Monday, May 31, 2010

Traveling with your Children

Traveling This Summer with Children

I was speaking with a close friend, who was recently in town with his wife, about what they would like to see me address in this column. Being a well travelled couple, they looked at one another and smiled and simultaneously suggested that traveling with children would be appropriate. It is that time of year when families are planning their summer vacations. Selecting destinations, travel routes and modes of transportation, and the wonderful activities to enjoy along the way can be a real challenge and becomes all the more complicated when children are involved.

These family vacations are often the source of childhood memories which they will carry with them forever. These times are opportunities for families to strengthen their bonds and to really get to know each other in a less structured environment than the usual work, school, carpool, housework model.

There are a few considerations to take into account to make this vacation as wonderful as you want it to be. First and foremost is the importance of the kids being a part of the decision making process of where to go and what to do. Budgetary and time constraints are usually parameters which can serve as a framework in which to make plans, but the inclusion of the children's opinions is considerate, respectful and validating.

Wherever you decide to travel and how you plan to get there, make a list of tasks which need to be completed prior to departure. This list will have such things as clothes to pack, medications, travel documents including health certificates and passports. If traveling with other people's children under your charge be sure to have a notarized or legally prepared letter from their parents verifying that it's okay for their kids to be with you. You might also contact the immigration authorities in the country to which you are traveling to ask about regulations concerning travel with someone else’s children. It takes longer than you expect or want for some kinds of documentation, especially when traveling out of the country, such as visas and passports, so be sure to allow plenty of time. This planning ahead will help avoid major disappointments.

When packing, plan for inclement weather, limited laundry facilities and be sure to save a little room for the local souvenirs which you know you will want to purchase. Your favorite soap, shampoo, toothpaste and other toiletries need to be brought along because they may not be readily available in the communities you will visit. Remember that if you are traveling by plane, pack as much as you can in your checked baggage, especially any liquids or sharp objects. But be sure to have your carry on bags packed with a change of clothes because airlines do regularly have baggage delays. This is especially helpful with kids who can be very attached to a favorite look or piece of clothing.

If you will be staying in a hotel or other public lodging, keep a watchful eye on children. They can wander away and they can inadvertently be disturbing to other guests. Kids need to be taught that running up and down the halls, riding the elevators and carrying on as though they were in their own homes is unacceptable. Vacations are meant to be fun times and getting the ground rules clear before the trip and reinforced only as necessary while traveling will make for the most fun experience.

Food can be an issue when traveling with children, especially small children whose taste buds are still adapting to the wide range of foods available. Introducing them to fresh local food can be more easily achieved if couched as an adventure. Kids are usually not that interested in trying foods that are new to them. Some kids have severe allergies to certain kinds of foods. Take these issues into consideration while planning your trip and discuss them with your children. It is amazing how a little consideration and encouragement can bring out the excitement of going on the trip.

If you are staying with friends or relatives, be sure to find out what ground rules they may have in their homes which may differ from your own. Explain to your children that there are differences and that it is important to be respectful of other people's homes. If you will be visiting friends in foreign lands, check to see if there are any customs which need to be aware of. For example, in Canada many people remove their shoes upon entering someone's house. This is rarely done in the United States.

Most importantly be sure to plan a trip that will be fun mixed with some adventure and education. Young minds do not stop growing or seeking opportunities to learn just because school is out. Kids are kids however and discovery and freedom are ingredients of their lives whether on vacation or not. Respecting other people and following certain rules should be also.