- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

Before Lisa and Randy Savage head off for summer vacation, they check the Internet, their plastic bag supply and the availability of a suite to house themselves and their two sons.

The Internet can guide the Savages, of Oak Hill, Va., to parks and playgrounds in their intended destination. A two-room suite means the parents can stay up while children are asleep. The plastic bags house a complete day's clothes, socks and underwear for each of the boys, ages 7 and 5.

"When they are looking for something to wear, I can just toss them a bag and say, 'Put this on,'" Mrs. Savage says. "That way, when it's the last day of the trip, you won't find yourself with nothing to wear or with clothes that are mismatched."

Indeed, planning ahead can help families headed for vacation deal with the obvious such as where to stay and what to do but following tips from other well-traveled families also can help control the mundane, including how to keep peace in the back seat, keep boredom away during long drives and keep everyone's sanity during an entire week or two of family time.

"Vacation, like many things in life such as marriage and kids, are totally sold to us," says Dr. Elisabeth Guthrie, a New York child psychiatrist. "These things rarely turn out the way we expect. The wonderful thing about vacations is surviving together. Vacations are a very valuable experience for families."

Americans, it seems, are not put off by the events of September 11 when it comes to travel this summer. The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), a trade association, estimates that pleasure travel will be up by about 2 percent this summer as 233 million people will go on vacation.

What has changed is where they will go and how they will get there. Auto and recreational vehicle travel should be up and airline travel may be down, says Suzanne Cook, senior vice president of research for TIA. Travelers may be sticking closer to home, she predicts.

"Americans are looking to get back to basics this summer," she says. "We expect pleasure travel by personal vehicles to be up by nearly 3 percent this summer."

There are bound to be natural discrepancies when trying to plan a trip to please the whole family. A preschooler might not want to see the Metropolitan Museum of Art; a teen-ager might not want to hang out by the kiddie pool. Grandmother might not want to stroll the National Mall in the blazing sun. Even parents may not see eye-to-eye on the exact definition of "relaxing."

"When you travel as a group, there has to be something in it for everyone or the road will get bumpy fast," says Anne McAlpin, author of several travel books. "Group travel works best when everyone has a say. Make a list, take an opinion poll. Get kids involved in planning the trip and your activities."

Taking in everyone's interests can be done, says Nancy Nelson-Duac, the mother of two teen-agers and the editor of Familytravelfiles.com, a travel Web site.

"Say you have a week of vacation," says Ms. Nelson-Duac, who lives in St. Augustine, Fla. "Decide ahead of time: What do you want to do? I have seen people rush all the way to Hawaii and immediately schedule a hike and a bike trip first thing. You have to work in some downtime."

Ms. Nelson-Duac says traveling with teens will be smoother if families give their children choices.

"If you give them a say in where to go and what to do, they will be more cooperative," she says. "Communication is important, too. Say, 'These are three things we are thinking of doing ' and let them make a choice."

Younger children can make choices, too. The Savages let their boys choose some of the activities, such as going to the pool or beach, the zoo or the amusement park.

Ms. Nelson-Duac and her family also try to go where there are bound to be other teens. Favorite spots include rafting trips and cruises that offer teen programs.

For families with only one teen-ager, it is in some cases better to bring a friend than to have a sulking child, Ms. McAlpin says.

"Teen-agers just want to hang out with their friends, even if they are doing nothing," she says.

Families with young children, meanwhile, can get a hotel or resort that offers baby-sitting. Bringing a teen-ager or family friend along also gives parents time alone.

Terri and Andy Nussbaum, a Falls Church couple with a 3-year-old, recently took a two-week trip to Puerto Rico and brought along a 14-year-old baby sitter.

"It was great because we could stay on the beach while Max [my daughter] napped upstairs with the baby sitter," Mrs. Nussbaum says, "or we could go out at night, but we still had to take responsibility for a teen-ager."

Packing it up

Planning ahead and editing your selections will make a for a smooth vacation, Ms. McAlpin says.

"I start a week in advance," she says. "I stack things up in piles to figure out what needs to stay or go."

Ms. McAlpin advises packing a wardrobe around basic colors such as red, black, khaki and white and limiting each family member to three pairs of shoes. Always bring a sweater, as planes and restaurants can be chilly, she says. Leave expensive jewelry at home; it is just not worth the worry, she adds.

Ms. McAlpin also packs her clothes in dry cleaning bags, which keeps wrinkles to a minimum. Put an entire outfit (blazer, skirt, shirt, etc.) in a bag and fold and pack it. It will be easier to locate outfits and will keep clothes from rubbing together.

She also suggests investing in Pack-Mate bags for inside the suitcase. These are reusable packs that can store bulky items in a minimum of space by squeezing out the air.

"It is like shrink-wrapping your clothes," Ms. McAlpin says. "I have put a polar fleece and a parka in them, and they take up no space. You can use them for dirty laundry and wet bathing suits on the way home."

She also gets a lot of use from a microfiber towel. This towel, which dries quickly, can also be used as a blanket or a beach sarong.

Finally, after about age 3 or 4, children should be in charge of their own backpacks, Ms. McAlpin says. It gives them a sense of control over what they need with them.

Mrs. Savage's sons, Matthew and Jacob, have been carrying their own backpacks on trips since age 2. They know they can fill them with old toys, as well as special books they get just for the trip. Mrs. Savage says she also packs new books and workbooks in the suitcases that can be brought out for the plane or car trip home.

Are we there yet?

The open road seems so appealing. That is, until it is 30 miles to the next rest stop, or the children are fighting, or the food options are limited to two: grease and junk.

Car travel, however, can be part of the fun if you plan for it, says Laurel Smith, a New Orleans mother of three. Mrs. Smith recently started a Web site (www.momsminivan.com) to share her ideas for the road.

When the Smiths travel, each child gets his own backpack, plus special toys, such as the game Battleship, which are pulled out especially for long trips.

Mrs. Smith also brings along sewing cards, where her children stay busy working yarn through the holes; puppets so they can put on shows for one another; and, of course, paper and crayons.

Each child has his own journal, she says. "Even the 3-year-old, who can't write, can draw and later dictate to me a caption. It is great because they can look back at the journal. Everyone gets a map, too, so they can see where we are going. They can draw on it and see how far we have gone."

On long road trips, Mrs. Smith plans for one meal a day in a restaurant. Her family tries to pack a cooler for other meals. Good car snacks include goldfish crackers, fruit roll ups, tortilla wrap sandwiches and cheese. She also brings plenty of water in sports bottles.

"Road restaurants take too long, and I get sick of that junk," she says. "So we have a picnic at a rest stop. I bring a Frisbee or a jump-rope along so we can play, too."

Even though her children are 8, 6 and 3, Mrs. Smith also has a portable potty in the back for emergencies. When there is no rest stop nearby, she can pull over and the children can use it. The potty is lined with a diaper, which can be disposed of neatly.

Mrs. Smith does not bring a television in her car. While watching videos may be a lifesaver for some families, she is not a fan of the car TV.

"I'm not really for it," she says. "They are expensive, and I would worry about it being stolen, and they would still be fighting over what videos to watch. I find my kids behave better if we don't have that kind of hypnosis going on. I feel like if they had a TV in the car, they would be just watching it and would be missing the trip. Getting there is part of the fun."

Dr. Guthrie agrees.

"I definitely think there is something to be said about learning to get along by trying to get along in the back seat of a car," she says. "There is a lot to be said about the kind of communication that goes on between siblings. TVs in cars are part of the new wave of what I call 'La-Z-Boy parenting,' which is finding things to just take care of the job. We've got to all learn to live together, and watching TV constantly is very passive. Fighting is not passive, nor is counting cows or playing the license plate game."

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