Tag Archive for: vacation with kids

The Most Important Skill for Family Road Trips

Changing station, road-trip style.

Changing station, road-trip style.

Family road trips require Mom and Dad to multi-task like nothing else. We must entertain the kids! While driving! And listening to Demi Lovato! While keeping ourselves awake!

Many of us parents must master another skill, too: The art of changing diapers in the car.

For me, this last skill is the ultimate challenge—the Everest of road trip rigors. I don’t do well changing nappies on slanted surfaces (read: front seats), and I’m too much of a perfectionist for the quick change (let’s just say I’ve got an OCD about lining up those diaper tabs so there’s no overlap whatsoever).

To say I’ve grappled with this issue would be an understatement. On any given road trip, I probably spend at least 300 miles of every 500-mile day strategizing about how to change the next diaper. (Seriously.)

That means I’ve experimented with literally dozens of tactics in the last four years. And so, in no particular order, I present to you my top three most successful strategies for mastering this skill.

Use the hood.
Most trucks, including mine (a 2001 Nissan XTerra) have relatively flat hoods, providing a changing table-like surface on which to operate. When employing this method, I treat the hood like the floor of an airplane galley, and lay a blanket beneath the changing pad to make sure no part of the baby touches the dirty steel.

NOTE: I also only utilize the hood after the car has been parked for a while, as that front panel can get pretty hot after drives of long distances.

Fold the seats.
Many minivans (and some economy cars) now come equipped with seats that fold flat—another great spot on which to change that dirty nappy. Provided at least one of the seats can fold down easily, this is by far the most efficient strategy of the bunch. In the event that a car seat prevents quick and easy folding, you might want to take a different approach.

Get in the back.
On daytrips and shorter road trips, my favorite place to change a diaper is the trunk. It’s flat! It’s spacious! And with all of the assorted junk Powerwoman and I keep back there in our respective vehicles, there are plenty of distractions. (Yes, I did just say we have junk in our trunks.)

Perhaps the only downside to trunk changes is the fact that they aren’t a viable option if the trunk is full of luggage.

That said, I admit I’ve unpacked an entire section of trunk just to change a diaper.

The lesson, dear readers, is this: On the road, a parent without a changing table must do whatever it takes to vanquish those dirty diapers.

What strategies have you tried for changing diapers in the car on a road trip? Plesae leave your input in the comment field above.

Next Stop: Babyland

Long live paper maps.

Long live paper maps.

Call me old-school. Call me a Luddite. Heck, go ahead and call me a loser, I don’t care. I like paper maps. And I plan to share this passion with my travel-loving kids. No matter what.

The maps are sort of everywhere. Each child has one on the wall in her room. We raid the local AAA store and get “research” maps before every big road trip. Occasionally, instead of building with blocks or coloring, we’ll just unfold a map of the U.S. and talk about states.

Our latest endeavor transpired this week. In the first official effort to give the girls a better sense of where on the planet we’ll be when we move to London, I bribed them with mini marshmallows and invited them to join me for an up-close-and-personal session with a world map from Little Passports.

The two of them internalized the session in different ways.

R, who is 20 months at this point and already is learning her colors, pointed to every blue nation and proudly screamed, “Blue!” as loud as she could.

L, who turns 4 on Tuesday, fixated on distances. On one hand, she was fascinated by how far England is from home (here in California), and asked me repeatedly to trace the likely flight arc of our plane. On the other hand, she couldn’t get over how close London is to Paris; when I told her we’d take a train between the two, she reacted as if I told her we’d ride unicorns.

The “lessons” lasted out for about 30 minutes total; after that I had to wash some dishes so I left the girls to play on their own.

That’s when Babyland was born.

For L, this magical place was the perfect destination for little sisters—a place where toddlers would feel at home. It was an island oasis. For babies. In the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Naturally, this was no ordinary island. As L explained it to R, in Babyland, people eat strawberry yogurt with every meal, dance to Bruno Mars at all hours of the day or night, and never leave home without at least two stuffed kittens.

She added that in Babyland, ladybugs can talk. And they all know you by name.

Many of these facts were still making their way into my notepad when I looked up to spot L with a purple crayon, drawing a flight arc that stretched to Babyland from London. She explained to her sister how planes would follow that route, and how, someday, the four of us would take one of those planes and see it all for ourselves.

L kept talking, and R listened quietly, hanging on every word. I put my pen down and listened, too.  After about five minutes, my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. Long live paper maps.

Family Travel Food for Thought

Have farmers' market, will travel.

Have farmers’ market, will travel.

The June issue of Conde Nast Traveler is jam-packed with suggestions about places to take the family on vacation this summer (and beyond).

While I take issue with the feature’s headline (sorry, folks, but no vacation involving the vagaries of children ever is “foolproof”), I think the piece is a solid collection of service-oriented destination write-ups, travel tips and first-person suggestions/anecdotes.

In short, I wish I had written the damn thing myself.

In particular, I admire the magazine’s selections of vacation destinations for big families on a budget. We never have visited Sayulita, but we have good friends who go there with their kids every year and describe it as “the cheapest and most laid-back beach town on Earth.” We have visited Honua Kai Resort on Maui, and the 2-bedroom units indeed are a great value for the price. (Usage of the phrase, “mod cons,” however, should be outlawed in all 50 states.)

It also was exciting to see the magazine give some love to the Tyler Place Family Resort, in Vermont. This place is renowned in family travel circles for programs that include supervised morning and evening activities for kids up to 30 months old.

Tyler Place also an all-inclusive, which some say are a great value for families. (In case you were wondering, I am not one of these people, and am skeptical of all-inclusives in general. But that’s another subject for another post.)

In any event, the article is worth a read.

Where do you plan to take your family for vacation this summer? Let me know in the comments field.

Embracing Accidentally Family-Friendly Hotels

Bathroom televisions: Better than stuffed animals.

Bathroom TVs: Better than stuffed animals.

It’s one thing for a hotel to go out and declare itself as “family-friendly” and stock the rooms with all sorts of kid-oriented goodies and treats. It’s another thing for a hotel that doesn’t make a big deal about family travelers to boast the kinds of amenities that make us who vacation with kids feel right at home.

I like to consider this phenomenon “AFF,” or Accidentally Family-Friendly. As a traveler, when you experience it, it’s the best kind of surprise. Like a dollop of caramel in the center of a chocolate cupcake. Or a clutch hit from a rookie who just got his call-up to the Big Leagues.

Different families can deem different hotels AFF for different reasons. Here’s a rundown of some amenities that have made qualified properties as AFF in our recent experiences:

  • Bathroom televisions. Sure, L loved the free stuffed animal she received upon checking in to the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, but she’s still talking about the tiny television in the bathroom. The kid liked this TV so much she refused to watch the big one out in the bedroom. It also came in handy for me—while I shaved, she chilled out next to me and hung with “Sofia the First.”
  • 24-hour room service. When we travel internationally (or just cross-country), we usually reward good in-transit behavior with favorite foods. This means ordering odd items (French fries, hummus) at all hours of the day and night. It also means we’ve become huge fans of all-hours room service. The girls love knowing they don’t have to wait for their rewards. We love the good behavior this reality usually engenders in mid-air.
  • Flashlights. My kids love building forts and “camping out” (pretty much all the time at home and) in hotel rooms. The one item from home that’s always missing: A flashlight. I usually bring a headlamp for nighttime runs (yes, I’m that guy who runs at 11 p.m.), but the big boys are just too clunky to bring along. Naturally, then, you can imagine how excited the girls get when they find a flashlight hiding in the closet of a hotel room.
  • Extra space. We love hotels like Maui’s Fairmont Kea Lani, where even the “standard” rooms actually are suites. When everyone’s awake, this configuration gives the girls room to spread out and do puzzles or have dance parties. When the girls go to sleep, it also gives Powerwoman and me the chance to shut the door to the bedroom and have some semblance of alone time.

The bottom line: Some hotels might be more family-friendly than you think. For an honest rundown of how other family travelers have rated a hotel, call the concierge and ask what in-room features seem to resonate with other customers in your demographic. Another, easier option: Ask friends, either in person or through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. And remember, there’s more to “family-friendly” than toys and games.

To what extent have you found hotels AFF? Which amenities in particular did your kids adore?

Also: For more information about hotels and hotel amenities, join me this Wednesday, May 15, between 10:30 a.m. and noon, as I co-host a Twitter chat for Expedia. To follow along or participate, just log on to Twitter and search for the hashtag, #expediachat.

Managing Temper Tantrums on the Road

Calm down, honey; look at the trains!

Calm down, honey; look at the trains!

Unless you’re raising V.I.C.I. from “Small Wonder“, temper tantrums likely are a fact of your current life as a parent. And since kids generally aren’t discriminating about where and when they have these meltdowns, I’m guessing you probably have had to deal with a spaz-out or two on a family vacation.

We’ve got a soon-to-be 4-year-old in our midst, which means we certainly have grappled with our fair share. No matter what the circumstances, they’re never fun. For any of us.

I spent the better part of our last trip paying close attention to what triggered L’s tantrums, and how our reactions exacerbated or alleviated the situation overall. Then, when we got home, I phoned a few child psychologists (and our pediatrician) for some insight.

Based upon this research, here are four tips for dealing with tantrums the next time you’re away.

  • Be (as) flexible (as possible). The last thing you want to do in a foreign place is schlep around a child who’s going to kick and scream every step of the way. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to keep the schedule relatively fluid—that way you have the ability to wait out a temper tantrum should one occur.
  • Fend off exhaustion. Many temper tantrums are triggered by tiredness; this means they are more likely to happen toward the end of the day. Pre-empt major meltdowns with family walks and other activities when exhaustion seems imminent. Post-dinner/pre-bed dance parties almost always work. Sunset-watching sessions are good, too.
  • Deflect, deflect, deflect. One of the most classic ways to end a tantrum is to distract your child from the things that have set him or her off. Travel makes this easy, since new sights and sounds and smells abound. Seize upon stuff that’s free and public: Musicians! Flowers! A fountain! This way you’re not going over budget to keep your kids happy.
  • Avoid punishment. While “time-outs” might help your kids calm down at home, on vacation, with unfamiliar surroundings and shared hotel rooms, this form of discipline may not be as effective (and, in public places, can impact other people’s trips, too). Instead, try “time-ins” during which you calmly talk your child back to normalcy.

There probably are six or seven other items I could add to this list, but these should give you enough of a foundation upon which to build.

The most important thing to remember: Be patient. Temper tantrums are inevitable. Just because you’re on a family vacation doesn’t mean your children are going to stop being children. The quicker you move past them, the more willing you are to take these episodes in stride, the more pleasant your overall family travel will be.

Finally, a Scientific Explanation for Hating on Family Travelers

A scene of the crime. Or is it?

A scene of the crime. Or is it?

It always has seemed so irrational; the way ordinary, fun-loving people embark an aircraft and suddenly hate families how Tonya Harding hated (hates?) Nancy Kerrigan.

They stare. They snivel. They seethe. Sometimes, they even sneer.

We encounter these terrible humans just about every time we fly the so-called “friendly” skies, and every time we meet them, we think to ourselves, “What the hell is wrong with these people?”

Now, thankfully, we have an answer: According to researchers from King’s College in London (including the very first UK professor of “aerospace medicine), many mental processes are impaired at altitude. Read between the lines and this discovery means, quite simply, that flying makes people dumb.

Finally, everything is illuminated. The guy who changed his baby’s diaper on flight attendant jump seats. The dude who slapped a crying baby on an airplane’s descent. The couple that bribed fellow passengers on a cross-country flight with goodie bags.

All of these people behaved badly. And all of them were, obviously, “impaired.”

Thanks to David Gradwell, all of this bad behavior makes perfect sense; for better or for worse, the very act of flying has turned our brethren against us.

As the objects of derision and hatred, we family travelers COULD blame the airlines. All this time, we’ve put up with lousy food, rising prices and dwindling benefits for enduring the additional challenge of traveling with kids. Now we find out these companies are sitting back idly while they poison our countrymen (and women) against us. The bastards!

I suppose we also could blame our fellow passengers. They willingly board these planes, tacitly accepting anything and everything that occurs as a result.

Sure, they might end up next to a former wide receiver for the LFL with whom they decide to join the mile-high club. But they also might end up sitting behind a baby who is acting like a baby, and therefore (to them, people) deserves life in a North Korean prison.

Instead, dear readers, I offer a different solution: Forgiveness.

Our fellow passengers know not what they do when they call our daughters “demons.” They aren’t themselves when they encourage us to “get a muzzle.” Instead of taking offense at these types of messages, from now on, I will look at the messengers and feel pity, or just nod and smile.

The way I see it, turning the other cheek like this is the very least we can do. After all, like Gradwell says, life at 30,000 feet makes us all do some pretty crazy stuff.

Love Letter to a Champion of Family Travelers

Don't hate me because she's my traveling partner.

Don’t hate me because she’s my traveling partner.

I’ve never met Susan Reimer, but if and when I do, I’m buying her a beer (or non-alcoholic beverage of her choice).

Earlier this week, she published a piece in The Baltimore Sun imploring airplane passengers to be nicer to solo moms traveling with kids. The story, titled, “Babies on a Plane,” chronicled Reimer’s observations while flying across the country for the Easter/Passover holiday. And those observations weren’t pretty. The two biggies:

  • Solo moms, laden with strollers and other gear, managing unhappy babies and kids.
  • Passengers, laden with judgment, shooting death glares toward the aforementioned moms (and their aforementioned little ones).

For me, these observations are nothing new; I’ve experienced them first-hand when I travel with my kids, and I wrote a ton for Parenting about the larger problem (see here and here). What was different, however, and, to be honest, intoxicatingly wonderful, was Reimer’s tone.

She was firm yet hopeful. Didactic, but not annoyingly so. At one point, she came out and asked, point blank: “How about if we start [changing our ways] with a little sympathy?”

Then, with this snip, she transported herself to family travel-writing nirvana:

    “Why reward mom’s sincere attempt to keep family ties vibrant with your arrogance? Why not praise her endurance and her juggling act and offer to take the baby on your lap for a bit so she can drink her Diet Coke in peace? Or visit the bathroom? Why not turn around and distract the irritated kid kicking your seat with your bracelet, your funny faces or one of your pretzels? Why not offer a few words of praise as a mom grabs up all her stuff and, with a kid by the hand and another on the hip, gamely tries to exit the plane?”

I applaud the author not only for her message, but in the way she delivered it—with humor, humility and a hearty dose of chutzpah. Reimer’s column likely isn’t going to change a lot of minds, but every scintilla of sensibility makes a difference on this issue, and we family travelers need all the help we can get.