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Why you should take your children with you on vacation

Just because you've had a baby doesn't mean your dreams of adventure should be quashed.

Just because you’ve got a baby or small kids doesn’t mean your dreams of adventure are quashed. And it also doesn’t mean your vacation options are limited to sprawling theme parks featuring massive talking rodents. Here are just some of the reasons why you should take your children with you on vacation. Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press

Julia Shamus, 18 months, claps with joy in October 2006 at the base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.(Photo: Gregory Shamus)

Julia rode in her stroller down the Champs-Élysées, cruised up the River Seine and tossed bread crumbs to the pigeons outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. 

She toured Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, and got a glimpse of the snow-capped Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson, Ariz. 

When she learned to walk, our little one played in the sand and hunted for seashells on the beaches of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, the Gulf Coast of Florida, and the Jersey Shore. 

She toddled through apple orchards in upstate New York and took a windy ferry ride across Lake Champlain to Vermont.  

Just because you’ve got a baby doesn’t mean your dreams of adventure are quashed. And it also doesn’t mean your options are limited to sprawling theme parks featuring massive talking rodents — although you can do that, too, and it's fun.

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We’re living proof. Even as baby No. 2 came along, and then baby No. 3, we traveled on.

Sure, the pace of our vacations slowed, and our destinations were limited because of our budget, but we found a way. In February, we took our most adventurous family-of-five trip yet and headed to Maui, Hawaii. 

As we’ve taken our brood on journeys to places near and far, we learned a few things: 

• Set realistic expectations.
• Plan well in advance
of your trip.
• And be prepared for the worst to happen even as you hope for the best. 

Some disappointments will happen along the way, but that’s true even on adult-only trips.

The benefits of broadening your children's horizons, of helping them see that the world is filled with adventure and wonder, and that diverse and interesting people live their lives in ways they had never before considered is worth every ounce of aggravation. And with a little luck, you might even inspire wanderlust in your little travelers. 

You might have to alter your itinerary a little to accommodate the wee ones in your life, but don't skip a visit to the Louvre or Musée D'Orsay because you have a toddler in tow. Just be sure to ride the carousel at Tuileries Gardens on the way.

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If you're planning to spend one day shopping and sight-seeing in Chicago, perhaps the next day includes a visit to the Shedd Aquarium or the Field Museum to see the dinosaur named Sue.  

It's all about balance, and considering ways to ensure younger travelers enjoy the trip, too. 

Sam Shamus gets cozy on a recent road trip to North Carolina. He snuggled his favorite dragon stuffed animal, rested his head on a pillow and watched a movie on a portable DVD player. (Photo: Kristen Jordan Shamus/Detroit Free Press)

On the road again

With gas prices relatively low around most of the country — AAA listed the average price of a gallon of gas was $2.26 nationally July 14 — now is a great time to hit the road. 

When kids are going along for the ride, try your best to be patient about needing to make more frequent pit stops and plan plenty of games, movies, books and other activities to keep the boredom at bay.

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On our most recent road trip to the eastern coast of North Carolina, each child had a road atlas and could plot our drive from Michigan to the Atlantic Ocean, tracking where we were and predicting how quickly we would get to the next big city or town using a map.  

Having paper maps also comes in handy when you're driving through the mountains or other rural areas where a GPS signal is interrupted. 

History buffs can create mini lessons and true stories to tell children about past events that happened in the cities they travel through on their way to their vacation.

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Other great ways to pass the time include playing old-fashioned road trip games like the Alphabet Game, 20 Questions and I Spy. You can sing children's songs or create a playlist of your favorite tunes on your smartphone to stream en route. 

If you plan well, you also can include stops in places with fun things to do. On a trip to visit family in the South over the Labor Day weekend in 2016, we stopped in West Virginia to explore Seneca Caverns and pan for gemstones. 

Our son delighted in sifting through mining rough in the water sluice to discover fool's gold, rose quartz, malachite and lapis lazuli. 

Hot tip: For kids prone to motion-sickness, check with the pediatrician about whether they can take children's chewable Dramamine during the trip. The medication is available over the counter, and it has allowed our kids to read, watch movies and play games on their iPads without getting sick while en route to our vacation destination.

Sam Shamus sluices for gemstones at Seneca Caverns in West Virginia over Labor Day weekend 2016. (Photo: Kristen Jordan Shamus/Detroit Free Press)

Up, up and away

If you're planning a trip by air, keep in mind that most airlines offer new parents the option of carrying their babies free on their laps until they’re 2 years old.

While that can save money on airfare, it's better to buy a seat for your baby if you can afford it. Carry a car seat onto the plane and buckle in your infant or toddler just as he or she would when riding in an automobile.

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If you experience turbulence on the flight, your child will be far safer strapped into a car seat. It is truly a gift to have a place for your baby to rest other than in your weary arms when he or she naps mid-flight, too.

The in-flight car seat also is handy when children are in the curious toddler stage. Having straps to hold that stronger and bigger baby goes a long way in keeping junior from climbing over the seat to pull the hair of the lady with the interesting hair clip seated in front of you. 

If you opt to lap-carry your child, keep in mind that most airlines also allow you to check a car seat or booster seat for free when you check your luggage. That’s a perk that saves you from having to rent a car seat or booster from the rental car company at your destination.

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When you're flying, air pressure during ascent and descent can hurt children's ears. Sucking on a pacifier, nursing or having a bottle handy can help the baby equalize that pressure on the way up and down.

If the child is older, try snacks or chewing gum or drinking on the ups and downs.

Occupying a child on a long-haul flight can be tricky. If you have an iPad or other device you can preload with new games and movies, it's worth the effort.

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Consider also picking up a new coloring book, crayons or colored pencils, some new inexpensive little games and toys. Having a bag of tricks is essential when your little one comes unglued mid-way over the Atlantic.  

If you’ve got older kids, make sure each child has a backpack filled with things to do. Consider card games like Old Maid, Rummy, and Go Fish or a Rubik’s Cube to pass the time in addition to favorite electronic devices loaded with music, movies and games, coloring books and books.  

On our flight to Hawaii, we brought Uno cards with us and played across all three seats in our row for more than an hour. 

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I also bought an inexpensive journal for each child, which they could use to chronicle their experiences on the trip and draw pictures of the flowers and critters they saw, such as the little green lizard near the ice cream shop, and the whales arching in the harbor.  

And, when all else fails, bring out the snacks. Be sure to pack some favorites that can distract and keep hunger at bay. 

Hot tip: Restrictions for carrying liquids through airport security are different if you're traveling with infants and small children. The Transportation Safety Administration allows passengers to carry on more than the 3.4-ounce limit of liquids if those liquids are breast milk, milk or juice for an infant or a toddler.

Those items can be screened separately. In addition, ice packs, freezer packs and other cooling accessories to keep formula, breast milk and juice cold also are allowed but might be subject to additional screening. 

Details: www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children 

Make sure your travel first-aid kit has children's Tylenol and Ibuprofin along with a thermometer, children's chewable Pepto Bismol and Tums, children's chewable Dramamine, Band-Aids, first-aid cream, hydrocortisone cream and Benadryl. (Photo: Robert Przybysz, Getty Images)

Ahhh-choo!

Even the best planning and organization can be derailed when illness or injury strike. 

If you're flying or taking a cruise, consider travel insurance to cover the cost of your trip in case a child breaks a bone the day before you're supposed to leave for a week in Anguilla or your Caribbean cruise is thwarted by a nasty case of pneumonia.

Even if you manage to make it to your destination unscathed, someone might come down with a bug during your vacation.

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The best way to take the sting out of unforeseen illness is to be prepared. Before you leave home, be sure to call your insurance company and find out what kind of coverage you have out-of-state or internationally. Find out about what your co-pay or out-of-pocket costs will be for emergency room visits and urgent-care stops.

Also, pack over-the-counter essentials such as children's Tylenol and Ibuprofin along with a thermometer, children's chewable Pepto Bismol and Tums, children's chewable Dramamine, Band-Aids, first-aid cream, hydrocortisone cream and Benadryl. Be sure to fill any prescription medication your child takes to ensure you don't run out during your trip.

And don't forget grown-up formulations of all of the above, plus Immodium and decongestants.  

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If you're planning a cruise and are prone to seasickness, pick up acupressure wrist bands and ask your doctor in advance whether you can use motion-sickness patches containing the prescription medication Scopolamine that can be worn behind the ear. 

Nearly every family trip we've ever taken with the kids has been accompanied by a visit to urgent care or the emergency room for treatment of ear infections, sinus infections, cellulitis, pink eye and other ailments.

We do our best to salvage what we can of the trip when illness strikes.

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We've generally adopted the divide-and-conquer philosophy: One parent takes the sick child for medical care while the other parent continues the previously planned activities with the healthy kids. 

Hot tip: If you or your child is in need of medical help while visiting a foreign country, check with your hotel front desk about medical services available to guests. If none are available, ask for directions to the nearest urgent care facility or hospital.

You also can go to the nearest pharmacy and ask for over-the-counter remedies that might help. 

Sarah Shamus leaps on the sand as she frolicks in Lake Champlain with her brother, Sam, and sister, Julia in September 2016. It was part of a family trip to Plattsburgh, N.Y. (Photo: Kristen Jordan Shamus/Detroit Free Press)

Where to stay?

If your first choice is to stay in a hotel, look for one with an indoor pool.

That way, no matter the weather, the kids can burn some energy with a romp in the water. Hotel pools are a godsend to parents of small children.

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Just don't forget to pack swimsuits, and if your kids are small enough, swim diapers and a floaty to keep them safe in the water. (The Puddle Jumper brand by Stearns is our favorite.)

Other features to look for: A hotel with family-friendly suites, an in-room refrigerator to keep milk and other drinks cold, a microwave and, truly pie-in-the sky, complimentary breakfast. 

Julia Shamus, 9 months, rides across Lake Champlain on the ferry Cumberland with her grandmother, Diane Jordan, in 2005. (Photo: Kristen Jordan Shamus/Detroit Free Press)

Hotels are lovely, but if you're looking to really spread out, relax and save a little money to boot, consider renting a house or an apartment.

Several online companies like Vacation Rentals By Owner and Airbnb offer great deals that give families a true feeling of staying at a home away from home. 

In September, our extended family rented a house on New York's Lake Champlain. It slept 14 people and included a wonderful sun porch, fully stocked kitchen, cable TV, and glorious lake views.

Our children got to play with their cousins, and the adults spent time catching up, cooking together, reliving childhood memories and bidding farewell to my father, who passed away in August. 

Despite the circumstances, it was truly a magical trip. In the end, each family paid about $75 a night, and we were more comfortable than we ever would have been in a hotel.

We also didn't have to worry about the kids being too loud for our hotel neighbors; they could run and play in the yard, splash in the lake, freewheeling the way kids should. 

Vacations shouldn't be fun for adults at the expense of the kids. Nor should everything you do revolve around the kids at the expense of the adults.

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Find a balance so everyone can have a great time and make memories together while exploring all the joys this world has to offer. 

When we zip lined in Hawaii, we chose a company that could accommodate our then-5-year-old son. Other companies offered more exciting routes through jungle-like terrain, but they were equipped to handle kids older than 10 and we didn't want to leave Sam out of the experience. 

Sarah, Greg and Sam Shamus get ready to zip line in Maui, Hawaii, in February 2017. (Photo: Kristen Jordan Shamus/Detroit Free Press)

Maui Zipline Co. offered the perfect balance for us, and we all had an experience we'll never forget. 

Memory-making is the reward of traveling with your kids.

I'll always remember pushing my baby girl up the streets of Paris in her little pink stroller. We stopped for chocolate and banana crepes at a roadside stand, and the expression on her face when she took her first drippy bite was just as delicious as the crepe tasted.

I'll never tire of recalling those tender times. Nor will I tire of laughing about the inevitable travel catastrophes we've encountered, which are much funnier years later — the lost luggage, the missed connections, the road trip with a screaming toddler, the plane ride with a screaming infant.

They are the remember-when foibles that are the backbone of family lore. 

Have kids? Will travel. And travel some more.

And when your kids have kids? Go along for the ride.

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There's nothing better than grandma or grandpa to offer another set of eyes on a wayward toddler, another pair of arms to hold a crying baby or hug a moody tween or another voice to sing Davy Crockett as you drive for the umpteenth hour through the Appalachian Mountains. 

Trust me. I've been there. 

Follow Kristen Jordan Shamus on Twitter: @KristenShamus

1. Yellowstone National Park: It’s hard not to be impressed by all of the incredible natural wonders the world’s first national park has to offer. Because an active volcano lies beneath Yellowstone, the park has more than 10,000 hydrothermal features such as mudpots, hot springs and geysers — including the famous Old Faithful. Plus, there are nearly 300 waterfalls and an incredible array of wildlife — including elk, moose, bison and grizzly bears — in this 3,500-square-mile park that straddles Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.It costs $30 for a seven-day vehicle pass, or $50 if you include a pass to nearby Grand Teton National Park. However, in 2017 you can visit national park sites for free on select dates.  Kris Wiktor / Shutterstock.com

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2. U.S. Space and Rocket CenterThe U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., is the largest spaceflight museum in the world and is home to several science-related camps for kids, including Space Camp. But anyone can tour this center to see its collection of rockets and ride simulators that recreate the feeling of a rocket launch.General admission is $16 for children ages 5 to 12 and $24 for those 13 and older.  Philip Arno Photography / Shutterstock.com

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3. Grand Canyon National ParkThe Grand Canyon should be on every family’s travel itinerary because it will make a big impression on both kids and adults. The awe-inspiring 277-mile long, 1-mile deep canyon carved by the Colorado River is one of the most popular national parks — so expect big crowds during spring, summer and fall.And if you want to go on an affordable camping trip, the entrance fee is only $30 for a seven-day pass for a vehicle.  Martin M303 / Shutterstock.com

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4. One World Trade CenterThe tallest building in the U.S., One World Trade Center now stands at the site of the former World Trade Center complex that was destroyed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. You can wow your kids by hopping on an elevator that will take them to the 102nd floor of this 1,776-foot building in 60 seconds then letting them peer out over New York City from the observatory on the 100th floor. Tickets are $34 for adults, $28 for children.Afterwards, you can stroll for free through the 9/11 Memorial Plaza, which occupies eight of 16 acres of the World Trade Center and features the names in bronze of every person who died in the 1993 WTC bombing and 2001 attacks. And, you can visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum in the heart of the original World Trade Center site by paying $24 for adults, $15 for kids ages 7 to 17.  ATGImages / Shutterstock.com

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5. City MuseumThere are children’s museums, then there’s the City Museum — an awesome fun house for kids of all ages in St. Louis, Mo. You can crawl through suspended tunnels or man-made caves, slide down a 10-story slide, ride the Ferris wheel on top of the building or simply marvel at how found objects were used to transform this 600,000-square-foot factory into an architectural marvel. Admission is $12.While in St. Louis, you also can take a ride to the top of the Gateway Arch — the nation’s tallest monument — for $13 for adults, $10 for kids ages 3 to 15. And at the free Citygarden, parents can stroll through the sculpture garden while the kids splash in the three fountains, which have lifeguards.  Flickr.com / sawdust_media

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6. Yosemite National ParkThis national park in California is not only home to the tallest waterfall in North America but also giant sequoia trees. Yosemite also has spectacular rock formations, including the often-photographed Half Dome and El Capitan. You can get a seven-day vehicle pass to the park for $30.  Dan Sedran / Shutterstock.com

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7. Schlitterbahn WaterparkRanked as the world’s best water park by Amusement Today, Schlitterbahn Waterpark & Resort in New Braunfels, Texas, has water rides, slides and features for all ages. You can relax in heated pools, float down man-made rivers or zip down twisting flumes or slides that are several stories high.General admission is $38.99 for children and $50.99 for adults, but the park has several discount days.  Flickr.com / CJ TravelTips

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8. Arches National ParkA trip to Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, is almost like visiting another planet because the landscape of more than 2,000 natural stone arches and red rock formations is truly other-worldly.For $25, you get a seven-day vehicle pass, but you can easily drive through all of the park’s roads in a day. There are no lodges in Arches, but you can camp for $25 a night or find accommodations in nearby Moab.While there, you can also visit nearby Canyonlands National Park to see spectacular buttes, canyons and sandstone spires that are hundreds of feet tall.  tusharkoley / Shutterstock.com

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9. Cedar PointIf you have a family of thrill-seekers, head to the roller coaster capital of the world: Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. With 17 roller coasters, it consistently ranks as one of the top amusement parks in the world.For those who don’t want the adrenaline rush, Cedar Point also offers tame family rides, kid’s rides and live entertainment. Admission is only $39.99 when you buy online.  Flickr.com / Jeremy Thompson

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10. Musical Instrument MuseumA visit to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix is like taking a musical tour of the world. The museum has a collection of more than 16,000 instruments — including Eric Clapton’s guitar and John Lennon’s piano — from 200 countries and territories. Visitors can wear wireless headsets to hear the instruments being played and listen to live performances.Admission ranges from $10 to $20; children under 3 are free.  Flickr.com / Andrew Russeth

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11. Alcatraz IslandGive your kids a lesson in history with a tour of Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay. It’s most well-known for the years it operated as a U.S. penitentiary that housed infamous inmates such as Al Capone. But Alcatraz also was the first lighthouse on the West Coast, a Civil War fortress and the birthplace of the American Indian Red Power movement.Tickets through Alcatraz Cruises range in price from $21.75 to $42.50. Children under 5 are free. You can also purchase behind-the-scenes tickets starting at $81.50.  Sergey Novikov / Shutterstock.com

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