Keep your family happy and safe on vacation

When you hear about other people's family holiday disasters, it is essential not to fall into the trap of thinking: 'That could never happen to me.' Because it could. However, it is possible to minimize - or even erase - the possibility of problems on your family vacation.

Keep them occupied - organize a bag of toys and games for younger children, and ask children over six to pack their own rucksack with a selection of favorite books and toys. If you are flying, a new coloring book and crayons can occupy many hours. For long journeys fill a goody bag with small cheap stocking-fillers and give them out every hour or so if they're well behaved.

Food, drink and mess - bring snack food and drinks if you'll be missing a meal en route. Plastic bottled drinks with screw-on tops are less likely to spill than cans and cartons. Pack sandwiches and fruit in case of air traffic delays. And take a plastic bag, or three, for the journey.

Driving - buy as many new story CDs as you can afford (you can also try your local library). The Harry Potter series is particularly popular with both children and parents. If you can't agree on what to listen to, older children can bring their own player. Don't forget extra batteries, and don't leave spare batteries in the car in cold environments because they can drain.

Encourage older children to map read and play car games (I spy or animal-vegetable-or-mineral) for short periods only if parents want to remain sane. A copy of 21 Travel Games compendium is suitable for over fives and can be played in the car.

Flying - reserve special children's meals by calling the airline at least 24 hours before you travel, when you can order for the return journey, too. Consider buying a TRUNKI - fun luggage for little people.

Try to book specific airline seats in advance. Bulkhead seats may give parents more leg room, a carry-cot rack, and space to spread out children's possessions.

The younger the child, the less he or she will suffer from jetlag, or so we are told. On take-off, switch your watches to the time at destination and don't discuss what time of day it is at home. Buy calming lavender oil and pour a few drops on a pillow to encourage sleeping during the flight. Repeat later in the bath - the aroma quickly becomes associated with sleep.

Make sure your child drinks plenty of water, and cut out fizzy caffeine-and-chemical drinks.

Babies - if you are flying, visit the bathroom in the terminal immediately prior to the journey and as soon as you land. This minimizes the number of times that you will have to squeeze into the in-flight WC to change the baby's nappy on your lap.

Take more nappies and milk formula than you could possibly need. If you run out it may prove impossible to find more of the same brands. You can buy a roll of throw-away bibs.

Prepare bottles of milk in advance and keep them in an insulated bottle carrier. These will store two bottles or several baby food tins at a time, and keep them cool for up to eight hours. A travel sterilizer can hold two bottles, which stay sterile for up to three hours. Take a light-weight buggy, and bring a baby backpack or sling as well.

Personal security - be careful when you arrive at airports. Thieves may identify possible targets at the entrance halls; people carrying expensive luggage or video cams, or a pre-occupied family in a flustered state. Remember not to leave unattended luggage anywhere, including your car.

On the Beach - take waterproof beach bags for towels, swimwear, food and drink. Plastic 'jellies' or neoprene shoes provide protection on shingle beaches, hot sand, and sharp rocks. These are available from local beach shops.

Spade, book, and ball are the three must-haves for happy children, as are suntan cream, hat, and a good insect after-bite lotion.

Health and safety - design your first-aid kit specifically for your destination. The bare necessities are waterproof plasters, crepe bandage, sterile dressings, a roll of micropore tape, antiseptic cream or wipes, insect repellent, Calpol or similar brand of analgesic, and arnica cream for bumps and bruises.

Optional extras are antihistamine for allergies and bad bites and blister relief which can be sprayed directly on to the sore spot or blister.

Sun care - Clarins Sun Care Cream For Children SPF 30 is also for adults with sun-sensitive skin.

A baseball cap or, better still, a hat with a wide brim is another essential. Better get a hat ... young children need adequate protection from the sun, including head gear.

Mosquitoes - Mosquitoes can ruin any vacation. In the evening, it is wise to dress your child in long-sleeved clothing and cover their skin with a Deet-free product that is safe for kids. One of the most pleasant-smelling is Alfresco, which is also a moisturizer and has a spicy nutmegy smell that is delicious to us and disgusting to the insects.

After you have been bitten, a little electric device called Click gives relief. It is said to stop swelling and itching.

For a restful night, Buy the liquid mosquito repellant Plug-Ins from any supermarket, rather than the pastille ones. Try a great tip from the Spanish. They always leave all doors and windows open to allow a good draft through at night during the summer and for fresh air - though be sure that you have security bars in place first when leaving windows fully open or doors.

The villa description on the Villa Spain website advises if the villa is equipped in bedrooms with mosquito nets, so you are better informed before your arrival. Even if the villa is not equipped with mosquito nets, then use the Plug-Ins to kill and deter those mosquitoes. But you first should close the doors and windows for one hour before opening the window, leaving the plug-in on all night.

Don't forget - A small sewing kit, and a Swiss army penknife (with tweezers and scissors). Pack them in your main baggage, as airline regulations do not permit either item to be carried in hand luggage.

Have a happy and relaxed vacation. I hope you don't need everything listed in this article!

Bruce Gibson runs Spanish villas rental company Villa Spain, which has many Costa Blanca villas and a wide selection across other resorts in Spain.

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