Chances are you are at least beginning to think about a family vacation -- spring break, summer, whenever you can see yourself getting away. And as the oldest of five children, I remember fondly the times my mom and dad loaded us all into the Plymouth station wagon and set out on one of our family vacations.
Vacation? You've got to be kidding! Five kids stuffed in among suitcases, diaper bags, toys and empty pop bottles. Bathroom stops every half-hour. Falling asleep slumped over onto the person sandwiched in next to you. So desperate for something, anything, to do that we started counting chickens (yes, chickens; my brother usually won, but he cheated). Cramped to the point that it took two days just to walk straight again.
OK, it wasn't really that bad. But having recently returned from such an expedition, I am reminded of just how much work goes into a family vacation.
To help you make such trips a bit more manageable, I'd like to offer some family travel tips I've picked up over the years. These aren't foolproof, but they will help.
1. Think through your expectations of the trip. Are they reasonable in light of the ages of your children? Twenty-hour all-night drives in a subcompact car are too much for anyone. Ten hours may be too much for a 10-year-old. A teenager might enjoy the Smithsonian museums, a toddler will not.
You need, then, to plan trips that are appropriate to the age of family members. That means thinking about total distance, daily travel time, frequency of stops, types of activities or sightseeing planned, etc. Generally, younger children do better with shorter drives or flights and resort-type vacations.
2. Get into a travel rhythm for meal and rest stops. Stop at regular intervals and encourage everyone to get out of the car and stretch, use the bathroom, get a drink, etc.
3. Take along plenty of travel activities: coloring books, games, stories, etc. I even saw one family bring Play-Doh along on an airplane. Make sure the activities are age appropriate. If you have to skimp on packing anything, take fewer clothes and more activities.
4. Pack non-sugar snacks. Most of the food available at roadside stops is high in sugar and low in nutrition. That makes for cranky, restless and overactive kids. Take along plenty of fruit, juice, etc. They are better for you and a whole lot cheaper.
5. When traveling with children, hire a sitter and take at least one afternoon or evening to get away on your own. It won't hurt the kids and it will do wonders for you.
6. Last but not least, schedule some "nonfamily" vacations. Once a year, more often if you can, get away without your children. As I've said before, one of the best gifts you can give to your children is a healthy and happy parent. Reward yourself regularly, then, with a vacation for you. You've earned it.
That's just for starters. I'm sure you can expand on my list. If you come up with some new ideas during your summer travels, pass them on to me and we'll print a "new and improved" list next year. In the meantime, have a good vacation.
• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaritan Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove. He is the author of "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children."