Avoid the grand tour.
A weeklong, power-drive marathon to clap eyes on the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Mesa Verde, Bryce, and Zion is an atomic chain reaction guaranteed to ignite a family blow-out. Pick one such national treasure and stay put for the week. Think small. The kids will enjoy the panoramic view for one millisecond, but finding Anasazi petroglyphs on the walls of the Grand Canyon or learning how bat babies are born on a visit to Carlsbad Caverns will fascinate them for months-even years-after your vacation.
Open presents every hour or two.
In the car, keep the good-cheer barometer up in the Shirley Temple range by making every hour or two a mini-birthday party. Give kids a wrapped present to open; toys, books, or tapes they haven't picked up in a week will seem new when they're tied up with ribbons and bows.
Brings a kids' cassette player.
Hearing "It's a Small World After All" for the 99th time is a guaranteed Maalox moment. A child's portable cassette player with a headset is an excellent investment for parents who prefer Bonnie Raitt to "Bedtime with Barney."
Mark up a map.
Plan special kid destinations (like beaches, zoos, famous ice-cream parlors) and let the kids mark them on the road map with a bright-colored highlighter.
Bribe them with food.
Parenting magazines always suggest you offer healthy snacks like "crisp garbanzo beans, dried mixed vegetables, and fruit or vegetable kebabs with a yogurt dip" (no kidding, that's a direct quote from one I subscribe to). But personally, I'm not above bringing out the heavy artillery: M&M's, Skittles, gum, marshmallows. Do what you must.
Bring a mini-TV/VCR.
Many minivans and SUVs now come equipped with a 12-volt socket where you can plug in a mini-TV/VCR for backseat viewing. Try the high-quality, entertaining video series put out by National Geographic Video and narrated by Dudley Moore called "Really Wild Animals" or the six-part series-Farm Animals, Big Rigs, Choo Choo Trains, Horses, Water, and Fruit-produced by Stage Fright Productions.
Bring other modern car-travel conveniences:
Use Sleepy Wings made by Schmitz Kidz ($15.95; call 800-548-8531 to order), a wraparound shoulder belt to support your child's head during backseat naps-it precludes that painful-looking rag-doll sleep position.
If you're traveling with your infant, pick up a Shake It Up bottle by Umix that lets you store boiled water and powdered formula separately in the same bottle. Twist the cap to release the formula into the water, shake, and serve. To warm bottles or baby food while on the road, get a thermostatically-controlled warmer that plugs into your cigarette lighter — it warms milk in five minutes and fits in the glove compartment.
Rather than pack bulky baby furniture and conveyances, check out Baby's Away, a baby-supply rental firm with 30 locations in ten states and Canada that provides almost everything babies and toddlers need, including strollers, cribs, toys, and playpens. For a portable crib, for example, rates start at about $5 per day and $30 per week (call 800-571-0077).
Through the Ages-the possibilities
Babies and toddlers love sitting in the catbird seat-for one thing, it's the optimal hair-pulling position. Before they learn to walk, you can keep up your pre-baby pace. Children as young as two are capable of short hikes (more than a half mile may be pushing it), but they'll clamor to ride on your back as soon as they tire. Most three-year-olds are too big, and too independent, to ride in the carrier. Choose shorter hikes-two to three miles over easy terrain. Plan on at least one hour per mile for ages three to five.
You can't take a child in a bike seat until age one. Remember, no matter how gorgeous the scenery, little ones will have a meltdown if you go for hours nonstop. By age three, most toddlers are ready for wheels of their own. At four, our son could ride four miles with training wheels, as long as we took lots of water breaks and had a destination of his choice as the halfway point: the local pool, the playground, a friend's house. Having a rad water bottle in a holder attached to his bike was crucial.
Once kids are able to sit up on their own (around six to eight months), you can put them in a broad-beamed canoe or stable double sea kayak; wrap them in an infant-size PFD to help hold their little heads up. On the ocean, hug the shoreline or stick to quiet coves in case you dump. At about age three, if the kids are confident on the water, teach them the correct way to get in and out of the boat-always wearing their PFDs. Practice tipping over the canoe or kayak and righting it again. Then give them a pint-sized paddle.
If you're an able skater yourself, try Dana Sullivan's idea of pushing your baby in a jog stroller (see Wee Go, page 40); otherwise, wait a few years. The easiest way for kids three to six to learn is probably on a pair of pre-in-line skates (see Hot Tot Stuff, page 40). Stick to flat, smooth pavement to save little noses from premature plastic surgery. And be sure your child always wears a helmet, knee pads, and elbow pads.
Children under three are really too little for small boats. On a boat big enough to have a cabin, there's shelter from the elements and a berth to nap in. Still, toddlers need constant hands-on supervision. Keep a PFD on them at all times. By age four or five, kids can begin to take the tiller, with parents making regular adjustments. On a big boat, your child can help swab the decks, bag sails, read wind and boat speed, and generally enjoy the sensation of being propelled by the wind and waves.