Large Family Traveling Logistics – Controlling the Chaos

Posted: under Traveling with children.
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Gathering luggage – St. Croix airport, 2007



In May my husband and I succeeded in traveling to seven parks in nine days with our nine children and a babysitter.  It was no small feat, and every previous family vacation was a rehearsal for this “big one”.  How did we do it?  I hope to share a few bits of wisdom.  I wish a had more pictures to share of things we did to simplify the complications, but at those busy times, photography was the last thing on my mind.  Instead, I shall fill in the white spaces of places we have traveled with children.  Yes, it can be done!





Grand Cayman, 2007

1.  When navigating an airport, I dress my children all in matching shirts.  You would think the older children would balk, but they actually seem to possess, instead, a “team spirit”, making the whole ordeal more fun.  The shirts allow me to quickly find children who might stray from the group, but they also enable others to identify us as a group traveling together.  One of the benefits of that is having your family singled out and moved to a shorter line for quicker processing.  That has happened more than twice.

Rum Point, Grand Cayman, 2011

2.  All domestic airports require you to remove your shoes for security screening.  Allow your younger children to wear quick, slip on shoes such as Crocs.  There is nothing like tying ten shoes or needing a shoe horn to dampen your spirits and increase your stress level.  Oh, and make sure your children can walk comfortably and quickly in the shoes they wear.  Airport transfers routinely require lengthy and brisk walks.

Island hopping with son, Bonaire and Curacao, 2007

3.  For domestic flights, allow at least one hour between connections.  Even small delays can make it impossible for you to disembark from one flight and get to the next gate in time.  For international flights, allow at least two hours.

Magic Kingdom, Orlando, FL 2011

4.  When you arrive at an airport, go immediately to find your gate.  Do not buy lunch.  Do not browse for magazines.  Do not try on sunglasses.  Find your gate and check your departure time. Sometimes, for different reasons, flights are moved to a different gate.  You do not want to wait until boarding time to discover that the flight you expected to leave from A 12 is now leaving from C 28, and you will have to get a bus to transfer you there.

Edison Winter Estate, Ft. Myers, FL, 2008

5.  Pack each child’s clothing into a carry-on sized bag and specifically limit what they are to bring.  Our trip to Utah and Arizona required us to change hotels often.  We did not possess the time or space to empty and repack the contents of a suitcase each day.

Wilhemstadt, Curacao 2007

6.  Make a specific list of what children are to pack. Be specific:  9 pairs of socks, 9 pairs of underwear, 1 rain jacket, 1 warm sweater or sweatshirt, 2 pairs of pants, 1 pair of shorts, 3 short-sleeved shirts, 2 long-sleeved shirts…

Dayton, TN 2009

7.  Lay the clothes out together and make sure there are outfits that match.  Expect multiple wears out of clean clothing.

George L. Smith State Park, Metter, GA 2009

8.  You will probably want to take photographs of your children when you travel, so you may want to make sure they selected clothing that actually looks good.  My boys all seem to have favorite shirts that they want to live in and somehow the older ones seem to smuggle them into their bags.  At least I can limit the choices for the little ones.

St. Croix, 2007 (I was six months pregnant)

9.  Pack each child’s socks and underpants into individual bags and LABEL THEM.  While the 3-year-old may have no qualms about wearing the 9-year-old’s underpants, the older child will likely be unwilling to squeeze into the younger child’s size 2T Superman undies.

Brevard, NC 2008

10.  Check as many bags as you can.  We flew Delta to Las Vegas, and because we have a Delta card, we were able to check up to 9 pieces of luggage without additional charge.  That made it a lot easier to board our aircraft and to make our connection.  We didn’t have to expend the time and effort getting carry-on pieces out of the overhead bins.

Turtle Farm, Grand Cayman, 2011

11.  Because checked luggage can easily be lost or delayed, pack one outfit for each child into a backpack to be carried onto the plane.

Tybee Beach, GA 2010

12.  Make a  detailed list of your luggage and to whom it belongs:  1. Blue Samsonite – Catherine, 2. Black LL Bean – Andrew, etc.  List also what bags will be carried on, including handbags.  When you are amassing a heap of luggage at the airport, it is tough to keep a count of the bags.   And you can not expect little ones to accurately recollect that their bags have arrived or remember what they looked like.  Check that list!  Then re-use it every time you change hotels.

"King of the Mtn." on an anchor, Beaufort, SC 2010

13.  Identical ribbons or strips of fabric tied to luggage handles make bag identification simple.  Do you have any idea how many identical black bags there are on any given flight?

Ziplines, Roatan, Honduras, 2009


14.  Airports are designed to ease the rapid transport of large groups of people. For that reason, there are lots of signs.  Take a moment to explain to your children how to read the signs.  Engage them in actively looking for the right path, whether to the next gate, the luggage carousel, the parking lot.  This is an important skill, and will greatly reduce traveling anxiety if they should ever need to fly alone.

Scuba diving, Marathon, FL 2006

15.  You will undoubtedly encounter various clerks with a wide range of competency levels.  Sometimes you will need to “educate” them about the plan you have purchased.  Always, always bring a paper copy that spells out of terms and conditions of  your purchase.  For our 20th wedding anniversary, my husband flew us business class via KLM to go hiking in France.  The airline representative in Nice had never before seen anyone checking baby items (stroller, car seat, back pack) on business class and was quite clueless as to our allowance.  Paper-proof brought quick order to the situation.  Furthermore many airlines and hotels offer specials online, but don’t communicate what you purchased with the reservation.  I had the misfortune of having to stay in three different Courtyard by Marriot hotels in a five week time period.  In each hotel, the front desk had no record that I had purchased a breakfast buffet with my room.  Having to dig up proof each time was wearisome, to say the least.  Finally, the last hotel clerk explained to me, “We have no idea what specials they run online. No one ever tells us.”  The burden of proof may be on you.  Print it off and bring it along!

Hiking in Provence, France 2010

16.  If you require special accommodations at a hotel, call them when you are en route to communicate that you are on your way.  Perhaps you require wheelchair accessibility or a baby crib.  My older daughter plays a harp, and so when we travel with her harp, we request ground floor rooms in hotels with stairs.  There was nothing quite like arriving in a Courtyard by Marriot a few years ago without my husband,  with 8 children and a cooler full of food and discovering upon arrival that not only had they given away the suite with a refrigerator that I had reserved, but also they had placed my children and me in rooms on separate floors!  Now I make it a habit to call:  “Hello, I have reservations, we are on our way and will be arriving after supper time.  I reserved a baby crib.  Could you make sure that a crib is saved for me?  I will have a car load of very sleepy children…”

Kauai, Hawaii 2006

17.  Traveling can be stressful. Connections can be missed, flights cancels, luggage lost.  The people we encounter across the desk spend all day dealing with anxious and angry people.  It is a tough job, and I wouldn’t want to do it.  Treat them with courtesy. A calm voice, a genuine smile, and a kind “thank you” are the right way to interact with clerks, competent or otherwise.  It is the right thing to do.

Because we are a large family, many people observe us that we do not ourselves notice.  Our behavior is a testimony of whom we serve.  It is my hope that people will see how much we love Christ by how we love others.


Comments (2) Aug 15 2011

Wheelchair/Stroller Friendly Day Trips from Savannah

Posted: under Day trips, Traveling with children.
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Car loaded - ready for adventure!

A dear friend asked for my insight on traveling with children.  Her oldest son requires a wheelchair, and she wanted to know if I could recommend “outdoorsy” trips that her family could enjoy, given the limitations of his wheelchair.  While I have never had a child in a wheelchair, I have pushed a child in a stroller almost daily for twenty years now!  There is a side of me that is always looking for a ramp!

I thought long and hard about outdoorsy day trips, and what would make such a trip a success. I came up with three major requirements.

1.  Destination reachable in less than 3 hours.

An ideal schedule might be to awaken at 7 a.m., be on the road by 8, and arrive at the destination before 11.  That would include time for a bathroom break.  Also the timing would increase the likelihood that babies would be lulled comfortably into a morning nap.

I do not feed my children fast food, so I would rather have a picnic lunch in the car upon arrival.  Not only is that economical, but it is comforting to the children to eat familiar foods.

After the adventure, we aim to be  back on the road by 3 or 4 p.m.  The car is filled with weary, ready-to-nap children,  and we arrive home for supper and a comfortable night in our own beds.

2. The Schlepping Factor

It is important that the effort required for the trip not overwhelm the joy of the experience.    Parking must be safe and readily available.  Few things will dampen your adventurous spirits like having to park in a seedy section of town, or discovering that parking requires a form of payment that you do not have, like quarters-only parking meters.

Wheelchair accessibility is required.  “Paved” does not necessarily mean wheelchair or stroller friendly.  Last spring my husband and I visited France with our 10-week-old daughter.  Our first day we hiked from a seaside town called Menton to the Principality of Monaco.  The five mile “stroll” was on a path that the guide book described as paved and easy.  Since my daughter was travel-weary, we chose to use a stroller.  Big mistake!  The guide book failed to mention the many times we would be required to carry the stroller up and down dozens of stairs.  Working together, we could do it, but it wasn’t pleasant for my baby girl.  Once we arrived at Monte Carlo the path was luxurious and the trip was worthwhile.  But we could not bear the idea of dragging her stroller up and down the path to Menton again, so we took a train.

Path to Monaco

Breath-taking Monte Carlo


How difficult will it be to navigate your family through the trip?  It can frustrating to try to compete with hordes of tourists (such as at the Savannah Saint Patrick’s Day Parade), or  constantly have to lift a child up so that he or she can see.  Everything worth doing requires effort, but not every outing is worth the effort.  There must be balance.

3.  Memory-making Potential

A good close view - Alligator Farm

Are the children able to interact in a way that makes the trip meaningful? A trip to a fine art museum may be comfortably climate-controlled and wheelchair accessible, but may fail to impress young children.  Similarly a trip to a historic site may engage older children but require a level of restraint for younger children that would make it unpleasant or inappropriate.  The goal is to have fun and make memories, right?  The places I recommend are not only child-friendly, but are perfectly suited to accommodate noise and wiggles.

Recommended Day Trips from Savannah, Georgia

1. The Alligator Farm in Saint Augustine, Florida

The Alligator Farm

Beautiful, historic Saint Augustine holds the possibility of adventure for people of all ages!  It is one of my favorite destinations to recommend for a romantic, weekend get-away for two.  It also offers many kid-pleasing possibilities.  And what could be more exciting that visiting the Alligator Farm!

The Alligator Farm is a zoological park that features every kind of known crocodilian.  There are familiar American Alligators as well as exotic crocodiles, garials, and caimans.  The park also houses other reptiles, exotic birds, and monkeys.  A nice path leads through a rookery, a large swampy area where wild birds come to nest.  These birds are protected from natural predators, such as raccoons, by the throngs of alligators that lounge about the tree roots.  It really is a sight to behold.

Gators guard the rookery

Educational and entertaining programs are offered at different times of the day, but the event not to be missed is Alligator Feeding Time!  Even if you leave the park to eat or visit somewhere else, it is worth getting your hands stamped so that you can return to see this spectacle.

Mesmerized at feeding time

It appears to me that the Alligator Farm was designed to accommodate the whole family.  The paths are concrete or wooden plank, the enclosures make viewing accessible to small children, and even the bathrooms have changing stations.  I think it is a hit.  What could be more thrilling and memorable than alligators of all shapes and sizes?

The St. Augustine lighthouse is a short distance from the Alligator Farm.  I have walked to it, but I would not recommend it.  The path lacks continuous sidewalks, and it can be a congested area for traffic.     I have climbed the lighthouse several times.  It is expensive and younger are not allowed to climb.  It is worth driving by the lighthouse, because it is really a beautiful sight.

St. Augustine Lighthouse

St. Augustine is rich in history and natural beauty.  An Old Town Trolley Tour is an excellent way to visit the city without having to get in and out and in and out of the car.  You can get tickets at the newly-renovated Visitor’s Center and ride the guided tour to see Flagler College, the Castille de San Marcos, the Spanish Quarter,  the Fountain of Youth, and other points of interests.  My children thoroughly enjoyed the trolley tour, perhaps primarily because they got to see the whole city without having to pound the pavement on a hot summer day.


2.  The Jacksonville Zoo

Jacksonville Zoo

The Jacksonville Zoo is not huge;  its size will not overwhelm you.  Yet given its modest size, it possesses a fabulous and interesting collection of animals.  The enclosures are constructed for clear viewing and there is an observation area, the Giraffe Overlook, where you can even pet the head of a giraffe.

Giraffe Overlook

Up close and personal







An aviary excited  my children.  They were able to pet and feed exotic birds.

Aviary at Jax Zoo

Feeding the birds








My favorite specimen was an anteater.  In all the zoos I have visited, I have never before seen an anteater up close.  My husband, however, was charmed by the kudus, which explains why I have lots of photographs of kudus and none of the anteater.

Kudos to the kudus

When I last visited the zoo, they were constructing a play area with a splash ground.  I have every expectation that a splash ground would be a welcome delight on a hot Florida summer day.

Our younger, smaller family at Jax Zoo

3.  Charleston, South Carolina:  the Children’s Museum of the Low Country and South Carolina Aquarium

Children's Museum of the Low Country

My last  recommendation for child-delighting day trips is not actually “outdoorsy”.  However I think it is worth naming, because sometimes you feel like you have exhausted the offerings of Savannah and really need to experience something new.  Savannah lacks a children’s museum; Charleston has a wonderful children’s museum called “Children’s Museum of the Low Country”.  It is a short distance from the visitor’s center, but I have always had luck finding street parking nearby, even for my enormous passenger van.  Some of the exhibits rotate, making it worth visiting more than once.  My children of all ages have enjoyed exploring the museum, and I have appreciated the dedicated toddler room with accommodations for nursing mothers.  An additional bonus – the price is reasonable!

Hands-on fun


Savannah also lacks an aquarium (the fish tanks at Skidaway don’t count).  The South Carolina Aquarium is a wonderful resource, and only two hours away!  The exhibits are easy to see, and I have never experienced large crowds or rowdy school children there.  There is a touch-tank that adds a tactile component that many children will appreciate.

Charleston is a beautiful city and the downtown area lends itself to both casual strolls or self-guided, architectural walking tours.   The sidewalks seem to be always in tip-top condition.  While some routes are brick, I have not encountered any of that bone-jarring, wheel breaking ballast rock like they have along Savannah’s river front.   My boys are always delighted to look out at Fort Sumter and to visit the Battery.

Boys at the Battery

Sometimes you go on adventures with your children, introducing them to all sorts of wonders of the world, and you wonder how much they enjoyed it, and how much they will remember.  A couple of years ago we visited the aquarium and had a lunch at a  hole-in-the-wall pizza place called “Pizzeria di Giovanni”.  The pizza was enormous and oh so delicious!  Then a couple years later I announced to my children that we were going to Charleston for the day.  “Get ready!” I told them.  “Put on your walking shoes.  The sun is shining.  The flowers are in full bloom.  We are going to Charleston and take a walking tour of architectural highlights!”  I can not say that my boys were thrilled with the prospect, but then they chimed in, “Sure, we’ll go.  Are you going to buy us a giant pizza?”

The biggest pizza ever?

Of course we bought a giant pizza.  Isn’t that what makes childhood memories become treasures?  Not just remembering them, but reliving them together.

Biggest pizza ever - Part 2

Comments (0) Jul 10 2011