We asked readers, experts and staff members for their favorite road-tested, kid-specific travel tips. The results arrived in various forms, and relate in only one important way: All are things that every parent with a yen to roam ought to know.
For a change of pace, and a relief from the long lines and hot concrete of King's Dominion and Six Flags, we've taken our kids to the vintage amusement parks of Pennsylvania: woodsy Idlewild with its storybook village (www.idlewild.com), the old-fashioned fun house and water slide of Williams Grove (www.williamsgrovepark.com) and DelGrosso's, near the historic railroad mecca of Altoona (www.delgrossos.com/dap.html). Not only are these parks cheaper and less crowded, but parking is usually free and you can bring in your own picnics (although the food sold there is cheaper than that served at the corporate theme parks). You can also find some vintage rides that you can't at Busch Gardens.
Other vintage Pennsylvania parks include Kennywood in Pittsburgh (www.kennywood.com), Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster (www.dutchwonderland.com) and Knoebels, northwest of Harrisburg (www.knoebels.com).
Lori Murray Sampson
Garrett Park, Md.
Allergy sufferers can prepare by finding local allergy forecasts at www.allergyactionplan.com.
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Helmets and pads aren't always offered with bike and skating rentals, so call ahead and, if necessary, pack your own.
Council on Family Health
In some states, a tick is just a tick. In others, it could be carrying Lyme disease. In parts of the Southwest, if you've left shoes or ball gloves outside overnight, check them for scorpions before shoving a body part inside. You can find regional reports about potential bug hazards at www.pestworld.org, courtesy of the National Pest Management Association.
Staff Writer Cindy Loose
In the Airport
To help identify your family quickly at the airport, dress everyone in either the same color or matching colors. Always keep a recent photo of your child or children in your wallet (and place a photo of yourself in your child's pocket) in case you become separated and need assistance in locating them.
In the Car
Want to drive on 1950s-era, all-but-empty interstates? Drive at night. Our routine for long road trips usually begins with an 8 p.m., after-supper departure. All is quiet in the back seat within an hour or two. We drive as long as we feel safe, usually until about 1 a.m. or so, then pull over at an interstate motel and transfer the unconscious to proper beds. The next morning, we're off on the last leg with a huge head start and a good night's sleep.
Meanwhile, books-on-tape make driving a pleasure and still allow the kids to see the country roll by. Browse your library's selection for unabridged versions of books that will bridge the age range of the traveling kids. Some suggestions: The excellent "American Girls" series are well-written and well-read tales of everyday kids' life in various eras of history; the wacky "Wayside School" books by Louis Sachar will appeal to pre-K through AARP; Mary Pope Osborne's "Magic Treehouse" stories are easy listening in short chapters, which is good when your exit is getting close.
Videos have their place, too, especially on any drive over eight hours. But the problem with having a TV permanently implanted in your car is that it tends to get turned on for every trip for milk or to school. Ugh. For the longest trips, we borrow a portable VCR monitor with a 12-volt plug. The best road movies? Super-long ones, like the never-ending "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."
When the movies are over, you might have to participate in some of the 101 fun things to do in the car that you found at www.momsminivan.com. The site also has car seat safety information (studies have shown that most car seats are improperly installed) and loads of road trip tips.
Staff Writer Steve Hendrix
The number one, most important, we-will-not-travel-without-it item is a personal headset and a selection of story tapes. Our tips, based on experience:
1. Cassettes seem to last longer than CDs.
2. Have a backup tape player on hand to replace the one in use when it inevitably wears out. Cassette players are getting harder to find, so get 'em while you can.
3. Always, always bring extra batteries that are easily accessible.
When traveling in the United States, we pick up fruit and veggie platters from supermarkets for the car or the hotel. The platters are just the right size (no leftovers) and help keep at bay (ahem) constipation and other problems associated with kids eating too much road food.
Ten hours, three kids ages 6 and under, one van, two words: Dollar Store. The best $20 I ever spent. We strapped a plastic tub filled with toys and assorted plastic trinkets in the back seat where the kids could reach it. They were totally occupied with their new treasures and were too excited to argue over who got what (or afraid we'd come to our senses and take back the loot). That stuff doesn't have much of a life span, and things were broken by the time we were driving home, so they watched "Spirit" -- four times.
After spending hours playing the usual car games with my two young daughters, I would challenge them with one last game: Who can keep their eyes shut the longest? It was my favorite, as they usually would fall asleep while trying to win.
If your minor child is traveling overseas without both parents, beware: You may need documentation proving that both parents have approved the trip. To enter Mexico, for example, one parent with a child must have a notarized letter from the second parent certifying that he or she has approved the trip. If the second parent is deceased or otherwise absent, you may need a death certificate or court order showing you have sole custody. Without the proper documentation, airlines should be turning you away before giving you a boarding pass. If they slip up, don't think you're home free: You'll be going home, all right, but sooner than you planned, since foreign immigration officers are generally vigilant.
Don't expect to arrange a passport for your child by showing up at a passport center with all the requisite papers, unless you've brought the kid as well. A new regulation requires that minor children be present during the application process. The inconvenience has a purpose: It's intended to discourage one member of an estranged couple from secretly acquiring a passport for the purpose of spiriting a child out of the country. For details: www.travel.state.gov, click on "Travel and Living Abroad."
In Las Vegas recently with a 7- and 10-year-old, we found a way to experience the Strip and bypass the flyers and ads for call girls. We parked at main hotels like the Venetian and used the new outdoor escalators and bridge to see the Treasure Island show and Mirage volcano. Parking at Mandalay Bay connected us to the Luxor and Excalibur. Another escalator/bridge farther down connects Bally's, the Bellagio and Caesar's hotels.
The new monorail is the safe, clean and free way to see the Strip with kids. Too bad only part of it was working when we were there.