"We're traveling with the kids."
Stop grinding your teeth and uncurl your toes. Breathe. You are not Chevy Chase-or even Beverly D'Angelo. Unless you grew up around Chicago, it's unlikely that John Hughes penned your life for a National Lampoon movie. You can do this. Traveling with kids is an ancient migratory malady as old as humanity. It strikes the same chords of discord with the most patient parents, especially when extenuating circumstances spiral beyond control and reason. There isn't a sure cure, but anticipating challenges can diminish your domestic turbulence:
Planes delay. Connections disconnect. Late arrivals happen. When the chaos subsides and you genuflect in front of the whirling roulette wheel of the baggage carousel, count on a sleeping child or two among your possessions. That's why you should lighten your load by assigning one carry-on per family member and avoid checking luggage at departure. Even with a sacred woobie blanket or bumpkin bear as mandatory dunnage, households can collectively pack a week's worth of clothing in carry-on luggage. Allocate adult-sized carry-on to kids, especially if you have the kind with expandable pockets or piggyback compartments for souvenirs or Grandma presents. If you opt for checked luggage, roll with suitcases that have inline skate wheels. Check non-essential luggage on your return trip. Misplaced baggage can't ruin your vacation if you're already home.
Call Ahead with Questions.
Unlike orthopedic bills, talk is cheap. Know what not to take before you pack. Call your hotel, airline, shuttle service and resort reservations desk to find out which infant and toddler accouterments are furnished. Even modest establishments provide cribs, baby gates, booster seats and high chairs, but few advertise it. Keep in mind that the quality of these items may not be as new or as nice as the stuff you left at home. International pensions may provide kid furnishings shunned by American consumer groups.
Think outside the diaper bag. Load up on cheap color books, fast-food restaurant promotional toys, school book club paperback books, small crayon boxes and anything else you can afford to leave behind or accidentally forget. Don't reveal these disposable new goodies prior to the trip-dole them out while en route or while waylaid and delayed.
It's an Adventure. Wear Adventure Travel Clothing.
Any trip with kids is an excuse for expanding your travel wardrobe. Reversible travel clothing saves precious luggage space and the low-maintenance fabric eliminates hotel laundry bills and ironing time. Water resistant fabrics resist stains better than ordinary textiles, a trait you'll appreciate when your little one deposits complimentary in-flight juice in your lap.
Pair lightweight headphones and extra alkaline batteries with every portable game system and CD player. Buy a new game for the trip as a surprise or a reward. Role-playing adventures (RPGs) offer more game play hours and usually more replay value than arcade and action titles-check online game reviews for the hottest portable games. If you have time and money, consider renting one of the portable DVD players and movies available at major airport terminals.
The Golden Age of FRS Wireless.
Don't wait-coordinate. Whether you're shopping among stores in the Mall of America, buying a Fast Pass in Disneyland or "bustin' off freshies" beneath the Glacier Express Chair on Blackcomb, keep in touch with your family with a network of Family Radio Service (FRS) two-way radios. Just verify that everyone is on the right channel with radio volumes set above zero. If you're in the mood to splurge, the Garmin Rino 110 has a GPS/FRS patented Peer-to-Peer Positioning feature that tracks everyone visually within a two-mile radius, reducing the "where are you?" calls on your coded channel.
Educate Before You Vacate.
A youngster's gran turismo may broaden their vision of the world, but assess the interest level of your traveling companions before creating any sort of pre-travel curriculum. Cramming language immersion tapes during your morning and evening commute won't justify subjecting your kids to marathon sessions of Sister Wendy Beckett's art history programs on PBS. While renting The Sound of Music before taking the kids to Salzburg might be too niche, there's nothing wrong with a trip to the local library to read David Macaulay's award-winning Castle, Cathedral and City books. Your children might not share your appreciation of famous landmarks or museum artifacts, but talk about their impressions throughout the trip. Sometimes our world radiates in a new light through the eyes of children. Their simple but profound observations cut through the turbulence, the clutter, the extenuating circumstances that complicate our adult lives. On these journeys we learn more than we teach.
Author of a dozen juvenile and children's books, Terry Munson consults his kids for material during trips. Whistler B.C. remains his favorite family destination but his kids prefer Disneyland.