10 ways to stay sane on a family vacation

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Most of us have taken a family summer trip only to return home in dire need of a vacation! The stress of fuel costs, highway construction, delayed flights, and airport security can be insane. But summer vacation is a perfect time to escape it all and reconnect with loved ones.

Eileen Ogintz, creator of the travel site TakingTheKids.com, says, "The chance to share something new together-something you'd never see or do at home-is what makes those indelible family vacation memories that last forever."

So how can you do it differently than Chevy Chase and the Griswolds?

Plan wisely

1. Get the fam psyched!

Kids love to be included in the trip planning. It is easy to find small tasks such as searching online for things to do in the towns you'll be visiting or even choosing the DVDs and books they'll take along.

2. Outline what kids can expect.

To keep them feeling secure, and especially if they're flying for the first time, explain the details. Talk about how the airport may be crowded and the way security checks work. If your younger child has never flown, consider sharing a picture book like Airport by Byron Barton.

3. Pack smarter.

Ogintz's travel site has great tips for smart packing:

  • Reach for a scarf instead of an additional outfit.
  • Lay out everything you'd like to take, then choose half of those pieces.
  • Pack only shirts matching more than one thing.
  • Consider going completely "carry on" to avoid fees.
  • Use space bags, "Pack-it Cubes," or Ziploc plastic bags.
  • Don't pack clothes they hate.
  • Pack a change of clothes in a carry-on for in-flight accidents.
  • Remember laundry can be done in a hotel sink.

In the air

4. Fly smarter.

Ogintz says be sure to read the fine print on your airline's website before heading out the door since they all have different fees and rules. Don't forget to pack crayons and little games to entertain them as well as a DVD player if you have one. If you'll be traveling with a car seat, bring it on the plane so your child will be both safe and comfortable.

5. Remain sane on the plane.

Realistic tips from Paula Shelton, creator of FlyingWithKids.com may keep your anxiety in check while in the air with kids:

  • Pack lipstick and a compact mirror. If you're having a bad time, take two minutes to apply lipstick and give yourself a pep talk in the mirror.
  • Take advantage of fast track security checks if you're traveling with an infant.
  • Be prepared to lose stuff, and don't freak out when you do.
  • Treat any time to relax as a bonus
  • Keep smiling at your kids.
  • Ignore rude people. Only you can know the right way to handle your child.
On the road

6. Before you hit it.

Eileen Ogintz says get the car checked out before you leave to avoid flats, and since automobile crashes are the leading killer of kids, make sure your children have the proper restraints for their age and size. Kids weighing 40-80 pounds should use a booster seat as this will reduce the risk of serious injury by 59 percent. Make sure your phone is charged, and plan to leave at a time you won't hit morning or rush hour traffic. Depart when you are well rested and if possible, when the kids will sleep most of the way.

7. Consider a rental.

Renting a fuel efficient vehicle and driving to your destination is often more economical than flying. Ogintz also recommends www.fuelcostcalculator.com for calculating the cost of an upcoming road trip and says many hotels and resort offer gas rebates.

8. Keep 'em comfy.

Bring DVDs, treats, books and toys to entertain them. Books on tape are great, and kids can be encouraged to "unplug" for periods of time so you can talk. Older kids can help navigate with a GPS or maps.

More peaceful stays

9. Take your time.

Whether you fly or drive, plan to chill for awhile upon arrival so kids can adjust. If your vacation activities keep you active, consider eating dinner early to save on wait times and to prevent exhausted kid melt-downs in the restaurant. Have plenty of healthy snacks (Cheerios, string cheese, bananas) and water on hand for your hungry kids who may not like the food where you dine.

10. Don't try to save the world.

It's always tempting to over-schedule with so many exciting things for the family to do and see while away. Instead, decide together on one big outing each day so that the kids don't become over-stimulated and sleep deprived. Your vacation should include plenty of downtime when everyone is together restfully and peacefully.

Michele Ranard is a professional counselor, tutor, and freelancer with a twisted blog at www.cheekychicmama.com.