And as asked... here is a picture of our "bus" as the kids call it! :)
Exceptions have been few and far between: Olivia's Make a Wish Trip, a couple flights to Florida when the kids were still very young and we wouldn't have had to rent a car while there, Olivia's 10 year birthday trip with mom.
It certainly makes all the difference that the kids each do so great while traveling in the car. I'm not exactly sure HOW I got them to the place we are with traveling by car. I think definitely that many local trips (zoo, Chicago, etc) have helped. Having a fairly big van helps too because they know I'll move them if needed. And putting some specific things in place that are JUST used for long trips is a MUST.
Each of the kids has their own rubbermaid type container that sits on the seat next to them and is theirs. A number of years back the kids were given (I think?) what's called a video now player. They didn't last real long in stores, so shortly thereafter I was able to find a few more on MAJOR clearance (~$7 each) and stocked up, buying 5 more. I've since given a couple away as gifts but each of the kids have one and we have one more that is still new. The "video disks" are similar to DVDs, but a bit smaller and are called PVDs. They have MANY titles out there: Sesame Street, Dora, Bob the Builder, The Wiggles, Josh & Drake, Raven, Hannah Montana, etc. We have since collected quite a few from eBay and each child has a disc holder and we rotate which disks they get on the way there and back from a trip. This is one of their favorite things.
Also in their containers are child specific things such as flash/info cards, books, activity pads, color wonder, small toys that they only use on trips. In addition, Liam has a Leapster and Braeden and Olivia have a Didj and DS to share.
I almost always try to get one or two "new" things to add each trip: book, Pez, etc.
Of course sunglasses are a necessity for bright sunny days, or if you need to be incognito to escape the many fans following you!
Typically Olivia and Braeden like to share the back row together. This gives them more room between them and they can share some of their items. They always have a grocery bag to use for garbage and I'm very clear on "rules" for garbage, etc. Whenever we stop they are expected to pick up anything that's fallen, bring out garbage, place items back in their containers, etc. That way it's less to do once we get to our destination and it's done little by little along the way.
Liam sits in the row right behind my seat, in the middle, where I can see and get to him. Otherwise he has a tendency to dump out everything and just make a complete MESS. :) When he was young Olivia would share a row with him and help him out, but he's quite capable now, just not always the best listener. :)
When we do stop, it's a "one shop stop". I try to drive AT LEAST 2 hours before stopping. At that time, EVERYONE goes to the bathroom, regardless of "need", we get gas, regardless of "need", and if it's a meal time we DRIVE THROUGH. I would rather spend 10-15 minutes vacuuming the car after our vacation than waste the time going in to eat while trying to get to our destination. I often will pack easy car type snacks, water bottles, "juice" packets for the water, fruit, etc so that sometimes when we get food I'll get just a "basic": burgers, nuggets, etc and have the sides and drinks from the car. Sometimes I'll let them get a kids meal. Sometimes. :)
We also like to take a "toy" break once in a while and do a little dancing/singing!
If we really need to get out and stretch, I'll find either a rest area with play equipment or a play area restaurant.
Traveling by van/car also allows us the opportunity to stop and see little sights along the way. Sometimes out of the way places that wouldn't warrant an entire trip on their own, but which are fun nevertheless. I happened upon a book on a clearance table a while back that has been great at giving some good ideas of places to see. It's called Amazing Places to Take Your Kids and is a great coffee table book, idea factory, and the kids love to look through it! I found one recently that we'll be stopping at on our way back from our trip next week.
World's Largest Drive-In restaurant The Varsity
Traveling at Christmas? Have an Elf? Ours is Tom... and yes... he travels with us around the holidays!
Finally, I have a credit card that earns rewards. I use this for all gas and others (in our budget though) while traveling, pay it off when I get the next bill, and earn the rewards for these purchases. It's not a lot, but every little bit helps.