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Millions of American families vacation each year without incident. But a small number encounter trouble along the way. They accidentally leave a child behind at a convenience store, or a youngster becomes separated from his family at a theme park.

Virginia Duncan, a travel consultant for Budgetel Inns, suggests ways to improve your odds. "The thing you're trying to guard against in the hotel, on the road or in the mall is separation from the family," she said during an interview with the Deseret News. "The chance of that happening on a vacation is slim. But the chance of a momentary separation with one of the kids is very likely."How do you prepare for a safe and happy family vacation? Here are her suggestions.

- Adapt family safety rules to the road. Teach your children how to phone for help from a hotel room. (Show them how to dial the front desk because they can't dial 911 directly.) Use a buddy system so that no child will ever be alone.

- Shop for security in a hotel, just like you shop for price. Look for one with guest room doors that open to an interior hallway (not directly outside), card key lock systems, and guest room doors with deadbolts, security chains and peepholes. Make sure the places you stay have 24-hour front desk staffing.

- Look at a hotel room through a child's eyes. Child-proof the room like you child-proof your home. Run a fire drill. Show your children how to lock and unlock the door. Tell them not to unlock the door if a stranger is knocking.

- Wherever you go, whether it's a theme park, a mall or a museum, designate a place to meet if you become separated. Point out to your children strangers they can ask to help them such as uniformed security guards or uniformed police.

- Role-play what they should do if they're approached by a stranger. Tell them not to answer the stranger's questions and to look for an "approved" adult. If someone touches them, they should scream. "Children who are prepared for lures seldom follow them," said Duncan.

- Children under 5 years old should wear an ID bracelet. ID for children 5 and over can be in their pocket. Budgetel Inns nationwide issue free child ID bracelets to children 5 and under who are staying at the inn.

By following common-sense suggestions such as these, you probably won't be the family that drives away from the gas station leaving one of your children behind, only to discover the loss 150 miles down the interstate. Or you won't be the single parent who tucks his three-year-old into a hotel-room bed and thinking he's asleep, goes downstairs to the bar. In the meantime, the child has awakened and is wandering the hallways, knocking on doors.

Both stories, believe it or not, are true, said Duncan.

She is a passionate believer in family travel. "It's a rebonding time for families. They should still travel. They just have to learn how to be safe. The smart traveler is the safe traveler."



Free brochure

To request a free "Kid Safe" pamphlet published by Budgetel Inns, call 1-800-4-BUDGET. The flier lists eight tips for safe family travel. You can also request "Tips for Today's Woman Traveler" by calling that number.