How to Travel with Young Kids

If you've been hesitant to take a family trip with little tykes in tow, fear no more.
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Fear

I'll lose her in the crowd!

Solution

Dress your child in bright colors so she's easy to spot. An ID bracelet is a good idea -- try one from ID on Me ($14, idonme.com). And, just in case, carry your child's photo with you.

Fear

My darling will turn into a screaming monster on the plane.

Solution

That's usually due to pressure-induced earaches, which are the worst during takeoff and landing. Encourage constant swallowing during those times. Infants get a bottle or a breast; give older kids chewing gum or hard candy.

Fear

My child will get bored in the car.

Solution

Make stops every few hours: Find spots where you can picnic and run around. Remember to bring plenty of snacks and water.

Fear

Jet lag will clobber the poor dear.

Solution

In the days leading up to the trip, move bedtime at home closer to bedtime at the destination, but don't worry too much. Children are much more adaptable to time changes -- their bodies respond to dark and light as much as to a schedule.

Fear

I won't eke out one moment of relaxation.

Solution

You set the tone for your family vacation, so do your best to remain stress-free. Start out well rested: Don't leave Friday after a hectic week at work. And each parent should have an afternoon alone, to get a massage or read by the pool.

Fear

She'll get cranky while we're seeing the sights.

Solution

Set a loose itinerary. If you planned to hit a museum but your child is having a blast at the pool, go with the flow. Also, kids are creatures of habit, so stay at just one hotel if possible.

Fear

My kid will puke before we even get there.

Solution

Dramamine is safe for most kids, but check with your doc, and if your child is prone to motion sickness, pack plastic bags, wipes and a change of clothes.

Fear

Getting through the airport will be a nightmare.

Solution

Start with the right luggage, like the streamlined Eagle Creek's Pack- It system (from $8, eaglecreek.com). Instead of carrying a car seat with you, bring a plane-safe harness that can fit in your purse ($75, kidsflysafe.com). Rent hefty equipment, such as car seats and cribs, at your destination.

THE PERKS

Unexpected benefits of traveling with little ones.

1. You have license to be a kid again. Drop the sophisticated act and whoop it up -- on a zip line, waterslide or the hotel bed. Turns out it's a lot more fun than taking an architecture tour.

2. Your children will see a new side of you. Away from carpools and bosses, you'll have time to be silly. Your bond will be strengthened.

3. You'll be treated better. Most people you come across -- taxi drivers, hotel clerks -- will be friendlier now that you have a charming child in tow.

4. You'll bring home a new kid, one who's more patient, worldly and, if you're lucky, open to new experiences.

THE COUNTDOWN

Two months before
Include your child in the planning process. Show him places you are considering and let him help choose activities. The more involved he is, the less anxiety he'll feel.

One month before
Call airlines and hotels and ask about kid-friendly amenities.

The airline:
-- Do you provide infant bassinets?
-- Do you have special meals for children?
-- Does the in-flight entertainment include kid-specific games or movies?

The hotel:
-- Do you provide cribs?
-- Is there a pool, and does it have a shallow end?
-- Are there activities for kids, such as a movie night?

Two weeks before
Buy a special backpack. Over the next two weeks, fill it with inexpensive new toys, but don't let him play with anything until you're on the road. Keep a few surprises socked away in your purse, to be revealed along the way.

One week before
At bedtime, read them books about traveling, like Lisa's Airplane Trip ($12, madallie.com), and show them where you're going on a globe or in an atlas.

Four days before
Cook a meal or visit a restaurant that serves the type of food you're likely to encounter on your trip.

One day before
Have your child pick one special toy or blanket that will be a comfort to her.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q: Should I pay for an airline seat for a child under age 2, or can I get away with a lap child and hope to score a free seat?

A: Most planes are flying near capacity these days, so chances are you won't get that free seat. If the flight is more than two hours, pony up.

Q: What about luggage charges?

A: Unless you are a frequent flier with premium-level status, you will likely be charged bag fees (JetBlue, Southwest and many international flights are exceptions). Most start at $25 for the first bag. The best way to avoid fees is to pack light and carry on, but this isn't always realistic. Consolidating bags into one or two per family is a good way to keep the costs down.

Q: Can I preboard with kids?

A: Not always. Some airlines, like Southwest, routinely offer preboarding to families traveling with children under the age of 4; others skip this courtesy. If you think you need the extra time, request early boarding when you?re gate-checking the stroller.

Q: What do I need to bring on the plane?

A: Food and drinks. Snacks and meals are rarely free, if available at all. (They're often sold out by the time they reach the back of the plane.) The TSA makes an exception on its 3-ounce liquid limit for breast milk, baby formula or juice.

*Prices and other details were accurate when we published this article in October 2009.

 

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