Vacations are a good thing, right? Time to kick back, relax and wash away the stresses of everyday life. So why do so many parents view summer travel as annual punishment? Because they don't plan ahead. When it comes to kids in cars, a little organization goes a long way.
Where to Go
Travel Rule No. 1: Family vacation does not necessarily equal Disneyland. This isn't a call to boycott the Magic Kingdom. Just remember you have other options. Even all-inclusive resorts like Club Med offer activities for the whole family. Other travel companies that specialize in family vacations include:
Rascals in Paradise, a San Francisco-based organization that promises a vacation filled with education and adventure.
Now for the easy part: transportation. The quickest mode is flying the friendly skies, but it's also the most expensive. However, the Internet is a great place to find deals on airfare. Check out Travelocity and Lowestfare.com for all-around low prices or visit the site of your favorite airline for last-minute Internet specials. (If you can do without amenities, Southwest is the way to go.)
If you prefer the open road, consider the car. Driving your own car offers more flexibility, but also the potential for more stress. Be sure to break up the trip by stopping at rest areas (Route 40 and the I-95 Exit Information Guide are great resources) or goofy roadside attractions. Outsmart construction and traffic with real-time reports for select cities from SmarTraveler.
Before you flip a coin to choose between the two, don't forget about the modes less traveled -- bus and train. Both Amtrak and Greyhound service most areas of the United States. Check their sites for schedules, fares and special summer discounts.
How Not to Go Crazy Along the Way...
There is such a thing as too much family time -- especially after several hours in the car with fussy, fidgeting kids (or parents). Prevent conflicts with a little creative packing. This doesn't mean your child can bring his entire toy chest. Just pack a few favorite dolls or action figures, travel games, a deck of playing cards and a few good books. This goes for adults as well -- don't forget reading material and music that's approved by the entire family. (Check out Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com for a huge selection of books and tunes.)
Once you get to your destination, remember these few basic rules:
Stick to your kids' normal routine as much as possible, especially when it comes to eating and bed times.
When planning activities, keep ages and interests in mind.
Write up a daily itinerary, but don't freak out if things don't go exactly as scheduled. It's your vacation, remember? Have fun!