Thu04242014

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How to keep kids cruisin’: Parents tips for entertaining children during holiday travel


Photo By: courtesy of Boba
Photo Courtesy Of Boba

Infant carriers like the BobaAir make plane travel with infants easier for moms and dads.

When her son was 9 months old, Marie-France Nelson traveled with him overseas in business class to visit family in Europe. It was one of many international trips the Los Altos mom took with her two children, Alex, now 16, and Christine, 14.

Just in case her baby got noisy and bothered other passengers, Nelson handed out Starbucks gift cards “to thank them beforehand,” she said. Don’t worry if you didn’t think of that – Nelson is CEO of Lextine Software LLC, which produces Jussle scheduling software, and has highly developed strategic planning skills.

“I just was terrified of taking my son on his first long flights, because every parent is aware that people cringe when they see a young child board a plane,” she said.

Parents do need an edge particularly around the holidays. Airports overflow in late December and early January, with stormy weather prompting delays and long layovers. Such holdups can create chaos for young children, who thrive on order and routine.

Traveling with tots

Local experts who have experience guiding families through the roller coaster of holiday travel offer some common-sense suggestions.

• Parents traveling with children should remember to use the new TSA green family lanes, which have chairs and extra helpers to hasten navigation through security.

• Once on the plane, Priscilla Repetti of Ligtelyn Travel of Los Altos encourages mothers to nurse their infants to mitigate the effects of cabin pressure.

“An infant’s ears are incredibly sensitive to changes in cabin pressure during takeoff and landing,” she said.

Sheri Tannenbaum, nurse practitioner and lactation consultant at Palo Alto’s Day One parenting organization at Town & Country Village, seconded Repetti’s tip.

“Usually (babies) are great during the trip, it’s just during the landing and takeoff that they break down,” Tannenbaum added. “Surprisingly, once the plane gets moving, babies don’t cry that much, because of the (white) noise. They just want to rock ’n’ roll.”

• For older infants and toddlers, Tannenbaum recommends pushing them in strollers and checking the stroller at the gate so that it’s handy when you disembark.

If you purchase a full seat for your baby, bring your own car seat. If you plan to hold your infant (under 2) on your lap, check a car seat at the gate so that if there’s an empty seat, you can snag the car seat at the last minute, she said.

Travel will go more smoothly if you can snap the car seat into wheels, as with the GoGo Kidz Travelmate (www.gogokidz.com), an infant seat that converts into a stroller, allowing parents to push the baby for long airport walks – and preventing back strain.

Also, try holding the baby in a carrier like the BobaAir (www.bobafamily.com), which folds into a tiny sack.

• Always bring new toys for toddlers and older children.

• Some delays occur because of weather, but George Estill, who co-owns Estill International Travel in Los Altos with his wife JoAnne, notes that “airlines don’t always provide enough time between planes.” To be sure you can make your next plane, he suggests consulting with a travel agent, because he or she knows the logistics of airports.

• Try to allow toddlers to let off steam before it’s time to board. Maybe they could do yoga with you in the boarding area. A few downward dog poses might calm them – and you – down.

The holiday haul

According to travel agents, the No. 1 reason parents travel with young children during the holidays is to visit relatives.

The second reason is to seek warmer climates, like Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean or Costa Rica.

If that’s your preference, early booking is crucial. As of press time in October, Estill said, “the island of Maui is almost full.” Travelers had better book their Hawaii trips by March, he added.

Repetti said Ligtelyn Travel routinely schedules some families for their annual holiday vacations, but they also hear from last-minute travelers.

“Once people are reminded that our offices are closing for the holidays, we get the last-minute requests for family vacations and short getaways,” she said, adding that the agency books snow and ski vacations as well.

Cruises attract families with young children. The Disney Cruise Line divides children into different age groups and activities. Cruises also fit the bill for family reunions.

Costa Rica is another destination that serves multigenerational family members traveling together. Some can sunbathe on the beach while others zip line through the rainforest, ascend a volcano or hike through a butterfly sanctuary, Repetti said. In addition to a wide price range in accommodations, Costa Rica has “good emergency services and hospitals so that families can feel secure about traveling with children or seniors,” she noted.

Toys and games for the road

Before you depart on your trip, stop by Adventure Toys & Teachers’ Supplies at 173 Main St. in Los Altos to pick up a few coloring and sticker books.

Max McGillis, an Adventure Toys employee who lives in Los Altos, recommends the store’s $3.99 invisible ink, coloring or sticker books. The paint-with-water books are fun, too, and you can fill empty nail-polish containers with water as a novelty.

“They’re easy to use and self-contained, they don’t have multiple pieces that can get knocked off (the airplane tray) and under other passengers’ seats,” he said.

The store also sells iPiece game accessories for the iPad, including animated Air Hockey and the Fishing Game. Targeting 4-year-olds and up, they sell for $12.99 each.

Repetti notes that while small electronic devices like Game Boys, LeapFrogs and iPads filled with games can entertain children, they’re best used sparingly on long flights.

Golden oldies

Books are an old standby. Linden Tree Books, 265 State St. in Los Altos, carries a number of children’s books about airplanes and travel. Try Fiona Watt’s “That’s Not My Plane” (Usborne, 2008), Richard Scarry’s “A Day at the Airport” (Random House, 2001) or Tony Mitton and Ant Parker’s “Amazing Airplanes” (Scholastic, 2004). Three- to 6-year-olds might also enjoy the Look Inside Flap Book series, including “Airport” (Usborne, 2011) by Rob Lloyd Jones.

Old-fashioned tips from bloggers include bringing Play-Doh tubs and a couple of cookie cutters onboard. If you prefer to make your own dough, visit www.cooks.com for recipes.

Colorforms, those reusable stickers from the 1950s, might hold the interest of grade-school children who want to make 3-D pictures of houses or animated characters. You can buy them online at colorforms.com.

Happy wandering!

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