The author of the popular blogDeliciousBaby.com, where the motto is "Making Travel with Kids Fun," reveals tips for surviving airports, airplanes, and long lines, sightseeing that kids will actually enjoy, and more -- including the importance of low-sugar snacks, and always knowing the location of a nearby playground.
BT: Every parent who has flown with young kids knows about "the look." As you're walking down the plane aisle, passengers stare at you and your kids, and the passenger faces say, "Dear God, please oh please don't sit anywhere near me." How do you deal with "the look," and how do you try to get along with less-than-friendly passengers sitting around you and your kids?
Debbie Dubrow: Frankly, I just ignore "the look." My job when I'm traveling with the kids is to make sure that they are happy and well taken care of, not to worry about other people's prejudices. In the end, attention from me is what helps them behave better on the plane too. When it makes sense, I ask them to introduce themselves to the people around us as we board. Sometimes that little effort, and the opportunity to interact with my kids while they're still in a good mood can help smooth over any rough spots. I have also heard of parents bringing "treats" for their neighbors if they know in advance that it will be a rough flight. Snacks or free drink coupons go a long way, especially with most airlines cutting back on their food service.
BT: When traveling, kids get a kick out of different things than adults. Beautiful scenery, for instance, may appeal to adults but get a yawn out of the little ones. So what are some tips for sightseeing that kids will really enjoy?
DD: Kids, especially very young children, can enjoy themselves pretty much anywhere. Often in our rush to see "the best sights" we hurry them along and rush them past the things they are interested in. Not surprisingly, they don't have much patience left when they finally arrive at that beautiful viewpoint or museum. I recommend going slow and taking time to look at the details that your kids are interested in. It's OK if they appreciate different things than you do, a great family vacation should be about discovering a new place together—not about teaching the children to appreciate the world's great buildings and artists.
Try to break up the day so that there are fun activities interspersed with more serious ones. Along these lines, one tip we like is to use Google maps to locate playgrounds near major attractions. Teaching your children about what they will be seeing also helps. There's no need to get too serious, fiction books set in the location or age-appropriate biographies of an artist can do wonders. Finally, plan to have enough flexibility in your schedule that if you have to dash out of the Louvre with a tired toddler you can return the next day.
BT: Any tips/strategies for surviving the plane rides and long lines so often involved with traveling? What do you do and/or what do you bring?
DD: First, it is important to remember that not understanding what is happening and seeing a parent stressed out can be scary for children. Take the time to explain what is happening, and what will happen next while you are waiting in line. This is especially helpful in the security line where children will be expected to take off their shoes and jacket, give up their lovey or blanket and walk through the metal detector on their own.
Try to allow extra time at the airport. Not only can children slow you down, but once you have cleared security you may want to stop for a snack or allow your child to run in an empty gate area.
Once you are finally on board a plane, you can break into a busy bag filled with different activities and low-sugar snacks. I like toys that can be played with in multiple ways, are quiet, and don't have too many small parts. Favorites include activity books, crayons, finger puppets, reusable sticker books and removable tape.
I have a couple of references that may be of help:
BT: I'm guessing you've stayed in a lot of different types of lodging. What kind of places work, and which ones don't? What kind of amenities, and how much space do you feel are essential when traveling with kids?
DD: Staying close-in means that you won't spend too much time in the car (or in public transit) and can return to the room easily when we need a little bit of downtime. Small homey inns (with paper-thin walls) don't work well with children unless they happen to have a separate cabin.
While it might seem hard to forgo the luxury of daily maid service, I prefer to find vacation rentals. Having a kitchen, washing machine, and separate bedrooms is a true luxury when you are traveling with children. All-suite hotels and long term stay hotels are also a good choice, and many have conveniences that really work for families including laundry facilities, breakfast, and even a small selection of groceries.
A standard hotel room can work well too, especially if you plan to be out and about a lot. Here are a few things to look for: make sure that the hotel has mini-refrigerators in the room, and if you plan to use a crib or rollaway bed, find out in advance whether they are offered free of charge. Some hotels offer mini-suites with a separate sitting area, and that is especially nice if the parents will be awake after the kids have gone to sleep. It also helps if the hotel is centrally located or has interesting public spaces so that the child can stretch his or her legs when they need to.
BT: The truly exotic places intimidate a lot of families. Heck, many families are intimidated by the idea of getting on a plane to Orlando with their children. So what tips can you offer that'll make trips to the really foreign places—China, South America—less intimidating? How do you cope?
DD: I have always been surprised about the amount of negativity there is about traveling with children outside of the United States. Sometimes people's preconceived ideas are much worse than the reality. Still, every family has to set its own boundaries about what feels safe for them. It may be very different for each family.
Pretty much anything is possible, and you should do the research ahead of time to understand what challenges you will face. Is the medical care "good enough," what will you do in areas where the tap water is not safe? If you are visiting a country where English is not the primary language, it's helpful to get a list of English speaking doctors from IAMAT, and you should always bring along any medical records or allergy information that might be needed in an emergency along with phone numbers for your family doctor.
If you are worried about traveling with your children, start small—perhaps staying in a hotel a few hours from home so that you can return if things don't go well. You will learn a lot about what works and what doesn't on that first trip, and that will help you make a bigger trip more successful.