July 31, 2016

A Minnesota Family Trip

A while back Paul and I decided this would be the summer we would go back home. Paul and I both grew up in Minnesota and then went off to college in North Dakota. Once we graduated I dragged him with me to California with the promise we would only live there for 2 years. Before long I was a girl who's heart belonged in California and apparently Paul loved me enough to stay by my side because it wouldn't have taken much for him to go back to the Midwest. The last time we were in Minnesota as a family was the month before we got pregnant with the babies. Once we found out we were going to be a family of 9 any hope of taking a vacation back home seemed far fetched unless we someday would buy an RV.

Fast forward 4 years and we wanted all of our family to meet our kids and to also spend time with Grandpa & Grandma Lesnau. Flying was not an option. Buying an RV was not an option. Driving our 10 passenger van was going to be the way we traveled 1820 miles. With needing to travel all those miles we knew we needed to make this family vacation a longer one to make it worth while. I worked my schedule to cover my days and Paul used a bunch of his accumulated vacation time and our dates were set.

I recently traveled to my dads with the kids which was an 8 hour drive and I was so glad that I had done this previous trip because it gave me great insight into what worked and what did not with kids in the car for many hours. We chose to leave at 6am which is normally right when our kids wake up. Waking them up earlier has always failed us in the past because we think our kids will fall back to sleep and they never do. This also allows me to wake up and get myself ready before the kids so when they do wake we basically have the kids brush their teeth, change into the clothes that had been laid out the night before, pee and we are off. With this early departure I have everything we possibly can load the night before so my checklist in the morning is very short. When we originally started thinking about our road trip we thought we would rent a trailer to pull behind our van but Paul decided driving slower than the speed limit to pull a trailer was not sounding fun. Instead I got serious on my packing. I am one who hates being on vacation and have limited clothes so that meant I needed to have plenty of wardrobe options for all 9 of us. I decided the Rubbermaid containers from Costco would be the perfect packing solution. I also ordered a bunch of Thirty-One bags that would slide under our seats for easy access to snacks and entertainment. A thermal bag to keep drinks and cold food options on hand was also used. Even I was surprised how well everything fit into our van without feeling crammed or needing to step over items every time we needed to get out. My organization OCD loved the packing game of Tetris!

Pulling out of the driveway at 6:02!
Mama had her oils going the whole way.

The sun was blinding as we took off in the morning. Drew and Kenzie took one for the team until we reached Tahoe and the sun was higher in the sky.
In the weeks leading up to the trip I read other blogs of those who had taken road trips with kids and got some ideas on things to pack to keep kids entertained. One of the best items I purchased were 7 metal baking pans from the Dollar Store. I would keep them up front with me and when the kids wanted to color, play a game or eat a snack I would place the items on the tray and hand them back to the kids. Then when they were done they could hand the whole tray back up to me. The sides of the pan were great because the kept the items from rolling onto the floor. We also packed along solo cups and paper plates which allowed us to hand out snacks without having to buy individual snack items. I'd prepare the plates/cups and then hand them out and these allowed the kids to eat food without making a huge mess. We also kept a plastic bag conveniently hung on the middle row so that all trash could be handed to Aubrey and disposed of in the bag instead of on the floor. I can't stand traveling in a messy car.

A bag of letters were great on the metal trays. This picture was found on Aubrey's camera and made her mama smile.
We found a park midday to use the bathroom and run around while daddy went and filled up with gas. A great 20 minutes out of car seats.

Our first day of travel we wanted to get to Salt Lake City by late afternoon. We did great and would have arrived by 3:30 but being blonde I forgot about the time change we would have so we ended up arriving at 4:30. We ate both breakfast and lunch in the car with food I had prepared at home. This allowed us to only have to stop two times to use the bathroom. The kids did really well and we even fit in me painting 60 toenails while driving (Rylan was asleep during out spa treatments). Once we got to Salt Lake we were super excited to meet a family we have known online but had never met in person. The Cox family also has 7 kids and we had so much fun with them. The kids swam hard for 3 hours and though it was way too short of visit we were so glad to have the chance to make new friends. After we left their house we had 4 more hours to go before we would arrive at the hotel I had booked our first night at. The kids watched a movie and then all fell asleep allowing Paul and I to have a quiet 2 hours to listen to Pandora and snack on trail mix as the miles passed us by.

Aubrey fell in love with Baby Noah and would have been more than happy to bring him along with us.
Not often you have 2 mom's with 14 kids between them!

Kids asleep, mama & daddy acting silly.
The next morning we woke in Rawlins, WY and had breakfast in the hotel before hitting the road before 8am. We made it an hour and the first kid already had to go to the bathroom. Besides the long boring roads of Wyoming, the kids had the need for many bathroom breaks. We gave them very little water throughout our drive and we quickly learned this was the kids new way to get dad to pull off at a rest stop. There were many times we told them they needed to hold it because otherwise we weren't going to get anywhere. As we entered South Dakota the kids needed out and mile after mile lead us to wide open fields. We stopped at the first town that held a promise of a grocery store and after picking up lunch meat and cheese we found ourselves a park that at night would be a little scary. Paul and I were both praying for naps once we got in the car and were so relieved when everyone fell asleep except Aubrey. It was then that I started looking at where we should end our driving for the day. We decided Mitchell. SD sounded attainable and wouldn't leave us with a ton of driving on our final day. While I was looking at the map, Paul asked me how far it was to Keystone and it ended up being only 20 miles out of our way and we could be there in 40 minutes. We decided instead of spending the evening at the hotel pool we would take a side trip to Mount Rushmore. I am so glad that we did this because we all had so much fun. I had never been there and thought it was a great experience. As we left the monument we got rained on and got stuck in our first thunderstorm. After a stop for pizza we drove our remaining 4 hours and got to watch a lightening storm the entire way.

On vacation and still checking work emails!

Trying so hard to climb like Natalie & Drew but the monkey couldn't even get off the ground.
But daddy made it and Tate was so excited for him.
The final morning of our drive we set an alarm for 7 and the kids and Paul got out of bed around 7:45. It was great having the kids sleep in a little and with the kids still wearing pj's we headed to the hotel breakfast and then allowed the kids to swim for an hour before our final 4 hours of driving. These remaining hours were by far the best we had with the kids but when we pulled into Paul's parents house we were all more than happy to get out of the car. In the end the drive was much better than Paul or I thought it would be. We've even said that we can see ourselves doing road trips more often and we know each year it will get easier and easier. For the next two weeks we are going to be spending the time with grandparents and other family members before heading to Montana for a couple of days before making the trek back home. It feels so good to know that we have gotten to an age were our kids can handle 27 hours of driving time over 2.5 days.

Day 3 can have you acting a little crazy and Drew grew facial hair between California and Minnesota!
We MADE it!!! 


  1. You guys are amazing!! The kids will have such great memories of these family vacations!!!

  2. Your family is wonderful!! You are so blessed. We love you all,
    Jody and Karla Ball

  3. How great to make memories right? They look so grow up, very cute Krista!


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