Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Taking the kids on holiday: 12 tips

Whether it’s a road trip or one of several commercial carriers, travelling with children requires some special planning.

1) Take enough “stuff” for each child for at least 24 hours, even if it is only a two hour drive/flight. You have no idea what kinds of delays you may encounter: I was once on a 2-hour flight that ended up taking 15 hours due to fog and bad decisions by the pilots. There was no extra food on board, there was no way to get more, and the parents who packed for a two hour trip had wet, hungry, cranky babies by the time we finally got to our destination.

2) If anyone is on chronic medication, take enough for several days and keep it with you. Don’t put it in checked baggage or pack it in the boot/trunk of the car.

3) If driving, break the trip up into “legs.” Every two hours or so, stop and let the kids get out and walk around. If you spot a playground or other activity area, give the kids a 10 minute break where they can work off some energy. If you are flying, when the aisle is clear and the turbulence low, take the child for a walk. Make sure you stay with your child at all times.

4) Be careful what you bring for snacks. High GI foods (refined white flour and sweet items) will give your children energy spikes, making them restless. Not a good thing while they are confined in a small space and expected to be still. Protein snacks and low-GI foods, fruit (not fruit juice…too much energy), flavoured waters (no energy drinks except for the driver), are good choices.

5) Do not allow the children to quarrel. If you have one child who picks at another, discipline that child firmly. If necessary, separate the children by putting the “good” child in the front seat (as a reward) while one of the adults sits in the back with the misbehaving one. It is important not only for the psychological well-being of the children, it is important for the driver not to be distracted by altercations going on in the back seat.

6) Bring along quiet activities for the children. This is the time things like GameBoys are invaluable. There are also inexpensive electronic games that can be purchased. Colouring books with crayons or coloured pencils can pass time (no coloured felt-tip pens, unless you want your upholstery decorated by the dropped ones). A clipboard and some plain copier paper will provide the opportunity to draw or write. Crossword puzzle and find-a-word books are good choices, as are books for older children. Of course an iPod is a good choice, assuming your child can listen without singing along, Infants tend to sleep with the motion of the car, but toddlers can be restive. Decide before the trip begins that, no matter how much your child screams and protests, you will not remove the child from his restraints while the car is in motion. If the child cannot be distracted into quiet with food or activities, then either pull over at the next rest stop and let the kid out for some exercise or just grit your teeth and grin and bear it.

7) If you are driving, it is a good idea to take along an energy converter that allows you to plug in normal appliances. This will allow you to charge cell phone, flashlight and lap top batteries on the road. It is important that your cell phone be functional in the event of emergencies and that laptop, along with a few DVDs, can go a long way towards keeping the kids entertained on long trips.

8) Another good idea for a road trip is a mini-fridge that plugs into the car cigarette lighter. These things are fabulous for keeping perishables fresh while travelling, especially through hot areas. Baby bottles will keep, as well as perishable snacks like cheese sticks and fresh fruit.

9) Bring water, even if you are going by commercial carrier. If supplies run out on the plane, you’re covered. If you are driving and you have an infant who drinks formula prepared from a powder, bring along enough water to make formula until you return home. Changes in water can have dramatic…and unpleasant…effects on a baby’s digestive system. If you are flying, then several weeks before the trip wean your child over to a ready-mixed formula that can be purchased at your destination.

10) If you are going by car, bring along some emergency supplies: a rechargeable LED flashlight/torch, a supply of small plastic bags for disposing of icky stuff (also good for a carsick child to keep in his lap), a roll or two of toilet paper, a packet of wet wipes, plastic cups, a pair of scissors, a sharp knife, a first aid kit, a small sewing kit. If you will be going through snowy areas, also bring a big sack of cat litter (the cheap clay type), a fold-up shovel, tyre chains, a small tarp, and work gloves. If you need to put on chains, kneel on the tarp so you stay dry and wear the gloves to protect your hands; if you get stuck in the snow, the shovel will help dig you out, and the cat litter will provide traction.

11) On a car trip, pillows and blankets are a necessity. Not only do they facilitate sleep, rolled blankets and piled pillows can be used to separate warring offspring.

12) When travelling by car, resist the urge to see how far you can get on a tank of fuel. Especially when you have your family on board, frequent fuel stops are important so that you don’t end up stranded. If weather conditions strand you, having plenty of fuel will allow you to run the engine for heat and for recharging battery-powered items like your cell phone. Frequent fuel stops also give the driver an opportunity to walk around, which improves alertness, and gives the kids a few minutes to stretch their legs as well.

Travelling with children can be fraught with difficulty, but as with anything else, some advance planning can minimize the problems.

Have a happy holiday season and Bon Voyage!

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