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Survival Guide for Traveling with School-Aged Kids....
Sure-fire Tips for a Great Vacation

by Mitch Kaplan

yum Why travel with kids? Because: children gain a greater understanding of the world from seeing new places, meeting new people and experiencing new ideas; siblings form a special bond from traveling together, a bond less likely to be formed at home, where they have separate classrooms, separate friends, separate rooms. So, never hesitate to pack 'em up and hit the road!

Involve Them in Planning
Decide where the vacation will take place. Then bring your kids into the planning process. Arm them with material about your destination - brochures, books, maps and websites - so they'll feel like they have enough information to be taken seriously. Look for pop culture landmarks--movie locations, fashion palaces or music venues or sports events. Answer their questions. They want to express their opinions; they appreciate being treated as a serious contributor. The getaway is much more enjoyable when everyone wants to be there.

This is Supposed to be Fun, Remember?
It's up to you to make sure to build in some fun for each family member. And, as a family, everyone needs to remember to indulge their traveling companions from time to time. Recognize that your responses to challenges on the road - delayed flights, long lines, unsatisfactory accommodations - will influence the way your children will deal with frustrations. Be patient, be calm, and teach your children these important lifelong skills. Vacations are times for adventure, relaxation, shared experiences, time alone--whatever your family decides.

Less is More than Enough
Leave plenty of down time in the schedule. Simple breakfasts on the beach or early evening walks to nowhere often create memorable moments. And, kids treasure moments, not places or days. Give the kids plenty of room to run and play; a morning collecting seashells or an afternoon at the hotel pool can be more satisfying than standing in line at a crowded theme-park attraction.

A good rule of thumb may sound stringent: no more than two activities in a day. If you spend the morning at a museum, and plan to go to dinner in Times Square, go back to the hotel in the afternoon to rest and swim. If you're driving from Washington, DC, to Hershey, PA, plan to visit the theme park the next day. Then you can stop on the way at the Gettysburg Battlefield or the funny little town that time forgot. Remember that travel itself is an activity

Also, plan activities provide breaks from each other. The quarters get a little close after a week together in a hotel room, particularly if children are of significantly different ages. Schedule an afternoon where mom and dad split duties, giving each other a break; take advantage of child and teen programs offered in many resorts; make sure you get at least one evening alone with your spouse. Everyone benefits from a little elbow room.

Space to Call Their Own
Whether it's a backpack, a carry-on train case, or one of those shoebag-like hanging pockets that fit over the car seat in front of them, each kid needs a portable room of his or her own in which to stow gum, cards, books, disposable cameras, and souvenirs.

Give Them a Spending Budget
Kids will want every souvenir and trinket they see. Then, they'll often regret having bought that "thing" when they see something even more desirable. Give them a budget, either daily or weekly, and be strict about enforcing its limits. We've had great success with budgeting a total amount to spend for the week (say $50) and reminding them how much that equals each day.

Create a New Routine
Most elementary school-aged kids do best with a certain amount of predictability, so create little routines and rituals for your traveling life. Knowing that his parents will always stop sight-seeing by 3 p.m. to swim (or will never check out without one last hour in the pool) is comforting to a fourth-grader. Knowing that you will have $5 spending money each day can do away with shopping anxiety. Having set turns as map reader can add some fun to a hundred-mile drive.

Avoid Eating Breakfast Out
School-age kids are at their brightest and best in the morning, and waiting for table service at a ho-hum restaurant can start the day on the wrong foot. Carry fruit, cereal, milk, and juices in coolers or, if you can book one, to a room with a kitchenettes. Or, pop for room service - it's the least expensive and most wonderfully indulgent time to do so.

Beware Befuddled Expectations
School-aged kids are old enough to have some reference points, and young enough to have gaping holes in their mental pictures of the world. Kids worry that the car will tumble down the cliff on a winding mountain road; they expected to see gold nuggets in the bottom of the creek in Gold Country. Ask what's going on in their minds. Listen. Don't over-promise.

Watch the Diet
It's fun to let vacation time be a time of special treats, but overindulgence in junk food, sweets, and caffeinated drinks may contribute to behavior changes in kids who aren't sleeping in their own beds and are full of adrenaline as it is.

Kids Hate Scenery
Drive them through it if you must, but don't demand too much attention on their part.

Give Them a Ship's Log
A roll of tape and a blank book are all that's needed to turn ticket stubs, menus, brochures, and postcards from a clutter of trash into a wonderful scrapbook that's always ready to be shared and enjoyed.

Hotels and Motels Are Not Just for Sleeping.
Allow time for getting ice, playing in the pool, reviewing all items and prices in the minibar, packing and unpacking, using the hair dryer, putting laundry into the laundry bags, trying out the vending machines, etc.

Hit the Playgrounds
Check your maps and ask ahead about public playgrounds with climbing and sliding equipment. On days when you'll be sight-seeing, driving, or absorbing culture, allow for an hour's lunch or rest stop at the playground. Even on city vacations, try to set aside at least one day for pure physical fun at a beach or water park or playground.

Just Say Yes to Ranger Tours
These tours are often designed with schoolkids in mind. You may never never taste sand flies, or see a tarantula up close, or understand about the Welsh miner's lunch pails if you don't check the schedule at the state or national park information center and made a point to join the ranger walk.

More survival tips for LITTLE KIDS.

More survival tips for GRANDPARENTS.

...... Mitch Kaplan is the author of "The Unofficial Guide to the Mid-Atlantic with Kids," a contributor to "The Unofficial Guide to New England & New York with Kids," and the author of "The Cheapskate's Guide to Myrtle Beach" and "The Golf Book of Lists".





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