Only a few generations ago, a visit to see Grandma and Grandpa meant taking a trip to the farm. Today it can mean packing the children off to the campsite where their full-timer grandparents are living.
The Single Parent Travel Handbook by Brenda Elwell ($17.95, GlobalBrenda Publishing) is a hip and timely guide for full-timers who are parents, godparents, aunts, uncles, or grandparents. The book has sage advice for traveling with kids, regardless of your relationship to them. Although the advice therein is not aimed specifically at motorhomers, at least 75 percent of it applies to the RVer traveling with kids on board.
Will you be hosting toddlers, teens, or “tweens” this summer? If so, here are several tips culled from the book, which can be ordered through bookstores, online booksellers, or by visiting www.singleparenttravel.net.
- Plan not just your travels, but your travel budget. Kids have spending priorities, appetites, and needs that are different from those you face in everyday full-timing.
- Have an itinerary. With a plan, you are less likely to forget things and you are better equipped to make changes on the spot. Plus, years from now when people ask what you did on the trip, you’ll have the itinerary in writing. Planning also can help assure you of a good campsite. In high season, reservations at RV parks are a must, especially if you want to be certain the facility will offer amenities that kids like.
- Plan for rainy days, unless your trip is to the desert.
- Send a packing list to the children ahead of time. The author notes that little kids enjoy packing because it makes them feel important. Teens like lists because it eliminates verbal instructions from a parent. College kids find that lists help them get organized.
- Make a scrapbook about the trip. Include a copy of the itinerary, a map of the route, and only the best photos. Trash bad photos and duplicates, for nobody wants to see them. To make it even less complicated, buy postcards depicting the places you visit.
- Keep a diary. When her children were ages 10 and 17, the author asked them several times a day to give their impressions of the last 12 hours. In one instance, her young son was fascinated with modes of travel; her teenage daughter made observations about local teens; and she, the frugal mother, noted the prices of items they purchased. “We learned from each other,” she noted.
- The book is filled with real-life examples of family travel, including stories from single fathers who travel with their children. If you’re a single grandfather, you can be encouraged by these experiences, including the story of a dad who airplane camped with his kids and used the plane’s horizontal stabilizer as a changing table.
- Try bringing along a friend of your child or grandchild.
- Use the “one-third” formula: spend a third of the time doing what the children like; a third doing what you like; and a third doing what everyone likes. I assume this suggestion refers to spare time. When children visit us, we all have chores to do before we do what any of us like. Surprisingly, kids usually like that part the best of all.
- Visit local supermarkets and pharmacies. Even kids who aren’t good shoppers at home can be fascinated by arrays of unfamiliar foods in other places. Use it as an opportunity to teach kids about regional foods, and they may even decide they want to try some.
- “Don your soccer shoes,” advises Elwell, which is her way of suggesting that we adults should go out to play. Anywhere you find an athletic field, you’ll find action and instant friends for the kids, even if you’re among people who don’t speak English.
- The author suggests carrying token gifts for the children to give to new friends along the way. She brings along pens, pencils, and bookmarks. I put children to work making hand-colored place mats for campground neighbors. Another way to help make new friends, according to the author, is to bring along a photo of the children’s families or pets, a notebook to write down new friends’ contact information, and perhaps a camera. We find instant, Polaroid-type cameras to be a great way to break the ice, because everyone gets a photo quickly. Film is expensive, so we stay in control of the shoot. Once we have prints in hand, the children are less wasteful in using the camera, too.
- Be aware of the children’s health needs. Elwell discusses altitude sickness, motion sickness, ear infections, and other travel ills. Kids who have never been carsick in their lives have turned green when riding in our RV and looking out a side window. Be especially on the lookout for a child’s reaction to sun, heat, cold, motion, allergies, fatigue, and fright. We were having a wonderful time at a Mardi Gras parade when we noticed that our young guest was about to lose his dinner. The masks, the noise, and the crowds were unlike anything he’d seen before, and the poor child was terrified.
- It’s crucial to have all necessary paperwork for traveling with children who are not yours or are in shared custody. Documents include a consent form for medical treatment and a copy of any court order required to allow you to travel with those children. If you plan to venture into any other country, including Canada or Mexico, having the necessary documents is even more important. The documents you will need vary depending on your relationship to the child and the complications of custody. If the child is adopted, you’ll need a copy of the adoption papers; if you’re a widowed parent, carry a copy of the other parent’s death certificate. You may need to consult your attorney and/or the custodial parent’s attorney for more information.
Following are additional tips on traveling with children from the Orlando Convention & Visitors Bureau:
- Have plenty of movies and music for the DVD player, CD player, or VCR.
- Don’t forget sunscreen and sunglasses.
- Buy tickets in advance to avoid standing in line.
- In hot weather, plan to spend plenty of time in the water with the kids.
- Rent a stroller at theme parks, zoos, and other attractions that require a great deal of walking. As long as the child can physically fit into the stroller, even at age 7 or 8, it can be a lifesaver.
- Have an extra set of clothes available for each day. Accidents happen.
- Keep plenty of change on hand. Kids love game rooms at arcades, shopping centers, and campgrounds.
- Every state has seat belt laws for children. Know and observe them.
- When visiting theme parks and other crowded spots, choose bright, look-alike T-shirts for the whole family. You will be able to find each other more easily.
Safe & Sound, Healthy Travel with Children ($16.95, Globe Pequot Press) is a new book by Marlene M. Coleman, M.D. It’s an invaluable guide for diagnosing a variety of maladies in kids, including ills that adults may be slow to recognize, such as homesickness and hypothermia. The author lists age-appropriate safety tips, plus guidelines for making different environments, such as the kitchen or car seat, safe for children. An entire chapter is devoted to the outdoors, and the book includes a checklist (for the babysitter) that your grandchild’s parents might want to fill out for you. The book can be purchased in bookstores and from online booksellers.
What’s your favorite trick or useful tip when RVing with children, and do you travel with your own kids, grandkids, or someone else’s children? Did you have full responsibility or were the parents along, too? The best tips will be published in a future “Full-timer’s Primer” column. E-mail [email protected] or write Janet Groene, in care of Family Motor Coaching, 8291 Clough Pike, Cincinnati, OH 45244.