Julie ColeI recently had the opportunity to chat with good friend, Julie Cole of Mabel’s Labels, about traveling with a large family.  Many of us out there are in the same boat…after two children, accommodation becomes more expensive, you worry about your sanity getting to your destination and let’s face it, you’re no longer man-on-man.  This busy mom of six children doesn’t let the number shy her away from exposing her kids to the world, she just gets creative and makes it happen.

Heather: Has family travel become more challenging as your family grows?

Julie:  As the mom of a biggie-sized family, there are many challenges with travel. Once we get over the sheer cost of paying for flights for a family of eight, we then have to strategize around seating arrangements so that the journey will be peaceful. Certain sibling combinations are louder than others.

Then there is the question of how to occupy them all. I have spent many, many hours following a toddler up and down the aisles.

Heather:  I completely understand the issue of seating arrangements.  Even with three, some days are better than others in certain arrangements…car, plane…even dinner.

What do you look for in a family vacation spot or destination?

Julie:  Apart from a trip overseas every second year, our travels are fairly basic. In the summer we go to our cottage, and in the winter we have a small place we rent in a ski village. What I love about both the cottage and the chalet is that I can “move in” at the beginning of the season. It makes my job as chief packer and organizer a lot easier. It’s also great that our entire family can fit into one location – when we travel elsewhere, we have to book two hotel rooms, two condos, etc.

In Australia we’ve done beach holidays and farm stays. The beach is great – kids play cricket on the beach at night and boogie board and body surf all day long. Little ones putter around in the sand playing, building castles and running into the surf. At the farm, they actually do farm work – help round up the sheep, collect the eggs, etc. They are out farming all day long.

Julie Cole2Recently my three big kids were on a cruise performing with their dance group. I never thought of myself as a cruise person, but I’m now convinced – so many activities…..both organized by age group and they could do their own thing – swim, mini-putt, rock climb – the list goes on and on! Regardless of our destination, it must be jam packed with activities to keep my active crew moving- I want them to fall into bed each night and the adults can have a glass of wine in peace!

Heather:  I’m just now starting to experience hotels telling us we need two rooms now that my kids are getting a little older.  It’s tough spending money on two rooms, when really, they’d all be happy on the floor in sleeping bags in our room!  Slumber party!  Ok, not so romantic, but you get my drift.  We’ve started booking private homes through Airbnb.com for some of our vacations, in order to avoid the extra hotel rooms and to let the kids have space.  I like your cottage/chalet idea.

How important is family travel to you?  How do you help your children remember their travel experiences?

Julie:  We pull our kids out of school for one month every two years to travel overseas. The lessons are countless. Whenever we travel, our kids have three tasks: they must keep a journal, they keep a treasure box to put in little finds such as shells and other goodies, and they each get a disposable camera and can take photos to put in a scrapbook.

Heather:  So glad to hear that travel experiences for you can be just as, if not more valuable, than the month of school missed.  Yes, this coming from a teacher, I fully support doing it.  I love the treasure box idea…that keeps them busy throughout the whole trip…looking for the special tokens to take home.

What are your top baby/toddler/tween item must-haves for travel?  How do you entertain your children on plane rides or car trips?

Julie:  I’ve got loads! For the month prior to a long flight, children are not allowed to play on iPods or Nintendo DS games. As we board the plane, I hand over their devices with a new game for each of them. The three tweens put their heads down and I don’t see them again.

As for the little ones, always be prepared for a random vomit or diaper explosion. I always travel with a car seat so that I can strap an active toddler in properly for meal times and to sleep. Make sure you have plenty of food along for the ride, and be sure to talk to your pharmacist – a bit of melatonin may help wound up but sleepy kids drift off into slumber – which is what every travelling mom hopes for!

Heather:  Funny how technology can make a trip so much more peaceful, isn’t it?  As for the car seat, it was a must with us when my kids were under 2.  Every flight went so much better when the toddler was strapped into something familiar and was able to sleep.  Thank you so much for sharing your personal experiences with us, hopefully helping moms of large families get the courage to travel with their own children.

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