The secret of traveling with kids? Leave the kids at home.
Seriously, a family vacation is the perfect way to spend some quality time together, but you need to plan ahead to make sure you don't drive each other nuts. It's not fair to expect kids to automatically "behave" just because they're on vacation. So what's the secret to a successful family trip? Here are six tips to help save your sanity.
SECRET NO. 1: Interact on Road Trips
You're headed out on a family road trip and you're all packed into one vehicle. It's a potential recipe for disaster. A lot of parents figure the best thing they can do is distract their kids with videos and iPods, but AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair says if kids are older there's a smarter choice.
"Parents should try quizzing their children on state capitals, vocabulary, geography, etc. You'd be surprised at how quickly the miles go by when the family brains are working together," said Sinclair. Also be sure to plan some fun stops along the way so you can all get out and stretch your legs. You don't want to spend too much time cooped up in the vehicle.
SECRET NO. 2: Plan Mile-High Entertainment
As the mother of four daughters between the ages of 2 and 5, Doreen Serio says she created a "must-have" flying checklist to help her family get through long flights.
She said, "Flying with children is always challenging but it helps to bring along books, videos, video games, flashcards, puzzles, stuffed animals, dolls, coloring books and lots of treats."
Serio says the key is figuring out what will keep your child entertained. And you might even consider buying them a new toy or game for the trip. Also be sure to bring extra food for everyone in case you're delayed.
SECRET NO. 3: Pick 'Kid-Friendly' Resorts
The No. 1 mistake a lot of new parents make is to end up at a resort that's not set up for kids. By habit, you may head for the resort you loved visiting before the baby was born only to find out it's completely inappropriate for children.
On the flip side, you also don't want to end up in "kiddie land," where the only focus is on the kids, leaving you ready to pull your hair out.
Clinical psychologist Jeffrey Zeig recommends a happy medium.
"Choose resorts that have programs for children, but also be sure to carve out some adult time; it's all about balance," he said.
A good example of balance is the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, where you'll find all kinds of fun for the entire family. Also in the Caribbean, Caneel Bay has some great options for families, including a treasure hunt where you use a Global Positioning System device to help you find your bounty.
At the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, Calif., kids 7 to 12 can take special cooking classes, and at The Beverly Hills Hotel, the under-13 crowd is spoiled with a special VYV (very young VIPs) program. Another family favorite is the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Oahu that earns top marks for family specials and providing "kid-friendly" food.
SECRET NO. 4: Pick Age-Appropriate Resorts
When you're looking for a "family friendly" resort make sure you pick a property that has programs specifically set up for the age of your child. It's not going to do you much good to stay at a place that has tons of activities for toddlers but nothing for your tweens and teenagers to do.
The newly renovated Hawks Cay resort in the Florida Keys is popular with families because it offers a mix of different activities for all ages, including the new AquaJam program, where kids between 12 and 17 can sign up for a mini three-day camp. The camp is a huge hit so far, including kayaking tours, sailing lessons and snorkeling and diving.
SECRET NO. 5: Know Who's Watching Your Kids
If you're going to sign your kids up for some activities at a resort, make sure you know who is running the program. Ask to meet the supervisor beforehand so you feel comfortable with your choice and know that your children are in good hands. You also want to make sure the person interacting with the kids is someone the kids can relate to and enjoy, so you know they'll have a positive experience.
Le Meurice in Paris has added a "family butler" to the staff just to keep a close eye on the kids.
"We recognize the growing trend of family travel and see the importance of catering to families," said Charlotte Padayrol, manager of guest relations. Padayrol says it's important to make sure all guests, and even the youngest children, are comfortable and happy.
SECRET NO. 6: Bond With Your Kids
Anyone can take their kids on vacation, but for a truly successful trip you need to carve out some specific family time. This is especially true if you have teenagers who would rather disappear until dinner.
"The best way to bond on a family vacation is by sharing new experiences," said Susan Santiago, the general manager of the Hyatt Regency Aruba. In Aruba, the Hyatt has different programs where the parents and kids can participate together. In another great deal, parents can book one room and get 50 percent off a separate room for the kids. Teenagers LOVE this option.
The secret of traveling with kids is all about planning ahead and making sure your vacation choice is a good fit for everyone. So what works for your family? We'd love to hear your secrets!
For more on family friendly vacations, and for more unique travel destinations, check out Karen Schaler's Travel Therapy Web site at www.traveltherapytrips.com.