1. Plan the vacation with YOUR children in mind. Think about the ages and developmental levels of your children when planning a vacation. While some four-year-olds can keep themselves busy in a car for long periods of time, most need frequent breaks, lots of activities, snacks, and patience! Plan trips from your children’s point of view. Kids don’t have an awareness of what they are “missing” on a trip, they only know what they are experiencing. As you think about running from sun-up to sun-down through the streets of Disneyworld, and you picture yourself yelling at the kids to stop crying and keep up, STOP! Take a break and rethink your plan! Getting to only 7 rides, but savoring and enjoying each one AND the sights in-between, will have a must more lasting, positive memory than hurriedly and crazily rushing through all 16, barely taking time to appreciate any one before you shuttle along to the next!
2. Be creative in the car. There’s a great game on the market called “Are we there yet?” It’s a deck of cards with things to look for on a road trip. Both the front and back of the cards have things like: a car with a flat tire, two birds flying together, a broken fence, or a tractor. Each time your child spots one of the objects, they earn a new card. Instead of playing child against child, have them be a team – during the next 30 minutes, if they are able to find 10 items on the cards between them, they win! To save money, you can make up your own deck of cards. Prizes can be little token things you pick up before starting your trip, a small souvenir from your next destination, or something special that you can do together as a family when you get to your next hotel. Be creative in planning those long rides, and anticipate the time for frequent breaks as part of your travel plans.
3. For the plane ride, pack a bag of tricks. It’s essential to pack small snacks, as you never know if you will be stuck on a runway or circling a city longer than planned. Suckers are great during take-offs and landings as the swallowing process helps keep little ears from popping. If your child has a real problem with his ears, someone once told me that if you heat some wet paper towels (use the bathroom sink if it has hot water or ask the flight attendant to heat them in a microwave on board) and put the paper towels in the bottoms of small cups, then place the cups over the child’s ears. The ears will not feel the pressure of landing. A Portable DVD player is a great entertainment tool on an airplane. Make sure you charge the battery. You can also go online to www.seatguru.com to see if your airline's plane has an outlet near your seat. Check with the site to make sure you have the right adapter as well!
4. Be creative in your preparations for the kids! Once I decided to make a felt board for my kids when they were very young and we had a long journey planned. I wanted to give them something unique to play with, but didn’t have a lot of money to buy the professionally made ones. While it was a lot of work, it was a godsend! I bought felt from the local art supply store. If you can find the kind with one side that has sticky-tape on it, it works best. Otherwise, you need to have white glue as well. Each child had different colored felt backing, based on her favorite color at the time. I also purchased several rolls of clear shelf liner. I put the felt on two pieces of cardboard, and then taped the boards together so it could fold in half for storage. I then cut out their favorite Disney characters from magazines, wrapping paper, ANYTHING that I could get my hands on. I laid out all the pieces onto the shelf liner to “laminate” them. I attached felt on the back of the design, and stored everything in baggies. You can also substitute magnetic backing and a magnet board in place of the felt. It was labor-intensive, but they played for hours! Having their own colored backing helped in sorting when they shared their characters too.
5. Plan ahead, but be flexible. Some travelers are planners, like myself, and have every detail of the trip covered. I have the most organized packing lists and travel itineraries. Yet something is always forgotten, or the best plans go haywire. Teach your children flexibility, keep your sense of humor, and roll with the punches to fill each trip with positive memories. Some of our crazier moments include driving over a shop vac in the highway at 75 m.p.h., weather related flight cancellations, and having a child step in a fire ant hill on the side of the road while taking a picture of the “Welcome to Louisiana” sign. How we handled those moments kept us laughing together and defined us as a family. When you go into a trip knowing it won’t be perfect, there will be tired kids (and grown-ups), and weather or travel arrangements don’t always go according to “the plan”, you are prepared for whatever comes your way.
I will end with one of my favorite stories from a trip to Mt. Rushmore.
As we were making the long drive west, we had a scheduled stop at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Across the street was a doll museum (not on our itinerary). We decided to check out the doll museum, and in it, my husband spotted his long lost Jolly Green Giant stuffed toy. He described his love for this toy, and how it went missing many years earlier on one of his family vacations. The girls were both amazed and humored at hearing this grown man’s story about a lost stuffed toy. On the return trip, we had another scheduled overnight stop in Blue Earth, Minnesota. When we pulled into our hotel parking lot, my husband quietly pointed out to me, through the glass of the swimming pool enclosure, a GIANT, 20-foot statue of the jolly green giant. I secretly showed the kids, through the windows, that the Green Giant was waiting for us! The kids and I blindfolded my husband, who at this point was playing dumb, and I drove him to the statue. The kids ripped off the blindfold, and my husband shrieked with delight while the kids giggled with laughter and excitement. That unplanned surprise was one of our best moments as a family.