Now that summer’s here, many of us are looking forward to taking family vacations. And whether we travel by planes, trains or automobiles, these trips take careful planning. Linda Morgan, editor of ParentMap Magazine and author of the book Beyond Smart, offers ideas on how to make traveling with kids easy and fun.
What’s the first thing parents should think about when planning a trip with kids?
Be prepared. That means however you travel, plan for just about anything. Think about medical needs – pack over the counter meds like kids Tylenol, especially if you are leaving the country. Don’t count on the same medications being available. Thermometer could be in centigrade. Remember the right documents – even babies need passports. Bring a stroller and if you’ll be in a car, a car seat – or you can rent one through car rental company. Kids are always hungry. Bring crackers, snacks, easy ones you can take in a bag: Finger food, Cheerios, crackers and peanut butter.
How can we get our kids involved in the planning?
There are books about just about everyplace you’re going – and written for young kids. Read to your youngest children – and get books about the place you are visiting for the older kids. Get older kids novels set in the locations you’re going to. From The Diary of Anne Frank to Mary Poppins, kids can visualize culture, geography and history as reflected through fiction and biographies. Show them movies that have historical context. Driving? Go over maps and let your kids plan the route. Compute distances and time frames. How long will it take to get from point A to point B?
Once you’re at your destination, what’s the best way to organize your time?
Don’t pack too much into a day – focus on one or two sightseeing spots, then fill in the rest – depending on your child’s age – with visits to parks, zoos, kid-friendly places and activities. Look for hands-on tours, like cheese-making or chocolate factories – or glass blowing. And add in a swimming opportunity. Try to find chances for them to exercise - bicycling, running. We used to have family runs.
How can we make traveling with kids a great experience?
Keep a journal
Do the little things with kids, not the big things. Watch people make the cheeses. Stop in small villages and or small towns. Go see castles and look at the cobblestone roads and the swans in the park. And don't try to tackle too many destinations. One city in one week works well with kids. The younger the child, the fewer places you should visit.
And books and gadgets. This is not the time to worry whether your child should or shouldn’t be watching a DVD. Stickers, magnetic story boards, activity books by Klutz, workbooks, audio recordings of stories, CD recordings by storyteller Jim Weiss include books like Uncle Wiggly's Storybook, Animal Tales, and Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
The more flexible you are, the more fun your trip will be. Let things happen. If your children really like a place, stay there. You may not get the exact hotel you want, but you should be able to find a place to stay. Doing things spontaneously can be the best part of your trip.
Try to get your kids to write about something they did on the trip each day. Or younger kids can dictate to you. Other ways to help your child remember the trip: Ask your child to talk into it your video; or assemble a post-trip scrapbook, complete with photos, descriptions and small mementos.
For more information, go to ParentMap.com.