Traveling With Kids Without Losing Your Mind

traveling with kidsTraveling With Kids Without Losing Your Mind

You know that moment when you’re minutes away from clocking out of work, throwing your bags in the car and hitting the road?

The adventure of heading for the hills or the mountains or the beach or the destination anywhere other than your own zip code?

The exhilarating feel of the open road, the wild blue yonder, the white sands the lake, the reunion with faraway friends! Getaway vibes are some of my favorite feelings in the world. I love to travel. But when you toss in little people with low blood sugar, small bladders and a few “are we there yets”, traveling can all of the sudden make you lose your ever-loving mind.

While our family has been busy wrapping up another year of ministry, we’ve also been practicing language skills, preparing little feet for miles of walking and doing boatloads of administrative work to prepare our team of 19 to go on a summer mission trip!

This is what we’ve done nearly every summer for a decade, so you’d think we’d have it down by now, but ends up, it’s just always a big step of faith to pause normal life and get on the road/on the plane.

This year is no exception because while our kids are getting excited, they are now old enough to be really sad about leaving their friends and not getting to finish the school year, (I, however, am smiling and waving buh-bye to all.the.end.of.the.year.things) but they aren’t quite perceptive enough to grasp what a privilege it is to travel and take Jesus to the world.

Amidst passports, packing, training our team and navigating the emotional worlds of 7 and 10-year-olds, it hit me just how much we schlep our family around. Most of our travels are for our work with Cru, but as I write, we are on the road for Joel’s sister graduate from Vet school and then a soccer tournament…10 hours in the car just under 3 days.

I know many of you are like us and will be traveling over the next few months so I thought I’d share a few tips, ideas and resources that have been helpful as we’ve traveled with our kids.

traveling with kids

Preparing and Practicing

As soon as we get our summer assignment or make travel plans, we check to see if passports are current and that travel details are squared away. (Calling credit card company, adjusting cell phone plans, setting up house-sitter/dog-sitter, stopping the mail, etc.)

We start preparing the kids by looking up our destinations on GoogleEarth and watching Youtube videos of the local areas we will see. Even helping them see where the nearest grocery store, park or library will be can be helpful for transition woes.

We talk through our travel expectations from start to finish…why they will keep their seatbelt on during the duration of the flight and why they will NOT play with the tray tables or kick the seat in front of them…you’re welcome traveler who cringes when you see my child sit down behind you. Just talking them through what will happen and what we expect does wonders.

Practicing helps too. Most nights after dinner for the last few months, we have tried to walk a mile or so to get ready for long days of walking. We’ve labeled our house with Italian words and have practiced eating random food and *trying* to be okay with it.

When we are traveling primarily by car, I try to print out a map and give them a highlighter to track where we are traveling. I load up “State Bags” which is just a grocery bag with a small toy or two I’ve scavenged from their rooms that they haven’t played with in a while or something I’ve picked up from the Dollar Tree, several books and easy snacks to keep them occupied during each state we travel through. When they were younger I kept a chip clip on the visor and if they fussed or fought and their clip came down they didn’t get a bag. But, then I realized I was just punishing myself, so now STATE BAGS FOR ALL! They LOVE State Bags! State Bags keep them quiet and keep me from Stage 4 of Road Trip Rage.

traveling with kids

We don’t do screens in the car (mostly just because we don’t have them) but we do love audiobooks! My kids will quietly stare out the window working their imaginations as they listen to FREE classics like Where the Red Fern Grows, Heidi, The Secret Garden, YWAM Missionary Biographies, Story of the World–not free but amazing, etc. you can’t beat that! (When we aren’t in the car, we use our phones with these headphone splitters so they can listen together but seperately on the trains and buses.)

Last summer, our assignment was seminary so I looked up any and all free things to do with kids in Orlando and was AMAZED by all the activities we enjoyed. The public library events were our favorites. We read to therapy dogs, did lots of crafts, heard from wonderful authors, ate fun snacks and enjoyed great prizes for reading.


Have you ever counted the number of items it takes to get you and your people up and out the door? I tried this morning but lost count at the toaster.

The older I get the more attached I am to my things, my systems and my rituals…plus, I am a recovering over-packer. I was the girl who went to the one week church camp and had her parents send her another box of clothes mid-week because she needed more options…but I’m recovering. In fact, I *think* I am becoming more of a minimalist. Especially on the clothing side of things. Traveling helps me embrace simplicity and pushes the reset button on my attachments to the trappings of this world…but I’ve already packed my ninja bullet blender so don’t let me fool you.

Whether we are on the road for 5 days or 5 weeks I’ve found it helpful to use packing cubes to divide out each person’s belongings. It’s like traveling with dresser drawers!


For longer summer missions I pack everyone 10 outfits so that if we are without laundry facilities for a week, we can make it. My kids wear their clothes hard so they usually can’t re-wear without being gross.

Here’s what we are packing to go overseas this summer:

Kids’ Carry On Backpacks:

  • Eye Mask
  • Ear Plugs
  • Headphones
  • Snuggly Blankets
  • Snacks (for the first leg I try to do fresh foods like carrots, snow peas, apples, etc. after that it’s granola bars, nuts, goldfish, turkey jerky, wheat things, peanut butter crackers, Skinny Pop, Grab the Gold bars–have you had these??)
  • Colored Pencils
  • Activity Book
  • Stickers
  • Math Dice
  • Card Games/Memory
  • Travel Journal
  • Gum
  • Light Jacket
  • Water Bottle
  • Change of Clothes
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Toothbrush + Paste

Adults’ Carry On Roller Bags:

  • Wet Wipes
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Eye Mask
  • Ear Plugs
  • Headphones + Headphone Splitters
  • Computer + Charger
  • Camera + Charger + Dump Cord
  • Fitbit + Charger
  • Cell Phone + Charger + Extra battery stick
  • Passports
  • Journal
  • Bible
  • Neck Roll
  • RX Medicine, Anti-Jet Lag Supplements, Melatonin, Vitamins, Probiotics, Motion Sickness
  • First Aid Supplies
  • Hairbrush
  • Toothbrush + Paste + Floss
  • Change of Clothes
  • Light Jacket
  • Water Bottle
  • Book/Magazine
  • Sunglasses
  • Snacks
  • Challenge Packet + Prizes (see explanation below)

**I also carry on this cross body bag as my personal item and D won’t leave home without his pillow so he lugs it and I try to not think about how many germs are on the airport floors that he drags it around.

Checked Luggage:

  • 10 outfits/30 pieces that coordinate with each other (For myself I packed 8 shirts, 2 shorts, jeans, black pants, green pants, grey jeans, 2 dresses, 4 tshirts, pajamas, slippers, sandals, tennis shoes, Chacos, rain jacket, 2 cardigans, bathing suit, cover up, 2 hats, 10 underwear, 10 socks, 3 work out outfits)
  • Toiletries (I’m attempting to use essential oils and these 3 products for most everything…I am on day 4, I’ll keep you posted.)
  • Make-up + Remover
  • Wash Cloths
  • Sunscreen
  • Clippers, Tweezers
  • Hair dryer, straightener, converter
  • American Snacks (We try to eat the local food, but there are moments when ya just need some Skinny Pop and chocolate covered almonds, I also bring small oatmeal packets so we can just add hot water and have a meal if we get in a bind. Each week we are hosting a themed outreach, (Mexican Fiesta, American Breakfast and Home-cooking) so we also are packing a few ingredients we can’t get there. Nothing says packing light like cans of Bush’s baked beans, I tell you.)
  • Homeschool Materials (We will school most mornings of summer project. I am bringing Story of the World cds, Life of Fred Math books, Draw and Write Through History books, jump rope, math dice, flash cards, handwriting workbooks, catechism devotional book, attributes of God devotional book, 2 family read-alouds, paint, paint brushes, paper, OT brush and activities)
  • Challenge Prizes—see below (Legos, Shopkins, WHO REMEMBERS FLARP??, silly puddy, play dough, Melissa and Doug water pads, glow sticks, anything and everything the Dollar Store offers!)


It’s a lot of work to get your family on the road. It’s even more work to get a team on board. But, the experiences are absolutely life-changing. Whether it’s a road trip to Grandma’s or setting up water filtration systems in Haiti, it’s worth the effort.

The primary goal for our family travel is to make the kids about the trip not the trip about the kids. There’s something good for the soul when life doesn’t revolve around you and your entertainment or comfort. This is an invaluable lesson I am still learning every time I travel. I feel like, unless it’s Disney (all is fair in love and Disney, folks), kids should be encouraged to be observers, learners, adventurers, outwardly oriented versus inwardly consumed. Of course reality is still reality.

traveling with kids

This year I created a Kids’ Summer Missions Challenge Packet we are using to help our kids get to know and engage with the team of college students we are taking with us. There are 50 activities they can do and for every 5 challenges they complete they earn a prize. Things like, “List every student on our trip and write down their hometown.” Or, “Buy fruit and veggies from a stand by yourself. What did you buy? How’d it go? How did that make you feel? How much money did you spend?” If you’re headed anywhere in the near future, you can click Kids’ Summer Mission Challenge Packet to print it off or use as a template to make one for your travels. Another great resource that has helped my perspective is the Art of Simple podcast when they highlight travel.

I’m excited to see how all this helps the kids really invest in the team, culture and the mission we are there to accomplish! The university we are working at this summer is home to 150,000 college students. Our prayer is to reach these students for Christ and see the Gospel spread across the entire country and prayerfully into all areas of Europe.

We are anticipating the relationships that will form with students and faculty. We are always amazed at the divine appointments God prepares in advance for us. Please pray for our team of Ole Miss, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi State and West Chester University students. Pray they will understand the depth of God’s love for them. Perhaps one day these students will serve in full-time ministry or be powerful influences for Christ in corporate America.

We would love for you to follow along and pray for our Summer Mission and let us know how we can pray for you and any of your travels!

When You Feel Disconnected From Your Soul

As I stood in line with approximately 7 bagillion of my fellow Americans on Election Day, I was feeling super uneasy.  I found a friend in the crowd, and we mulled over the current status of our country and the Church.

I was “getting out to vote” for the first time in a while (please don’t tell Joel’s aunt, the election commissioner!). I felt like I needed to explain my lack of initiative to the registration lady who handed me the sticker I felt unworthy to wear.

Even though (cringe), I knew whom I was voting for, I completely panicked the minute I realized I had to vote for local candidates too. It hadn’t even crossed my mind to research local issues. It was November’s version of the recurring dream where you oversleep for the exam, and  you look down and have no clothes on. I checked a few boxes for people I knew and left the rest empty— on matters I am SURE will weigh heavily for my future grandchildren.

My face was getting really hot so I quickly clicked VOTE, turned to leave and then immediately BURST into tears. I was sad for my country and that these were the only viable options for President.  I felt guilty and irresponsible for not doing more to make a difference. Inflated view of self much?

I could not for the life of me control my tears. Heavy, hot ones kept coming as I exited the polling place and walked down the middle of two really long lines of people waiting to vote. A coworker saw me, and with wide-eyes asked, “Kitty, are you okay?” All I could get out over my snorting and snotting was that I was really sad for my country. I’m semi-laughing at the scene as I rehearse it in my mind now.

I got in my car, still caught off guard by my seemingly ridiculous tears, and tried to remember the last time I had cried. I couldn’t remember. Maybe sometime back in the Summer? I tucked the episode away to think about during carpool or maybe after the kids were in bed that night.

There were a few more episodes of unexplainable and randomly-explosive tears. It felt bizarre really.  I know it’s wise to listen to my tears. I regularly tell college girls, “Our emotions are like the emergency lights on the dashboard of your car, signaling it’s time to CHECK UNDER THE HOOD to see what’s really going on.” I just hadn’t done that for myself in a while.

It’s easy to help others and accidentally ignore your own soul. Isn’t it? My tears told me that God was quietly breaking through into my reality.  I left no space to process these tears, so my soul grew disconnected and distant.  For a few months, I lost touch with my inner world.

There was the ever-shortening fuse with my kids. The fantasy of getting the flu so I could opt out of life and sleep for a few days. There was the lack of desire to read my Bible. There were the impulsive Amazon purchases rooted in hopes that maybe reading ONE.MORE.BOOK would be the answer to my physical exhaustion and internal frustration. There were disappointments with friends and ministry.

After the final blow of a challenging disappointment, I felt stuck and traumatized enough to shoot an email to a favorite spiritual director/counselor friend begging her to meet me for lunch when we would be traveling through her area. She graciously said yes.

I made bullet-point lists in my journal of things that were draining me and the rotten fruit that I could see hanging on the limbs of my life. I asked Joel and close friends what they saw in me that was “off”, and I climbed into her Forerunner to head to lunch.

She wouldn’t let me ask all my favorite, “What’s going on with you?” type questions. All she said was, “Okay, so you seem depleted, maybe even dangerously tired.”  Her simple presence made me feel safe and known enough to shut up and start talking all at once. Her gentle questions and long, holy listening opened honest spaces in my heart. It was over lunch with a friend and the best turkey melt and marinated cucumbers I’ve ever tasted that I started to feel my soul fully connected for the first time in several months.

I told her I have been overly responsible for wearing other people’s emotions. I confessed that the jobs of mothering and ministering felt all-consuming. My ideals were crushing and my to-do lists had grown to be unreasonably long. I told her I felt like every day I emptied my tank and it was never enough.

She asked, “What drives you?”

I said, “Fear.” (Fear my kids won’t turn out to be Jesus-loving, functioning adults–so I try to control their lives and therefore am always frustrated with them and myself. Fear I’m not doing enough with the girls I am discipling so I live in guilt and performance. Etc. Etc.)

She asked me, “Do you really believe you are loved?”

I said, “I really do, but that reality is not motivating my daily life. I am being driven by fear vs. led by love.”

She prayerfully listened and committed to the process of seeing this ball of yarn continue to unravel.

The unraveling has looked like admitting to myself and others that my life has become unmanageable.  It’s meant embracing and even celebrating my limitations (i.e. not overbooking my weekly work schedule, making sure I’m daily drinking enough water, and getting to exercise, creating space to keep the Sabbath Day holy–which, for me, includes things like church, a nap, chocolate, yoga, a Dr. Teals baths, being outside, playing with the dog and scheduling earlier bedtimes for all.)

when you feel disconnected from your soul

These are things that have served me well through this season. These are the practices that have connected me again to my soul. It’s required me to rework and rethink my commitments, goals and ideals, remembering that my Savior is not a task-master, but a gentle and kind Shepherd. It’s meant claiming my identity as a loved daughter and a sojourner here in the world.

In my 20’s I cared what others thought of me. In my 30’s I have subconsciously focused more on what I think of me. But connecting deeply with Jesus means caring primarily about what He thinks of me and that was made clear on the cross. My inbox, smartphone and laundry pile do not rule me. Nor does the plentiful harvest of ministry. I am a citizen of Heaven. My Father is the King and I live for His approval, not my own.

Thank you Jesus for emotions that help us realize what’s going on in our soul because in the hustle of life, it’s all too easy to be driven by fear rather than led by love. 


Join us on our wild adventure of following Him & loving them!