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Parenting Tip of the Month
By Heather Totten

How to Travel With Kids

Do you leave them at home? That could work, but I guess you should invite them to enjoy the riches of what a real 'family' vacation is all about. Mind you, it is better now. My husband reminisces of the days sitting on vinyl seats, elbow to elbow, with no air conditioning, stuffed in the back of the car. Today we try to at least space a few apart, hand them a Nintendo DS, run the air conditioner at least little and possibly a movie if you are so equipped (we are not . . . yet).

We have five children which requires a lot of packing. I start planning that about a week before hand. I list each person and all the things they need. We usually travel and stay where we can do laundry, so I don't have to worry about packing exactly eight outfits etc. I pack and expect to do laundry. We also stay where we can have a kitchen and cook. Even if we decide to eat dinner out every night, there are Cheerios and cold milk every morning and PB&J for lunch. Usually, we eat at home more than half of the nights to keep costs down. Feeding our family at McDonald's is about $30. So if we save all those extra meals up by eating at home, we don't feel bad when we go out and splurge a little more.

When we travel, we pack a bag for each kid. Even the two year old will tote her bag into the room. By separating everyone, we always keep things in order somewhat, and everything has its place. If we unpack in the hotel, that is fine, but if not, the kids always know where to find their clothes.

When we go out to an amusement park or a large public place I put tags on the kids. I hide them, so they don't have to spend too many extra years in therapy talking how they were 'labeled' as a child, but they know where the tags are so they can use them to show others for help in case they get lost. They know our names, but I want them to feel confident in case they are afraid and forget. I'd want my kid to find me as quickly as possible so I put their name and either use my husband's business card with his cell or hand write our names with our cell numbers on it so we can be contacted quickly. Sometimes I've attached it to a belt loop, other times I stick a card in their shoe. The kids know that this is for if we get separated. I tell them to go to a person who works at the park or a mom with young kids. I've not had to use this yet, but I still do it anyway.

The drive is probably the most compact we are for an extended period of time depending on how long we travel. I used to pack snacks, games, blankets, coloring books, and reading books. But recently my kids have taken on their own thing. They have begun to pack their school bags full of their 'things' for the trip. They pack it full of things they want to do or want to have on the trip. They have to carry it, so they don't want to overload it either. And food is not allowed. That is separate. So far it has worked out wonderfully.

The most important thing on a vacation is relax and have fun. Be flexible and don't 'expect' anything out of the vacation. Don't over plan it. Don't expect the kids to be able to handle six days straight of a hot amusement park standing in lines, or your nerves for them not being able to listen to them complain. Schedule in 'down time' for both you and the kids. We plan about three of the seven days with action packed set plans and then let the other days fill as they may. It sounds a little less organized, but sometimes you need to just move slowly. After all, it is a vacation. For example, we planned our Disney vacation of eight days to include 1 day at the beach, 1-2 days at the parks, and to try to get to the shuttle launch. The other days were at the resort relaxing, recovering, and enjoying. Think about what your kids can handle on an average day and remember that when you are planning the vacation.

Hope some of these crazy tips help you when you are planning your summer trips. Enjoy the summer!!! And have fun with your kids!!!

Heather Totten is a stay-at-home mom with five children and a busy husband. She is incredibly organized, and shares her sense of family, parenting, and organization with us in her monthly parenting tips column. Read what's new with her family in Heather's Parenting Journal.

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