Traveling with children can make you ponder certain topics, such as: Why
aren't you a Trappist nun? Why are rest areas so many miles apart? Why
hasn't natural selection eliminated whining from the species? Of course,
none of these questions will even flicker across your mind if you have a
TV/VCR in your minivan, in which case you can stop reading this right now.
Although I have nothing against multimedia on wheels, it lacks the
challenge and suspense of keeping kids entertained on family vacations. For
those willing to go the distance, I've worked out a step-by step strategy.
Step One: A selection of good books is your first requirement for
any family vacation. Don't even question this step. If you don't know which
books your kids will like, or don't have the time to choose, help is just a
phone call away. The Travel Pack is a nifty assortment of at least
five books and book-type things, such as activity books and stickers, that
are geared to a kid's age, sex and reading ability. It can even be
customized to reflect special interests or vacation destinations, and the
version for kids under 7 comes in a backpack. ($24.99; for all ages,
Step Two: Kids Travel, subtitled "a backseat survival kit,"
is a fun, goofy, absorbing book-kit that consists of games, puzzles and
projects, much of it geared (but not limited) to long car trips. In
addition to 48 pages of suggested activities (license plate bingo,
palm-reading, songs), it has a back cover that doubles as a clipboard and
triples as a penny hoops game. But wait -- there's more: a workbook full of
stuff like mazes, crosswords and instructions for drawing superheroes.
Markers, string and other necessities are included in an attached pouch.
Truly hours of fun, and maybe even minutes of quiet. ($19.95; for ages 7
and up, from Klutz; 800-558-8944)
Step Three: When you run out of ideas, the 52 Deck series
is there for the flipping-through. These eminently portable packs of cards
are geared to subjects and places. For the travel process itself, there
are 52 Fun Things to Do on the Plane ("Instead of being on your way
to visit your grandmother in Detroit, imagine you are on a top secret
adventure ...") and 52 Fun Things to Do in the Car. Once you're at
your destination, packs range from the general, such as nature activities,
to the specific, such as adventures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In
addition, several cities -- Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New
York, San Francisco and Washington -- have a pack of their own.
($6.95; for ages 6 and up, from Chronicle Books; 800-722-6657)
Step Four: One of the bummers about traveling is that you don't
have room in your suitcase to take the whole house, or even the whole toy
chest. Thank goodness, then, for Travel Games, cute portable
versions based on popular games, including Travel Connect Four, Monopoly
Jr. Travel Game, Travel Hungry Hungry Hippos, Travel Hot Shot Baseball
and Don't Wake Daddy Travel Game. These are not the sturdiest games
you'll ever see, but they're small and light. As a bonus, we suspect that
the very tiny pieces probably do a lot for hand-eye coordination. ($3.99
to $8.99; ages vary, from Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers;
Step Five: Have a great vacation!