First, fill up the travel survival kit


April 16, 1995|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

The kids are waiting impatiently at the front door. They've been ready to leave for hours. Suitcases are packed, travelers' checks and plane tickets safely tucked in the bag. The coffee pot is off and the back door locked. But there's something else, something indispensable to everyone's happiness -- and your sanity on this vacation.

Where's the survival pack? We're not talking coloring books and crayons here. We're talking bona fide necessities for on-the-go '90s families to enjoy what little time they've got to relax.

To help pack yours, here are some suggestions from some well-known moms and dads, as well as from the authorities who frequently lend their experience to this column. They wouldn't leave home without: "A good night's sleep. That's all," offers Jane Pauley of NBC, the mother of three grade schoolers. "Your imagination," adds children's television personality Fred Rogers. "It's the perfect plaything -- it's free, portable, unbreakable and for children of all ages. But it needs the loving care of grown-ups who value it."

That's why one mother I know always brings a length of rope and a flashlight. Not to tie the kids together, of course, but to string up a tent made from sheets in the hotel room or Grandma's den. (They can play with the flashlight inside the tent.)

Other kids are just as essential to the success of any family trip, says travel agent and grandmother Helena Koenig, who spurred the trend of grandparents vacationing with grandchildren. "You can leave the toothpaste as long as they have friends to play with," she says.

Chicago pediatrician Diane Holmes, the mother of three, says no parent ought to leave without the doctor's phone number, "if they don't have it committed to memory."

"Juice boxes are great too," she continues. "They take the edge off hunger as well as thirst. A juice box can buy you another half hour of peace and quiet," she says, laughing.

So can something as simple as a sharpened pencil, notes Parents magazine editor Annie Pleshette Murphy, the mother of two young kids. "They can write on anything as long as they have a pencil."

For younger kids, Ms. Murphy would stash a puppet in the survival pack. "So I could do a show for them in the car," she says.

"Kids really are a lot better travelers than we give them credit for," she adds reassuringly.

That's provided parents pack with kids' needs in mind. Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, the pediatrician and author whose books guide millions of parents through their children's development, suggests asking the kids themselves what they absolutely can't live without.

"I'd take the most important thing in the child's world at that moment," he says. That might mean a stuffed animal or "blankey" for a toddler, a collection of Power Rangers for a kindergartner or certain tapes for a preteen's player.

Candice Bergen's 8-year-old daughter Chloe Malle takes her dog, Lois, along with her -- and a stuffed bear named Bob.

An inexpensive camera should be in the survival pack, says Meredith Brokaw, co-author of the new "Penny Whistle Traveling With Kids Book" (Simon & Schuster, $13) and anchorman Tom Brokaw's wife. "It really helps the kids focus on the moment, on what they are seeing," explains Ms. Brokaw, a Manhattan toy-store owner who has three children.

Stan Fridstein, meanwhile, wouldn't leave home without a "dirty duds bag." Mr. Fridstein started the Los-Angeles-based Right Start catalog and now reviews tens of thousands of products every year designed for new parents.

Sometimes the simplest things are the most helpful, he says. "You'd be amazed at the looks you get places if you ask to toss out a dirty diaper," said Mr. Fridstein, who as the father of a toddler has gotten those looks himself.

A wet washcloth in a plastic bag is another certain mess-buster for families on the road, suggests veteran nursery-school director Candy Reesh.

"Even now that my four kids are grown, I feel like I'm missing something if I don't have one with me when I travel."

Books can certainly help. That's why Fred Brown, president of the 26,000-member National Association of Elementary School Principals, would put "a whole pile" in his pack.

"Books for parents to read to the kids and books the kids can read themselves make the time go faster," Mr. Brown says. "Even comic books are OK."

Fellow school principal Lucinda Lee Katz, the director of the University of Chicago Laboratory School, never leaves home with her two kids without her deck of cards. "We play spades and hearts or solitaire. It's something we always do when we travel."

Even with the cards, books, lots of imagination, teddy bears, a sense of adventure and the juice boxes, among other things, there's still plenty of room in the pack for more.

So how about it? Send your idea for the Taking the Kids Survival Pack to Taking the Kids, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053. We'll use some of them in coming columns. The family that provides the most creative offering will get an official Taking the Kids survival backpack.

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