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For many families a common saying is that traveling with children constitutes a “trip," while traveling without them is a “vacation.” Here are a few simple tips that will allow for more vacationing this summer, regardless of the location.
Tip No. 1: Learn as much as possible about a travel destination before getting there is a must. What are the surrounding towns or cities? What sights are there to see? How will you navigate highways and streets? It’s easy to find much of what is needed to know in advance by using the Internet.
As for what to see, most theme parks and museums have websites that will list hours of operation, show times, prices and discounts available. They also let visitors purchase tickets beforehand and list if there are strollers or wagons for rent or if there are special arrangements that can be made for babies and toddlers as well. For cruises, fill out pre-boarding information, sign up for tours and pay gratuities in advance so that you spend less time waiting and more time enjoying.
Many tourism bureaus for large cities have packets available which list well-known and lesser known events and will often give you great deals on attractions, dining and lodging. Many cities like L.A. and San Diego offer a City Pass for several attractions at one low price. Or order an Entertainment discount book in advance for your destination to save on parks and restaurants.
Tip No. 2: Make an itinerary. It doesn’t have to be set in stone, but it helps to have a basic a direction to follow. Let children participate in the planning process so they can feel included and more excited about what they’ll be seeing. Also, have a back-up plan, which includes nearby sites that might otherwise be overlooked, for inclement weather or other unforeseen obstacles. Many wonderful museums have been discovered this way!Make sure that master list has important addresses, phone numbers and contact information for the places that you'll be visiting. It’s handy to have it all in one place when you’re pressed for time.
Don’t forget maps or consider renting a GPS navigation unit. Circle or highlight the places you’ll see for a visual aid and to give you an estimate on travel time. Also, ordering brochures and promotional videos about your location beforehand can orient the family so sights seem more familiar. A fun game is to cut out pictures and make a travel “bingo” game personalized to a vacation where children mark off landmarks they’ll be seeing.
Tip No. 3: Don’t make getting there ruin the fun. Whether flying, driving or cruising there are important things to consider in advance. For those flying, remember that security at airports keeps getting more complicated each year. Most airlines recommend arriving at the airport an hour before domestic flights and two hours before international flights.
The American Society of Travel Agents suggests reviewing screening procedures with children so they won’t be afraid. Keep all identification in the same place or purchase identification folders that hang around each person’s neck for quicker processing as well. Medex Assistance, a global emergency-assistance company, recommends making sure children are “tagged” with a cellphone number or an emergency contact number in case they get separated. Also, carry a recent photo of any children.
For short flights, make sure you have a few snacks on hand and easy access to favorite toys. For longer trips, a little more planning can make your flight bearable. When reserving airline seats, look for the forward bulkhead rows and then wait until the last minute to board with fidgety children. Also, get up and walk frequently up and down the aisles. Keep an assortment of new toys on hand as well such as travel-sized games and books that take up little room. You can even wrap special toys to be opened at predetermined intervals along the trip.
To avoid motion sickness whether on flights or in cars, make sure all children, especially those under 4-feet-9-inches are elevated in a car or booster seat so they can look out. Also, consider investing in a seat organizer where toys and snacks can be at the child’s grasp. Take frequent breaks (about 20 minutes for every two hours of driving) at a park or rest stop along the way. Travel games are a must, even if they’re the inexpensive classics of travel bingo, license plate round-up or “slug” bug. Reward children with small prizes for every set number of miles traveled.
Tip No. 4: Bring the comforts of home. When Kory and Laurel Christensen of Kaysville, Utah, travel, they may call their destination their “different home,” but often it can take awhile for new surroundings to become familiar. So they bring some reminders of home that make their children feel less “uprooted.” A favorite toy, movie or security items like blankets and “woogies” are a must. Take a favorite book to tuck them in at night and don’t forget a nightlight so they don’t become disoriented in the dark if nature calls.
Tip No. 5: Try to relax. In the end, nothing ever goes completely as planned. Children get sick, the weatherman forecasts nonstop rain and it’s rare to be able to see and do as much if there are children on board. So try and be flexible and accept the added challenges that come from traveling with children.
Kim has written for magazines like "LDSLiving," the "Washington Family," "Back Home, Parents & Kids," and "Natural Life." She has two novels with Covenant Communications. Visit her at www.kcgrant.com.