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Your Guide to Stress-Free Family Travel

family travel

So you've gone online to research a destination, find a flight, or book a room, and now you're ready to hit the road with the kids, right? Not so fast! Even a well-planned family trip can have bumps along the way -- your toddler has a meltdown on the plane or your hotel turns out to be not so kid-friendly. Don't wait until you're caught up in a stressful situation to find a fix. Check out these smart, commonsense tricks of the trade from seasoned travels who've been there and done that with their kids.



For eating on the go ...
Suzanne Farrell, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and mom of two in Denver.

Don't go overboard. When you're traveling, you're going to run into some temptations, such as chocolate chip cookies on the plane or at the hotel. Stick to your kids' normal eating habits when you can, but it's okay to give them a treat, especially if you balance it out with healthy choices.

Pack smart snacks. Food keeps the kids' energy up and helps prevent meltdowns in stressful travel situations. But you want the snacks to be as substantial as possible -- this means keeping sweets to a minimum. I like to offer goodies such as pretzels, cheese sticks, peanut-butter wraps, and a homemade snack mix made from whole-grain cereal. My 4-year-old loves helping me make it, too.

Bertie Bregman, M.D., chief of Family Medicine Service, Allen Pavilion of New York Presbyterian Hospital, and father of four in New York City.

Boost immunity beforehand. It's definitely scary to have a sick child in an unfamiliar place. The best thing to do is make sure everyone's immune system is strong weeks before any travel. You can help do this by having your kids eat well, take vitamins, and get plenty of sleep. It won't prevent every type of illness, but it's a good start. And carry contact information for local doctors and hospitals just in case.

Bring the basics. We always pack medications, including a fever and pain reliever (acetaminophen, ibuprofen), a stomach med, a thermometer, and, of course, plenty of bandages. Also, a bottle of hand sanitizer or wipes can be a lifesaver when you're traveling.

Know local hospitals. If your child does get sick, the first place to go is the front desk at the hotel. They should have information for the local medical professionals. But it?s also a good idea to make a list of the ERs in the area (and how you can get there) before you leave home.

Veda Shook, flight attendant for Alaska Airlines and mom of two in Washington, D.C.

Keep the kids happy. I try to hide a little surprise for the kids, so if they're getting restless on the plane they can pull out a new toy, book, or game. That usually buys us more time. You should also bring an empty sippy cup to fill up at the water fountain once you've passed through security. Kids often can't wait until service comes through the plane to get something to drink. Having your own can prevent a midair meltdown.

Go nonstop. I'd rather pay extra -- or even drive an hour more to a different airport -- to get a nonstop flight than risk delays and the other hassles of taking a connecting flight with kids. But if you can't avoid connections, be sure to allow enough time between flights for your children to stretch, go to the bathroom, eat, and unwind without having to rush to the next gate.

Cut down on bags. With all the baggage fees, sometimes it's easier to buy bulky things, such as diapers, when you get there. You can also ship a box to your destination, which is often cheaper than the $25-$35 second-bag fee. If you stay with friends or family, ask to borrow their car seat, crib, and other gear.

Jennifer Huebner, spokesperson for American Automobile Association (AAA) and a mother of two in Orlando.

Research routes. For long drives with kids, I plan the route in advance, keeping in mind back roads and timing to avoid rush hour. If you're in the heart of a big city during gridlock traffic, it's not just stressful for you -- it can make the kids tense, too!

Take breaks. Build in travel time to stop every couple of hours. That gives kids a chance to move around and play. I'll even add in a quick trip to a children's museum or a big play area for them to blow off steam. Experts suggest you take a rest every two hours or 100 miles -- for kids, you should do it more often than that (after 90 minutes or less).

Be prepared. I always make a few different to-do lists, including a mini menu of snacks or a reminder to check that the car seat's installed properly. I also have a master list that tries to anticipate the kids' needs along the way, from baby wipes to games to keep them entertained during the drive.

Kammy Shuman, travel agent at Encompass the World Travel and a mother of two in Parma, Ohio.

Consider all-inclusives. These resorts are particularly nice for families because everything is right there. You don't have to worry about renting a car and car seat and driving everywhere. The cost of most food, drinks, and entertainment is already built in, so you don't have to pay every time. (See parents.com/resorts for ideas.)

Think location, location, location. When choosing your room, try to be as close to the pool, the beach, or the main attraction as possible. If you have a kid who's potty training or has to go to the bathroom a lot, you don't want to have to keep running over the sand and up 10 flights to your room.

Pick a kid-friendly place. The first thing I consider when planning a family trip is whether that hotel has kids' programs and babysitting services. Some resorts are amazing if you've got a baby. They have things such as bottle warmers, extra diapers, and even a nursery so certified staff can watch your little one while you hit the spa. Shop around hotel Websites in your ideal area to see what's available for kids.

Check into overseas options. If I'm traveling out of the country, I make sure there's food I know my kids will eat close to the hotel. It's also good to find one that offers room service, which isn't as common abroad. If you have a jet-lagged child, you don't want to have to go out in the middle of the night to find food or snacks.

Colleen Driscoll, executive director for the International Association for Child Safety and mom of three in Baltimore.

Childproof your room. Make sure there's nothing that can harm a cruising toddler or a sleeping baby. I always pack a little kit that includes things such as a night-light, outlet covers, latches, and a travel safety gate. FYI: Some hotels will provide proofing kits or even do it for you if you ask in advance.

Have a backup plan. Don't be afraid to change rooms or even hotels if you?re worried about your child's safety. We did it after discovering our room had a tile floor. Our daughter was starting to crawl, and we felt like we couldn't safely put her down.

Originally published in the October 2010 issue of Parents magazine.