GADGETS, GIZMOS, WEB SITES AND OTHER TIPS TO MAKE SUMMER FAMILY TRAVEL EASIER AND SAFER
Get out the maps. Dust off the duffels-on-wheels. Stuff the kids' backpacks with snacks and toys. Now you're ready to roll!
The summer travel season officially kicks off Memorial Day weekend, and it's going to be a doozy. Despite higher gas prices, nearly 100 million adults plan to travel with kids this summer, according to the just-released summer forecast from the Travel Industry Association. We'll be crowding theme parks and beaches, playing at resorts, dragging the kids to see historic sights and city lights -- across this country and, increasingly, abroad. The top places we want to go: Florida, California and New York.
Sure, we'll get frustrated by spending so much money to wait in line, fight the heat or mediate the kids' squabbles. But we'll come home with a pile of funny, (mostly) happy new memories that will serve us well when the going gets tough. That -- coupled with the baby's first toddling steps down the beach, the 7-year-old's gap-toothed grin after his first ride on a roller coaster and that occasional ``thanks, mom; thanks, dad'' from your teen who begged to stay behind -- makes all the aggravation and the expense worth the effort.
The good news is that there are plenty of gadgets, gizmos and Web sites guaranteed to lower everyone's stress quotient along the way. They may even help keep the kids safe and(heaven forbid!) teach them a thing or two.
For example, if you're heading to Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago or New York, let the kids navigate with Fodor's fun new Around the City ``68 Great Things to Do Together'' book series. Each ``site'' comes complete with something the kids want to know (for example, in New York there's a five-story-tall dinosaur fossil exhibit in the American Museum of Natural History), kid-friendly eats nearby and a ``keep-in-mind'' tip (in Chicago, go to the top of the Sears Tower mid-week to avoid heavy crowds). Best of all, these books are small and easy for an older child to read. (Cost: $10. Visit www.fodors.com.)
I wish every national park had ``A Kid's Guide'' like the ones the Southwest Parks and Monuments Association has published for Saguaro National Park in Arizona, John Muir National Historic Site in California and San Antonio Missions in Texas. They're just $3.95, less than 10 pages and full of pictures and weird facts kids seem to like. Did you know the Gila monster lizard snacks on birds' eggs in the desert? (Order these by calling 888-569-spma or www.spma.org.)
Before leaving home with the baby, stop at one of the nearly 500 DaimlerChrysler dealers around the country trained to inspect your car seat. There's no charge nor does it matter what kind of car you drive for the Fit for a Kid program.
The National Safety Council warns that most parents aren't installing the seats properly, risking serious injuries to their children in an accident. Many are using seats their children have outgrown. The dealerships will provide free loaner seats and coupons for new ones. Call 877-FIT-4-A-KID or www.fitforakid.org to find a dealer near you.
You also want to make sure that crib you're using at the hotel or your mother-in-law's house is safe. Are the slats no more than 2 3/8 inches apart? Is the mattress covered with a crib sheet, not an adult one tucked in? (For a complete hotel and motel crib and playpen safety checklist, visit the National Safe Kids Campaign Web site at www.safekids.org. Call the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 800-638-2772 or www.cpsc.gov for crib-recall information.)
These days, you can rent much of what you need on vacation for the baby -- cribs and sheets, potty seats, even tubs of toys -- at some 30 vacation locales around the country. Your order will be delivered before you arrive and picked up after you leave. Call 800-571-0077 for a list of locations or www.babysaway.com.
Any traveling parent who has ever tried to calm a cranky baby while driving or sitting in the front seat won't want to leave home without Fisher-Price's new remote-control Car Seat Dashboard. You activate the toy from the front, making the lights blink on and off and the music play. There's an attached teething key and squeaker phone. Toddlers can press buttons to make the toy work themselves. It's $19.99 from major retailers or online toy sites.
Older kids can be just as tough as a baby to keep happy along the way. Klutz' whimsical glove-compartment guides might help. Just $4.95, they're laminated fold-outs about the size of an envelope, chock full of games, scavenger hunts to do from the back seat, even the coolest cars to spot.
The budding scientists in your family will like ``Glove Compartment Science,'' created by the experts who make science so much fun at San Francisco's Exploratorium. There's even an explanation of carsickness (or ``barf science''). Visit the Web site at www.klutz.com.
Of course that won't be enough to keep your gang going for the whole trip. Take another Klutz game-in-a-book. I especially like ``Pipe Cleaners Gone Crazy: A Complete Guide to Bending Fuzzy Sticks'' ($12.95).
The inexpensive Curiosity Kit provides a small project-in-a-box that's guaranteed to amuse grade-schoolers or preteens -- for a while, anyway. These would also be great to tuck in children's backpacks before putting them on a flight by themselves. Or for that time they absolutely have to get out of the sun. The kits retail for as little as $5 and come with everything kids need to make a macrame bracelet or candy necklace, sock animals or clothespin ``pocket friends.'' Visit the Web site at www.curiositykits.com.
Eat a candy necklace for me.
(c) 2000, Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate