Have backpack, will (family) travel

G and me on a hike last week

G and me on a hike last week

I’m not a gear head, but when it comes to traveling with babies, I’m not going to lie: I sort of geek out about the equipment I love.

This explains why I adore my taxicab-yellow BOB Ironman fixed front-wheel jogging stroller. It also explains why I am in love with my pale green, external-frame Kelty child carrying backpack (and the sunshade/rain visor accessory).

We’ve owned both pieces of equipment since L was about six weeks old. Which is to say these tools have served our family for all three kids.

The jogging stroller doesn’t stray too much from home—while we’ve brought it with us on a few road trips here and there, I use it mostly when I have to cram in a run with one of the kids in tow (literally). The backpack, however—let’s just say that thing has visited more states than most of my friends. It’s also been to England.

I love the pack for its versatility. I also like it because I can’t comfortably wear Ergos or Baby Bjorns.

Technically, you’re not supposed to take kids in there until they’re old enough to hold up their heads when they are sitting or standing. I admit—I’ve been tooling around with Baby G in there since I used it to bring her to our town’s July 4 parade (which, technically, was two weeks after her 6-month birthday).

Since then, I’ve used the thing at least once a week. Sometimes on hikes. Sometimes at Costco. Sometimes for regular Saturday grocery-shopping at Safeway. Sometimes I’ll just put her in there when I’ve got stuff to do around the house. Sometimes I get her in when I need to finish a story and I don’t feel like plopping her in the seat at the foot of my stand-up desk.

She loves the pack because it’s spacious and it enables her to stand and see what’s going on from a bird’s eye view. I love the pack because it’s comfortable and I know she’s safe.

(It also has a TON of storage space.)

Of course the big question will come once Baby G outgrows these trusty devices; what do I do with them then? Do I sell ‘em? Do I keep them for posterity? Do I give them to friends? Letting go of favorite family travel gear can be difficult. I hope I’ve got the fortitude to make the right call when it’s time.

The one-bag experiment

Our reality for the next three days.

Our reality for the next three days.

Little R and I head out tomorrow for a weekend trip to LEGOLAND California (and to see family), and I’m going to try and fit all of our stuff in one carry-on bag.

I’m subjecting us to this challenge for one very important reason: I’ve only got two hands, and somehow I’ve also got to bring my laptop bag (technically, it’s a work trip) and R’s Britax Roundabout car seat, and I need to guarantee I’ll have a free hand as we get ourselves from the airport to the rental car facility.

On the front end, the logistics of this strategy seem easy-peasy. We arrive at the Charles M. Schulz Airport near our house in Santa Rosa, California. We check the car seat. I wear the big daypack on my back and the small laptop bag (it’s also a backpack) on my front. This leaves me with both hands to navigate the TSA checkpoint and corral R when she gets feisty.

On the back end, at San Diego International Airport, the plan is only minimally different—backpacks will go on the same sides of my chest, car seat bag will go in my left hand, and R’s hand will go in my right.

Yes, I know I’m insane. Yes, I’m sure I’ll probably regret this choice when I’m dripping with sweat on the rental car shuttle. And, yes, I’m sure something completely unforeseen will happen (and cause me to curse out loud) and I’ll be forced to rethink everything on the fly. But the way I see it, at least at 12 hours before our time of departure, I’ve got no other option.

Still, all of this planning has me thinking about some bigger-picture considerations:

  • To what extent can I—and we, as family travelers in general—downsize our load to maximize efficiency when traveling with kids?
  • Why do we as a society think roll-aboard/wheelie carry-on suitcases are so great?

Of course I also have been fixating on the reality of single parents who travel with their kids: How on earth do they do it, especially when they’re traveling with more than one?

I’m guessing I’ll have some answers to these rhetorical questions by Sunday evening. In the meantime, between now and then (but especially between now and Friday around 10 a.m.), if you have advice you’d like to share about these issues, please do. And wish us luck!

Making travel games their own

Yahtzee!

Yahtzee!

Little R has been under the weather this week, and Powerwoman and I have been scraping the bottom of the barrel of activities to keep the girls busy. This afternoon’s game was a real zinger. I like to call it, “Look through Daddy’s Old Camping Stuff!”

It was a curious scene. The three of us took over the garage. The girls opened up two lawn chairs. Then they sat and waited to “inspect” my old bags for “treasures.” Over the course of the new Taylor Swift album (this is how we measure time), we found a 10-year-old water filter, about 12 corroded AA batteries, an unopened canister of bear spray, and my long-lost Leatherman.

We also found a box of some old travel games, including magnetic Tic-Tac-Toe, magnetic checkers and travel Yahtzee.

Not surprisingly, this was the stuff the girls liked best of all.

R couldn’t get enough of the magnetic goodies; she kept taking the tiny pieces, putting them on the metal frame of the lawn chair, and watching them stick. L, on the other hand, was all about the Yahtzee. She asked me how to play and listened intently as I explained the rules. Then she announced that she didn’t like the official rules, and was making up her own.

What followed was a tutorial in “Yahtzee According to L,” or YAL. Forget playing for a Yahtzee or a Full House; in L’s game, you rolled the dice, counted them up, and practiced writing your numbers on the scorecards.

Over and over and over again.

At first I tried to help her understand the REAL rules, reviewing them here and there to see if I might catch her interest. After about 10 minutes, I realized this sort of instruction was a waste of time; L loved the game, but she only loved it on her terms, and that was the way it would be.

By dinnertime, my older daughter was talking about how she was going to bring YAL on our next road trip (to Lake Tahoe), how she was going to play it “for the entire drive,” and teach it to everyone we met at rest stops along the way. Joking, I told her she could introduce the game to everyone in and around the lake. Her response: “How many people live there, Dad?”

Regardless of whether our Big Girl becomes the next Milton Bradley (I’m not talking about the former Cleveland Indians’ centerfielder here, people), the YAL incident reminded me of a valuable lesson: When it comes to kids and travel, we parents need to allow their imaginations to run wild.

Put differently, the rules by which my kid wants to play Yahtzee don’t matter at all. What does matter is that she actually wants to play, and that she’s excited about doing so on our next trip.

This means she’s already looking forward to our next adventure. Which is a win from the start.

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