So what's it like to go on a road trip with a family of ten? I will tell you what it's like for us.
I am so grateful for our new van! It was wonderful to have all ten of us in one vehicle. It was a huge game-changer in an unexpected way: the way we configured the car seats left most of the back bench open. I found that I could climb back there and curl up in a ball on the seat and Sleep while the Badger was driving. That meant that by the end of the long day in the car I wasn't all headachey and stiff-necked. This was huge for me.
We had the Rabbit on the first bench next to the twins. On the second bench was Roo, Frog, and then either Bean or Fish. On the back bench we had Peanut in the corner and then either Bean or Fish. Bean and Fish traded off at every stop; the back was a lot more comfortable than the middle bench. And when I wanted the back for a nap, either Bean or Fish got to ride up front.
Our car was stuffed to the gills. Duffel bags, pillows and blankets, jackets, "entertainment bags" for the drive (each kid packed their own small bag), coolers and boxes of snack foods, and that was all on top of all the camping gear we brought. Somehow we fit it all in, thanks to some serious Badger talent. All the little kids had a ton of stuff down by their feet... good thing they have short legs.
We have never had a DVD player in our car, and none of the kids had electronics. I am old-fashioned that way. We do love audiobooks though, and on the way home we all got totally absorbed in Anne of Green Gables, which made me very happy. Usually we end up listening to either The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, and while I love those I was kind of wanting a change.
We also like to listen to music. I must say our tastes are rather atypical. I prefer classical (Bach's Brandenburg concertos are a top pick) and the Badger is likely to turn on Kenneth Cope. And then there are a couple of CD's that have become beloved road trip traditions for us. One is an album of Irish folk music by The High Kings. The other is a mix we have put together of various really old cowboy songs: stuff like The Streets of Laredo and Home on the Range. You should hear us all sing along!
Also, sometimes we just sing. It's fun to let everyone take turns picking a song for us all to sing. I love it now that we're starting to get some harmony, and sometimes we sing rounds, which the kids really love.
We try to eat as cheaply as possible on the road, and we try not to be too unhealthy, but it's hard when you're traveling. For breakfast we might have granola bars, yogurt, bananas, and hard-boiled eggs. For lunch, we stock the cooler with lunch meat and sliced cheese, and the Badger kindly makes sandwiches while I drive because he knows it makes me carsick. For snacks we have crackers (maybe goldfish, wheat thins, triscuits, or graham), cheese sticks, baby carrots, grapes, or apples. Usually I make a batch or two of oatmeal raisin cookies before the trip to eat in the car but not this time.
We usually stop and get one hot meal each day. That is not cheap with a big family, especially since the Badger and I don't like most of the cheap fast food places. On the way out we hit Qdoba in Denver, which I appreciated because it was relatively healthy (whole wheat tortilla, brown rice, black beans, fresh salsa) but it cost $50 to feed the whole crew and the little ones didn't really like their food and had to be coaxed to eat it (which is unusual in my family: my kids are not very picky.) On the way back we did the Qdoba in Denver thing again only we just got food for Birrd, Badger, Bean, and Fish and then we went next door to Wendy's and got junior burgers for everyone else. It was less than $35 that way.
We also discovered that a $10 gas station pizza is a decent cheap meal if you round it out with car snacks. A $10 Costco pizza is even better if you can catch a Costco.
We don't buy drinks when we eat out, or usually any time really. But I do buy a case of bottled water (not something I normally buy) and stick it in the car. It makes keeping everyone hydrated on the road super easy.
Something new for us this trip was having four kids with spending money who wanted to buy candy and gum and junk at every gas station we stopped at. This was a bit of a challenge. They were pretty good about sharing it with their siblings, but I would have preferred not to have had candy and gum in the car. Especially gum. Gum is not my friend.
Even hyped up on sugar, my kids are good travelers. I don't know if I did anything to make them that way, but they just are. They are pretty content in the car most of the time, and they are good about making quick potty stops and getting back on the road right away. We never did longer than 8 hours driving time in a day on this trip, but twice we managed 8 hours of driving in 9 hours, which I think is pretty remarkable. I think we could do 12 hours of driving pretty easily (we were going to do 12 the first day driving home, but we ran into a blizzard in Denver!) I wouldn't want to do more than about 12 hours of driving in a day though. The Badger and I don't have the stamina for that.
The twins were so good, and I think it was because they had each other sitting there in the car. They were pretty cute when we got to the motel on our drive out: they just kept running up and down the length of the room and giggling. They would stop in the middle and hug and babble at each other, and then they would be off running and giggling again. They had not been unhappy in the car, but they were thrilled now that they were out!
Oh yes, motels. Over the years we have stayed in some pretty cheap, scuzzy motels, since we are always on a tight budget. Then when we moved out here and the Badger's company was paying for it, we got to stay in nicer places like the Hampton Inn. It kind of spoiled me, and I thought, how can I go back to budget motels after this? But money is still tight, so we went looking for a serious cheap-o place. We found one-- it even had bars on the office windows!-- but we didn't have a good feeling about it. We ended up at the Days Inn nearby, which was much nicer and only $10 a night more, but still a good $40/night cheaper than the Hampton. I was happy.
So that's a picture of what it's like to road trip with us. I will say one more thing and that is that the trip out is always smoother and more pleasant than the return trip. On the way back people get cranky and tired of traveling and the whole deal has just lost its sparkle. But that just makes it all the more wonderful to be home again!