Friday, March 28, 2008

Travel Advice Part Four: Traveling with Infants and Children

Fourth in a series written for

“Always have a Plan B in mind. And even a Plan C.” That’s sound advice most parents will support if they’ve done much traveling with infants and children. In other words, you can expect the unexpected. And do your best to enjoy it all. Who knows, “Daddy changing the flat tire” may be their favorite memory (and picture) from the whole trip to Knotts’ Berry Farm. Some of our own favorite travel memories, in fact, have been those unexpected moments when our plans were put on hold because we happened to be at the right place at the right time.

I have polled several moms for advice on traveling with young children. Let's start with the basics for a car trip.

First, use appropriate car seats, booster seats, or seat belts properly. Everyone should be safely belted in.

Consider the length of the trip. Some shorter "practice" trips may be helpful for young children.

Necessary supplies (somehow these always end up in Mom's purse, along with the maps, etc.): sunscreen, hand-washing gel, over the counter medications for upset stomach, diarrhea and allergic reactions.

Try to maintain a schedule similar to the one your children have at home. Cramming too much excitement into one day usually results in exhausted, irritable family members, thus defeating the purpose of the trip.

Pack healthy snacks and a bottle of water for each person. Plan to stop frequently for bathroom breaks and stretches. Trade seats periodically so everyone has a turn by a window, in the front, etc. Consider the ages and needs of children when deciding how long to drive each day.

Teach children to pack their own bags. Bring comfortable clothes, appropriate for the weather and activities you've planned, and never buy new shoes just before a trip. Blisters and sore spots are just too likely to happen.

Inexpensive digital cameras can provide great opportunities for children to take and enjoy pictures instantly. Children might save their allowances to buy them in advance. And speaking of money, it's realistic to tell children if a souvenir is in the plans or not, and if it is, what the budget limit is.

Set and rehearse family rules such as the buddy system, where each member is assigned to another, or divide children into age groups with responsible adults in charge. This is where cell phones and walkie talkie radios can save a great deal of grief. Setting a meeting place should someone become lost is essential, as is setting setting a family "code" word. One suggestion often given to young children is "if you're lost, find another mommy." Whatever your family safety rules are, make sure everyone knows them.

There are many toys that travel well, and DVD players and iPods are handy, but they can also isolate each family member into separate worlds instead of creating shared memories. Family travel gives us opportunities to interact in new and different ways. The whole family can listen to a book on tape or CD, play guessing games such as finding objects beginning with each letter of the alphabet, or spotting license plates from every state. This is a great time to sing together, to make up stories, or engage in other old-fashioned games. Traveling is also a great time for children to learn to read maps and follow instructions.

Plan age-appropriate activities, dividing into age groups if necessary. For example, short museum visits may be just right for the younger children but very trying if they drag on too long.

Some of our favorite "unexpected" moments when traveling with our three sons: We visited some caves in Colorado and because our schedule was flexible, two of the boys were able to go back the next day and do some more extensive exploring with a guide. We were warned that the red clay would ruin their clothes, so we made a quick trip to a nearby thrift store and outfitted them from head to toe with inexpensive clothes, and they had a wonderful time the next day. The more claustrophobic son also had a great time, as he chose something else to do and had Mom and Dad all to himself.

On another occasion we were on a half-day rafting trip with an experienced guide, and though there were rapids enough to satisfy the more adventurous ones, I think the boys' favorite memory of that trip was the sight of three giant turtles perched on a branch extending over a calm portion of the river. As we approached, in they went: plop, plop, plop! For some reason, the boys found this hilarious and they still talk about it.

And, as a bonus for Mom and Dad on one trip, we opened the local paper to see that our favorite rock band, Three Dog Night, was performing at the county fair that night. The boys had heard some of their music so that was okay (they were still young enough to be seen with their parents at a concert). Within the next few years, Three Dog Night's music showed up in several popular movie sound tracks and our boys were able to say, "Oh, we've seen them in concert." Once in a while Mom and Dad were really, really cool.

photo: Darling Granddaughter is all smiles after a harrowing experience in "the worst storm to hit Ohio in 30 years." More on that story in a future column.

Next week: Foreign travel.


Candace E. Salima said...

I'll definitely check your article out. I'm becoming a huge fan of

Karlene said...

Just want to remind you of our Blogging Babes potluck this Saturday at 10:00 a.m. at my house. Details are on our group blog . If you have any questions, send me an e-mail.

Hope to see you there!