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Holiday traveling with children

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Americans take more than 63 million trips ranging 150 miles or more between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. If you have kids, some planning can mean the difference between a joy to remember and a "head-against-the-steering-wheel" experience.

Made for the road

--Make a long trip seem shorter. Pack up the car the night before. Early in the morning, carry your kids, still in their pajamas, from their beds to their car seats. If they wake at all, they'll usually fall asleep again immediately and snooze on through to the first gas-station stop, enabling you to get some serious mileage before breakfast.

--Give kids their own space. Consider renting a larger vehicle before departing for a long trip. When you weigh the cost against saving the hard winter mileage on your own car vs.the added advantage of extra space during a long trip...you may find renting is in your favor. Not to mention you don't have to clean out the car, crumbs, wrappers, etc...

--Keep the music eclectic. Unless you are really tired of hearing "Barney" and other kid songs, it's best to compromise at least for part of the trip and find music everyone enjoys listening to.

--Know when to stop. One time-tested rule is to never drive non-stop past 4 p.m. Give your kids a chance to burn off their pent-up energy sometime during the day.

Enjoy your flight

Flying is a delight for some kids but a scary experience for others. Parents can make it easier with a little preparation:

--Fly direct. Book nonstop flights whenever possible; when you must stop, try not to change planes. The money saved to hop around from plane to plane just isn't worth it in tedious holiday airports.

--Pack food and toys. Let's face it, kids are picky. This is especially true when given only one option on an airplane. Pack a few of your kids' favorite snacks to make up for lack of options. Allow each child their own marked pack of toys and books. Make them responsible for keeping track of their own travel pack.

--Go ahead, SPLURGE! When you're checking in, book a skycap to meet you at the arrival gate if you'll be landing at night. That way, you can take care of your sleepy ones without lugging all your baggage. If you're traveling abroad, have some foreign cash before you leave. This will enable you to be ready for anything upon landing.

--ID your kids. In a crowded and chaotic airport, it's more than possible to lose sight of a child. Write your name or stash a business card inside each child's travel pack or jacket. Teach children to approach a police officer or uniformed airline employee and show the card, just in case you do get separated.

What to put in your kid's travel pack

The first principle of family travel: Be ready, willing and able to amuse the kids for an extended period of time. The playthings that come along for the ride make all the difference. These toys are surefire distractions, bound to occupy your kids during the unavoidable hours of "Are we there yet?"

1. Crayons and/or colored pencils. Crayons don't need sharpening, but colored pencils are less likely to break. Re-sealable plastic freezer bags make splendid carrying cases. Don't forget a folder of white or colored paper. Print off coloring book pages previous to departure.

2. Magna-Doodle. Even toddlers love this magnetic drawing toy. How many times can a three-year-old trace her hand before she gets bored? About 200,000.

3. Stuffed animals. Indispensable. Which brings up a vital point: Don't pack your child's favorite. If it's left in a hotel room, your ride home is surely doomed. Suggest other "comfort" toys that may not be as special.

4. Books on tape/CD. Buy your kids a headphone set that plays tapes or cd's. Many children's books include a tape or cd so your child can follow along. "Read" the story while hearing the author on headphones.

For more ideas visit LittleSmarties.com