By the time our twin daughters were 2, they were big-time travelers. We had flown to Florida and Hawaii and made lots of car trips. When they were 3, we visited grandparents in Denver. At age 4 we hit Disneyland. At 5, Mexico. At 6, Alaska.
But then our younger set of twins was born. We stopped taking major trips. Then we stopped taking any trips 18 months later when our youngest daughter was born. With five kids, three of them under age 3, it was a trip just to stay home.
But now the youngest is nearing age 3, the little twins are 4, the big twins 10, and we've almost recovered our sanity.
This year we took all five kids, plus a 13-year-old cousin on vacation. We crammed everyone and everything (including three car seats and three bikes) into, or onto, our van and we headed out.
It wasn't a calm vacation, but it wasn't the worst we'd ever gone on. Cousin Sarah and big twins Kendra and Shaina took turns being the "designated buddies" of Aaron and Lili and Shoshana, so that we parents had free hands some of the time.
Each big kid was assigned a little kid. Whether we were wandering down a wooded path, splashing at the beach, making potty runs, eating meals or touring, whenever we yelled "buddies," the big kids would collect their little kids.
Although we love long car trips where we head out without motel reservations, we choose destination vacations these days so we don't have to worry about finding enough beds, good swimming or other kid-necessities when we're all tired.
L Here are some ways that we made recent trips more enjoyable:
* Before the trip we hold a family powwow to talk about where we're going and what we'll do.
* A pre-trip shopping trip is made with an eye to kid-pleasing goods such as books, squirt guns and individual snacks plus a good supply of sunscreen, flashlight batteries, sunglasses, wet wipes, first-aid supplies and, if we're going to see relatives or other important folk, one new outfit, not to be worn until we get there.
* Each child has a medium-sized duffel bag for clothing and a small backpack for snacks, small toys, books and a water-filled canteen (or bottle for the 2-year-old). Washable markers (crayons melt in hot cars) and coloring books are great for most ages. The older kids have diaries to write in. Cards, magnetic checkers and other travel games can keep kids busy, as can a book of sing-along songs.
* On long trips each child gets a Walkman-type tape player with earphones and music and story tapes of his/her choice and a flashlight for reading or playing after dark.
* We take a waterproof duffel just for swimsuits, towels, water socks, sun lotion, mats and other swim stuff, so that a spur-of-the-moment quick beach stop doesn't mean digging through everyone's bags. I also put a clothesline and clips in the duffel.
* We all carry key-chain whistles so that if someone gets separated he/she doesn't have to shout. Three sharp whistles means "Everyone back to the car, pronto!"
* Each child wears an ID bracelet and all have been thoroughly briefed on what to do if they get lost -- but no briefing can really prepare a 2- or 4-year-old, so we assign each one to an older buddy.
* We take a "travel essentials" kit-- a small laundry basket packed with first-aid supplies and our battered copy of "Baby and Child A to Z Medical Handbook," a Swiss army knife, a small sewing kit, an indelible marker, masking tape, an extension cord, night lights to scare monsters from hotel rooms, lots of plastic bags (for everything from dirty diapers to shell collections).
* A baby monitor or portable intercom helps if you have two roomsin a motel.
* If we travel by day we often choose back roads or out-of-the-way routes with interesting side-stops rather than boring freeways.
Finally, our best parent-sanity travel tip: We take at least one parents-only and one parents-with-big-kids-only vacation each year, even if it's only an overnight getaway to a nearby hotel with pool.
We deserve it.