On the Road Again
Tips for traveling with the kids this summer.
By Harriet Kalinin
If the thought of traveling with children makes shivers run up and down your spine, remind yourself that exploring and seeing other cultures first-hand is an important and enjoyable learning experience.
As the child of expatriates, my brothers and I grew up traveling the world, though that doesnít mean you should follow our motherís experience of pony trekking in the Himalayas while pregnant. Travel agents have a wide selection of family-oriented holidays; the key is to plan plenty of kidsí activities and try not to accomplish too much at once.
Few places are off-limits to pint-size travelers, though parents might want to take into account the number of vaccinations and preventative medications required when choosing a destination. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control advises against vaccinating babies against yellow fever, so trips to sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America are best postponed. Malaria also poses a problem; pregnant women are advised not to travel to malaria zones as the disease can cause complications, and children cannot take all anti-malarial medications.
Even those restrictions, though, leave a large portion of the planet open to discovery, whether itís a trip across Russia or abroad. Most people everywhere will be friendly and helpful to families, particularly those with young children or babies, even if there are major cultural differences or language divides.
The most important part of your journey, though, starts well before you head for the airport. Itís crucial to research your destination carefully - donít search for a hotel while your exhausted, hungry offspring are fighting, or get up in the morning without having some fun daytime activities in mind. Be flexible in your plans and let older children participate in the planning; activities centering around the beach or animals are always a hit, as are tours of kid-friendly museums or natural wonders. It may be helpful to give your child a picture book or childrenís literature about the country youíre heading to.
The easiest method of vacationing with children is to take a package trip. Destinations such as Egyptís Sharm el-Sheikh and Cyprus require very little thought: most all-inclusive hotels have kidsí programs, and if the kids get tired of that thereís always the beach.
But that doesnít leave much mystery for the adults. Some imagination and careful planning can produce successful family vacations to such exotic destinations as Thailand, India or Cuba. Itís crucial to pay attention to what you and your children are eating and drinking - if you canít cook it, peel it or boil it, forget it - and to bring along a good medical kit in case of injury or illness.
And finally, donít be afraid to take advice from the experts. "Travel with Children" by Maureen Wheeler is the Bible of parent-travelers, with plenty of invaluable information. On the Internet, check the Centers for Disease Control for immunization and health information (www.cdc.gov), and travelforkids.com for lots of practical advice and destination suggestions.
- At least six weeks before leaving, ask your doctor about travel vaccinations. Mothers may have to stop breast-feeding if both mother and child are vaccinated. Take plenty of baby formula and buy only bottled water (check the seal is still intact), even for cleaning teeth, if youíre traveling in less-developed countries.
- Check to make sure all passports are still valid and all visas have been obtained. Bring copies of passports, birth certificates, immunization records, prescriptions for medication and glasses and, if only one parent is traveling, copies of any custody agreements or a letter of permission from the other parent that says the children are allowed to travel. If glasses are broken or passports are lost, it will make replacement that much easier.
- If your laptop computer has a DVD player, bring it with kidsí movies and an extra battery or two - itís a lifesaver if the in-flight entertainment isnít working or isnít kid-oriented.
- Pack creative, age-appropriate snacks, including nuts or dried fruit, in small plastic containers with secure lids. Save them for long waits in the airport or a particularly trying moment on the plane. Avoid sugary snacks, which will only create whiny, cranky kids and adults.
- Plan travel around nap time - at least an hour of travel time will be peaceful.
- Keep one new, small unopened toy for emergencies. Make sure itís one your child hasnít seen before.
- "I Spy" can be played anywhere. Point out interesting things and the kids will follow suit: "I spy with my little eye a statue of Lenin!"
- Bring books with lots of illustrations, like Richard Scarryís childrenís books or many Russian childrenís books. Even if your kids donít read Russian, the pictures will keep them entertained.
- Bring cassettes of stories and a small tape player to play them on.
- The classic childrenís "View Master" toy is easy to pack; include several disks of stories, or pictures that you can invent stories from.
- Provide older kids with a travel journal to record their thoughts and experiences from the start of the journey.
- Order a childrenís meal and play pack in advance and confirm shortly before the flight - donít assume theyíll be provided automatically. Ask if your car seat can be taken on board; kids will be comforted by their own belongings and you can use it on arrival.
- Book the front seats and bassinet if you have a baby. Depending on your childrenís age and the airline, you may not have to buy a separate seat, though you may prefer to on longer journeys.
- Pack supplies in your hand luggage: milk, bottles, diapers and baby wipes, change of clothing, spare plastic bags, and so on.
- Always have drinks ready for your baby or children at take-off and landing: sucking helps with the changes in pressure.
- Leave plenty of time for check-in. Ask if the airport has a play area.
- Some airlines are better than others when dealing with families: ask friends for their experiences and recommendations.
Tips by Harriet Kalinin and Jennifer Cherkasova