What is traveling with a large family really like? My family recently moved to California, half a continent away from my grassy South Dakota hometown. This has some benefits, as now we have the opportunity to plan a special trip when I am able to travel out to visit. This year, we chose to visit our first major national park (unless you count the Badlands in Western South Dakota, which are lovely but small and not very crowded). Eleven children, two parents and my brother’s guest, who just graduated from (homeschool) high school, loaded suitcases under the seats, to spend a two night stay in Yosemite National Park. Every age group of kids, from nine months old to adults of their early twenties was represented in our caravan. A baby, a toddler, ten older kids, and two parents, along with my 16 year old brother’s friend; fourteen people in all.
The most challenging part of large family travel is getting from place to place and having enough energy to enjoy the destination. In the past, my mother has used sticker books and long lasting suckers to keep the natives happy, but this year the baby of the family-a teething nine month old with a strong set of lungs, was too young to be impressed. Squeezable baby food packets, teething biscuits, and organic dried mango helped to buy time in the carseat. Rights to the coveted front seats are rotated between the children. The privileged spot comes with the responsibility of playing with the baby. The young men of the family take the job seriously and use creativity to devise the entertainment. The newest sport on the planet, Fidora Frisbee was invented in this way. The goal of the game is to throw a hat directly on the baby’s face, to her delight. It’s probably only a matter of time till this game becomes known worldwide, from its humble birthplace in the middle benches of the blue fifteen passenger van between Stockton, CA and Yosemite National Park.
Once we arrived at Yosemite National Park, walking shorter distances rather than driving allows the family a welcome break from the car. A few of the middle school aged kids take advantage of the freedom, however, and try to branch off on their own. This means moving as a group is sometimes more like herding sheep, and before leaving a location a headcount is mandatory. Though I believe we’ve only left someone behind once in the entire family history, there was one near miss this trip before getting on a bus. Fortunately, our family friend noticed the missing child and made quick trip to check the bathrooms seconds before we boarded.
The beginning of the day is always very enjoyable on foot, but in the afternoon the younger kids lag behind. The wide age span in the family is an advantage at this point, and the three year old and five year old enjoyed shoulder rides courtesy of the teen boys for the last half of the day, to their delight. In the past we have transported children in strollers, but my mom chose to bring a baby carrier this time for added mobility. The baby was much happier being carried close to mom, and we didn’t have to use valuable car space to store it or tote one up stairs.
Motion sickness is not a unique trouble to a large family, but the high backed seats and bumpy back rows of the fifteen passenger van are particularly rough on stomachs. After many years of enduring the smells of half digested lunches, the family now always packs a large stash of Ziplock bags. Drives through curvy mountain roads are new to the family, and in the future child friendly nausea medication will be essential.
Stay tuned for Part II of Traveling with a Large Family tomorrow!