Margie Brill of My Springfield Mommy
Memorial Day weekend kicks off vacation season for a lot of families. For most of us, we focus on where we will be going and what we will be doing once we get there. How often do we stop and think of family safety away from home? I was lucky enough to speak with Wade, a police officer at our local station, who was more than happy to jot down a few of his ideas and share them with us.
When asked to come up with some ideas to make traveling with children simple and safe, I had to reflect on my own traveling days, with 3 kids, from Illinois to California. I can assure you that it was never simple, but I do recall many things we did as parents to keep our children safe, comfortable and occupied during the 30 plus hours on the road. Keep in mind that there is no fail safe way of keeping your child safe during travel, but always remember that ‘chance, favors the prepared’. And that’s where we begin.
Planning and research
If you plan on driving a very long distance like I did, you should take time to thoroughly map out the route(s) you are taking, research the hotels you will be staying at and find out what kind of area you are taking your kids to. Don’t hesitate to call the local Law Enforcement agency and ask to speak to someone about your upcoming visit and get recommendations where to stay. On-line newspapers or local travel centers are also a great source for information.
Fuel and eats
A helpful hint to safe refueling and dining include knowing some details about your automobile. It will be necessary to find out the gas mileage on your vehicle and plan accordingly. If you know that your car has a 20 gallon tank, then ½ a tank would equal 10 gallons. My rule of thumb has always been to never let the gauge drop below a half tank. In my case, I know that my car gets 25 miles per gallon. Since I’m using 10 gallons at approximately 25 miles to the gallon, I can safely travel about 250 miles before I need to refuel. Now I can research fuel stops at approximately every 250 miles. The last thing you want to do is run low on fuel and be forced to pull off the highway in an undesirable area to get gas. Do your research and don’t put your family in unnecessary risk.
Vehicle maintenance (don’t forget safety belts/car seats/etc..)
Engine maintenance, new tires, new windshield wipers and all the essential items are probably already done and you are ready for your trip, or are you? What about your safety belts? What about the child restraint safety laws? What about the proper installation of infant car seats, booster seats or other car seats as required by law. You will need to know what the seatbelt laws are for the state you are traveling to and make sure that you have a properly installed and adjusted safety seat for your child. A great place to gain information for this is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Or contact your local State Police Headquarters for more information regarding child restraint laws. There are a lot of websites available where you will find plenty of information and other helpful hints on travel safety for your vacation. Properly adjusted seat belts not only save lives, it’s the law! As we say in Illinois “click it or ticket”!!
Taking along food and drink supplies is a great way to save money during your trip and will
also allow you to keep healthy foods at hand during your road trip. Keeping your kids occupied with games and
activities, like coloring or activity books with washable markers, is a fun way for them to remember the, “dreaded drive across country”, as my kids would say. By keeping the kid’s full of healthy snacks and occupied with activities along the way, you should be able to tend to the driving duties without dangerous distractions and endless “are we there yet?” questions.
Hotel location and researched safety/security
When you book a hotel, you will find all the information you need by reading the reviews. Pay close attention to both the good and the bad reviews. If you see complaints of lighting, security doors that don’t lock, unlighted parking, etc. move on to the next hotel and check their reviews. The reviews are your eyes and ears from people that have been there before. Listen to them and book accordingly. This is a time you can call the local Law Enforcement agency and ask them about the hotel. Some questions you may want to ask are: is it a high crime area, i.e. drugs, alcohol, prostitution etc..? Do they receive many complaints of theft or damage to vehicles? These are questions that the hotel staff may not
answer, for fear of losing your business.
Once you arrive at your hotel, I cannot think of one good reason why you should ever leave your children alone. While the kids may feel the need to go to the pool, explore the balcony or ride the elevator non-stop for hours, you really need to stay nearby and keep a watchful eye. No matter how much research you did, or how nice that hotel looks and feels, it is NOT YOUR HOME. You are surrounded by stranger danger and you should always expect the unexpected.
With that said, you don’t need to scare your children either. Have a plan and make sure your kids know it well. If you decide to let them venture out and explore, know exactly where they are going (in pairs, if possible) be strict with return times, and always provide them a way to communicate with you. Two-way radio scanners be a good way to communicate, but keep in mind, someone else can also monitor that frequency and may exploit an opportunity to cause your family harm. Stick to cell phones if possible.
Follow your “at-home” rules
If you have to leave your children alone in the room, then follow the same rules you have at home. Do you leave your 7-year-old at home alone while you go to the store? Probably not, so it would not be appropriate in this case either. However, if your child is of age, then make sure they know how to operate the hotel phone, emergency evacuation plans and always create a password for anyone knocking to gain entry (if you don’t know the password, you are a stranger). Whatever plan you come up with, make it unique to your family and your family only.
Thanks, Wade! These are some great tips!
What tips do you have on keeping kids safe while traveling?