Family Vacations: A Dozen Dos and Don'ts
Let's face it, traveling with grandchildren is a whole new world. It's nothing like it was traveling with our own kids when they were young. Then, travel was a breeze. It was mostly piling in the car, with pretty haphazard advance planning. All we had to remember was to bring some snacks, and to seat siblings out of arm's reach of one another. On the road entertainment consisted mainly of mind games and songs: playing "I spy something yellow," seeing who could spot the most out-of-state license plates, or singing endless choruses of "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain."
Today, everything's complicated, electronic, and high-tech. Kids are attached to their own individual video games, DVD players, and iPods. Travel now covers greater distances and reaches more exotic destinations. Naturally, more sophisticated travel requires more coping skills.
Take flying, for example. What was once a simple act of boarding a plane and settling in for a lovely ride has morphed into an experience fraught with dozens of potential pitfalls. Our adult children have become experts in anticipating these pitfalls and sidestepping them. I'm amazed and impressed with their creativity, and have happily adopted these tips for our own travels with the grandchildren.
Some Fine Family Classic Travel Dos and Don'ts:
- DO consider taking along a friend or cousin who's close in age to your grandchild. Not only will this provide your grandchild with a buddy, but it will also have the advantage of creating a stronger bond between cousins.
- DO take a snapshot of the children right before you leave home. Armed with this image in your digital camera, you can help authorities know exactly who to look for in case a child wanders away in a crowded terminal, amusement park, or shopping mall.
- DO dress the grandchildren in identical outfits, or in matching-colored shirts, jackets, or baseball caps. If one strays, you can point to the others and say, "She looks just like this."
- DON'T carry a child who can walk through the security screener. If you get tagged for extra scrutiny, that child will be subject to the same second check.
- DO create a "fun pack" filled with activities and snacks for each child. Our unbreakable rule is that this pack cannot be opened until the plane is airborne. (The kids love this rule; it allows the excitement to build as they anticipate what all the fun stuff might be.)
- DO keep a supply of antibacterial wipes on hand. We use them to swab down everything around their airplane seats - those grungy tray tables (front and back), armrests, window shades, and any other places the kids are going to touch. This is especially important with younger ones who still put their hands into their mouths. If there are airline-issue pillows or blankets within reach, get rid of them.
- DO pack a change of clothes for each child in your carry-on bag. Nothing is more uncomfortable than a juice-soaked shirt or pair of pants.
- DON'T make the mistake of underestimating the number of diapers you might need in-flight. (Be sure to bring along a trash bag, too, just in case you're not allowed to leave your seat to get to the bathroom.)
- DO bring along the car seat, even if the child is old enough to sit without it. It serves as a safe haven, comfortable and familiar. And it also confines them safely in one place.
At the Hotel
- DO check prices in advance and calculate the money you will or might save with access to a hospitality suite that offers breakfasts, snacks, unlimited juice, and more. Also, all-inclusive resorts are an ideal solution for anyone traveling with young children (those same little ones who love to order $5 sodas and $12 hamburgers, which they never even finish).
- DO request a small fridge in your room so you can keep milk and juice handy. (You can try to stuff them in the mini bar, but be aware that many mini bars operate on sophisticated sensors that charge you automatically for anything that has been moved.) Also, ask housekeeping to remove those enticing candy bars or fun-looking soft drinks that are displayed on the counter above the minibar. This way, there will be no temptations or accidental openings of overpriced goodies.
- DON'T expect the excitement levels to last all day. No matter how thrilling and fabulous the destination, everyone needs a little downtime. You might use this break for a refreshing nap while the kids chill out with a crafts project or a good book. (I once brought along watercolor essentials - paints, brushes, special paper, how-to books - so the grandchildren could re-create the sights they were seeing to share later with the family back home. This project was a huge hit.)
- DO make sure each of the grandchildren has a camera. Being a "photographer" helps kids focus on the trip and lets them play "tour guide" when they show the results afterward.
- DON'T forget to keep a day-by-day trip scrapbook. We do a page a day, right before dinner, and slide it into a plastic sleeve so each kid has a custom memory book.
- DO remember to bring along a night light. A strange hotel room can be a scary place in the dark.
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