By Kelly Wieboldt
June 21, 2010 (San Diego's East County) -- Traveling with children who are in preschool or kindergarten can be absolutely marvelous. Kids are such curious creatures at this age and interested in what's going on in the world around them. That said, patience is the name of the game when you're on vacation with three- to six-year-olds; they'll want to check out every bug on the hiking trail and every crab on the beach.
So, one overall piece of advice to keep in mind when you're on the road with young kids: factor in extra time and try to be flexible. If your social butterfly is having fun meeting local kids at a neighborhood park, consider foregoing the children's museum you had on the agenda. It's your kids' vacation, too!
Here's some more advice for traveling with three- to six-year-olds, including pre-trip planning, potty-training tips, and ideas to make your travels go smoothly on the plane, on the road and on the ground:
Before You Go
Get your kids excited about your vacation by reading books about the destination. There are lots of books devoted to many destinations local and international. Ask your local librarian for ideas for different age groups or call or visit Readers Inc in downtown La Mesa at 8219 La Mesa Blvd. This is a kid-friendly bookstore that is very helpful.
Introduce foreign foods at home. If you're lucky enough to be traveling to a locale where chicken nuggets and plain pasta and butter won't be on most menus, have your kids try some gyros, paella or enchiladas well before you set foot in a new country. (That said, if you're staying in a vacation rental with a full kitchen, packing a jar of familiar peanut butter and a box of spaghetti isn't a bad idea either.)
Check in with your child's teacher. One great part about traveling during the school year with young children is that a week of missed preschool or kindergarten isn't going to derail their academic careers. Still, communicate to the child what your plans are, and find out if your child might do a special show-and-tell presentation with a favorite souvenir when she returns.
Look into reciprocal museum memberships. Linda Kramer, who pens the blog Travels with Children suggests purchasing a membership to your local museum that is good at other sites in the nationwide Association of Children's Museum Reciprocal Program Network.
This is especially helpful if you're road-tripping: "A one-hour stop at a children's museum is a good way to break up a long trip," says Kramer. "If you have reciprocity, it won't cost you anything besides potential parking fees."
Scope out the bathrooms. "The first thing to do at any theme park is pick up a map marked with restroom locations," says Beth Blair, who blogs on the site: The Vacation Gals But the same holds true for a hotel lobby, arcade, restaurant or movie theater. "Better to know where the bathrooms are, so you can dash as needed at a moment's notice."
Carry stickers in your purse. These aren't rewards, but rather they're used to cover up the automatic-flushing sensors on unfamiliar toilets. "Sometimes kids wiggle around and trigger the sensor to flush before little bodies are finished," says Jennifer Close, a mother of two and founder of Two Kids and a Map.
"A little sticker lightly placed over the sensor prevents the toilet from flushing mid-use and traumatizing your newly potty-trained child." Just peel off the sticker and throw it away when you're done (lest you totally confuse the next toilet user).
Make bathroom visits before take-off. Blair, a former flight attendant, insists that her kids, ages four and five, "try to go" in the airport before getting on a plane, and if there's time, they make a stop in the plane's lavatory while the rest of the passengers are boarding. "Leaving your seat too soon after take-off is against federal aviation regulations if the seatbelt sign is still on," says Blair. "Some flight attendants won't allow you to get up, even if it's an "emergency," so don't chance it."
Have your child wear training pants on the plane. This is a tough one; if your three-year-old is typically dry during the day, you may not feel like you want her to "regress" by wearing Pull-Ups. Plus, you might get resistance from your child who loves her big-girl undies. But as noted above, it's "better to be safe than sorry" with diaper-like undergarments if she is strapped in her plane seat and really has to use the toilet.. Similarly, if your child isn't toilet trained at night, and he's lulled to sleep by the plane's engines, you might be facing a messy accident if he's not wearing training pants.
On the Plane
Bring your child's car seat along. If your preschooler is accustomed to napping well in his car seat, by all means lug it on the plane with you, especially on an overnight or long flight. Similarly, some children just appreciate that familiar piece of kid gear in an unfamiliar place.
Check your car seat and use a CARES harness. On the other hand, if you don't want to bring a bulky seat on the plane, you can check it, typically at no cost like a stroller at the gate. Blair suggests putting it in a big lawn-sized trash bag to check; even wrap it in some bubble wrap (or clothing you're packing for your trip) to protect it in transit. Then, invest in a Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES), for your child over age one and weighing between 22 and 44 pounds. This belt-and-buckle harness that retails for about $75 is the only safety restraint certified by the FAA.
Prep your children. If your preschoolers are new to flying, be sure to let them know about the strange sounds they might hear, or the funny feeling in their tummy they might sense at take-off and landing. Prep them for the plane shuddering during turbulence, too, and let them know that's perfectly normal. Review the rules of flying (no kicking the seat in front of them, use your inside voice) well before you set foot on any aircraft.
Walk the aisles -- with caution. Former flight attendant Blair says she's seen some nasty bumps and bruises on kids who are out of their seats when unexpected turbulence hits on an otherwise smooth flight. Getting up to stretch and move around is good for everyone on a long flight, just be careful and don't get up more than necessary.
In the Car
Don't stop the car if everyone is happy. Conventional wisdom says to plan rest stops about every two hours when you're traveling by car with young children. Frequent road-tripper ‘s have discovered that, "No matter how hungry you are or how much you need to use the bathroom, keep driving while your kids are happy. Only take a break when they start to fuss, and then make sure you fill up your gas tank, eat or buy snacks, and use the restroom, so that if your preschoolers happen to fall asleep, you don't have to wake them," the mother of four notes. "The more miles you can cover while kids are happy or sleeping, the faster your trip will seem."
Pack surprise gifts. This advice can apply not only to long road trips, but also any vacation with airport layovers or many restaurant meals: "Buy a few small toys and wrap them up. Then during the trip, ration them and give to your child one at a time," . "They will enjoy unwrapping the gift as much as playing with the toy itself."
Bring out unexpected treats as needed. Sure, you want to make sure your kids eat healthy on the road to stay healthy on the road, but sometimes special sugary treats for an extra-long trip can help keep everyone in a Zen place. A big bag of Tootsie Pops can get you peacefully through a long stretch of driving.
On the Ground
Stick to the nap schedule. If your preschooler is a napper at home, by all means try to adhere to that routine on vacation and "plan sightseeing breaks as needed," says Querido. Chances are, you'll be happy to put your feet up and rest for an hour or two, as well. Everyone's happier after a mid-day break in the action.
If you're eating out, eat early. "You'll avoid the crowds -- both locals and tourists -- if you you're seated at a restaurant for dinner by 5 p.m.," says Jennifer Close. Another great tip from Kramer: "Ask for the check as soon as your food arrives, just in case a meltdown occurs and you need to make a hasty exit."
Get your lunch at a grocery store. "My kids hated to sit in a restaurant for an extended period of time, so we tryed to eat at only one restaurant a day when traveling. Load up on kid-pleasing fruit, veggies, string cheese and lunchmeat, then find a park for a picnic .Picnic fixings have an added bonus -- the grocery store is typically much cheaper than eating at a restaurant. And isn't saving money on vacation always a good thing?
If you and your family are thinking of traveling this summer, whether it is a road trip in California, discovering special places in our East County or trip involving more exotic destinations, give us a call.
We can plan something special and exciting, while making memories that will last a lifetime. Our motto is one we take seriously, “If you can dream it, we can plan it!”
Kelly Wiebolt is a travel agent at Unique Travel Cocnepts, Inc., located in The Levy House, 4679 Date Ave. , La Mesa in San Diego's East County. For travel information, visit www.uniquetravelconcepts.com or call (619)464-6426 or toll-free (800)879-8635.