Family vacations can create long-lasting memories and fun learning experiences for parents and children alike. But traveling with children can sometimes be a test of preparedness — and of patience. Here is a list of suggestions to help make the sometimes daunting task of preparing for a trip with the kids manageable and fun for the entire family.
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 (preferably loose and comfortable), but allow them to choose their favorites and to pack a special toy. In a carry-on 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.
Update immunizations for the entire family. If traveling abroad, check with public health authorities for advisable additional vaccines.
AT THE AIRPORT
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 new 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.
Review screening procedures with children before entering security checkpoints so they will not be frightened by the process. Every person, including children and babies, must undergo screening at security checkpoints. Also, all child-related equipment must go through the X-ray machine. To speed the process along, remove children from their strollers/infant carriers and collapse/fold the equipment so it may be examined or put through the machine. When going through metal detectors, with an infant, have one parent hold the baby and walk through the machine. Do not hand off the baby under the detector, or hand the baby to the screener to hold. Children who can walk should go through the metal detector independently. For older children, it is important to stress that the process should be taken seriously and that threats made even as a joke could result in law enforcement being summoned.
ON THE FLIGHT
Bring a child/infant seat on board that meets current safety standards and is not more than 16 inches wide. The Federal Aviation Administration recommends that children weighing less than 40 pounds be placed in child/infant seats.
The best coach seats to have when flying with small children are the first row in economy class. There’s a lot of legroom, and you’ll be removed from most of the plane when the kids get cranky from the long flight. If the front row seats are not available, place children away from the aisle, preferably between responsible adults. Also, remember to get up, stretch and walk around with kids often during the flight, but do not allow children to walk around unsupervised.
Getting your seat assignment in advance can help ensure families are seated together and that children and adults will be seated next to each other. If a flight is full and obtaining seat assignments in advance is not a possibility, advise the airline personnel at the airport. The airline may need to ask other passengers to change seats so children are not seated apart from parents.
Bring bottled water to drink and lotion to apply to skin to rehydrate during the dry flight; gum, pacifiers and bottles to reduce air pressure on the children’s ears; and a variety of toys in carry-on bags to keep the child’s interest from waning. (You can purchase bottled water and beverages after you go through airport security.)
IF TRAVELING BY CAR
Make it comfortable by bringing pillows and blankets. Stop frequently at rest stops to stretch and make use of restrooms. Play games like “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. Most importantly, keep children involved in the vacation process. Save everything collected on vacation – brochures, napkins, ticket stubs – and have children paste them into a scrapbook.
Plan ahead with the rental company to make sure they offer car seats and installation. If not, you’ll have to bring your own in addition to a collapsible stroller. If nothing else, a simple call to the rental car company may save you the hassle of bringing along one extra piece of equipment.
Have a daily schedule planned with some flexible, free time for each family member. Provide friends or relatives with phone numbers and addresses of hotels where the family will stay, transportation information and emergency contact information. If possible, each member of the family should have a cell phone or walkie-talkie to keep in touch at all times. Coming up with an emergency plan or meeting point is also a good idea in case family members become separated.
AT THE HOTEL
Put safety first by avoiding a myriad of possible accidents. Bring outlet protectors and make a sweep of balconies and bathrooms for any potential dangers. Hide away small objects, accessible medications and cleaners children could get their hands on. Familiarize yourself with the hotel’s fire and emergency evacuation routes and procedures.
SOME EXTRA PRECAUTIONS
If your vacation includes a trip to a pool, ocean, water park or any other place involving water, the number one rule is to never let children venture off alone. Even if they know how to swim, children should wear a life jacket at all times. Also, it is important to know what is in the water, such as chemicals or jellyfish. Very cold temperatures, currents, and sudden drop-offs are all things to avoid, especially with children.
Always bring a hat with a wide brim and sunscreen of at least 30 SPF to shield children’s skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Sun poisoning can ruin any vacation.
It is important to bring along needed medications. Diarrhea treatments (although these should not be given to very young children), pain relievers, insect repellants, antihistamines and adhesive bandages are good staples. Consult your doctor about “over the counter” remedies before using them. Bringing a doctor’s number, even if traveling to a foreign country, is a good idea, as well.
To prevent diseases spread by drinking contaminated water, use only bottled or boiled water to mix formula and juices, or simply go with pre-mixed liquid formula whenever possible, if an infant is not being nursed.
Maintain a good sense of humor while traveling to give your children a vacation to remember in spite of any unforeseen obstacles. Remember that problems do arise and accidents do happen, but being prepared and keeping our travel tips in mind may help avoid hassles and undue stress.