The three giggling cousins were too busy mugging for the camera to be the least bit anxious about the nine-hour bus trip ahead, much less being away from their parents for nearly a week.
Their grandmother and traveling companion, Ethel Kasham, didn't seem daunted either, not even by the prospect of entertaining three active kids -- a 7-year-old boy and girls aged 10 and 11 -- from New York's Port Authority Terminal to Durham, N.C. Their parents had to work and couldn't make the trip.
Kasham, who lives in Brooklyn, explained the Greyhound bus was their only option to visit their relatives: The trains were booked and flights too expensive. The kids, of course, didn't care.
"I got a book to read on the way and some candy," said 7-year-old Chuckie Sockwell, patting his backpack and clearly impatient to start this adventure. His sister Tiffany and cousin Portsheanna already had their tape players glued to their ears, their candy stashed
From Thanksgiving through New Year's, Greyhound Lines expects to carry more than 1 million people to families and friends.
Nearly 2 million other holiday travelers will ride Amtrak trains, many already booked for months.
Deals for tickets
Some families, like Kasham and her grandchildren, had no other choice but the bus. College students say they find buses and sometimes trains the most economical way to go. Greyhound, for example, is offering a companion-rides-free deal with a three-day advance purchase. If you plan three weeks ahead, you can go anywhere in the country for $59 each way. Amtrak touts its kids-ride-for-half-price and senior-citizen discounts. Call Greyhound at (800) 231-2222 and Amtrak at (800) USA-RAIL.
Price isn't the only selling point, holiday travelers say. Lisa Carroll was taking the train with her son Matthew, 5, from New York to Boston just for the experience. Others who could afford to fly or drive find being able to sit back comfortably and relax much better than racing for an overbooked flight or sitting hunched over the wheel in holiday traffic.
"I just sleep and do homework all the way," said Krista Carlson, who was on her way back to Tufts University near Boston by bus.
Sarah Powell, who was traveling up from the South with her 7-month-old daughter, Grace, said the train gave her the flexibility she needed without costing as much as airline tickets. Visiting family members near Syracuse, N.Y., and also near Philadelphia, she said, "I got a lot more travel for my money."
Then there's the fear-avoidance factor that's drawing more travelers in the wake of much-publicized air disasters. "My daughter would rather take a long train ride than a plane. She's terrified of flying," said Ellen Thomas, who was waiting to board a train to Toronto with her daughter and 5-year-old granddaughter.
The train and the bus, these holiday travelers say, aren't as crowded as a plane or a car. They can spread out, play cards with the kids, read or daydream, a luxury most busy parents don't have these days.
"It was really fun," said Tom Niejadlik, who was en route to New Hampshire from Florida with his wife and 10-year-old son. "In the middle of the night, you open the curtains and there's the Washington Monument!"
Of course, ground travel takes a lot longer than flying. But the kids don't seem to fight or complain as much, their parents say, because their attention is drawn to new friends they've made on board.
"It's a great experience for kids to see the country this way," notes Cathy Lytch, a New Jersey grandmother who drives for Greyhound. She is convinced a bonus is that kids get a solid lesson in how to behave in public.
Tips for children
Lytch's advice for parents: Bring along a small pillow and blanket and plenty for the kids to eat, drink and do. (There are no snacks on the bus.) On the train, though, a trip to the snack bar can be the highlight for a child. "That was my favorite part," said 6-year-old Whitney Richards, who had traveled from Virginia to New York with her mother and sister to take in the holiday sights.
Remember to pack plenty of crayons, books and diversions, parents suggest.
"The kids won't want to look out the window all the time," says Whitney's mother, Susan Richards. She added ruefully that train trips can be as trying as any other mode of travel. Because of a derailment, the Richardses' trip took triple the scheduled time and four trains instead of one.
Especially during the holidays, travel experts advise, opt for off-peak times whenever you can. "And don't let the kids or your bags out of your sight," warns Port Authority detective Joe Lesniak.
After a sleepless night on the train, Sarah Powell sat waiting for her connection in Amtrak's lounge at New York's Penn Station, her baby finally napping beside her. Her husband, an Air Force officer, was across the country on a training mission. With baby in tow, Powell acknowledged, the trip hadn't been as smooth as she'd hoped. She looked at her sleeping daughter and smiled. "It was an adventure," she said.
Send your questions and comments about family travel to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053 or e-mail to eogintzol.com.
Pub Date: 12/15/96