"Enjoyable Family Trip"--was that an oxymoron when you were growing up and taking trips with your siblings? Maybe it was, but it doesn't have to be. There are many things you can do to make travel as a family more stress-free, fun, and memorable.
First of all, be realistic about the kind of vacation that will be suitable for your family. Choose a vacation that offers attractions and activities that are age-appropriate for your children, as well as interesting and entertaining for all of you.
For example, a trip to Washington, D.C. might seem to be the perfect educational family trip. But keep in mind that children under the age of six probably won't enjoy walking up and down the Mall in 90-degree weather, touring one huge monument after another, and listening to adult tour guides talk endlessly.
And if your children are unhappy, you inevitably will be too.
Involve your children in the vacation-planning process. Well in advance of your departure date, encourage them to learn all about your destination, with the help of books, maps, videos, TV programs, and the Internet. Point out places of interest that you will be visiting, and read together about the local culture and attractions.
Let your children have a say in deciding what clothing and other items they bring along. If possible, try to allow each child to have his or her own bag of clothing, accessories, and toiletries for the journey.
It's also a good idea to let your child bring along a favorite unbreakable toy or a cherished storybook; these familiar objects usually prove very comforting to children away from home.
To keep your child healthy and comfortable during the rigors of travel, be sure to bring any necessary prescription medicines, along with copies of the prescription, in their original containers. Don't forget general first-aid equipment, including sun block, insect repellant, a thermometer, children's pain reliever, antibiotic ointment for cuts and scrapes, anti-diarrheal medicine if you're traveling outside the country, allergy preparations as necessary, and ipecac to induce vomiting in case of poisoning.
During car trips, encourage your children to look out the window to minimize car sickness, and during plane take-offs and landings encourage them to nurse, suck on pacifiers or candies, or chew gum to help equalize the changing pressure in their ears.
If your travel plans involve long hours on a plane or in a car, you'll need to have certain items on hand. To keep your children occupied and entertained en route, bring along non-bulky items such as playing cards, video games, stuffed animals, coloring books, and crayons.
You should also carry an overnight bag with a change of play clothes, a swimsuit, night clothes, and diapers for each child, so that you can make your kids comfortable immediately upon arriving, rather than having to unpack and search through your luggage while your children grow more restless and cranky.
Also be sure to carry moist towelettes or baby wipes; they'll serve double duty if you have to make a pit stop at a lavatory that has less than satisfactory sanitary conditions.
During the vacation itself, encourage your children, especially older ones, to take part in planning each day's activities. You might want to give each child a disposable camera for the trip, along with guidance on using it, so he or she can collect his or her own travel memories. After the trip, these photos can be placed in an album dedicated solely to the child's vacation photos.
Plan some grown-up time for the adults. If competent childcare services are offered by your hotel, take advantage of them and treat yourself to a couple of afternoons or an evening to focus on activities and relaxation for just yourself or for you and your partner. You'll most likely return to your role as leader of the pack more easygoing and less frazzled.
Above all, plan for the fact that traveling with the whole family will be different from traveling only with other adults.
Traveling can be hard work even for adults, and if your kids are like most, they will at some point get tired and cranky, will quarrel with each other, will change their minds about what they want to do at a whim, and will suddenly realize they need to go potty when you've finally made it to the head of the It's a Small World line.
So don't try to force the good times: Keep each day's itinerary flexible; be sure to schedule some "down time" when everyone can relax; and remember that a successful family vacation depends not on the amount of territory you can cover, but on the quality of time you spend together.