I'M heading to Colorado with my gang this weekend, and then I'm going on an Easter-break Caribbean cruise. I'm told the ship will be packed with families. I'll be there with my 12-year-old daughter, Melanie, her friend Rachel and Rachel's mom.
Like many of you, I'm on edge about traveling. I have two nephews in the Marines. But travel is an intrinsic part of my family's life. Melanie and Rachel have been planning and talking about this cruise for months. My older daughter, Reggie, is scheduled to go to Costa Rica with a group from our community that same week to help build a day-care center. My husband, Andy, has business trips planned as well as a golf weekend in California with our son, Matt, who attends college there. My mom wants to come east for a visit.
Hunkering down at home won't help anybody -- especially not the kids. We need to keep our lives as normal as possible for their sakes as well as ours. That includes planned travel. Of course, I wouldn't take the kids to any overseas hot spots.
It's understandable that many people are reluctant to travel.
"I'm afraid I'd get stuck someplace and couldn't be there for my family," said Long Island, N.Y., mom Bernadette Cain, who nearly found herself in that situation on Sept. 11, 2001, after going out of town to care for a sick aunt.
Some tour operators, cruise lines and airlines have relaxed their cancellation policies. Crystal Cruises and US Airways Vacations are among those that have initiated new travel insurance policies, allowing customers to reschedule. American, United, Delta and Continental are among the airlines allowing customers to rebook domestic and overseas flights without penalty. Be forewarned that every carrier has a slightly different policy. (Call the carrier or check its Web site.)
Orbitz.com will waive cancellation penalties on prepaid hotel rooms during a military conflict or in the event of a "code red" national security alert, and it will work with cruise and package providers on behalf of customers. Expedia.com has announced that cancellation penalties and change fees will be waived, and full refunds will be offered for those who wish to cancel or change a hotel stay, car rental or destination attraction that had been booked within 60 days of war or a "code red" alert. Like Orbitz.com, Expedia.com will help facilitate ticketing changes in accordance with the policies of airlines and cruise lines.
Colorado's RockResorts and Vail Resorts Lodging Co. have waived all cancellation fees for travel until June 1, as well as cancellation fees on pre-purchased lift tickets for the rest of the season at ski resorts in Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado. Heavenly in California has made a similar arrangement.
Expect other travel companies to revise their policies and offer more deals in the coming weeks.
"Maximize the flexibility of your plans," advises Family Travel Forum publisher Kyle McCarthy. Deep discounts and last-minute deals may offer opportunities for getaways -- perhaps even a getaway to your favorite nearby city or resort -- that you couldn't have otherwise afforded.
Wherever you go, be mindful of the kids' travel anxiety, says Dr. David Fassler, a child psychiatrist and a professor at the University of Vermont Medical School.
"Try hard to make travel fun," Fassler says. "And allow plenty of time. There's nothing worse than the added stress of trying to rush kids through an airport."
Keep in mind that with additional airport security, lines may be longer. Remember that all carry-ons -- including backpacks, diaper bags and baby blankets -- must go through the X-ray machine. You might even see uniformed soldiers in security areas.
Fassler says that no matter how frustrated we may become because of travel delays or other inconveniences, we have to stay relaxed.
"Kids watch their parents closely," he says. "If a parent is anxious about traveling, it's likely that the child will be as well."
Fassler adds that many kids will worry about parents who are away on business or for other reasons. "It's helpful to check in frequently by phone, preferably on a predictable schedule," he says. "Some parents are also e-mailing digital photos so their kids can have a better sense of where they are and what it looks like."
Travel insurance is a way to give yourself a little more peace of mind.
I wasn't really thinking about terrorism when I bought travel insurance for our cruise; I wanted to be protected in case one of us became ill and had to be flown home.
"It might be something as minor as an ear infection keeping a child from flying or something as serious as Grandma having a heart attack," says Jim Grace, president of InsureMyTrip.com, which markets travel insurance from 11 companies, allowing consumers to compare policies online.
Just don't expect to be covered if you want to change your plans because of war. No plan covers the "anxiety factor," Grace says. But these policies do permit you to change or cancel plans should there be a terrorist attack in the city you are traveling from, through or to within a month of your trip.
"The good news," Fassler says, "is that most kids are pretty resilient. Like adults, they'll be able to cope with the current challenges and go on."
Taking the Kids appears twice a month. E-mail Eileen Ogintz at Eileen@takingthekids.com.