Thanksgiving travel tips for families

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baggage claimIt's the most horrible time of the year ... oh, wait, that isn't how the song goes.

Or is it?

Yes, hard to believe and harder to accept, the holidays are looming just around the corner. With so many of us living far away from our extended families, the season of turkey and green-bean casserole can also be the season of packing and driving, or even in some cases, flying. Some people (the lucky ones) get away with staying home for Thanksgiving, and others have the special burden of HOSTING Thanksgiving.

Just thinking about that gives me a headache.

But some of us, like me, will hit the open road in order to eat dry stuffing and watch football with grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts and uncles. Take heart, fellow travelers -- it doesn't have to be THAT bad.

In my other life as a travel columnist, I've gleaned lots of great travel tips for families. Follow some simple strategies and keep your sanity:

Pack light: If you're heading to a family member's home, odds are they have a washing machine. If you're planning a five-day stay, pack for three days and do laundry. Yay! Laundry away from home. What fun.

Ship it:
Got a baby? Send that portable crib ahead using a service that packs and ships, like the UPS Store. Yes, you have to pay for that service, but friends, ask yourselves this -- what price do I put on my sanity?

Leave when they are sleeping:
Kids nap in the car. Some kids, anyway. If yours do, plan ahead and leave THE MINUTE they start to fall asleep or just before. This is especially true for infants and young babies.

Rent it, baby:
OK, so you don't actually have a portable crib. Guess what? You can rent one. Turns out there are plenty of agencies out there that provide rental gear for parents, ranging from strollers and cribs to toys and bedding.

Stop the potty train: Are you in the beginning of potty training? Leave the potty at home, friends. Kids just starting to train will regress anyway. Best to leave the pot at home and start again when you get back home.

Throw rules out the window:
Traveling, especially long distances, is hard for adults. Imagine how hard it is for your 3-year-old. Bending the rules a little goes a long way toward keeping the peace in the backseat or in an airplane. Give the kids a forbidden treat -- chocolate bars, movies on your laptop -- what ever might capture their attention. Life is too short to fight, and there will be plenty of arguments with your in-laws, won't there?

Teachable moments: Any kind of travel is exciting when you're little. Take advantage of it and educate your kids on the sly. Count airplanes lined up at the gates, or talk about the states you're passing through. Maybe you'll learn something, too.

Last but not least, relax. Sounds easier said than done, but put your worries aside for awhile and enjoy being close to your kids. It isn't often these days that you get to spend 11 straight hours with your spouse and children. Traveling can be stressful, but it can be fun, too. I promise they won't remember the bad burgers from a roadside rest stop, but they will remember the time you played "I, Spy" while you drove through Iowa.

Gobble, gobble, people! Now, tell me, what are YOUR tried and true travel sanity-savers?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.