Holiday roads are filled with families heading to grandma's house, and those who aren't traveling by car are using planes, trains and whatever transportation mode has open seats. Traveling with children can be an adventure -- whether it is bad or good may depend on your planning.
Even young children can be involved with planning the trip. Discuss the destination, how you are going to get there and fun activities to do along the way. If you are using commercial transportation, call ahead and find out rules and provisions when traveling with your children. What seating arrangements are available for young children? If traveling by plane, bring your own car seat, but make sure it meets FAA standards; booster seats are not adequate for an airplane because there are no shoulder harnesses.
Pack each child's necessities (baby food, medication, diapers) separately in carry-on bags in case your checked luggage gets waylaid. If your child has health issues that may be exacerbated by the trip, let the flight attendants or train conductors know in case an emergency arises. Remember to bring your child's passport and other identification if you are traveling internationally.
Whether you are traveling by private vehicle or mass transit, your children will most likely be in strange territory, and in the event you are separated, they may be frightened and unable to find or identify you. Sew a name label inside your child's clothing (never outside where a stranger may pretend to know your child), and write your contact number and a second contact number on a piece of paper and put it in your child's pocket. Carry an up-to-date picture of your child with you to assist in any search for a missing child. Even young children should practice saying their full name and destination and/or hometown. It wouldn't hurt to put your picture in the child's pocket, as well.
Make sure you have an appropriate car seat for your child and buckle him into it while on the road. Many rental companies will rent car seats if you haven't brought your own with you. Remember: Safety first during any car ride. Make sure everyone buckles up.
Avoid "Are we there yet?" -- or at least reduce the frequency -- by giving your children maps of the journey and crayons or pens so they can mark off sites along the way. Younger children will appreciate a more graphic map including pictures of landmarks, while older children may enjoy navigating with a regular road map.
Let your child pack a "go-bag" for the trip, which can include any of the following: a small stuffed doll, a coloring book and crayons, a reading book, magnetic car games, reasonably small toys with soft edges and rounded corners, puzzle books and Mad Libs. Older children can be encouraged to journal the trip in a blank book using pictures and/or words, to write touristy postcards to send to friends, or to take pictures with a digital camera as a photo record. Supervise while your children pack their car kits, but let them make most of the choices. Just remember that if the car stops suddenly, all objects become missiles; so avoid scissors, sharp pencils, and large hard toys. You'll be a hero if you pack an extra tote with surprise toys, puzzle books, etc., and keep it in the trunk until and if needed.
There also are makeshift games the whole family can play: "find the license plate" (keeping track until are the state plates are spotted, with the first person to spot a state's plate getting the point); "spell your name from billboard signs" (find the letters of your name on signs -- only one per sign -- and the first person to complete their name wins); "find that car color" (have each person, in turn, pick a color, and the first person to spot a car in that color gets to pick the next); and "don't finish spelling (each person adds a letter until you can't go any further).
Pack snacks including small water bottles (with caps), crackers, plain cookies, small and soft fruit, etc. Stop frequently, as children need to use the bathroom and eat regularly. Have a few small blankets in the car for comfort during naptime.
And don't forget barf bags.