Although the holiday season is upon us, savvy parents know the festivities begin when they must pack three temperamental children into the family auto for the long drive to visit seldom-seen family members.
Aahhh! The joys of parenthood.
But holiday travel doesn't have to be foreboding and stressful; it can be downright pleasant. At least that's what Vicki Lansky says.
Ms. Lansky, author of 26 books for parents with young children, has written a new one titled "Trouble-Free Travel with Children," which contains hints for parents on the go.
How does she know so much about children? Through trial and error, she says.
"I got my graduate degree in art history. That didn't help much," says Ms. Lansky in a phone interview. "Most of my knowledge comes from raising my two children and listening to the experiences of other parents."
"Trouble-Free Travel with Children" (Publishers Group, $6.95) is a revision of a 1985 book by Ms. Lansky called "Traveling with Your Baby."
The updated version has been expanded to include kids of all ages, as well as additional resources for parents -- ranging from travel services that specialize in booking family excursions to an organization that offers names of English-speaking physicians while abroad to a nationwide list of museums with dinosaur exhibits.
Although there have been innovations since the last book, such as better car seats and the advent of the drink box, the problems parents face when traveling with their children have remained the same, says Ms. Lansky.
"The first mistake parents make is thinking that the trip is theirs," she says. "It's the kids' vacation, like it or not."
"Simply by taking children out of their routine, parents will encounter problems."
The golden rule of family travel, says Ms. Lansky, is to "go with the flow." She advises parents to "keep your perspective instead of your routine. The point of any trip is to have fun."
One of the secrets to a successful family trip is careful planning. The following tips from Ms. Lansky's book can be applied to many types of travel:
* Remember that items such as strollers and cribs probably can be rented at your destination.
* Bring sample-size containers of powder, cream, lotion and other necessities.
* Select travel clothing with an eye to layering, so you'll be prepared for sudden changes in the weather.
* If you are going by car, pack the car the night before, or when the kids are not around.
Food and eating
* Traveling and snacking go hand in hand. Basic and easy sandwich fixings are peanut butter, cheese or cheese spreads and luncheon meats.
* Bring along a container of yogurt with a straw inserted through the top lid for a spillproof snack.
* Bring a cardboard six-pack carton to hold napkins, juice cans, granola bars, etc.
* Use a shoe box lined with foil for a meal-in-a-box container.
* Safe snacks for toddlers include bananas, seedless grapes, crackers, bagels or frozen bagel sticks, pretzels and dry cereal such as Cheerios.
* Eat lunches and snacks at rest stops when you can, so everyone can get out of the car and get some fresh air and exercise.
* Bring a few new toys so kids can be surprised, but more importantly, occupied, during the journey.
* Be sure to rotate toys, seats and drivers to make the trip more pleasant.
* Bring along some paint-with-water books and a plastic bag filled with wet cotton swabs, which kids can use as paintbrushes.
* A camera -- even the inexpensive, disposable kind -- is good for children to take along. Let them document the trip.
* For kids who like video games, the hand-held versions may be worth the investment.
* Buy picture books accompanied by tapes or bring some of the children's own tapes. Remember to bring extra batteries and tape players with individual headsets.
* Keep in mind that a hotel on the outskirts of town is more apt to offer play space and playground equipment than a downtown one.
* If you are staying with parents, grandparents or other relatives, make sure that any medications in the house are safely locked up and/or have childproof caps, including medications in handbags.
* Ask for a ground-level room in a hotel to save yourself the trouble of hauling children and luggage up and down the stairs.
While Ms. Lansky agrees that careful planning can help to smooth out the bumps of a family vacation, she warns parents to be prepared for the unexpected.
"Trips are special events," says Ms. Lansky, "They don't have to be perfect."