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Long trips must be kid-centric

Traveling this summer? Map out a plan, then be prepared to change as needed -- especially your attitude.

How do parents of three boys ages 9 and under travel from the West Coast to the East Coast and still remain sane?

"Not sure that is possible," the mom quips after a recent flight. "But mostly, success in the trip is enjoying the trip, not just looking for the destination. Times when I have done that, when I can get on their level and be excited about seeing all the nuances of the trip, then it is a success."

Almost every trip across the country has involved some kind of delay, in some strange city, with missing parts to strollers, no elevators in sight, potty training -- you name it, the mother says.

Her take-home advice: "There is always a point in traveling when you have to let go."

Like it or not, traveling with small children still has to be child-centered, as kids need their meals and snacks, naps and early bedtimes, and secure surroundings no matter where they are.

Overschedule a trip and you are doomed to hours of whining. Build in downtime for everyone -- including mommy. Stress and snippety attitudes between spouses will ruin any trip. To prevent resentment, work out ahead of time how the trip will play out as far as golfing for dad or kid-free time for mom.

"What speaks to children is when you do something totally unexpected," says one Pineville, N.C., mother, recalling a favorite memory when mom served dessert before dinner.

A mother of three grown kids who now has a 1-year-old grandson agrees: "When you are in the throes of it -- diaper rash and sunburn -- it's easy to forget to just have fun with your kids," she says. "It's a cliche, but you truly do need to stop and smell the roses."

One way to accomplish that while traveling: Plan for rest-stop picnics instead of fast-food eating.

At theme parks this summer, parents suggest:

*Dress your young kids in matching brightly colored T-shirts so they're more easily spotted.

*One mother says she wanted an identification bracelet or necklace for her 4-year-old daughter as a precaution for their trip to Disney World. But the mom didn't have time to order one, so she went to a pet store and used their animal tag machine.

*Before you go into a theme park, take a photo of your child -- preferably on a camera phone. If she gets lost, you will have a photo of her in her current outfit.

A mother of a boy, 7, and a girl, 4, says her family takes lots of road trips. She makes each child responsible for his or her own backpack. They choose what's inside and are in charge of keeping track of it. Her other tips:

*"We're big on hand-holding as a way to keep track of our children in a crowded place. We started the practice when they were small. And while it was a battle, it's second nature to them now."

*"If you can take outdoor play equipment with you, do so. We'll be taking our children's bicycles with us when we go visit family in Michigan this summer."

*"Use a sunscreen for the entire family that's rated high for safety and efficacy, such as Badger SPF30. It's naturally waterproof, blocks UVA and UVB rays, and uses zinc oxide for sun protection. Put a dab in the palm of one hand, use the other hand to warm it up a bit, and then it will spread easily. A little goes a long way."

Other parents suggest:

*Pack outfits in gallon plastic bags, including underwear and socks with the child's name written on the bag.

*Have non-sugary snacks available and water or clear drinks that will not stain.


Parenting tip

Protect your child's eyes with hats and sunglasses, and stay out of the sun at midday. It's not the color or coolness of the shades that matters, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Look for 100 percent UV protection.

If you have tips or questions, e-mail

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