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!

Packing Tips for Air Travel with Little Ones

Playing with Play-Doh balls on a recent flight.

Playing with Play-Doh balls on a recent flight.

Packing for travel is sort of like kissing—you always can improve. This statement rings especially true for family travelers; as our kids get older (and as we add more kids), the challenges of squeezing all of their stuff into a manageable number of bags and boxes require increasing doses of innovation and skill.

Fittingly, a reader recently emailed with a multi-part question about packing, and I thought it best to address her query here. The question:

“The hubs and I will be traveling with the 15 month old and the new baby soon. I wondered if you had packing advice – do you and your wife wear backpacks or bring traditional carry-ons, do you use one of those wheelers for your car seats, do you usually do a suitcase for the kids or just squeeze everything in one?”

Backpacks vs. carry-ons
On the subject of backpacks vs. carry-ons, the answer is yes—that is, both of us bring both, on almost every trip.

One of us takes a backpack filled with practical stuff—toys for the plane, two sets of back-up clothes (in case of accidents), a first-aid kit, and a Ziploc bag with child-strength Motrin, child-strength Benadryl and a thermometer (in case the kids get sick). The other takes a backpack that we’ve turned into a diaper bag; we’ve found this essential is easier to carry when you can just wear it on your back.

Powerwoman and I also each take one carry-on; usually we each pick a daughter for whom to pack. This keeps their clothes separate (and makes it easier to unpack).

Three other items we make sure to pack in one of the suitcases: A nightlight, a bag of outlet covers, and a camping kitchen so we can wash the kids’ cups daily (for more on the contents of that kitchen, click here).

Wheeleers
On the subject of “wheelers,” the answer is N/A.

We’re not big fans of car seats on the plane (largely because our kids aren’t big fans of sitting in them), so whenever we bring them with us, we check them (it’s free!). Before our kids were old enough to sit on their own, we took them as lap-children. We started purchasing each girl her own seat around the 20-month mark.

Still, I know dozens of parents who use “wheelers” and love them. It really depends on personal preference—and whether you want to spend a flight crammed next to a convertible car seat.

(As an aside, we do own a set of wheelers—the GoGo Kitz Travelmate, to be exact—but it has sat in the same spot of our garage since L was three months old. In fact, if you’re reading this post and you want the wheelers, let me know; if you pay the postage, they’re yours.)

Kid suitcases
Finally, on the subject of kid suitcases, the answer here is “sort of.”

Yes, we do bring one kid-sized (and kid-themed) suitcase for each girl. No, we do not pack it as we pack normal grown-up suitcases. Instead, we usually let the girls “pack” their bags with stuff they know they’re going to want to bring along—for L on a recent trip it was three or four different stuffed cats; for R, it was a bunch of fake flowers.

I recognize this strategy is completely and utterly impractical. I also can tell you it is the part of the packing ordeal our girls anticipate most. The way we see it, this is a small price to pay to fuel some excitement for a day of traveling.

Also, on a more practical level, it’s good for them to experience what it’s like to pull a suitcase through a crowded airport.

What packing tips would you share with other moms and dads?

Why Stop at Breast Pumps?

The new set-up at Hard Rock Chicago.

The new set-up at Hard Rock Chicago.

It’s about time.

That’s pretty much exactly what I thought earlier this week when I read about a new program at the Hard Rock Chicago through which nursing moms can request (for a tax-deductible fee) hospital-grade Medela breast pumps to use during their stays.

A breast pump! From the hotel! To save moms the hassle of bringing theirs from home! In a word, it’s GENIUS.

I know my wife would have loved this kind of amenity during our first few trips with (and the first few trips without) L and R. I’m sure thousands of other traveling mommas feel the same way.

Still, I’ve got to ask: Why stop at breast pumps?

If hotels as big and popular as the Hard Rock see some value in a family oriented amenity like this one, why aren’t more brands following suit? In a world where families comprise a growing part of the traveling public, this kind of program should be vying with offerings from other hotels through which family guests can reserve everything from jogging strollers and car seats to bottle warmers and baby food processors, all for similarly nominal fees.

Heck, at the very least, more properties should add formula sleeves (like these) to minibar menus.

(It’s not like it’s that much of a stretch; most minibars sell condoms as part of “Intimacy Kits” these days anyway.)

Please don’t misconstrue my plea; I’m not writing this as a dad pining for equal treatment. Instead, I’m responding to the situation as a parent—an equal part of a traveling unit.

At the end of the day, the easier hotels make it for all of us family folk to travel, the more we’ll want to take the kids and hit the road.

Let’s hope other brands learn from the Hard Rock and copy the approach. Sure, these types of amenities help the big hotel chains build loyalty. But in the end, we families benefit most of all.

What family friendly amenity would you like to see hotel chains adopt in widespread fashion?

To Bring or Not to Bring: Car Seats on a Plane

carseats

For us, these work in the car; not so much on the plane.

A friend and fellow parent asked me this week advice about taking her 3-year-old son’s car seat on the plane. Her main question: Is it worth the hassle? My response: It depends on whom you ask. And on your kid.

The “whom you ask” part is pretty straightforward.

In a kick-ass Q&A with Parenting.com, Dr. Alicia Baer, a pediatrician in the NICU at Columbia University Children’s Hospital in New York and certified instructor for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s car seat course, said that when a child is riding in a moving vehicle, it’s always safest to have him or her strapped into a special seat.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) echoes these sentiments, stating pretty clearly on its website that car seats (or at least devices with child-restraint systems) are a good idea, and that parents should use them whenever possible.

Still, despite their obvious safety benefits, in certain cases, car seats on a flight actually might make your life more challenging.

Which brings me to my second point: It depends on your kid.

If your son or daughter is great at a) listening, b) sitting still and c) generally being calm upon request, having him or her strapped into a car seat for the duration of an airplane flight might be a very realistic goal.

But if your child is like my girls, if he or she needs to be free to do whatever it is these kids like to do over long periods of time, outside of take-off and landing (when the kids are required to be strapped in anyway) the car seat is the modern-day equivalent of a torture device—for them, for you and for all of the passengers around you.

(As we all know, other passengers don’t need more reasons to hate family travelers.)

On plane trips with the Villano family, it’s actually easier for us to bring car seats and check them than it is to bring them, schlep them on the plane, strap them in and fight the girls to stay put.

No, our strategy probably wouldn’t be Dr. Baer’s first choice. But we keep the girls safe. And it works. Whether the same approach will work for you depends on your children—and, of course, on whom else you ask.

What’s your take on this issue? When you fly with your young kids, do you bring their car seats on board or check them through to your destination? Why? Leave a comment and let me know.

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