As I look back over this great undertaking, there are some things I have learned about traveling with our family. There are things which worked really well as well as things I'll do differently next time (gulp...next time?!). Curious? I suspected as much. Don't worry, I've got you covered.
What Has Worked
Hotel Suitcases. My husband had the idea of packing "hotel suitcases" for the days we're on the move. He is a genius. Here's how it worked: when we planned to spend only one night in a particular location (such as a hotel), we had prepared a single suitcase (a carry-on, 21" size) with enough clothes and sleepwear for the entire family for one night. (We have actually managed to squeeze two days-worth of clothing for our seven-person family, assuming that pajamas would work two nights in a row.) I do have a separate bag for toiletries, but as far as clothing went, that one suitcase was it. It cut down drastically on the number of things we had to haul in each night. Sleeping bags, pillows, portable crib, toiletries bag, and one suitcase. Not too shabby for a crew this size.
Sleeping Bags. With five kids? It was a no-brainer. We only brought two though, and have generally taken them in to both hotels as well as the homes we have stayed in. Two of the younger children using sleeping bags, two older ones on beds or air mattresses. It works.
Disposable Goods. Although at home I try to reuse items as much as I reasonably can, I purchased a fair amount of disposable goods for the trip. Sandwich bags for snacks, gallon bags for restaurant leftovers, paper napkins, paper towels, paper plates, cups, plastic knives and yes, disposable diapers. For a trip, especially one of this magnitude, I much prefer disposable items. They make things infinitely easier.
Soap nuts. At home I use soap nuts for laundry as well as general cleaning. They're natural, easy and even compostable. When considering washing clothes on the road, I decided to bring two small bags of soap nut berries. Each set of soap nut berries will do at least 4-5 loads of laundry. The bags and their contents can go through the dryer just fine, so I don't have to worry about wet items or powdered laundry detergent spilling in our suitcases. It has been beautifully easy.
What I'll Do Differently
Filtering Water Bottle(s). As a rule, my family uses stainless steel water bottles. We have also purchased glass water bottles like these to use for kombucha. But over the weeks, I have wished more and more for filtered drinking water. I hate buying bottled water, however. Instead I would like to get a couple of filtering water bottles just for the road. They may be plastic (which we prefer to avoid), but bottled water is in plastic anyway, and if given a choice, I would rather drink filtered water in plastic than unfiltered water in stainless steel. I'm not sure which option is truly healthier, but I do know that some tap water I've experienced has a truly horrible taste. And when I consider what can be lurking in that tap water, it's an easy choice for me.
Purchased Deodorant. I don't buy deodorant as a rule. Most over-the-counter stuff contains aluminum, and my experiences with purchasing the "natural stuff" have generally not had great results. I've been making my own homemade deodorant using this recipe for several years now, and I like it. However. It is largely made with coconut oil, which becomes very liquid when warm. Traveling and liquid deodorant are not a good fit, to say the least. Next time I will find an option in the store before I go. Or maybe order some Funk Butter by Oyin Handmade, the one natural deodorant I liked.
Less Chocolate (in warm weather). I included some chocolatey treats in our food stash. Not the best idea in warm, even hot, weather. Of course, we could always make a point to keep it in the cooler...
No Backpack Carrier. At least not unless we have a planned outing for which we might need it. For example, the zoo or a hike. But for a driving-around-and-visiting-people kind of trip, it's not really necessary. And it takes up a fair amount of space.
Favorite Shoes in the Suitcase. We have shoe bags along with extra shoes. However, I kept finding myself without access to the shoes I'd want to wear the next day. Next time, I'll put more shoes in my suitcase and leave the shoe bag for the things I rarely wear.
Travel Picnic Blanket. No picnic tables? No problem. At home we have a special quilted blanket we like to use for picnicking purposes, but it's far too bulky for a trip such as this. I think a picnic blanket like this could be incredibly handy for use on the road. Waterproof, compact and easy to carry.
More Vegetables. I included a few sugar snap peas in our stash of real food, and they've been terrific. Next time though, I'd like to bring along more carrot sticks and other hardy raw vegetables. Ideally, I'll include some fermented vegetables as well. Seeking out local farmers' markets around the country can be a great way to replenish supplies and try new things. Hardy vegetables which can be eaten raw are sure winners.
More Organic Raisins. We ran out of raisins way too fast. Granted, you can always buy more. But it's not always easy to find organic raisins. And when it comes to raisins, buying organic is kind of important. Besides, raisins are pretty compact, don't squish too badly, and keep extremely well. Raisins make a great candidate for packing in larger amounts than, say, bananas.
There you have it: what worked well and what I'll do differently next time. Happy Trails!