Travel + Leisure Family

Any magazine that tells me how to get the cheapest airfares is already in the plus column. We can't assure air safety, but we can fly anxiety-ridden for less. Sometimes, you settle for what you get. And what you get here is a 64-page bimonthly that tries to give busy parents a quick-hit on family vacations, with a dollop of style and helpfulness.

Compared to its parent, the 600-page Travel + Leisure December issue, with its Caribbean cover and 4,500 secret places to explore, this looks like the editorial equivalent of finding the toaster in the tree. And yet, if time is finite, there is nothing better than user-friendly info and the Web sites needed to access it.

Like many mags of this ilk, the Editor's Letter shares personal experiences that its chief hopes will profit readers. For instance, she runs a photo of the familia shot on a Mexican beach, then asks: Is this the right look for her holiday card? Let's see: Dad appears either aggravated or stoned; Junior is practicing his Rodin pose; Mom has her "OK, big smiles, everyone!" look, which means she's the only one really baring teeth, while her young daughter has a genuinely sweet, and the most natural, demeanor. In short, it's like a million other family pictures. It's nigh impossible to find one where everybody looks good.

But it helps if you follow a few tried-and-true rules: get the right light, no cheesy portraits, find simple backgrounds. It sounds obvious, until you get the Christmas card with the family that doubles as a petrified forest.

The helpful hints in Travel + Leisure Family are sprinkled throughout, but especially in the Front of Book section, dubbed "Next." I liked the entries on grandparent-grandchild vacations and the puzzle globe. What's nice is the combo of travel tips, such as Adventures by Disney, coupled with tiny essentials to carry on-board, like stain wipes and cleansing cloths. When you travel with little kids, the Boy Scout motto is best: be prepared. Sure, you carry enough gear to rival Lewis & Clark, but if it prevents others being splattered by food or tapped by gooey hands, it's worth it.

Years ago, I had a peanut-butter-smeared toddler smack me on the head during lunch as I reached down for a magazine. "He's high energy," his mother sighed. "He's fish bait," I thought, staring longingly into the sea below. But what can you do? These days, people sue on the slightest pretext.

I also liked "Style," with its product offerings for both mountain and city travel. Aside from the usual clothes and watches, there's an MP3 player in the shape of a Pez dispenser, topped by a brunette-looking Elroy from "The Jetsons."

As to the actual magazine features, check out the interesting piece on a family that moved to Park City, Utah, home to Sundance and skiing. I was intrigued by the idea that you don't need a car; the town's buses go to the resorts gratis. If they also go to the library and the Kimball Art Center, I'll be especially impressed. The story included an essentials list and was short and to-the-point. For vacation planners, this is a keeper. A list was also provided for articles on Quebec City and the Big Island of Hawaii.

Hands down, though, Travel + Leisure Family's best headline is the "Family Values" in the Deals department: one place, one plug. Yes, it's all relentlessly upbeat and promotional--"there's ice cream every three steps" at the Iberostar Paraiso Maya Hotel--but that's fairly standard for the T+L mission. The goal isn't to critique travel destinations; it's to highlight the ones the writers and editorial staff enjoy.

There is, however, a balanced approach. For worried parents, the Strategies entry details various nightmare scenarios--plane disasters to losing your child--which are assuaged by words of advice. Though after considering all the possible mishaps, one might feel safer pitching a tent in the living room and calling it a day.

Still, vacations exist for a reason--and not just to relieve stress. They remind us that we can have fun with each other. Or, at the very least, the kids will have something to tell future therapists.

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