Travel experts say the secret is in the planning
By Paul R. Huard
Copley News Service
Warming weather and long, looming chunks of vacation time mean families are going places for special times and relaxation.
If you are the parent of school-age children, you probably want the vacation to include opportunities to strengthen family bonds and renew your relationship with the kids no matter where you travel.
"With the emphasis on families, more and more parents are choosing to take their children with them, not just to see grandma, but even on international vacations," says Cheryl Hudak, president of the American Society of Travel Agents. "Parents crave meaningful time with their children and a vacation is a way to build that time no matter where they go."
What are some ways to make sure travel and play with the family is a happy time? Experts in vacation travel say the secret is in the planning.
Whether on the road or in the air, the American Society of Travel Agents recommends the following:
- Before you leave, create anticipation for the family trip by starting a countdown calendar with perhaps a photo or illustration of the destination.
- Let kids pack their own bags. Decide what type of clothing the kids will wear (preferably loose and comfortable), but allow them to choose their favorites and to pack a special toy. In a small bag, pack some hard candies and gum, hand wipes, tissues, books, paper, markers in a small, tightly sealed plastic bag and perhaps a surprise toy for each child.
- If traveling by car, make the journey comfortable by bringing pillows and blankets.
- Stop frequently at rest stops to stretch and make use of restrooms. Keep the kids occupied by playing car games such as "I Spy." Make sure the car is stocked with paper, pencils, plenty of engaging toys and tapes or CDs of their favorite songs or books.
- If traveling by air, allow plenty of time for check-in and also between connecting flights. Arriving early to board together prevents last-minute delays and confusion, especially with the current security regulations.
- Be sure to have a safety plan in case anyone gets separated at the airport. Discuss where to meet and what to do.
No matter how you travel, keep children involved in the vacation process. Save items collected on vacation - brochures, napkins, ticket stubs - and have children paste them into a scrapbook.
Camping remains one of the most popular and least-expensive options for families who want to spend enjoyable vacation time with one another.
One of the most important things a parent should remember is the old adage "don't bite more off than you can chew," says Ben Pearson, a senior product-line manager for sporting goods with L.L. Bean (www.llbean.com) and seasoned family camper.
"Going outdoors with your kids shouldn't be a forced march, but a source of plenty of good times," Pearson says. "It's better to do a few things enjoyably, like build a fire and cook some marshmallows, than cram the agenda. Kids just want to have fun outdoors."
Pearson says that not adequately preparing for "sun, bugs, weather and water" are the normal "fun killers" when outdoors with school-age children. He suggests the following:
- Adults should bring extra water for kids to drink, as well as ensure that every child has their own water bottle. "Bring more water than you believe they will need," he says. "They will drink unbelievable amounts when they are active."
- Kids love their own stuff. One enjoyable, but practical item is a headlamp, the 21st century replacement for the handheld flashlight. L.L. Bean's Black Diamond Wiz Headlamp ($17.95) is designed for children. Not only is it kid-size, but it also has a device that automatically shuts off the lamp after one hour, preventing accidental battery drainage if your child falls asleep with the headlamp on.
- Carry plenty of insect repellent. A DEET-based lotion repellent is the best defense against mosquitoes.
- Also, carry plenty of sunscreen. "Get in the habit of applying sunscreen on the kids in the morning, then reapplying it at lunchtime," Pearson says.
- Make sure that the kids have raincoats and warm clothing with them, even on sunny days. Weather outdoors changes quickly.
Finally, you might consider that each adult carry a large day-pack to carry children's items, including extras. Pearson recommends L.L. Bean's Bigelow Day Pack ($69), which won an Editor's Choice Award from Backpacker Magazine in 2006. The top-loading model will carry plenty of extra sweaters, snacks and sundries that kids always manage to forget.
"Kids always have fun camping, unless the adults mess it up," he says.
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