By Michelle Doucette
Taking the kids out of their routines and onto planes, trains, and automobiles can be enough to make you scream "staycation!" Here, some of our favorite experts—moms who've traveled the world with their children—share favorite tips for making your family's summer trip unforgettable (in a good way).
Get Them Involved
From planning to packing, your kids' participation is key, says Lynn O'Rourke Hayes, editor of FamilyTravel.com and family travel columnist with the Dallas Morning News. The mom of three sons recommends encouraging children to help research family-friendly activities, giving them a map so they get a sense of where they're going, and creating a list from which they can pack their own clothes and carry-on. "The more the kids are involved," she says, "the deeper the memory."
Reserve Hotel Rooms via Email
Checking out Europe with the kids? Look closely at those confirmations. Amie O'Shaughnessy, managing editor of CiaoBambino.com, says that reserving hotel rooms via online booking engines is fine for trips within the US, (where family-friendly, two-queen-bed rooms are standard), it pays to request room quotes via email when you're going abroad. "Typical hotel rooms in Europe are smaller or oddly shaped, particularly in the best locations in historic city centers," O'Shaughnessy says. She recommends emailing international hotels directly "to ensure you get comprehensive details regarding all the possible room options that can accommodate children."
Let "under-plan" be your family's one-word travel mantra. Candyce H. Stapen, a family-travel author and producer of the FamilyiTrips series of mobile apps, says to forget about doing it all: "It's not how much of a destination you see, but how much you and your kids enjoy the sites together. That special museum won't engage your grade-schooler if it's the fourth facility toured that day. Allow time for the serendipitous."
Mom-of-three Debbie Dubrow of DeliciousBaby.com adds, "Sometimes it can be difficult to just let things unfold naturally, but the time you spend in local playgrounds or at the market picking up a snack often helps connect you more deeply to the place you are visiting."
Be choosy about what comes along, and remember that sometimes the simplest thing is the biggest lifesaver; Dubrow always brings blue painter's tape to use for everything from making a track for toy cars to baby-proofing. Another one of her favorite items is a CARES harness (she owns two), which weighs just 1 pound and lets you buckle a young child into an airplane seat without bringing along a bulky car seat.
For infants, Corinne McDermott, founder of HaveBabyWillTravel.com, recommends packing crib bedding from home ("the familiar scent and feel will help encourage sleep") and clothes with built-in feet ("you're ensured of warm toes and one less pair of baby shoes to lose"). McDermott also advises spreading baby's things among all your pieces of luggage: "If a bag gets lost, it's not THAT one."
Enjoy the Journey
Don't think of airplane or car time as wish-you-were-in-solitary-confinement time; think of it as precious bonding hours. "Remember that your family's trip begins as soon as you close your front door," says FamilyiTrips' Stapen. "Relating an anecdote about your childhood is a good conversation starter. To turn a stuck-in-traffic glitch into a fit of giggles, my husband told the story about his well-meaning aunt who, when he was in college, mailed him a cooked chicken—parcel post. The bird arrived so green that even my budget-challenged husband knew enough not to eat it. That got all of us laughing and the kids asking about more stories from our childhoods."
Encourage their Inner Explorers
Safety may always come first, but you're not traveling far and wide just to put the kibosh on adventure. FamilyTravel.com's O'Rourke Hayes recommends, "While invoking proper safety measures, encourage your young travelers to engage his or her natural curiosity, push their own boundaries, and take increasing responsibility. This is the best way for you and your child to maximize learning along the way." And learning is exactly what family travel is all about—for parent and child.