Make a trip with toddlers terrific, not terrible Planning: If you're going a long way, baby your baby.; Strategies

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Carl Weinberg was so traumatized by the screaming baby on the plane that he tried to avoid flying for months afterward. It didn't matter that the unhappy baby was his son, Max.

"The screaming made us want to jump right out of the airplane," said Dana Weinberg, Carl's wife and baby Max's mom. "There was nothing we could do to make him stop."

The flight was a fitting conclusion to an awful vacation. The Connecticut couple admitted they made every mistake in the book when it came to planning a baby-friendly vacation - mistakes I've made, too:

* Mistake No. 1: The North Carolina "beach house" was actually a long 10-block walk on the sand to the water - far too long for Max and his then 3-year-old sister, Eva. Before booking, ask exactly how far the water is from your doorstep. When you're vacationing with a baby or toddler, the closer the better. The convenience is well worth a higher price - even if it means you must cut your trip by a day or so.

* Mistake No. 2: There was no pool to splash in. Always opt for a place with a pool. Many young children are frightened of the waves and prefer a pool. A baby pool is even better.

* Mistake No. 3: The house wasn't child-proofed. "I couldn't relax unless they were asleep," said Dana Weinberg. Make a list of questions to ask before booking a vacation house: Are there railings on the steps? Carpet? A deck high off the ground? A pool without a fence? Antiques? Windows without screens? Opt for safety over charm when the baby is along. If you're planning a hotel stay, ask if there are child-proofed rooms available. Get down on your hands and knees when you get there and look at the place from your baby's perspective.

* Mistake No. 4: No baby sitters or children's programs in the vicinity. No wonder the Weinbergs came home so exhausted. No matter how much you love your baby, you deserve a break, even for a few hours.

"That's why it was so great to vacation with my in-laws," said Lisa Greenberg, who lives north of New York City and has a baby son. That is, of course, if your in-laws volunteer for the job. Many don't.

Consider taking along your favorite niece to baby-sit. Call friends who live in that area and hire their favorites. Local colleges also are good bets and often have lists of students who baby-sit regularly, even supplying references. Many resort employees volunteer to baby-sit on their off hours. You know they've passed security check and have good references.

More important than baby-sitters - especially by the time the toddlers are moving toward preschool age - are other kids in the vicinity. Your vacation most likely will be a dud without them. Save that deserted beach for your romantic getaway without the kids and seek out a shoreline or pool deck that's packed with sand and water toys.

* Mistake 5: Too much to do. Sometimes any itinerary is too ambitious. A ferry trip to an outer island turned into a nightmare when the ferry back was delayed and the Weinbergs were stranded in their car on a long line without food. Always carry enough bottles, diapers and food for at least a half-day longer than you think you'll need. A baby doesn't understand the concept of "wait a little while," when he's hungry or wet.

Don't forget sippy cups with lids for those who have outgrown bottles. Throw a change of clothes in the car (or flight carry-on bag) for yourself as well as the baby, suggests Kyle McCarthy, who devoted a recent issue of her newsletter, Family Travel Forum, to tiny travelers.

(For a copy of the newsletter, complete with top 10 getaways for tiny travelers, call FTF at 212-665-6124 or visit the Web site at www.familytravelforum.com.)

Wherever you are this summer, bring your child safety seat; and don't make the mistake of parking the baby in the sun, warns the American Academy of Pediatrics. The sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so plan to keep the baby in the shade during those hours. A baby's skin is thinner than adult skin and will burn more easily - even on a cloudy day.

That's why babies under 6 months should be kept out of sunlight altogether (Your stroller canopy will come in handy!). Look for baby clothes made of tightly woven fabric to protect them from the sun. Those child-sized sunglasses (with UV protection) are a good bet, too.

L Nothing builds vacation memories faster than a happy babies.

Just ask the Weinbergs. A family wedding prompted a cross-country plane trip (not so bad this time) and a few days of R&R; in a California beach town. They booked a suite so the kids had more room, walked every day to the ocean and opted for gourmet takeout instead of restaurants for dinner.

The plane ride home was a breeze.

In brief

Budget

If you are flexible on when and where you want to travel, you could save a bundle on airfares. A trip to Mexico or the Caribbean could be just $210 round trip, or a one-way fare to Europe just $169. The service is through Airtech, a New York City firm that has been finding low fares for years. For its space-available tickets, Airtech recycles airlines' unused seats to passengers with flexible schedules. Tickets can be arranged through the Web at www.airtech.com, by calling 212-219-7000, or by writing to Airtech, 588 Broadway, Suite 204, New York, N.Y. 10012.

Business

Laptop Lane, a new company operating office centers at airports, opened at Seattle-Tacoma Airport last month. SEA-TAC the second location for the Seattle-based company. The first, at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, opened in May, and an Atlanta center is planned for this fall.

Open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., the centers contain private, individual offices, each equipped with a Micron desktop computer; connections for a traveler's laptop; access to a high-speed Internet line; a laser printer; a plain-paper fax machine; and a multiline phone.

Each office has a glass door that can be locked. The cost is $8.95 a half-hour, with extra fees for long-distance calls or long-distance

faxes. (Local calls and faxes are free.) Additional services, for a charge, include black-and-white or color copying and a color laser printer. For now, the service is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Offbeat

Looking for high adventure without losing contact with the Earth? The Great Balloon Experience at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Fla., can do just that. It's the first tethered balloon ride of its kind in North America. The adventure provides all the excitement of a balloon flight without the uncertainty about when or how the gas-filled vehicle will descend. The 115-foot Fantasy of Flight balloon can rise 500 feet, yet is securely anchored at 16 points to the ground. Drivers on Interstate 4 between Orlando and Tampa can easily see the balloon from the roadway. Similar balloon rides in Sweden and Germany have had a perfect safety record, according to the operators. The attraction is about 20 minutes west of Disney World. For information, call 941-984-3500.

Online

If a book or a tour won't satisfy your desire for French shopping, then perhaps the Web will.

All Things French is the first online French market, at www.allthingsfrench.com or www .toutestfrancais.com. It has more than 100 product offerings, with many unique items made not just in France but in French-speaking countries around the globe, as well as by people in the Cajun culture in the United States. The service is bilingual and provides a way to brush up on your French.

Pub Date: &/26/98

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