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Survival Guide for Traveling with Little Kids....
Life Can be Grand!

by Mitch Kaplan

California Coast; photo by T. Thompson 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.

Think Small
Little ones love little pleasures: splashing in the hotel pool, playing hide-and-seek in the lobby, stacking up rocks on the beach. Don't overload them.

Seek Creative Transportation
For young children, getting there is often more fun than being there. When Dan was two years old, he thought a train ride on the commuter line into New York City was a vacation in itself. Seek out ferries, trolleys, shuttles, trains, surreys, and double-decker buses, and you'll be rewarded with a cheap thrill that's as fun for little ones as a Disneyland ride.

Limit the Shopping
Our rule at attractions is a firm one: No shopping, not even looking, until we are leaving the place. Young children can get consumed by and panicky about choosing a souvenir, and they'll enjoy the museum or theme park more if they can focus on the activities, not the trinkets.

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.

Give Them a Voice
Even four-year-olds will benefit from feeling like they have some control over his vacation. When possible, let them make simple choices for the family, like "Should we walk to the beach or ride the trolley?"

Prepare for Down Time
Bring books or quiet hobbies to amuse yourself during nap times or play times. Remember, their ability to tackle the big world is much more limited than yours.

Adapt to Their Pace
It's stressful enough to get a kindergartner out the door to school each morning, so don't keep take that kind of stress on vacation. They need a break from being rushed, too. If they're happy playing in their pajamas for an extra half hour, the museum can wait. If you need to be somewhere at a scheduled time - like a performance - leave extra time to get ready. Conversely, accept that the times you like to be more leisurely - think dinnertime! - leave kids impatient.

More survival tips for traveling with SCHOOL AGED CHILDREN.

More survival tips for traveling with GRANDCHILDREN.

...... 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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