- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 6, 2003

If only it were still as simple as heading over the river and through the woods. For the James family of Burke, it means parking the car, loading the baby’s diaper bag and the preschooler’s backpack and getting to the airport two hours before flight time. It means snaking through the security line and metal detector that Tricia James explained to her son Tyler, 4, at Washington Dulles International Airport two days before Thanksgiving.

Welcome to holiday travel in the new millennium. New security measures and rising numbers of holiday travelers (compared with the past two years) can make for an airport scene that rivals the mall on Christmas Eve.

That’s why the Jameses were taking a flight to Cincinnati two days before Thanksgiving. The family did not travel last holiday season because Mrs. James was expecting a baby. This year, they traveled with Taylor, 11 months, and Tyler.

“It’s easier if you go on an off day or hour,” Mrs. James says. “And bring lots of food and toys for the kids.”

The Jameses are among millions of American families who will travel this holiday season. Deborah DeYoung, spokeswoman for AAA’s Mid-Atlantic office, says holiday travel is expected to rise this year after noticeably dropping off in the two years following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“Things are just climbing back up,” Ms. DeYoung says. “We are not back to the travel numbers we had in 2001, and international travel is still down. But it seemed people stayed home in 2001 and 2002. Now they are saying, ‘We’ve got to get out.’”

About 80 percent of holiday travelers will go by car, and they likely won’t be deterred by gas prices, Ms. DeYoung says. Gas prices actually are among the lowest they have been “after roller-coastering all year,” she says.

“The higher prices really only add up to a few dollars,” Ms. DeYoung says. “It’s not really slowing anyone down as far as keeping them home.”

Airline passengers who stayed home the past two holiday seasons will find changes at the airport. A greater security presence and more thorough baggage screening might mean longer check-in lines. In the end, however, it means a safer environment, says Amy Von Walter, spokeswoman for the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

“Travel is definitely safer now,” Ms. Von Walter says. “We have a system of systems, with federally trained screeners, air marshals, canine detection teams and reinforced cockpit doors. Every week we are graduating a new class of federally trained flight officers.”

Rick, a local man who asked that his name not be used because he is a federal law enforcement official, navigated his way through Dulles with his wife and 2-year-old son during the Thanksgiving travel rush. He says he feels safe when he travels.

“I never felt that unsafe before September 11,” Rick says, “but security is obviously better now. I think terrorists know they are not going to be able to hijack a plane again. The passengers won’t let them.”

Still, the TSA was criticized recently by AAA for not being better prepared for the millions of travelers this holiday season. AAA officials said it was astonishing that the TSA cut back thousands of passenger and baggage screeners earlier this year, leaving the agency advertising for more personnel on the eve of the holiday travel season.

“The TSA laid off a lot of people earlier in the year,” Ms. DeYoung says. “Now they are scrambling to hire part-time screeners in a hurry-up situation. We want them trained and ready to go. This is not like hiring holiday help at Wal-Mart. We don’t want the government to be slowing down travel. Travelers have been more than patient with delays. This is a hassle that has really put a crimp in the plans of travelers willing to fly.”

Ms. Von Walter says security issues vary from airport to airport, and hassles should be at a minimum.

“Many people say they have been pleasantly surprised in terms of lines at checkpoints running smoothly,” she says. “The longest lines are around the 25-minute mark. We are working hard to balance security and customer service.”

Donna Hilliard, an engineer from Clarksville, Md., who was traveling to California with her husband, Tony, and children, Lesleigh Brianna, 8 months, and Phillip, 6, says she is used to dealing with security measures when she travels alone on business. Taking two children on a five-hour flight, as the Hilliards did for Thanksgiving, was a new adventure for them, she says.

“I travel a lot for work,” Mrs. Hilliard says. “It is getting harder. I just came from a trip where it took me 35 minutes to get through security. I try to wear no metal and to wear slip-on shoes because I know they are going to ask me to take my shoes off.”

TSA says a secondary screening takes an average of three minutes per person. Taking off coats, opening laptop computers and placing metal items such as watches in the tray can save a considerable amount of time on busy travel days, Ms. Von Walter says.

Meanwhile, Phillip Hilliard is prepared for the flight as only a 6-year-old can be. In his backpack: a GameBoy, Leap Pad learning books, homework and his Little League soccer card.

For Rick, the federal law enforcement official, preparing to travel as a family means preparing just to be at the airport. Because his 2-year-old, Kellen, would rather jog around the concourse than be in a stroller, Rick puts a harness on him. The other end of the harness is attached to Rick’s belt.

“This thing is a godsend at an airport,” Rick says of the gadget. “This keeps him from wandering away, and I don’t have to worry about anyone taking my kid.”

Rick has other tips for traveling with a youngster, too.

“If you can, feed him on the plane,” he says. “It will help keep him occupied. And bring books and toys, as long as the toys aren’t noisy ones that will annoy other passengers.”

Hitting the road

The majority of Americans will travel by car this holiday season. That can mean fun and family togetherness in the cozy confines of the minivan. Or it can mean crawling through a traffic jam on the New Jersey Turnpike.

“I have a mantra — be prepared, be realistic and be flexible,” says Emily Kaufman, a California mother of two who runs the Internet site Travelmom.com. “That means gathering all the information and everything you anticipate needing ahead of time. Be realistic that there are going to be bumps in the road, then set that vibe for kids.”

Ms. Kaufman recommends that car travelers bring along “boredom bags.” These are roll-up cosmetic bags filled with activities, books on tape, water bottles and snacks. She hangs them from the seat back, and little passengers can amuse themselves for a while. She also suggests stopping often so family members can stretch their legs.

“We’re a soccer family,” she says. “We always keep a soccer ball in the car, so when we stop, we can kick the ball around.”

Sticking to children’s habits — even if the day is going to be a long one on the road — can help everyone feel like himself when the family gets to its destination, Ms. Kaufman says.

“When you are on the road, keep the routines the same,” she says. “If your child is used to a bath and a story before bed, try to do something like that on the road. Kids are creatures of habit.”

Though many families swear by leaving at night so the little ones can sleep through most of the trip, Ms. Kaufman advises against that.

“I think this is a big mistake,” she says. “Mom and Dad will be tired, and that is when accidents happen.”

Ms. DeYoung suggests traveling during non-peak times during the holiday season. If you can, plan to arrive early and stay late (such as two days after Christmas), she advises. This will mean more time with family and friends and less time stuck in traffic.

Other tips from Ms. DeYoung and AAA:

mPlan ahead. Know an alternate route in case of heavy traffic.

• Take your time. “The current land speed record is 733 miles per hour,” Ms. DeYoung jokes. “Don’t try and break it on the way to Grandma’s.”

• Drivers should take a 20-minute break every few hours to be well-rested.

mGive younger children a sense of responsibility by telling them where the family is going and what they will do when they get there. Let them help pack their own suitcases or bags with their favorite toys and games. Don’t forget any special pillows, blankets or stuffed animals a child may want.

When you get to the destination, think about staying in a hotel, Ms. Kaufman suggests. Not sleeping in your brother’s living room, for example, can give everyone the space and privacy needed for a peaceful holiday. It also can mean a minivacation for your family if you choose the right accommodations.

Family-friendly hotel chains include Hilton, Doubletree and Holiday Inn, she says.

“Hilton offers the Vacation Station, which means kids get a gift at check-in, and there is a toy-lending desk,” Ms. Kaufman says. “At Holiday Inns, kids stay and eat free. Embassy Suites and other suites hotels are great for families, too.

“If you book your reservations online, some of these hotels can be inexpensive,” she says. “I encourage it for everyone’s sanity and space. You can have an actual holiday with Grandma, but also have some privacy. If you can find it for under $100, do it.”

Travel tips:

Hitting the road this holiday season? Here are some family-tested travel tips to make the going smoother for everyone.

Keeping babies busy

• Put bubble soap in a non-spill container. Blowing bubbles (while someone else is driving, of course) may calm a baby if he is fussy.

• Link small toys to the baby’s car seat so they won’t get lost.

• Consider a car-seat activity center. This toy attaches to the seat in front of the child or to the car seat and can keep the baby interested for a while.

Traveling with toddlers

• Bring a bag of surprises. Prepare plastic or paper bags of items to be given out every 25, 50 or 75 miles — marked on a map with the location.

In each bag, put a wrapped item, usually a small toy. Then in some of the surprise packages, you can add juice or a snack, stickers and a piece of paper or something pertaining to the trip that you can discuss.

• Make travel tickets. Use some colored construction paper to cut out some “tickets” for your trip. Give your child a pre-counted baggie full of tickets. Every half hour (or every 30 miles) your youngster can turn in one ticket to you. When the tickets are gone, the trip has ended.

This really helps young children get an idea of how much time is left on the journey.

• Model with aluminum foil. Give everyone a sheet of aluminum foil. Have your children mold their foil into anything they want: animal shapes, Frisbees, balls, jewelry, crowns, headbands, necklaces.

• Bring drawing boards. Bring along a Magnadoodle or Etch-a-Sketch. These are great creative toys that will not make a mess.

Amusing older children

• Make a trip journal or scrapbook. Give everyone a big spiral-bound sketch pad and a box of crayons or markers. Each day of the trip or for each event along the way, draw a picture of what you did that day or draw a map of where you went and write about it. You also can paste in souvenirs.

• Get a good songbook with all the lyrics. It may be surprising how many songs you think you know, but you don’t really know all the words. Have a singing marathon and learn the old classics by heart.

• Give your children an allowance for a day. Tell them that this money is for snacks, treats and souvenirs. Help them learn to budget their money and make good choices.

• Lend your children a map. Show them how far you have come and how much farther you have to go and let them mark it with a crayon. Every time the children ask, “How much farther?” let them see for themselves. You also might like to get a compass and show them how it works along with the map.

• Play the license-plate game. This is an oldie but goodie. Print a U.S. map off the computer and color in the states as you see license plates from each one.

• Bring magnetic board games. Old favorites such as chess, checkers and Chinese checkers are available in small magnetic versions for the car.

• Play Legos. A large plastic baggie or shoe box full of Legos can occupy building enthusiasts.

Containing car mess

• Bring diapers. Even if the last child is out of diapers, store a couple of ultratrim disposable diapers under the front seat. When someone tips over a big drink or the cooler leaks, a diaper will soak up the liquid neatly and quickly. This is much better than a pile of soggy napkins.

• Bring along a handful of window cleaner wipes or computer screen wipes for cleaning fingerprints and smears from inside car windows.

• Stash gallon-size plastic bags in the car. They are great for holding soiled or wet clothing. Bags also can contain the clutter of crayons, markers, trading cards and other small toys.

Navigating airport security

• Don’t put film in checked baggage, as screening equipment can damage it.

• Think carefully about the personal items you put in your carry-on baggage. Screeners may need to open bags and examine the contents.

• Consider putting personal items that are in the carry-on in clear plastic bags to reduce chances that a screener will have to handle them.

• Do not lock checked bags. In some cases, screeners may have to go through your bag to screen it. If the bag is locked, the screener may have to break the lock, and TSA is not liable for damage caused to locked bags. If screeners open your bag during the screening procedure, they will close it with a tamper-evident seal and place a notice in your bag alerting you that screeners looked in your bag.

Sources: Transportation Security Administration; AAA Mid-Atlantic; momsminivan.com, a Web site created by a mother of three; and Piggy Pack, a company that sells car-top luggage carriers.

MORE INFO:

BOOKS —

• “AAA TRAVEL TIPS YOU CAN TRUST,” BY ANNE MCALPIN, AAA PUBLISHING, 2002. THIS BOOK, PUBLISHED BY AAA, IS A THOROUGH GUIDE FOR SMOOTH TRAVEL, ESPECIALLY WITH CHILDREN.

• “ROADFOOD,” BY JANE STERN AND MICHAEL STERN, HARPERPERENNIAL, 1992. THIS CLASSIC BOOK CAN GUIDE TRAVELERS TO OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH RESTAURANTS.

ASSOCIATIONS —

• AAA, 701 15TH ST. NW, WASHINGTON, DC, 20005. PHONE: 800/763-9900. WEB SITE: WWW.AAAMIDATLANTIC.ORG. AAA MEMBERS CAN GET VALUABLE SERVICES FROM THIS TRAVEL ASSOCIATION, INCLUDING ROADSIDE SERVICE, TOUR BOOKS, TRAVEL DISCOUNTS AND PERSONALIZED MAP BOOKS.

ONLINE —

• MOMSMINIVAN (WWW.MOMSMINIVAN.COM), FOUNDED BY LAUREL SMITH, A TRAVELER AND A MOTHER OF THREE, HAS LOTS OF IDEAS FOR KEEPING CHILDREN BUSY AND HAPPY ON LONG ROAD TRIPS. THIS SITE INCLUDES GAMES TO DOWNLOAD AND PLAY IN THE CAR.

• THE TRAVEL MOM (HTTP://THETRAVELMOM.COM), FOUNDED BY EMILY KAUFMAN, A MOTHER OF TWO AND AN EXPERIENCED TRAVELER, HAS DESTINATION IDEAS FOR TRAVELING WITH CHILDREN.

• ORBITZ (WWW.ORBITZ.COM), A COMMERCIAL TRAVEL SITE, HAS MANY TIPS FOR FAMILY TRAVEL, AS WELL AS ONLINE SERVICE FOR BOOKING HOTELS, CARS, FLIGHTS AND SPECIAL PACKAGES.

• FAMILY TRAVEL (WWW.FAMILYTRAVEL.COM), ANOTHER COMMERCIAL SITE, HAS DESTINATION IDEAS AND PACKAGES AS WELL AS TIPS FOR SMOOTH FAMILY TRAVEL.

• THE SITE OF THE FEDERAL TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION (WWW.TSA.GOV) HAS INFORMATION ON NEW SECURITY PROCEDURES AND PROHIBITED ITEMS.

• THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION’S WEB SITE (WWW.FLY.FAA.GOV) HAS INFORMATION ON AIRPORT DELAYS.

• ON MAPQUEST (WWW.MAPQUEST.COM) OR YAHOO (WWW.YAHOO.COM), TRAVELERS CAN DOWNLOAD PERSONALIZED MAPS TO THEIR DESTINATION.

• PIGGY PACK, A COMPANY THAT SELLS CAR-TOP LUGGAGE CARRIERS, HAS GREAT CAR TRAVEL TIPS ON ITS WEB SITE (WWW.PIGGYPACK.COM).


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