The “Kids and…” Series: Travel

For the last time, a link to the inspiration article:

I think it was probably L.Z. Granderson’s comments regarding travel – notably airline travel – that were the ones that got most of us parents a little more riled up than his others. While again, yes, parents need to do something to control their out-of-control kids on a confined aircraft or in the busy airport, sorry but again, it’s just not as easy as it sounds.

First of all, has Granderson flown these days?! It’s enough for adults to keep the rules and regulations straight about all the following: how heavy bags can be; how many bags we are allowed to have; what is allowable in packed in carry-ons; which line to get in when; where it is we show ID when we are queuing through these many lines; waiting in those lines (patiently, of course); running through terminal after terminal finding the right gate to only be told it’s been changed (again);  suffering from leg cramps; and on and on it goes. And trust me, I could go on and on. Oh, wait, I will!

Buckle Up: Time to travel!

Add to that list this additional set of fun facts and to-dos we need to know as parents: which infant/toddler foods are OK to take through security; which baby products are considered bags vs. “free baby items;” how old a kid can be when he walks through the metal detector all by himself; how young is too young to pre-board with kids in tow; and again, I could go on and on here, too, but I won’t.

Perhaps Granderson just hasn’t traveled with the kids lately (wait – and I can’t believe I’ve not pondered this aloud yet – but does he have kids? Hmm….). That or perhaps he’s just not traveled since we’ve had to remove our shoes at the airport anyway (oh yeah, sorry, please add this to my list above: “Mama, why are we taking our shoes off?!?! I LOVE these fireman rain boots LEAVE THEM ON!”). Either way, again, this traveling stuff is no easy feat.

And as far as the traditional, beloved, all-American road trip, it’s looks and sounds about the same as a plane trip, except swap all those airline rules and reg’s out for: nasty weather and road conditions; gnarly traffic; endless potty breaks; getting lost in the middle of nowhere; road closures, detours, and construction; car trouble; kids fighting you and/or one another inside the car; hearing to the same song ad nauseam hours upon end; and road ass.

Finally, who gets the luxury of traveling right on their exact sleep schedule? I hardly know of any adults these days who are lucky enough to get that perk and/or who are blessed with being able to sleep or rest comfortably on an airplane or in the passenger seat of a car. So take that off-scheduleness and times it by about 57 for the kids; I think you’d be a tad cranky, too, especially if you were unable to communicate with words how much it sucked (or how much your ears hurt upon take-off and landing, or how much you want to Houdini from the car seat and run free along the freeway).

And I’ve not even gotten to the part about child management yet – !

Ah yes, child management. Good times. Let me just say this, parents: Traveling with kids is the one situation I definitely throw pretty much any crutch at if it makes the journey more stable. Meaning, I will beg, borrow, buy, or steal anything that makes the situation more tolerable; screen time limits be damned. Yes, it means even more stuff to pack for the trip, because I know there wasn’t enough going on in that department (sorry, RMT’ers).

So what props, goodies, and surprises does one lug along in situations such as the ones I’ve described above? Hopefully nothing that puts you over bag or trunk-space capacity, right? But I promise, even if it means you need to ditch a few pair of shoes to ensure these essentials make the next plane flight or car trip, you’ll thank me later (and ditching shoes is a huge concession for me to make).

So here’s our family’s own list of go-to stuff that helps prevent all of us (and those around us) from trippin’ out on our next trip:

DVD player, plus as many hours of movie/ show time as your airport wait-time and actual in-air travel time, and then add about 1-2 more hours to that for tarmac waits or pre-landing circling. You think I am over-preparing, but it happens, and happens regularly. I can personally cite a tarmac delay upon take-off from our last family trip with T (just about 30 minutes delay, thankfully) and also can think back to a story about some pre-landing circling that happened on C’s last work-trip into DC so much so they announced after 1.5 hours they were running out of fuel, re-routed out of DC airspace into Pittsburg, landed, refueled, and got back up there and did it some more! Whee! (Oh, funny I bring up that last story: Just this week, the airline that delayed C so horribly awarded a $200 voucher for the inconvenience, and for that we now say apology accepted.). I realize in this day and age folks may rely heavily on the fact that smart phones play movies, but have you noticed that battery life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and neither is memory space for holding multiple full-length feature movies on said smart phones? Yeah, so for trips, especially ones more than 3 hours one-way, it’s all about the separate and dedicated DVD player for the kid. Oh, you have more than one kid? Maybe two players are in order (I can’t speak to that exactly, but I can only imagine it’d spare that potential and annoying in-air turbulence). PS – no need to buy a player(s) if you travel but once or twice a year, just hit up friends and borrow (like we did). And don’t forget headphones!

How Appropriate: Usborne's "Around the World Sticker Book" that T absolutely adores right now

Sticker books. T absolutely loves these things. Thank you to my dear friend for turning us onto these bad boys. If you are not familiar, they are books that have scene after scene of empty set-style landscape plus pages and pages of stickers (usually hundreds of stickers, if not more) to fill up page after page with glee and delight. I’ve yet to meet a preschooler who hates stickers myself, so if you’ve not checked these out and know your own kid loves the sticker, go get one. You can get small books like the ones Dover Publishing puts out, or larger ones by Usborne books and several other publishers. Most books can be used and re-used a few times anyway. Cost: $1-4 for the small Dover ones; $5-10 for the larger 8×10 sizes. And don’t worry, these are not the super-sticky stickers you can’t peel off of car interiors and such; if you are paying semi-attention to the kid while they are stickering, they remove just fine with a simple peel.

A calculator. No, not kidding. It’s the buttons, the screen, and the counting, for T anyway. I got T one of those solar-powered ones (works in lamp-lighting, too) that’s a rubbery, floppy, oversized, neon-orange color from the Dollar Tree. It rolls up and can’t be destroyed, and it keeps him off my iPhone calculator (but if you want to pack even lighter, a smart phone calculator will work just fine).

Surprise dollar-store grab-bag. On one of our earlier trips with T I packed enough dollar store tchotchkes to be certain he had a new and fun item to play with every hour on the hour. I know some parents go so far as to wrap up the trinkets as little presents to make it that much more exciting; that’s a great idea, too, but I’m just lazy and don’t like wrapping presents in general, so I just kept them in a separate bag that T didn’t have access to during travel time. Thankfully, that time each time I’ve done this since, we just seem to go through half the stockpile; sure, I over-pack to that degree and could pack another pair of shoes instead, but I consider it insurance (and assurance), peace of mind really. That and I can instantly stow away all unopened merchandise from one trip down in preparation for our next adventure. Ideas for dollar store goodies include: travel-sized magnet drawing tablets; toy cars, planes, and boats; action figures or animal figurines; dominoes; and a deck of cards.

Phone games. Again battery life is an issue here, but put a few kid-friendly apps on the phone for the kids to thumb-and-point around on in-flight or in-car. Monster truck driving is popular with T, as are some of the PBS-based character apps and food decorating ones (cupcake, etc.). Best of all, most of the kids apps are free! Oh, your kids don’t like those apps? Then a few days before you head out-of-town, sit down at home with the kids, download a few new apps of their choosing, and based on what they choose, go on, be the fun mommy and put a couple of surprise apps on there for them, too. It’s like an electronic grab-bag of sorts!

Let the CD do the reading: Audio-book versions of movies brought to you by Disney

Books. T loves books and stories. He can sit nicely for several stories at a time if he’s in the mood to do so, which is about 20-30 minutes. So if your kid has a similar temperament, don’t forget to pack some favorite books. And if anyone seated around you has the gall to complain about you reading aloud to your child(ren) if it’s being done so at a low and conversational tone-of voice and the child(ren) are sitting quietly and patiently, then I’d just simply point out the good behavior. And in my book, anyone that complains about a parent reading to a child needs to get a hobby, like reading more books themselves. For road trips, pick up some of Disney’s Song-and-Story CDs, which are disks containing audio-books of popular movies plus a few songs from or inspired by the movies being narrated. Just don’t forget to load disks on the MP3 player and pack headphones for the moment that it gets too much to take that story five more times on the car stereo.

Brother's All-Natural Fruit Crisps: Fruit on-the-go

Food. Ah, glorious food. I mean easy, convenient, easy-to-pack food your kids will eat and enjoy. Food that is non-perishable is best, of course, but then it seems to border on you turning into a walking junk food vending machine of sorts. Thankfully there’s a newer line of dehydrated fruit crisp products by Brother’s All-Natural that are actual pieces of fruit sliced, dehydrated, and sealed in individual foil pouches. Think healthy space-food of sorts, but the kids love it. Costco sells this product in our area anyway, so if yours doesn’t ask about it at your local store. OK, that covers a nice crunchy but healthy snack. Other things that travel well for us are: Clementine-sized oranges; pretzels, Goldfish, and Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies (all in single-serve packs so they stay fresh and contained for every snack moment); juice boxes (yeah, can’t on the plane, but the car for sure); and Clif Bars (adult- or kid-sized). Bottom line is to just be sure to have about a snack-an-hour that will satisfy that hunger roar from the back seat or the seat next to you. You know what works for your kids, RMT’ers.

With that, I wish you safe (and sane) travels the next time you get out there and hit the air… or the road… just don’t hit yourself or your kids, please. And if you are lucky enough to be leaving on a jet plane this weekend, happy packing – and don’t forget this list!