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Have a hassle-free family vacation

Traveling with kids, especially young ones, can be stressful. Peter Greenberg, “Today” travel editor, offers tips on how to avoid problems.
/ Source: TODAY

W.C. Fields once said that there are two kinds of travel: first class, and with children. He might have had a point, but there are a number of important things you need to know when traveling with your kids that will make the experience — or in some cases the endurance run — better. In my “Greenberg’s Rules of Travel, I share some strategies that really work.Airports: Understand that they don’t discriminate. Airport employees abuse kids just as much as they abuse adults, so be prepared. Dress your kids in comfortable clothes and comfortable shoes. Like you, they’ll be doing a lot of walking. And it’s very important to pack their favorite (but not messy) snacks and extra batteries for any electronic games they’re bringing on board.Security check points: The new rules about gels, potions and lotions are often misunderstood by travelers (not to mention the TSA), so make sure you understand the basic rules. Toiletries for you and your kids have to fit into a quart-size re-sealable bag and no item can be more than three ounces. This rule applies to each passenger, so each child can have one of these plastic bags. That means that they should be able to carry enough to last the airplane trip. But remember, even the most innocent sandwich (fruit juices and other liquids need to be bought on the other side of security) can be perceived as a terrorist threat. ‘'m not making this up; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have been seized from small children. The peanut butter was OK, but the jelly wasn’t. So if you’re brining food on the plane, make it fresh and crunchy: raw vegetables, cookies, fruit, etc.Planes: Ask for bulkhead seats not for seats in the exit row. Children are not allowed in exit rows. And the cool thing about bulkhead seats is that if your kids want to kick and move around, they’re not bothering passengers in front of them; they’re kicking a wall.Bring chewing gum on the flight. When young kids scream, they usually do so during descent, when air pressure builds up in their ears. Chewing gum helps to alleviate that pressure, because swallowing often helps unblock air trapped in their nasal and ear passages.Hotels: If you’re traveling with young kids, make sure the hotel has childproofed your room. That means rubber stoppers are in the electrical outlets, rubber bumpers are on sharp table corners and bed posts, and most important, mesh wrapping is around the bars of outside balconies in order to make sure small kids can’t fit through the bars.Also find out the specific room policy of the hotel where you are staying. Almost all hotels will provide rollaway beds — but many have a policy of just one cot per room. If you’re a family of four and you can’t get two extra beds, you may get stuck in two rooms! And come up with some a mutually agreeable definition of terms as to what constitutes a kids program at hotels. Just because the hotel proprietors knocked out two walls and threw in some folding chairs, a table and some crayons, doesn’t meant that they have a viable kids program.Restaurants: When eating out, watch out for “kids eat free” promotions, because invariably that means they’ll be stuck with the kids’ menus. Selections on these menus usually consist of unhealthy, fried food. Attractions: Understand that attention spans (and that includes yours) are limited. Pick museums that are interactive for kids, but whatever you do, don't over schedule your free time. Research your options. And realize everything takes longer than expected. No matter how long the trip is officially scheduled to take, multiply that time by two. That’s a reasonable estimate of how much time you’ll really be spending getting from A to B, especially if you’ve got strollers, bags, and kids in tow. To make sure everyone stays healthy, pack antibacterial wipes (remember your kids will be touching everything) and extra water.Minor travelers: If you’re sending kids as unaccompanied minors, be responsible. Don’t just check your child in and watch him go through security. Airlines will give you a gate pass, so you can escort your child directly to the departure gate. Once at the gate, don’t just stay there long enough to watch your kid board the plane. Make sure you stay there until you know the plane is air borne. And whatever you do — since so many flights these days are connecting flights — don’t put your kid on the last flight of the day. If that flight is delayed, then your kid may very well miss that last connection and end up spending the night with an airline employee at a mid-point airport.If you’re divorced and traveling with your child, it’s essential to have a signed, notarized letter from the other parent, giving you permission to take the child out of the state or out of the country. With the number of kidnapping allegations increasing in custody battles, many airlines may require to see that letter before allowing your child on the plane. If you’re traveling to a foreign destination, this has become a matter of policy.

Remember, a great family vacation allows you to bond with your kids and bring your family closer together through shared experiences. But it also has to be a vacation that’s affordable, not exhausting, and embraces common sense.