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Traveling With Kids: A Survival Guide

Planning keeps kids calm and comfortable -- and preserves parents' sanity.

Air Travel Tips

A car seat/stroller combo certainly makes travel easier -- and it's worth the investment, if you don't have one. You'll be well prepared when you reach your travel destination.

  • Plan to stow the stroller on board at the gate, and take the car seat aboard.

  • Get a child-sized rolling suitcase for kids over 5; kids love to help carry.

  • Check whether the airline allows a bassinet on board and if special child's meals are provided.

  • While waiting for your flight, don't try to confine kids to a chair unless it's very crowded. Go from window to window watching the planes. Or supervise them in the play area at the airport.

  • Take kids to the bathroom before boarding.

  • If the baby starts screaming, she may be clearing her ears from the altitude. This is a good time to nurse or bottle-feed your infant.

Road Trip Tips

Before you head out, let kids run around a while -- to burn off energy. During the trip, don't bypass fast-food playgrounds or parks. Travel with kids is especially enjoyable during nap time, when parents can enjoy peace and quiet.

  • Pack the kids' stuff on top in the trunk so it's easily accessible en route. Store toys in a slip cover with a pocket that hangs over the front seat.

  • Keep toddlers in a car seat (booster types are advised for post-toddlers), along with comfy pillows and soft covers.

  • Let older kids map the route with a small road atlas. "OK, kids, we're in South Bend, what comes next?"

  • Bring a mixing bowl in case of car sickness. Tuck in a roll of paper towels and even a portable potty for the littlest ones.

  • Start a new road game when tempers flare.

Make the Trip Fun

Let kids look up the destination city on the Internet and plan some outings and must-sees, says Carol Weston, author of For Teens Only and the travel-related teen book, Melanie Martin Goes Dutch. "Kids like some independence. But have rules about the minibar."

  • Buy a deck of cards. "These can be whipped out anywhere!" Weston says.

  • Pack their favorite toys and blankets, says Cass. Bring lots of underwear and swim suits. "The jeans and heavy things, you might have to economize."

  • Hit the library. "We love books on tape in the car," Weston says. She recommends the audiotape of Of Mice and Men. Her girls, 12 and 13, also loved D'Aulaires'Book of Greek Myths.

  • Music CDs are a must for headphones or in-car entertainment. "It's your kids' vacation, too, so be fair," Weston says. "A little opera, a little rap. Bring both."

  • Pass out travel diaries at the beginning of the trip, Weston advises. "Cute little individual notebooks. Kids may keep it going even if they don't write in a diary at home." She also stocks up on postcards at rest stops and deals them out to the kids while waiting for food to arrive. "Here, write to Grandma."

Another lifesaver: When you travel with kids, have a secret grab bag. Each kid gets a little wrapped surprise -- markers, matchbox cars, puzzle books, stickers, activity books, mazes, threading cards (yarn), magnets, Go-Fish cards, silly putty, trading cards, and the like. This is for emergencies only. You also can designate gifts -- "Open only when we get to St. Louis."

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Reviewed on July 12, 2004

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