Herald Journal Columns
April 25, 2005, Herald Journal

More tips for traveling with children


Family vacations are very important for creating memories, traditions, and family togetherness.

Whether it is a weekend stay at a hotel, a trip to our family’s cabin, or a longer vacation, I love getting away with my family, leaving all the chores and duties behind and focusing on my family and just spending time with them, without the distractions of dirty laundry and dishes.

Family vacations really help to put things in perspective and help me realize, once again, what is most important. When you go on vacation, you have everything with you that’s most important – your family (and maybe a toothbrush).

When I was a child, we never went on long vacations because my parents were farmers, and it was difficult to get away for long periods of time, but my parents made sure we still got away – whether it was to Duluth, the state fair, or to see Paul Bunyan. We had some great family getaway times.

Those family vacation memories with my parents and twin brother, and now with my own family, remain as some of the best memories I have. I look forward to creating more treasured family vacation memories with my own family.

This early summer, my husband, children, and I are heading to the Black Hills of South Dakota for a getaway. We are busy looking through the South Dakota material that we sent for. We are all having fun browsing through the pictures and maps of places and things to see and do – it’s all part of the vacation fun, and I get just as excited as my children as I imagine what’s in store.

Just as vacations are fun, they can also be exhausting and stressful at times, so it’s important to keep some key items in mind, as well as remembering to bring some key items along to keep the stress at a minimum.

Eliminate most begging for money by establishing a set amount of money a child can spend per trip, day, etc., and then let them choose how to spend it. One may spend it on snacks, and another on trinkets and souvenirs, or one may even save it.

The website, www.cyberparent.com, recommends laying low on debt by planning a shorter family vacation that may be closer to home or a less luxurious one, rather than being in debt for months after the vacation.

Camping is an excellent low-cost family vacation, and it seems, children love to camp. If that’s not your idea of fun, the website recommends visiting a national or state park, or spending some time at the beach can also be relaxing and inexpensive.

Gear your family vacation to the age and interests of your children, remembering that children are energetic, but also can “crash” and get tired. Don’t overdo the planned activities.

The website, www.alltraveltips.com, notes that when traveling with children by air, if at all possible, book at non-peak times (late at night, midday, and Monday to Wednesday). This gives you a chance at a free seat for your child to stretch out and sleep. In addition, always arrive at the airport early.

For long road trips with children, the aforementioned website also recommends, prior to the trip, writing a list in a small notebook of all the cities you will be passing through. When on the trip, as you get to each city, point it out to your children, and they can check the city off the list. It gives them somewhat of a visual idea of how much more of the trip they have left, and it gives them something to do every so often.

Plan a few games for the car or plane and the restaurant. The license game, when traveling cross country, is always fun. Have younger children identify colors of cars and shapes of signs; for example, “find something that is shaped like a triangle.”

My family also likes to play the alphabet game by finding a certain letter of the alphabet on a sign, license plate, etc. We start at the beginning of the alphabet and continue going until we’ve found the letter “z.” Sometimes, it takes a while, but it helps to pass the time in the car while keeping minds, hands, and mouths busy.

Singing and listening to music is always great entertainment for everyone, so make sure to bring along a variety of cassettes or compact discs. The above website recommends writing down the names of your children’s favorite songs on separate pieces of paper, mixing them up in a small bag or container, and while traveling, having your children take turns picking out a piece of paper for everyone to sing along to the song that is written on the paper.

You can also play “Name that Tune” in the car. Hum a few sounds/notes to the song chosen and have the children guess what tune it is. See who can guess with the least amount of notes given.

Bring along some art materials for the children to use in the car, restaurant, and/or in the hotel room. These items can be as simple as a folder, some paper, markers or crayons, postcards, and stickers. Lap trays and clipboards make great surfaces for children to do their activities on.

The website www.alltraveltips.com, recommends purchasing cheap toys and gadgets from places like a dollar store and placing the items in surprise bags to be used for rewards when children are following travel rules, such as no whining, keeping your hands to yourself (and not on your sibling), no complaining, etc. Intermittently award them with a special prize from the bag. It’s amazing how children are entertained by “small surprises” and new things.

Travel-sized games and items, such as a small Magnadoodle or Etch-a-Sketch, are great items to entertain children while traveling, too. On a Magnadoodle, the pen is attached and won’t get lost, and that always helps. (It reminds me of the commercial where the baby always loses her pacifier in the car, and the mother is always trying to search for the pacifier while driving – not safe, but we’ve probably all done it – or had to pull over and find it or some other item our children have dropped or lost in the car).

Of course, books and magazines, including books on tape/CD are sure things to bring along while traveling. Before my family goes on a trip, I let each of my children (and me, too) pick out one new book, sticker book, or magazine to bring along. It is always exciting to look at a new book or magazine.

If traveling by plane, remember to pack a change of clothes for yourself. Sticky drinks, treats, and hands can easily “land” on you from your eager little ones, and you will be glad you brought an extra set of clothes along on board.

It is also a great idea to buy postcards of places you visit and help your children write down whatever they want to remember about the trip on the backs of the postcards. This is a wonderful way for kids to remember their trip in their own words.

Last, but not least, always make sure your children go to the bathroom before you leave, whether it be in a vehicle or before you leave the airport (and you, too, for that matter, because we parents always forget or never have time to go).

Oh, and of course, have fun!

Fun outdoor game

If your child has some friends over, The Big Wind Blows game from FamilyFun magazine, March 2005, is a fun one.

To play, have all but one player (the caller) sit arm’s length apart in a circle. The caller stands in the middle of the circle and begins the game by saying “The big wind blows….” and completing the sentence with a description that applies to herself and to at least two other members of the group, such as “anyone wearing a red shirt” or “everyone with blue eyes.”

All of the players to whom her description applies must get up and dash across the circle to another seat, maneuvering around other players trying to relocate (including the caller, who scrambles for a spot herself). The player left without a seat becomes the caller for the next round – which children love to be anyway.

A healthy snack idea

To make Cat’s Eyes, you need peanut butter, Ritz or other round crackers, a banana, cut into slices; and raisins. Spread peanut butter on crackers and top each with a slice of banana. Place a raisin in center of each banana to form a cat’s eye and repeat for all banana-topped crackers. Enjoy!

An organizational tip

Spring is here, and with spring comes outdoor play and work, which, for me anyway, means my inside housework is on the back burner of my priority list ( I love to be outside playing and gardening).

Here’s a piece of advice I found reassuring from a FamilyFun magazine reader: “Let go of perfectionism. It’s the number one reason for procrastination. You don’t have to do the job perfectly to get it done. Housework done incorrectly or imperfectly still blesses your family.”

A great motto, I think.

Have a “family fun” week!