If you want to take all the romance out of a night in a motel room - and if you have enough gas to even consider it - take along a 1-year-old . Or a 2-year-old. Or a - well, you get the idea.

By nature, preschoolers are unpredictable people. One minute they're snuggling in your lap, and the next minute they're hanging by their fingernails from a second-story window.

Even though (or maybe because) they're so unpredictable, they want everything around them to be thoroughly predictable. The unfamiliarity of a motel room, combined with the general fatigue brought on by traveling, can lead to hours of screaming into the night.

Even if you don't mind listening to your child's wails in the wee hours, the people in the next room will. It's better to take some simple precautrions so everyone can get a good night's sleep.

Before you leave home, talk about the great adventure of sleeping in a different bed, and then do everything in your power to make the different bed as much like the one at home as possible.

Pack all of the familiar bedtime equipment: The security blanket, the teddy bear, the night light, the music box, the favorite books. If your child is used to a bedtime snack, pack the usual juice and crackers, too.

If at all possible, make reservations at a motel and plan to stop before dark. Backseat panic develops quickly when it gets dark and the people in the front seat begin to talk, very quietly, about all those no-vacancy signs.

When you're making reservations, ask for a corner room so there will be fewer neighbors pounding on your walls if and when the noise level rises.

Also ask to have any special equipment, such as cribs or cots, in your room before your arrival. (They probably won't be there anyway, but the motel clerk usually hustles a bit more if he's reminded that you requested the equipment two days ago. Otherwise, you may well wind up, as we once did, waiting an hour or two past bedtime for the crib to arrive.)

Make sure you stop early enough in the day so the kids can run, swim, swing or climb before dinner. We've found it's impossible for preschoolers to act civilized in a restaurant after a day in the car so we find a local park or rest area, pull out the camping stove and dish up hot spaghetti for supper.

The kids will enjoy exploring the motel room and watching a little TV before bedtime. Then, unless you have the sort of child who's likely to fall asleep while the television is on or people are talking, you'd better turn off the tube, the lights and the conversation.

Many traveling parents put all their kids to bed at one time, rather than staggering bedtimes as they do at home. Hopefully, your oldest will buy the explanation that it's his job to comfort the little ones and keep them from getting scared.

Then, unless you want the requests for water, bathroom privileges and rearranged blankets to go on all night, it's best to slip out the door. You'll post yourself just outside the door, you won't leave, of course. Even if you had a written guarantee from God that there wouldn't be a fire or an intruder, you'd still stay there so you could pop back into the room a couple times to reassure the scared ones and settle down the lively ones.

The departure from a motel can be tricky business. With parents busy packing and loading up the car, many kids consider this an ideal time to go for a stroll.One couple's 22-month-old son wandered across two busy parking lots and into a neighboring restaurant. (A customer graciously opened the door for him.)

If for no other reason than to ease the job of nose-counting, everyone should help pack up the car. Anyone over the age of 3 can carry items to the car. Anyone under 3 can check under the beds and behind curtains for lost treasures.

You'll double-check, of course, and then you'll triple-check the car to make sure you have everything. We once paid dearly for leaving a white security blanket in a pile of white towels.