No matter how well planned, family vacations are never perfect. But there are some things you can do to ease the stress of traveling with children.
To help relieve the anxiety kids often feel about going to a new place, familiarize them with the area in advance, says Susan McHenry, recreation director for Hyatt Hotels and Resorts. Point out the destination on a map or a globe, and let them write letters to tourism offices requesting brochures on points of interest.Give them realistic time references. Compare the travel time with something the child understands: "The trip will be for as long as Mister Rogers is on," or "it will take as long as the amount of time you usually spend with the babysitter."
Encourage children to save money for the trip so they will have some pocket money of their own for souvenirs.
Let the hotel or resort know in advance of any special needs such as cribs, extra beds, adjoining rooms. When you arrive, take the children on a tour of the hotel, including the pool, game room, playground and restaurants.
Be flexible. Let the children have a voice in how you will spend the day. However, do not omit much-needed naps and regular meals.
Bring along an umbrella stroller even if your child is past the stage so you won't wear yourself out carrying a tired child.
Plan activities, such as swimming, where children can play with other kids. Know where the nearest park is in case they need to let off some steam.
When touring a big city don't plan too much in one day. Visit attractions in one particular area each day.
Remember, you don't have to schedule special activities all day. Swimming, eating and watching television in the hotel are treats for children.
Include familiar things - a favorite toy, blanket, pillow, stuffed animal - so the child will feel more at home.
Let each child have his or her own suitcase and include a packing list to help locate items. Pack each day's outfit for each child in a resealable plastic food storage bag. Include socks and underwear so the child can pull out the bag and dress himself.
Pack comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and shoes that are well broken in. Bring an extra pair of sneakers for each child.
Pack a night light and plastic bags for dirty laundry and wet bathing suits. Include standard first aid items, waterproof sun screen, special medications and physician's telephone number.
Let each child pack a book bag or backpack to carry with him. Include snacks, books, tapes, writing and drawing materials, games. Let each child bring his own camera and take photos for a scrapbook.
TRAVELING BY AIR:
For a long journey, fly at night so children will sleep during part of the trip.
Ask for bulkhead seating where there is more leg room and floor space for an infant to crawl or sleep.
Order children's meals at least 48 hours in advance and let the airline know if you have an infant who will need warm bottles.
Juice for toddlers and chewing gum for older children will help relieve ear pressure during take-off and landing.
TRAVELING BY CAR:
Break the trip into segments so that it doesn't seem endless. Stop and stretch, have a picnic.
Involve the entire family in travel games such as counting license plates from different states, finding all the letters in the alphabet on road signs, playing "I see a ...." Use the car stereo or one of the kids' cassette players and tapes for a sing-a-long.
If children have been sitting all day, walk them around the hotel grounds before bedtime so they can work off some of their excess energy.
Since families will be in close quarters for a fairly long time, ease the tension by picking a buzz word for the day such as "smile." Each time someone gets cranky, the others will race to say the buzz word. This silly game, says McHenry, will lighten the mood every time.