Kid friendly travels

March 3, 2008 4:48:25 PM PST
It's time to start planning a relaxing summer vacation. It might seem a little early, but this is the time to get the best deals. Joining us on the show was Senior Editor of Via Magazine, Amy Graff. She is a mother of two and a travel expert.

How to plan ahead for summer family travel:

  • Start planning eight weeks or more in advance.
  • Make sure your dates are set-to avoid change fees.
  • Create a "Summer Vacation" file-when a travel article or advertisement catches your eye, drop it into your file.
Summer destinations
  • Why? Summer is the off-season-because it's so hot.
  • Lodging: Luxurious hotels offer low rates. Last summer, VIA sent associate editor Nino Padova here to scout out several resorts and report a story. He stayed at the Phoenician's new Canyon Suites for $349 a night-in February and March the same room goes for $1,500.
    Phone: 1-800-888-8234
  • Family-friendly activities: Phoenix resorts are ideal for families because they have fabulous swimming pools. The Hyatt in Scottsdale keeps kids and parents cool with 10 swimming pools and a three-story waterslide. The Hyatt also offers a kids club for children ages three to 12. Activities include: creating Indian headbands or pinch pots, playing games in the water park, listening to cowboy storytellers or learning about desert reptiles.

    Santa Barbara

  • Why? Six-hour drive from Bay Area.
  • Lodging: moderately priced hotels with great locations. For example, the Best Western Beachside Inn that sits right on the harbor, and you can enjoy a water view for less than $200 a night. From here you can walk to Leadbetter and town's commercial district, State Street.
  • Another lodging option: El Capitan Canyon. Twenty miles north of Santa Barbara. Upscale camping right on the beach. Cedar cabins and safari tents. Cabins start at $225 and tents go for $145.
    Phone: 1-(805) 685-3887
  • Family-friendly activities: zoo; museum of natural history; botanical garden; roller-blade and surrey rentals; and my kids' favorite, Chase Palm Park with an antique carousel, grounds landscaped with native plants and ponds, and Shipwreck Playground with a boat and sea creatures to climb on.

    Kings Canyon and Sequoia

  • Why? Yosemite without the crowds. In July of 2007, a little over 1 million people visited Kings Canyon, while Yosemite saw nearly 4 million (3.7 million).
  • Family-friendly activities: Tour Crystal or Boyden cave to see unusual rock formations; hike along the Kings River and swim in river pools; make the five-minute walk to Roaring River Falls; visit the General Sherman tree, largest living thing on earth; and drive through the famous Tunnel Log, a fallen sequoia with an eight-foot clearance.
  • Lodging: Camping, make reservations now. Also lodging within park. If everything is full, you can call to pick up cancellationsAnother option outside parks: Best Western in nearby Three Rivers.

How to find the best deals for summer travel:

  • Airline tickets are always at their highest Memorial Day to Labor Day but don't despair you can find deals if you know where to dig:
  • Use the Internet, and price your trip on several sites. Cheapflights and Orbitz are just an example of great sites to find deals and compare fares
  • The best time to shop for tickets is Wednesday when most airlines release their fares.
  • Consider alternate airports
  • Choose off-season destinations like Mexico (Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta), the Caribbean (St. Thomas, St. John), and Florida (Fort Lauderdale and Miami).
  • Check out some of the lesser-known amusement parks, for example, Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo or Legoland in Carlsbad.
  • If you want to use a travel agent, I highly recommend the AAA Travel Agency-especially if you want to book a cruise or a Disney vacation. They offer special deals for AAA members.

How to make traveling with kids easier and fun:

  • Don't rush. If you're driving stop every two hours-even if it's just to let the kids run laps around the car. If you're flying, get to the airport early. If you're rushed and stressed, your kids will sense it and become fussy. Arrive at least two hours early. Kids love airports (think plane watching). Many airports have children's play areas, museums. The travel search engine Cheapflights features airport guides that can help you locate fun activities
  • Be prepared.

Great Products for Family Travel:

  • Colorforms (stick them to car window or tray table on plane; they have a new travel set)
  • A giant lollipop (Miette in SF, naturally flavored, I only pull this out in an emergency, e.g., tantrum on airplane)
  • Madlibs (fun for older kids)
  • 20 Questions (a nifty gadget that asks you 20 questions and tells you what you're thinking of)
  • Boxcar Children books (113 in the series, set in popular travel destinations such as Hawaii)
  • Crystalized Ginger (Trader Joe's, motion sickness)
  • Trident gum (sore ears during plane ride)

About Family travel expert Amy Graff:
Amy Graff is a travel expert-on everything from classic American road-trips to exotic international adventures. She works as a travel writer and editor for one of the country's largest travel magazines. VIA goes out to more than 3.5 million AAA members. As a young child, Amy traveled the world with her mother and father; she caught the chicken pox in Rio de Janeiro, watched the wall come tumbling down in Berlin, and outran an angry cassowary in an Australian jungle.

Now, she's experiencing similar adventures with her own children, four-year-old Paris and two-year-old Dante. With her kids in tow, she has traveled all over the United States (Idaho happens to be Paris's favorite destination) and world (Vietnam, France, Mexico). Amy isn't afraid to hop in the car or on a plane, and go. She has lots of tips and tricks for families on how to make travel easy and fun.