Traveling as a family can be an adventure, whether your destination is an hour away or halfway around the world. But when you're making your journeys with kids in tow, it's not always easy! In this regular monthly column, mom and savvy traveler Mary Dixon Weidler will bring you smart ideas about how to make your trips fun for everyone.
Mary Dixon Weidler

Packing for little travelers
Remember the standard line of advice - "Pack light"? Well, when you're traveling with children, you may have to forget that adage. I've seen my three-year-old go through three different outfits in a single morning - and that was after he was potty trained! Now, your little one may have less "oops!" accidents than our "Messy Max," but having an extra tee shirt or two in your suitcase may turn out to be a lifesaver (unless you don't mind spending a chunk of your hard-earned vacation time in the hotel laundromat!)

First of all, if at all possible, invest in a set of rolling luggage for your youngsters. Even a five-year-old can handle this luggage on a flat surface, and it may save lots of time and running around when trying to get from the parking lot to the hotel room or the airport.

How much you pack will depend on your ultimate destination. If you're renting a house in Ocean City for a week, it may come with a washer and dryer (I insist on this, even before "luxury" items like air-conditioning!) which will allow you to easily throw a load in during the evening. If this is the case, you can pack simply, using the list below as the "core" for an older child's suitcase (we'll get to infants and toddlers later!):

  • 2 pair of pants (one pair jeans, one pair dress pants if you plan to eat out)
  • 1 sweater, windbreaker or sweatshirt
  • 1 long sleeved shirt
  • 3-5 tee shirts or casual shirts
  • 1-2 bathing suits
  • 3-5 pairs socks
  • 3-5 pairs underwear
  • 2-3 pair pajamas (I always bring a plain sweatsuit for each child, which could be used as daywear or bedwear, if necessary!)
  • 1 pair good walking shoes
  • 1 hat (or buy it first thing at your destination - this could be a the beginning of a great souvenir collection!)
Obviously, you would add to this core based on the season (winter travelers would add heavy sweaters, for example) and destination (those headed toward the beach, for example, need to throw in aqua shoes or flip flops for easy walking on hot sand.)

However, if you'll be off in the wilderness or at a luxury spa light years away from a washing machine, you will have to pack at least one to two complete outfits for every day of the trip. Make sure you remember extra socks and underwear! I always pack an extra full outfit for each child in my own luggage, just in case they run through their own supplies. (Along the same lines, older children may want to pack for themselves. This is a great help, but make sure you check what they pack! My ten-year-old apparently thought that six Phillies tee shirts and a pair of roller blades were essential for a long weekend in Williamsburg - but underwear wasn't!)

Unfortunately, babies and toddlers mean more equipment, more accidents - and more packing! Here are some tips from Vicki Lansky's Trouble-Free Travel With Children to make the packing easier:

  • Take small stretch suits that cover a baby from neck to toe. They're compact, they rinse easily, and they provide protection from sun and insects
  • If it's cold, use blanket sleepers for bedtime. That way, you can forget about packing blankets.
  • A large beach towel can also double as a blanket
  • Stash disposable diapers in the corners of suitcases and tote bags (it's probably best to buy them at home, since they're outrageously priced at most resort areas)
  • Triple pack for babies - if you have access to a washer, think "one to wear, one in the laundry, and one in reserve"
  • Keep outfits together to save time if you need a quick change
  • An extra suitcase packed with disposable diapers can carry home souvenirs or laundry.
  • Keep equipment basic: a car seat (it can double as an infant seat), a carrier and an umbrella stroller should fit the bill
  • A walker or stroller can double as a high chair
Believe it or not, toddlers may be the hardest group to pack for, since they get both wet like infants and dirty like children. Lansky had these tips for packing toddler clothing:
  • Think "layers." Choose clothes that don't show dirt
  • Pack by rolling together each day's outfit. Band the roll and mark it with the child's name.
  • Carry a stain remover stick in your purse.
  • Place shoes inside a pair of socks. That way, your child's clothing will stay clean in the suitcase.
  • Remember extra shoelaces.
  • Rule of thumb - pack twice as much for a toddler than you would for an infant (gives a whole new meaning to "terrible twos," huh?)
Countdown to Orlando (Part 2)
Since we decided on where to stay last month (a timeshare in Kissimmee with a washer and dryer!) this month we'll focus on research.

"Research for vacation? That sounds too much like homework!" my ten-year old groused. Well, it is a little like doing a term paper, but in the end researching pays off in two ways - you assure that your vacation time is well spent, and as you learn more about your destination, you start getting psyched about the trip. (Max gets excited every time an "Orlando-related" commercial comes on!)

We're still seven months away from take-off, but I've already spent numerous lunch hours at Barnes and Noble pouring over the books about Orlando (I've even broken down and purchased a couple) Since there are so many wonderful books about the area, I'll be sharing them with you as the months progress. This month, however, I'm featuring a pair of tip-filled books written by Kelly Monaghan - Universal Studios Escape: The Ultimate Guide to the Ultimate Theme Park Adventure and Orlando's Other Theme Parks: What to do When You've Done Disney. Since so much has been written about Disney already, it was great to find these guides to what else to do when you're in that area.

And wow! Is there a lot to do! The last time we were in Florida, I was eight months pregnant with Max, and was told that I wouldn't be allowed on any of the rides at Universal. So I just scratched Universal off of our list (and spent an interesting morning in Gatorland instead). Since I know absolutely nothing about the Universal sites (there are two - Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure), Monaghan's books filled me in on all the amusements, eateries, and attractions - as well as the hot tips (for example, for a limited time Universal is offering "Express Access" for all 2- and 3- day pass holders, boasting "no line, no wait" for some of the most popular attractions) and costs.

Although Universal is a mega-monster quickly approaching Disney proportions, Monaghan's other books point out there are other things to do in the Orlando area. Sure, most of you know about Sea World and Busch Gardens, but have you considered spending time at Olde Town ? This shopping area-amusement park provides small town charm (you can still get a Coke in a returnable bottle!) with modern day pleasures (Jimmy Buffet's original store is still on the premises).

And don't overlook the wild adventures at Gatorland. Part zoo, part roadside attraction, Gatorland is a hokey, gimmicky "payland" for reptiles - and eight year old boys like it better than Disney! A word of warning: don't expect these 'gators to be anything like their docile cousins at your local zoo. It seems as though these guys haven't been fed in weeks, and they're willing to leap at dead fish (sold in bunches of three) held over their domicile. Little children may be a bit frightened, but there is a calming train ride on the premises for a safer tour of the grounds. My children (even those who weren't charmed by the alligator eating habits) enjoyed the morning off from the sensory overload that Disney can be. Head to a water park after a morning here for a mini-vacation-within-a-vacation. (For the seriously domestic, the World of Tupperware is right down the street!)

Click and Go!
I surfed my way onto a great site for parents traveling with children this month. 1000 Tips 4 Travelers is unique because the tips aren't from seasoned travelers or tour guides. They're written by parents themselves (and you're encouraged to leave your own!) My current favorite - printing each of your children business cards with name, address and phone number, which can be given to anyone they meet on vacation that they hope to correspond with in the future. My kids can't wait to hand out their cards (Max is sure Mickey Mouse needs one of his for his Mouska-Roladex!) Check it out!

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