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Planning for family fun


IT'S year-end vacation time! Townees head for the rural village idylls, the kampung folk make an excursion to the bright lights of the city. Resorts are packed, the national parks attract visitors in droves.

In other words, we're all on the road from somewhere to somewhere just now. And if it's a family trip, consider these points:

* Plan your trip. Make sure everybody knows when to get ready, when to start, how long the trip is expected to take.

* Keep it simple. Don't try to fill too many activities into each day. Remember young children need lots of rest.

* Be realistic when you plan the travel schedule. A one-hour trip is a lot easier to manage than an eight-hour one!

* Sleeping children travel best. Consider travelling at night; bring enough pillows so any drowsy little head can lie down and sleep, even in the daytime.

* Pack with care. Necessities like baby bottles, nappies, pacifiers, wipes, snacks and drinks, pillows, should be in the cabin of the car. You don't want to stop and search for things in the boot every half-hour.

* Bring enough plain water for drinking; neither you nor the children should be consuming sweet drinks all day.

* Sweets and chocolates should be used sparingly. They may reward good behaviour; don't use them as bribes to stop naughty behaviour.

At the end of your laborious trip, there's hiking and camping and surfing and snorkelling, all the fun of a Malaysian holiday. Action holidays are relished by families with school-age children.

But there are others: the parents of young children, a baby in a pram and a toddler in a pushchair. Some are the care-givers of a family member who can't walk very well, or is confined to a wheelchair.

Such families need to plan their holidays very carefully. Always make sure the necessary facilities are available.

For babies, you need places to change and feed the little ones, and your activities will be limited by the terrain. For a wheelchair-bound person, look out for accessible sites and places with sufficient, properly equipped toilets.

Don't drag grandpa with his walking stick on a six-hour hike. Think twice before taking even very active four-year-olds on a jungle trek. They will probably walk very nicely for the first hour or so, and then they'll tire and you'll end up carrying them!

Here's a list of useful tips for those travelling with children: Checking-in

* Service apartment is a better solution than staying in a hotel. Its roomy and homely ambience give children more room to run around.

* Check the hotel's child-friendly facilities like baby-cot, stroller, etc.

* Bring your own crib sheets and blankets - something from home to make the kids have a good night's sleep.

* Check nursery facilities.

* Check day-care centre for toddlers or kid's club for older kids.

* Baby sitting services - check what amount of notice, rates, babysitter's qualification and/or experience.

* Baby listening services, for parents who want to enjoy the night after the children are in bed. The service usually takes the form of leaving the phone off hook and the hotel's receptionist will listen in and get a message to parents if she/he hears that the children are awake.

* Ensure safety from the flooring, furnishing, railings, electricity and telephone cables or connections, balcony, sliding doors, etc.

* A roll of masking tape is essential for securing telephone/electrical cables and shortening pull cords on blinds and curtains.

On the road

* Best time to set off is just before the little one's nap time.

* Add enough time for those extra stops, either for nappy change or letting off the kid's pent-up energy.

* Use of infant and child car seats - children should never travel on an adult's lap or another child's lap. The seat should be placed in the back seat where it is the safest place in the car as it is farthest away from a head-on crash.

* Use seat belts for the kids. "My child won't sit in the back seat, and he doesn't want to use a seat belt" could, sadly, become Famous Last Words!

* Lay down rules for car etiquette. Older children tend to get tired, bored and quarrelsome on long journeys. Bring along story books, play quiet games of the "I Spy" variety.

* Ensure the child locks are on.

* Often a good idea to pack things into the car before putting the children in. It helps to hold the over-zealous children!

* Pack kid-size backpacks with their favourite toys, cassettes and books to keep them pre-occupied.

* Keep a enroute rubbish bag handy and back seat protectors. This will make it easier to clean up spills and crumbs.

* Attach sun-shades to the rear car windows or the one nearest to the child. This is to help protect the kid from UV rays and prevent motion sickness.

* Also a good idea to have a child-view mirror at the windscreen - to allow a clear view of the kids without having to turn around.

* Pack convenient drinks and snacks for each child to keep the temptation to stop at the fastfood restaurant.

* Get an extra child-friendly map. Teach the children to read maps, a good ego-booster for the children.

* Keep hand sanitiser or anti-bacterial wet-wipes handy. They work without water and are perfect for cleaning grimy, sticky hands.

* Play games like counting games of the coloured cars or the numbers on the registration plate.

In the skies

* Airlines usually let parents travelling with children to board ahead of other passengers.

* Babies under one week up to three months old are not advisable to fly; their hearts and respiratory systems are not sufficiently developed to cope with the reduced levels of oxygen.

* Ask for sky cot/bassinet and book early! Don't be tempted to fly long haul without one.

* Keep the baby cool and well fed.

* Make sure the baby doesn't become dehydrated.

* Place the baby on his/her back to sleep in the sky cot.

* Double check for special children meals. Or bring alternative snacks as normally local airlines only serve drinks and packed peanuts on domestic flights.

* Check the facilities on board to prepare formula and warm babies bottles. Bring one bottle warmer if the airline does not have the facilities.

* Pack extra formula, just in case to cover for delays or spilled cartons. Though, some airlines do offer complimentary baby packs containing nappies, bottles and baby food.

* Best to change the baby in the comfort of the airport's changing facilities as close to boarding time, since it is not easy changing a baby in the plane's toilet.

* Taking the kids to the toilet is also another hassle. To avoid the long queue, visit the water-closet just before the meal is served.

* Give the child something to suck or drink when taking off or landing to prevent ear-ache. Check with the doctor whether it is wise to travel if the child has an ear infection.

Taking the train

* Bring sufficient warm clothing or blanket as the temperature is quite cold in the air-conditioned coach.

* As it is usually night train, bring the kid's favourite pillow or blanket to make them comfortable, eventually to avoid cranky kids the next morning.

* Pack alternative snacks and drinks though there are buffet cars serving meals throughout the journey.

* Local train service is hardly child-friendly. There is no proper nappy changing facilities, bottle warmer or even bassinet.

* Watch the fidgety children closely as it is not safe to let them roam freely especially from one coach to another.

On the water

* Check with the doctor for motion sickness medication for the children.

* Insist on child-size life jackets and make sure that they are correctly fitted on the children.

* Always be aware of the possibility of the kid falling overboard.

* Usually water transportation takes a long time to reach, bring the kid's favourite toy and book to keep them pre-occupied.

* Don't forget the pack-sized snacks and drinks.

Touring

* Have a flexible, not packed child-friendly itinerary. Plan one major activity per day with allowances for breaks or afternoon dip at the hotel's swimming pool.

* Organise-a-day bags with enough supplies of clothing (for children and parents), nappies and food. Packing in an individual zip lock bag is great idea.

* Offer snack and drink before the kids get too hungry or thirsty and take a break before they are overtired.

* Losing the kids is a possibility. Plastic hospital bracelets written with necessary information will help ease the worry.

* Alternatively, write a "I am lost, please call my parents at" note and make sure the kid always has it throughout the holiday.

* Invest on a cheap camera for the older children and see how the trip is seen through the kids' eyes. Besides, kids love playing adults!

* Buy an exercise or scrap book and set a new culture of writing travel- dairy among the little ones.

* Prepare the children in advance - show the route, travel brochures or books on the destinations. Have a countdown and build-up anticipation. Waiting can be very exciting among kids.

* Let the children have their own bags with things they personally select (of course, with parents' observation).

* Discuss the dos and don'ts like what to do if separated or something of that sort.

* Pack travel essentials like sunscreen lotion and sunglasses for the kids too.

* Train the kids to save some spending money for the tour. They will enjoy every bit of the experience - choosing and shopping with their own money.
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