Bring the kids! A Guide for Parents of Stress-Free Travel

Traveling with "little ones" can be one of the happiest events of all – it can also be one of the most stressful. As you look at the miracle in the eyes of your children as they watch how a historical or natural miracle can make your heart proud, you must realize that they will eventually get bored or tired, so you will have to return to their judicial roles as a peace keeper and presiding party.

My mother-in-law told the story of a car trip with five children under the age of five. Someone always asked "How much longer?" to which her husband routinely replied "Only 10 minutes left." When she protested, he replied, "They just want an answer – any answer will do!" As a mother of five grown children, I was more fortunate to tell the truth and then found something creative to do.

To maintain your sanity and actually enjoy some of the travel destinations you take your kids to, follow some simple tips for planning and organizing your trip. Before you know it, you'll be looking forward to a family trip – no matter how many kids tag along.

1. Go to places that are age appropriate. If you want your kids to enjoy their journey, be sure to take them to places that are age-appropriate. This does not mean that every trip must involve a theme park or sporting event; it simply means keeping the educational value of the trip at a level they can understand and appreciate. If your kids' ages are in a wide range, do at least one activity for each child. Choosing a hotel with a pool can make a big difference!

2. Establish basic rules early. Before leaving the house at all, make sure your children know what is and what is not acceptable road behavior. As basic as this may seem, if you do not tell your children what to expect, how can they oblige?

3. Have the kids pack their travel bag. Make sure your baby bag is small enough to carry. If they know how to read, the parent can make a packing list. Include things that can work on the road or in the air – Walkman and cassettes, comic books, handheld video games, etc. Decide your seating arrangements in advance and make contingency plans in case the places you are looking for are not available.

4. Establish a meeting place. There is nothing worse than losing a child in an unfamiliar environment. Whenever you visit a location, identify a place your family can meet if you accidentally split up. Equally important, have some current photos of your children at your disposal. This way, others can help you find your lost child. If your child can tell the weather, make sure he has a look!

5. Have children become part of the journey by letting them help in planning. Your children will enjoy the trip more if they feel they have something on the agenda. Get books from the library or search the Internet in the area you plan to visit. Give them some options for what to do while you are away and actually use some of their suggestions. Who knows, they may enjoy their suggestions more than you think.

6. Keep a separate list of your baby's belongings. Keep a list of everything your kids need on the trip. If more than two children will travel with you, keep a separate list for each child. Otherwise, the items start running together, and it's hard to tell if you really have enough supplies for each child. It's amazing how many people forget to pack essentials for their kids like toothbrushes, socks and shoes.

7. Pack your first aid kit Face it. Children will be children. That means scratched knees, stabbed bugs and cuts and bruises. Always keep the first aid manual handy when traveling with children. This will help you get rid of tears and bring back smiles and fun.

8. Make sure they have special children for travel. It's amazing how many people spend more time planning what they will get for breakfast than spending a week or two on the road. A fun, well-planned travel experience will create memories that can last a lifetime. Plus, pre-planning can save you a lot of money. Many airlines, restaurants and hotels offer discounts for children, whether they are "children staying or eating for free" or "half the price of children." If you do it yourself, surf the Internet about travel websites. You can usually find some great deals if you are willing to take the time and look for them. The most important thing is to bring the right attitude. Traveling with children will always present some challenges. Spend more time enjoying the precious memories you will create and less time thinking about what could go wrong. Keep your sense of humor in full swing and happy travels.