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Family Travel Tip: Stay Home …
until you've read our readers' road-worn hints.


By Hope Katz Gibbs
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 31, 1998; Page E01

   


Children's travel montage Luckily for us, many readers of The Washington Post Travel section have reproduced. More lucky still, over the months many of them have sent us their favorite tips and tricks for managing travel with their offspring. Many are versions of the obvious tips we all know too well: When traveling with kids it's even more important than usual to be organized (a few tipsters sent elaborate descriptions of to-pack lists, maintained on computer, that "age" with the kids' evolving travel needs); that pre-readers can be usefully, even guiltlessly, diverted with audiotapes and kid-size headphones; that, for infants especially, what you do and don't remember to slip into the schlepbag can break or make your trip. And yes -- we know you were wondering -- the tip-stream carries plenty of evidence that the Ziploc Fanatics have spawned, ensuring the survival of yet another generation of people who prefer to pack everything, from cotton swabs to entire swimwear ensembles, in the tidy plastic enclosures.

Assuming you've managed the basics of organization and planning, we offer the following tips, which represent the more novel, and most potentially useful, tips our parent-travelers have sent along. As always, our tipsters receive Washington Post Travel section "I'm a Great Tipper!" T-shirts as a token of our thanks.

  • To each his own (carry-on) bag. Feel like every trip with kids is Operation Desert Storm? Pete Siler of Herndon controls luggage volume with a simple rule: Every member of the family, including the smallest, gets a carry-on suitcase with wheels (Siler picked up kids' models for under $20). Each may pack only what fits in that one bag. No exceptions. Even his 6-year-old can handle a bag with wheels, Siler says. And, when the family gets to its destination, the bags serve as portable dressers, at least for the kids. One hazard: "We look like mother and father duck with all their ducklings," Siler admits.

  • Activity bags. Eric Weinstein of the District, by contrast, packs more bags than he has to. In addition to the usual suitcases filled with clothes and toiletries, he includes three extra bags. He fills one with everybody's swimming stuff, and a second bag with everybody's change of clothes. "When you get to the motel," says he, "you only need two small bags to get the kids into the pool quickly and back into clothes afterward, allowing you to go to bag No. 3." Which contains? Martinis, Weinstein says.

  • The collapsible cup. Of all the "and don't forget to carry a [fill in the blank]" suggestions we received, we found this one a minor why-didn't-I-think-of-that? revelation: Always carry a collapsible cup, says Mary Clark of the District -- mostly to avoid the dreaded mommy-pick-me-up scene at every drinking fountain you pass. This kills the novelty, Clark says, and eventually the kids want to stop only when they are thirsty. Better still, the cup also facilitates the administration of that other parental bail-out device: children's Tylenol. One more intriguing must-carry, this one for the back seat on long car trips: a plastic sand bucket, says Janet Wittenberg of Bethesda. Why? It's a toy, a stuff-holder, and, um, a handy car-sickness receptacle.

  • Sleep-over flights. Judy Schramm and Tom Hrdy ease their kids through long flights with elaborate psychological preparation. Weeks before the flight, Schramm and Hrdy start to tell them a story about what will happen on the trip. "When you get to the part about the flight," the couple writes, "tell them they will be sleeping on the airplane. We say they will go to the bathroom, change into their pajamas, brush their teeth, go back to their seats, read a book and then turn out the overhead light and go to sleep. They'll want to hear the story over and over again. By the time you get on the plane they'll know it by heart and expect to do exactly what you told them. Once they're asleep, you can go to sleep, too."

  • Buy their silence. Alexander Fraser of the District sends an idea he developed when his daughter was in the 4-to-10 age range: He tempered his daughter's backseat nagging with dimes. She started out with a dollar's worth, and every time she uttered "Are we there yet?" or something similar, she lost one. Fraser says his daughter got three "free" asks before the penalties kicked in. Adjusted for inflation, he says, the trick should still work like a charm.

  • The old toy box trick. We received many variations of the age-old "give your child a few new small toys" as trip pacification devices. Jeff Meyers of Columbia adds an economical twist we had to admire: He heads to Goodwill or yard sales before the big trip, coming away with toys "new" to the children but so cheap they can be left behind, lost or broken without any ill effects.

  • Dress for access. For logistically complicated trips, Nancy Dianis of Columbia dresses her family for success. On a recent trip to Hawaii, she says, which involved several connections at busy airports and check-ins at hotels, she dressed her clan in red T-shirts and khaki shorts. "It's easy to spot one another in a crowd, as well as easy for travel personnel to identify us as a group traveling together," says she. "It also served as a conversation item as we waited for an airplane or hotel room." Indeed. As in, Hey, are you the Osmonds?

  • Safety bag. We got plenty of kid safety tips, but we felt most chastened by this alarm from Francis and Maurine Brannigan of Bethesda. They always carry a "bailout bag" for hotel visits -- a cloth sack they fill nightly with a flashlight, passports, room key, jewelry and wallets. Should the fire alarm sound, they won't have to fritter away valuable minutes scrambling for their valuables. They just grab the bag and go. We felt positively inept and ashamed at our habitual lack of emergency preparedness, until we learned that the tip came from a "ringer": Francis is a 55-year veteran of the fire service.

  • One for the road. Traveling with kids put many of our tipsters in a philosophical frame of mind. But of all the ruminations we received, this aphorism from Stuart Moyer of Livonia, Mich., hits a nearly Ben Franklinesque tone in its wisdom and economy of language.

    We encourage you to cut it out and paste it on your dashboard: "A family leaves the house with the car's gas tank full and their bladders empty. The car does not stop until the tank is empty and the bladders are full."

    Godspeed, Stuart Moyer!

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