Guest Column: Trips with kids can be fun and cheap

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Traveling with your children can be fun.  No really, it’s true.  It can be done with little money and even less stress.  

I am a single mother with a 12-year-old daughter, Kennedy, and  together she and I have been to Europe, Mexico and all over the United States.  

When Kennedy was an infant, I decided I wanted to see the world and, more importantly, I wanted to show her the world. Now I’m not saying there haven’t been some temper tantrums along the way, but luckily my daughter puts up with it patiently.

The key to any successful vacation is in the planning, whether you are planning a four star vacation or, as in my case, a two star economy. Do research! Use the Internet, books, newspapers, magazines and most of all friends. Friends are the best resource to have while planning a vacation.  

When my daughter and I were planning our first trip to Europe, I mentioned to a friend that I couldn’t afford to go to Paris and he offered me some of his frequent flyer miles to stay at a Hilton for two nights. I then bought him an Eiffel Tower key chain – fair exchange. Friends can offer anything as little as amusement park tickets to airline tickets. I’m probably the only person who will ever tell you this – use your friends.         

Make sure to involve your children in the planning. I like to start each vacation with an 87 cent composition book. My daughter and I get pictures off the Internet, out of books, magazines and newspapers. We paste them in the composition book and, voila, instant planner.  Inside “the book” we also write down restaurants and hotels to consider as well as all confirmation numbers and helpful hints we don’t want to forget. During the vacation the book becomes our journal and after we are home it is our own personalized souvenir.  All that for 87 cents, what a deal!

Involving children in the planning encourages enthusiasm in the activities and teaches them process and organization. Children need control over their lives just as much as adults and, by letting them help plan the vacation, you’ve given them control. You have given yourself good ammunition if they complain on the trip because you can tell them, “You helped plan this vacation,” or “I didn’t complain when we did the things you planned” … unless you did complain, but that is a different story.  

While planning, it is so easy to discard some of the places you want to see for fear of being tortured by your sweet angelic child. I have a solution that will get you at least an hour, sometimes two, in even the most child unfriendly place. Scavenger hunts!  Buy a disposable camera. You could also let your child use a real camera, but after two lost cameras I only let my little darling use disposable ones. Then I research the museum and make a list of around 10 things for my daughter to find.  Sometimes she has to take a picture of the item, sometimes draw it or find a postcard of it; keep it fresh and interesting.  

When my niece or nephew vacation with us I will have them take pictures of each other in front of a piece of art work or building. Occasionally museums do not allow photography. This is a problem, especially if you don’t want to get kicked out of the building by security. At this point you either have to be really sneaky with your camera, which I don’t recommend, or move on to alternate scavenger hunt ideas.  

Brochures in front lobby of most museums have showcase items listed, use those for the hunt or buy postcards from the gift shop and find those items. Both of these options have worked well for us.  As a treat when the scavenger hunt is completed my daughter gets spending money for the museum gift shop. We often spend more time in the gift shop than we do the museum!     

It doesn’t have to be an exotic far away location to be fun. Cleveland can be just as much fun as Rome if you plan it right.  Make trip planning a family event and plan early.  Talk about it over family dinner.  Tell your friends your plans, ask their advice.  Excitement is contagious. Share it. Most importantly have fun and pack light!     

Kristi Farrow is a customer service specialist at the Southeast Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

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