We can't always protect our children. We can, however, arm them with the tools they need to stay safe when traveling.
If you're flying with an infant or toddler, schedule travel at the airline's least busiest time. You'll improve your chances of securing an empty seat and, perhaps, maintaining your sanity. Leave sharp-edged toys at home. Take a few soft, non-breakables to amuse them.
Before leaving home, discuss safety issues with your children. Repeat them when stuck in freeway traffic or while waiting for your flight to depart. Then err on the side of boring them to tears as soon as you arrive at your hotel/condo/campsite.
Double-check that your CRS (child restraint system) is FAA approved. Look for the tag: "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft."
Pack a small night lite. Even older kids can become "spooked" in unfamiliar surroundings.
If you're traveling abroad, make sure the kids are up to date with inoculations. Schedule shots 4 to 6 weeks before your departure, just in case they have a reaction.
Strangers in the Night (and Day)
Kids should always tell their parents where they're going, every single time they leave the family fold. No excuses, no exceptions. They may not like this rule. Tough.
Teach your kids to yell No or Help if someone speaks or acts inappropriately. And encourage them to tell you about it. Pedophiles often get away with indecent and traumatizing behavior because kids are too embarrassed to tell someone or fear punishment for somehow provoking it.
On a brighter note, I applaud family restrooms. When they're unavailable, an adult or older sibling should accompany kids 10 and younger to public restrooms. If you're the single parent of an opposite-sex child, stand outside the door and wait. If more than a few minutes go by, make like a fish wife/husband and shout: "John/Mary, are you okay?" Keep shouting until you get a reply or the child exits looking annoyed and embarrassed.
Before leaving the subject of washrooms, remind kids to wash their hands frequently. Touching objects in public places -- then touching their faces, you, or siblings -- is the quickest way to pick up and spread germs. It's bad enough being sick at home.
Ask parents their worst travel nightmare and most will respond: Losing my kid. (Not to be confused with those times when parents wish their kids would disappear -- for a few minutes or until they turn 21.)
Scary as the prospect is, it is very true that most vacationing kids do not get lost.
To protect your offspring and reduce your own anxiety, make sure your family has a plan in the event the kids get separated from you. Here are some suggestions that have served our family well over the years. (I'm discounting the time my kids wandered into Victoria's Secret as I paid for their soft pretzels at the mall, or my grandson disappeared for 10 minutes on a crowded boardwalk.)
Dress kids in bright colors.
When camping, teach kids to steer clear of charcoal grills, gas (barbecue) tanks, matches, lighters and candles. And not to wander off. As soon as you check into a hotel room or condo, remove matches, lighters, candles. Look for a brochure or flier about fire safety. If you can't find it, call the front desk for a copy. Read it to your family. Make sure everyone over three understands. Locate the nearest fire exits
Do not dry clothes on heaters, lamps or light bulbs. Years ago, I draped some intimate apparel over the top of a lamp shade. Burned a hole right through it, and might have started a fire if I hadn't smelled something funny.
If the fire alarm blares, put down the channel clicker. Round up the troops. Feel for heat on the door to the hallway. If it's cool, open slightly and sniff for smoke. Walk calmly to the nearest stairway or fire exit and leave the building. Do not take the elevator. If you're on the elevator, get off at nearest floor, head for the exit. Do not go back for souvenirs or half-eaten pizza -- or anything! While most fire alarms are false, don't assume anything. Treat it as a real emergency.
Some hotels have a child-proofing kit. Ask when you check in. Older kids should know the name of the hotel and the room number. You may wish to give older kids their own key. Then again Â?
After reviewing fire escape procedures, check blinds and drapes for dangling cords and chains and place them out of reach. Keep cribs, playpens and even big furniture away from windows, blinds, lamps and cords and outlets. (With toddlers, you may want to pack plastic outlet plugs from home.) Secure the TV or push it out of reach. Keep suitcases on the floor, not on easy-to-tip luggage racks. These are especially hazardous to inquisitive, active toddlers.
Keep the mini-fridge locked and the key out of reach. A small amount of alcohol can be lethal to a young child. Keep doors to balconies locked and do not allow kids to go out unattended. Lastly, place the following out of reach: toiletries, dry cleaning bags, drinking glasses/coffee mugs, hair dryer, and coffee maker.
Going Up and Down
Kids who find themselves alone on an elevator should push L or Lobby and head straight to the front desk for assistance. If an elevator stops between floors, push E(mergency) and wait for assistance.
Beth Rubin is the author of Frommer's Washington, D.C. With Kids (9th edition is available now). She has always insisted that her children ( now 37 and 39) and grandkids (2, 4, 7 and 10) follow safe- travel practices. Some day they may thank her.
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