potty breaks and fill up the gas tank, and so we tried and pick out our “pit-stops” in advance. This helped quite a bit, but there were times when someone just could not wait to go, so we had to change our plans (has anyone else been on a long stretch of flat, treeless, gas-station-less road and had little children who needed to use the rest room?).

large family road trips checklist

Believe it or not, we usually have traveled very well together. Even on our longest trip with infants and toddlers there just weren’t any mishaps to use as fun family stories (never even forgot a child at one of our rest stops–I made sure and count heads before we started each time!).

There is so much more I could share with you on this subject, like how we handled feeding everyone on a very limited budget, how we found and packed our clothing (with a tutorial), and how we kept the kids busy in the hotel, but I’m afraid it would make a huge, long, long post, so I think I will save at least some of the information for another time…look for it soon!


10 thoughts on “EXTREME Family Road Trips: Mom of 15 Tells All!”

  1. I’m curious how you handled the lodging. We no longer fit into one hotel room/tent space but getting two sure makes things expensive! We also no longer fit into our van so have to take the car and van on any trips 🙁

  2. We are a large family (11 children) who travels quite a bit too, and we do much of what you’ve written here and in the past. Just like you, I plan way in advance, buy new (used) clothes for the children, pack food and snacks, and a whole host of other things. But I can’t tell you how brilliant your pillowcase idea was! We’ve done two major trips in the last year and have used pillowcases as suitcases both times (for the children). I rolled everything up, labeled each outfit with a day, and those pillowcases went right under our benches….leaving us with tons of cargo space in the back! We’re traveling to TN in August for our second daughter’s wedding, so our pillowcases are getting a lot of use! 🙂

    This last trip to CA, I made a whole bunch of roast beef and cheddar sandwiches and put them in the freezer for the trip. The morning of our first day of travel, I stuck the sandwiches on the dash to thaw. By the time we got direct sunlight, it slightly heated the sandwiches which made them perfectly ready for lunch!

    Love all your wonderful ideas!


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