It's Time to Go
Now that you've planned your trip, it's time to enjoy it. But before you go, you need to pack. Luckily, not many places in Coastal Florida require formal attire. Try to pack as compactly as you can, taking only those things with you that you absolutely cannot do without. You can always buy anything you forget. The same or similar stores carrying the same brands exist in Florida as at home.
Pack Light or Heavy?
For most trips to Coastal Florida, all you'll have to pack are some shorts, lightweight shirts or tops, cool cotton slacks, a couple of bathing suits and cover-ups, and something for any special event that might call for dressing up.
You can devote the rest of your luggage space to a couple of books and those essentials you can't do without — sunscreen (preferably not oils), high-quality sunglasses, and some insect repellent, especially if you're planning to travel in the summer or in swampy areas. If you're planning to spend a lot of time outdoors — where fire ants or stinging jellyfish might be a problem — take along a small container of a papain-type meat tenderizer. It won't keep them away, but it will ease the pain should they sting you.
Papain is a protein-cleaving enzyme derived from papaya that cuts the protein chains in meat fiber, thus tenderizing it. It's combined with salt and sugar to produce the white powder sold under various brands as “meat tenderizer.” South American Indians have used papaya juice for centuries to tenderize meat.
Also, take along an umbrella or light raincoat for those sudden showers that can pop up out of nowhere. If you visit the Panhandle or the northeast coast in winter, pack a warm jacket or coat. Even in the far south, you'll welcome a sweater on some winter days.
If you're a serious scuba diver, you'll probably want to bring your own gear, but it's certainly not essential. Underwater equipment of all sorts is available for rent wherever diving is popular. Many places also rent beach toys and tubes for floating down rivers. Fishing gear is also often available for rent, as are golf clubs.
Good soft, comfortable, lightweight shoes for sightseeing are a must. Despite its tropical gentleness, the terrain of Coastal Florida doesn't treat bare feet well except along the shore or beside a pool. Sturdy sandals will do. If you plan to do any hiking in the wetlands, wear canvas shoes that you don't mind wading in.
If you're a shell collector, take a plastic bag or two along for hauling your finds. For bird watching, binoculars are essential. And don't forget to bring along some sort of camera. With digital cameras coming down in price, you can easily purchase one for $100 to $150. They're so much more economical than regular 35mm cameras because you can use the media cards, on which you store your images, again and again. Since you probably won't be bringing along your computer, you can either buy several smaller-capacity media cards, say 128 or 256 megabytes, or take your media card into a photo outlet in a Wal-Mart or national chain drugstore to have your photos printed for about 25 to 30 cents each, or have a CD of the photos made. Do not bring along a large-volume media card, such as a 1 to 2 gigabyte card. If you have a problem with it, you'll lose all your pictures.
Traveling with Little Ones
You'll find plenty of activities for children in Coastal Florida. But to make your vacation with your children problem-free, it pays to take a few precautions. Make sure you not only book your hotel reservations in advance, but have confirmed that the hotels you plan to stay in accept children. If you need a crib or extra cot, arrange for it ahead of time.
Most of Coastal Florida's hotels welcome children and usually don't charge for those under five. Many of the larger chain hotels often let children under sixteen or eighteen stay in the room free with their parents. Also, the hotel staffs are more likely to be used to noisy or slightly misbehaving children. These same hotels are also more likely to have swimming pools or game rooms to keep kids occupied. If you don't want your children to stay in the same room with you, ask about adjoining rooms.
If you're traveling by plane, try to reserve bulkhead seats where there's plenty of room, especially if you have younger children. Take along extras you may need, such as diapers and changes of clothing, plus snacks, toys, or small games to keep them occupied. And if you're traveling by car, take along plenty of water and juices to drink. Dehydration in the Florida heat, especially during the summer, can be a problem.
And don't forget a first-aid kit. Along with adhesive bandages, antiseptic cream, and something to stop itching, include any medicines your pediatrician might recommend to treat allergies, colds, diarrhea, or any chronic problems your children may have.
If you're planning to spend time at the beach, go easy the first few days. A child's skin is usually more tender than an adult's, and severe sunburn can happen before you realize it. Bring along hats for everyone, plus a strong sunblock.
If you want to go out at night without your children, check to see if your hotel provides babysitters or if they can give you a list of approved ones.
Bring easily washed, stain-resistant clothes, and encourage your children to pack their own toys in a small bag — it makes them feel as if they're a part of the trip. Have a toy or two close at hand for long waits and take simple snacks, like a small box of raisins or crackers, for those moments when hunger strikes and food is miles away.
If you're spending your vacation traveling, rather than visiting one spot or engaging in one activity, break your trip into half-day segments, with travel time built in. Keep travel time on the road to a minimum of four or five hours each day. Also, involve your children in the planning of your family vacation to Coastal Florida. If they're as excited about the trip as you are, everyone will enjoy themselves. And try not to over-program a trip so that there's no chance for spontaneity.
Be flexible when traveling by car. Stop at souvenir shops or other places your kids might be interested in. Car travel also allows you to take more with you, such as a charcoal grill, ice chest, and box of picnic supplies. Stop frequently to let younger children run around and use up some of their energy. Also, keep some small toys, drawing paper and crayons, and games on hand. Encourage preteens to keep a record of their trip to make a scrapbook later.
When traveling by plane, avoid night flights. Your children will sleep on the plane, then won't be able to get to sleep for the night once you arrive. Try to schedule air flights during your little one's naptime. And stay away from peak travel between 7 and 9 A.M. and between 4 and 6 P.M. when business travelers may fill up the plane — they'll also be bothered more by an antsy child. If there's an extra seat, the airline will allow a younger child traveling free to sit in it. If you're going to be traveling with a child under one year old, let the airlines know. They sometimes will provide you with a special infant seat. Also, when the plane lands and takes off, make sure your baby is nursing or has a bottle, pacifier, or thumb in its mouth. This sucking will make the child swallow and clear stopped ears, the reason very young children cry on take-off. A small piece of hard candy will do the same for a small child. And remember, as a parent traveling with small children, you're allowed to board before the rest of the passengers.
JUST FOR PARENTS
You're entitled to ask for a hot dog or hamburger instead of the airline's regular food when you make your reservation. Some, but not all, airlines have baby food aboard. While you should make sure to bring your own toys, ask about children's diversions. Some airlines may have coloring books or puzzles for your kids to play with in flight.
You'll find that practically all destinations in Coastal Florida have special events for children, except perhaps Palm Beach. These can be anything from children's movies at museums to puppet shows and magicians in city parks. You can find listings of these events, many of which are free, in Sunday editions of city newspapers or at a city's convention and visitors bureau. You may also find local events posted on bulletin boards in local supermarkets. Local or regional festivals, fairs, parades, or other special events add fun to a vacation and will capture your kids' imaginations.
Alternative Phone Connections
If you're planning to use your cell phone in Florida, you'll most likely have to pay roaming charges. Check with your cell phone provider to make sure you can use your phone at the destinations you plan to visit in Coastal Florida. Or buy a rebuilt pay-as-go cell phone or look for promotions offering a free phone when you buy a set number of minutes. To use to call home or to communicate with whoever may be picking you up at the airport, this type of phone is fine — and very inexpensive.