- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2000

Children have short attention spans, small bladders and little tolerance for enclosed spaces. It's no wonder that whether traveling by plane, train or automobile, most families dread the to-and-fro of vacation travel.

"Parents shouldn't fool themselves. Traveling with tired, cranky children can be very uncomfortable for everyone," says Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA's Potomac branch. "If there's any one piece of advice I'd give parents, it's to plan ahead. Do everything to minimize boredom."

Packing a small bag with snacks, games and small toys can work in any venue, but experts give the following advice for traveling.

Airplanes

• Call ahead. Children have a limited number of traveling hours before a meltdown begins. Don't waste that time sitting in an airport terminal waiting for a delayed flight. Most airlines publish departure information on line.

• Use terminal time to shed excess energy. Many airports have play areas where children can play safely without disturbing other passengers.

• Travel light. Use a backpack or shoulder bag when traveling with babies or toddlers to keep your hands free. Check a light collapsible stroller at the gate rather than dragging it onto the plane.

• Make sure children don't travel hungry or when overly tired. A short stop in a terminal cafe where they can watch planes take off and land can be a great part of the adventure.

• Take children to the bathroom before boarding the flight. It's very hard to help a child in the notoriously small plane lavatories.

• Order a special children's meal. Most airlines have very attractive children's fares. This should be done at least 48 hours in advance.

• When traveling with infants and toddlers, try to book a nonstop flight to minimize terminal time and multiple boardings. Older children, however, may appreciate shorter flights with breaks in between to stretch and roam.

• Don't board early. Unless you need help getting on the plane, early boarding privileges for families with young children often mean more time cooped up in the plane.

• As soon as children are able (usually by age 5), give them their own rolling bags. They also can carry their own backpacks filled with toys, games, books and other diversions.

Trains

• Plan ahead. The best fares and best accommodations often are booked months ahead of time.

• Research your route, services and accommodations. Amtrak's Web site (www.amtrak.com) has a lot of information. Upon request, Amtrak will send out a travel planner, which will include information on the services and train travel tips, such as what to pack.

• Take advantage of the train's services. Roaming is frowned up on planes, but Amtrak officials encourage families to walk through the train, use the dining services and watch the scenery from the lounge car's big windows.

• Relax and enjoy the journey. Train travel is not for anyone in a hurry, but the slow pace and gentle rocking can be a soothing change of pace for families used to frenetic everyday schedules.

Automobiles

• Be proactive if your child is prone to carsickness. Check with your pediatrician for an over-the-counter remedy. Also make sure children don't travel on an empty stomach. Nibbling on crackers often helps, so make sure the car is stocked with a supply.

• Though diversions such as books or hand-held games can be helpful, they make some children carsick. If this happens, have the child put down the game and stare at a spot on the horizon for a while.

• Diapers make excellent carsickness bags.

• Don't travel when children are tired and cranky. Some families find that nighttime travel is best; children sleep while the parents drive peacefully without any back-seat whining.

• Involve the children in the trip. One of the best antidotes for are-we-there-yet-itis is to give each child a map and let everyone participate in the navigation.

• Plan child-friendly stops into the trip. Break up a long stretch of driving with a few side trips.

• Put a compass on the dashboard and let children make their own maps of the journey.

• Switch seats if siblings squabble. A very effective strategy is to have a parent sit in the back with the children and let each child take turns riding shotgun with the driving adult. This gives each child special one-on-one time with one parent while the back-seat crowd gets to "play" with the other.

• Play games. A car trip can provide wonderful family time. The old standards of spotting license plates or playing bingo, using roadside sightings instead of numbers, are still fun. A number of sites on the Internet, including AAA's site (www.aaa.com), have newer games.

• Choose tapes together for the trip. Most libraries have a collection of books on audiotape that can be enjoyed by the whole family. If children have divergent ages and tastes, personal tape or CD players could be an excellent investment (and an aid to parental sanity).

• Some families use small televisions with VCRs in the car. This is often an option in rental vans. Studies have shown that the ceiling-mounted version, which lets viewers see the horizon, is less likely to cause carsickness.

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