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Travel with kids – Be prepared for accidents

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.

Be prepared!
It’s as predictable as the re-occurrence of those “South of the Border” signs: if you have kids, there’s going to be accidents. Unfortunately, minor mishaps can happen just as easily on the road as off, so it’s essential to have a first aid kit just in case. If at all possible, make two – one to leave in your car at all times, and one to take with you on planes, in hotel rooms or at theme parks.

The easiest thing to do is to recycle an old lunchbox (I’m currently using a Power Rangers one in the car, and a New Kids On the Block one for my excursions – I guess it all depends upon your embarrassment level!) Fill it with the supplies suggested below, and never get caught unprepared for minor scrapes, skinned knees or bug bites.

From the medicine cabinet
For pain, fever, or the headache that sometimes accompanies three rides on the Super Duper Loopers, pack aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen for adults, and a “baby” version for the little travelers.

If one of your brood is prone to motion sickness, you may be happy to some Dramamine along. Also pack an antacid in tablet form for tummy trouble, ipecac for accidental poisonings, and an anti-diarrheal for….well, you know what for. Pack a few cough drops too, for good measure.

To counteract the great outdoors
Bug bites and sunburn won’t ruin your vacation as long as you’re prepared. Make sure you pack a sunscreen of at least 30 and an ointment that does double duty for sunburn and insect bites. Insect repellent such as Off or Skin So Soft are good preventative measures.

Bumps and bangs and bruises, oh my!
Is there a kid around who survives a summer without some sort of bruise or cut? (The answer? Not in my house!) Make sure you have the following items packed just in case a boo-boo needs some bandaging: antiseptic ointment, petroleum jelly, various sized Band-Aids, gauze pads and adhesive tape, moleskin (for blisters) and premoistened towelettes for general clean up.

Especially for babies
If you have a brand new traveling companion, make sure you bring everything you need to make their first trip a comfortable one. That includes a rectal thermometer, diaper rash lotion, teething medicine (older kids tap into this too!) and a nasal aspirator. I try to pack a jar of applesauce baby food, too – a spoonful goes a long way to calm a cranky toddler.

And just In case
If there’s room left, throw in some tweezers or a needle (the boardwalk is just full of splinters!), Q-tips, tissues, an anti-bacterial gel (for washing hands) and a book of first aid. I also have a bottle of water handy and I photocopy and tape a copy of all doctors’ phone numbers and insurance information right into the cover of the kit.

Of course, you can’t be ready for everything, but with a little forethought you can assure that a splinter, sunburn or skinned knee doesn’t mean the end to your well-earned vacation time. Have fun – but play it safe!

Countdown to Orlando (Part 3)
Harry Chapin once said, “It has to be the going, not the getting there, that’s good.” Now, I don’t know if that’s totally true — I enjoy “getting there” tremendously! — but I do feel that you should make the “going” as pleasant as possible (and this is especially true of a long trip… since our home is 875 miles (or approximately 93 rest stops) from Orlando, the choice of transportation is an important one. (How many hours CAN a three-year-old sit through without access to the Rugrats, anyway?)

Much of the choice comes down to cost, of course. The options, and my “pros” and “cons” of each, are as follows:

  • Airplane — Booking a flight is quick and easy….and it can be the most expensive option, especially because you’re forced to rent a vehicle for your stay as well. According to one discount airfare site, my family of six (three children between 2 and 12 and three adults — although they must not really know my 15 year old if they’re calling her an adult!) would cost a total of $2232, or $372 per person average. Of course, flying can save money for working parents, since they will not have to waste valuable vacation time in the “getting there.” Some children just love the idea of flying over the clouds, while others fret about the safety issues.
  • Train — Train travel is easy on the drivers in the household, who can sit back and enjoy the scenery with the rest of the family. Also, minimal time is lost in rest stops, since trains provide such luxuries as bathrooms and snack food. According to Amtrak, a train leaving Philadelphia at 1:55 p.m. one day will be in Orlando by 11:30 am the next. Faster yet was the train leaving at 8:37 p.m. one day (just in time for bedtime stories) and arriving 4:06 p.m. the next (in time to rent a car, grab some dinner, unpack and plan for the next day.) However, the cost of $105 one way is almost as expensive (if not moreso) than airfare, and you still have to rent a car for your stay.
  • Automobile — There are two ways to approach this (and neither is much fun for the guy stuck in the back seat listening to rap music for 18 hours). The first is to use your own vehicle for the trip. Unfortunately, my trusty 89 Mercury may not be up to the trip (and even if it was, the fit wouldn’t be comfortable – these kids just keep getting bigger!) So, we’re considering renting a van up home in Jersey and driving it down to Orlando. The plus side of this is obvious – the comfort and space (four kids need a lot of leg room!) The down side? Car rentals are usually a lot cheaper in tourist towns like Orlando. Still, I may try to bid on a rental on Priceline and try my luck.
  • Auto-train — Just when we thought we’d decided on renting a van and driving, we learned of another possibility – the AutoTrain. Although there are limited areas where these are run, if you live near one (or can drive to it) it may be your best choice. In our case, we would have to drive from New Jersey to Washington DC to catch the AutoTrain, which leaves at 4:30 p.m. daily. We’d eat dinner and sleep on the train and the next morning (approximately 8:30 am) we’d pull into Orlando – rested and ready for a full day of fun. The cost (approximately $1500 for our family of six and our car) seems reasonable, and we are seriously considering this option.

Click and go:
When you’re looking for travel information, it’s hard to beat the sage advice of that time-tested group at Rand McNally. I recently checked out their Parents’ Corner which is just full of ways to maintain that gentle balance between calm and crazy when trekking around with kids. The Kids’ Activity Center is a real winner, chock full of games and suggestions for warding off the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” cries. Check it out before your next long road trip!

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