Holiday travel: How to stay sane in the minivan and more

  • The Flais kids, including 2-year-old twins (rear), a 4-year-old and 2-month-old infant, hit the road in 2006. Family road trips can be accomplished without too much hassle, pediatrician mom Shelly Flais said.

    The Flais kids, including 2-year-old twins (rear), a 4-year-old and 2-month-old infant, hit the road in 2006. Family road trips can be accomplished without too much hassle, pediatrician mom Shelly Flais said. Photo courtesy of Shelly Flais

  • Shelly Vaziri Flais

    Shelly Vaziri Flais

Updated 11/18/2013 9:32 AM

Dreading that five-hour Thanksgiving drive with screaming children, never-ending comfort stops and endless rounds of "B-I-N-G-O?" Seeking Christmas travel bargains? Puzzled why bus fares home from college towns are as volatile as the stock market?

We have answers.


First up is Naperville pediatrician and mother of four, Shelly Vaziri Flais, author of "Raising Twins, From Pregnancy to Preschool."

With brothers in California and North Carolina, plus in-laws in Ohio, New York and Colorado, Flais has seen it all and tells parents petrified of travel with kids to take heart.

"This is your life, go live your life -- don't be scared," said Flais, a member of the Elk Grove Village-based American Academy of Pediatrics.

"Treat (trips) like an adventure ... not a means to get to the end."

Here's Flais' other tips for a successful odyssey:

• Save money and pack homemade food. Sliced fruit and veggies are nutritional treats that won't cause the dreaded sugar high. This time of year, clementines are a great option and grapes (cut up for toddlers) are always "awesome," Flais notes. "What's wonderful about fruit is it's a great hydrator and travel can dehydrate."

• Should potty-training toddlers wear diapers or underwear? "It depends on the kid," Flais says. If potty training is just beginning, it's probably best to stick with diapers or pullups, but bring the potty along. "Be prepared for both scenarios."

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• Try to stop every two to three hours for kids to let off steam. "Giving kids an opportunity to run around and stretch their legs will earn better behavior in the car," Flais said.

• The AAP recommends limiting children's access to TV and computers. But on a lengthy trip, it's OK to pull out the DVDs as long as there is an educational component, Flais says. Just don't subject your munchkins to eight straight hours of staring at a screen or "kids will become zombies," Flais cautions. "It's better to look out the window or have a conversation."

Another good reason to restrict the media access -- "a lot of kids can get car sick if they're just staring at a screen. Looking out of the window at the horizon helps you regain your sense of balance."

What to take along to tame the beast? Visit the library or book store in advance so you can pull out new books on the trip. Buy special markers designed to draw only on paper, not the car.


• Once you reach your destination, make sure your hotel room or relatives' house is baby-proofed. Usually Flais or her husband will get down on hands and knees to search for outlets in hotel rooms. "If you don't find it, they will," she says. And don't be afraid to give grandma a gentle hint about removing medication from the reach of toddlers. "Kids will think, 'What's this colorful thing?'" Flais warns.

For families going airborne, Flais recommends preparing for delays by stashing toys, diapers and snacks in carry-ons. Also:

• "Definitely use the stroller all the way up to the gate ... you can just check it," Flais said. And don't forget to explain to children in advance about security checkpoints to avoid meltdowns when a teddy bear is screened.

• The AAP suggests parents take car safety seats on board for infants and toddlers, rather than planning to hold them in your lap for the entire trip. Children younger than 2 usually fly for free. For an older toddler, either purchase a ticket or book a flight that isn't crowded and ask flight attendants before boarding if there are open seats.

• Do make sure the seat is FAA approved. You might want to call the airline in advance to ask about child seat protocols.

I once came across a flight attendant who was baffled by my desire to use the car seat, but that's been the exception, not the rule.

• For takeoffs and landings, give your child something to chew or suck on to relieve ear-popping surprises.

Hey parents -- want to share some war stories or travel tips? Drop me an email at

Your voice

Clyde Reyes, who lives near Algonquin, thinks the newly built park-and-ride in Lake in the Hills is nice but "shouldn't the park-and-ride concept include a 'ride' option?" he asked. "To my knowledge, the nearest Metra station is at Pingree Road just north of Northwest Highway and a quick check of the Pace website shows no Pace bus routes that come within five miles of the Route 31/Virginia intersection.

"I thought the lot was constructed on the speculation that if a park-and-ride lot was built, Pace might be convinced to add or change one of their routes to include the Route 31/Virginia intersection. It certainly doesn't sound like the best use of my tax dollars."


Hang with IDOT engineers this week at a public hearing regarding a study of improvements to Barrington Road at the Jane Addams Tollway interchange. The project includes fixes to Barrington and Higgins roads as well as the interchange. The fun runs from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Hoffman Estates village hall, 1900 Hassell Road..

One more thing

College students and parents might be wondering, "Am I crazy or did that bus fare home change within days of checking the website?"

No, fluctuations are the rule, one major bus company explained. uses a "yield management" model for pricing, meaning the farther in advance you book, the cheaper the fare, a company official said. As the date of your preferred departure draws near, ticket prices rise based on availability. "There is always at least one $1 fare on every bus, but those are usually scooped up quickly," vice president of marketing and public relations Mike Alvich said.

For example, fares from Chicago to St. Louis on Nov. 19 returning on Nov. 23 ranged from $3 to $42 compared to Jan. 3 returning Jan. 7, which showed a low of $1 and a high of $29, Alvich noted.

He added that travelers can check the website or social media to find out about sales and giveaways. To get deals, book 30 to 45 days in advance.

You should know

Looking past Thanksgiving, holiday travel in December is averaging $380 for a domestic, round-trip flight into Chicago, according to Travelocity's Christmas Booking Barometer.

If you haven't secured a seat, get cracking, Travelocity Senior Travel Editor Courtney Scott advises, although adventurous bargain-hunters might get a break if they hold out until Dec. 4 -- three weeks before Christmas -- when prices sometimes dip.

Meanwhile, cost-conscious fliers should consider: searching alternate airports to land at (JFK International Airport instead of LaGuardia; for example); leaving closer to the holiday (Dec. 23) rather than the week before and avoiding peak days like Dec. 29 or Dec. 30 to return.

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