MacGyver meets family travel

There will be other posts about my weekend getaway with the big girls to Legoland and Southern California. Posts about how grown-up these kids have gotten, posts about Post-It notes in bathrooms, and posts about how the best part of our vacation involved a night in the hotel.

For now, however, mere hours after we’ve gotten home, I leave you with this demonstration of how I MacGyvered our trip:

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You know MacGyver, that fictional character (who headlined a television show of the same name) who could fashion something useful out of just about anything? He would have been proud of the degree to which I kicked ass Friday as we arrived at San Francisco International Airport for our journey to San Diego and beyond.

As we unloaded the car (backpacks for the girls, a backpack for me, and a small duffel bag), I realized I needed to bring their booster seats for the rental car. The seats were within our carry-on allotment (we had purchased three tickets; the girls’ backpacks fit under the seats in front of them), but the girls refused to carry them through the terminal. Instead of fighting with the kids, I furiously searched through my back for something to lash them together. I found three hair ties. That was all I’d need.

In a matter of moments, I had fashioned the hair ties into a carrying handle. The handle did the job—both to and fro.

A total MacGyvering.

I’ve railed on these pages (and elsewhere) about the idiocy of the mean-spirited #CarryOnShame campaign that encourages travelers to shame other travelers when it appears people are violating airline carry-on policies. If one of those people had seen me schlepping the seats around the airport, undoubtedly they would have snapped a pic and shamed me.

In the end, however, my MacGyver move was both ingenious and totally in accordance with the rules. #CarryonShame, my ass.

Standing up for family travelers

The smoking gun.

The smoking gun.

We family travelers have to stick together. That’s why I get outraged when haters lambaste us for bringing kids on planes. It’s why I wig out when people (usually people without kids) try to convince me that my children won’t remember anything about the trips we take until they’re at least 5.

It’s also why I support other family travel writers when they speak out against some of the idiocy others throw at globetrotting families around the world.

Naturally, then, I was happy to rally behind this recent blog post from writer, Zach Everson.

In the post, Everson (whom I’ve never met IRL) calls out #CarryOnShame, a hate-filled campaign about which I’ve ranted previously. In a nutshell, at least on paper, this hashtag was devised by a well-known newspaper editor as a way to shame airlines for not enforcing their own policies regarding carry-on luggage. The reality: Most of the shamers actually end up shaming other travelers.

To prove this ignominy, Everson essentially punked Spud Hilton, the man behind this shameful exercise in bad behavior.

A little while back, Everson Instagrammed a picture of a purported violator and tagged it with Hilton’s hashtag of hate. Earlier this month, Hilton included the photo with a clickbaiting roundup on the San Francisco Chronicle’s travel blog, adding some directed mockery of his own.

That mockery, of course, represented a smoking gun in Everson’s case against #CarryonShame. Among other things, Hilton poked fun of a “woman” who actually was Everson (a male human), and condescendingly snarked about a) the number of bags Everson was holding and b) a Hello Kitty design on one of the pieces.

Everson used these missteps to make two incredibly valid points concerning carry-on items and family travelers: 1) For us family travelers, it is common to have one parent bear the brunt of luggage-lugging, and 2) When we families purchase seats for each kid, we are entitled to bring along one carry-on and one personal item PER TRAVELER, just like everyone else on the plane.

(Also incredibly helpful was Everson’s link to a Consumer Reports piece about carry-on restrictions, and how some airlines exempt kid-related items such as medical equipment, diaper bags, and food.)

I won’t summarize the entirety of Everson’s piece here; I encourage you to click through and read it for yourself. Bottom line: It was brilliant. It railed on behalf of all family travelers. And it proved the hypocrisy, stupidity, and venom of this ill-conceived effort to make others look dumb.

I encourage you to fight this mean-spirited #CarryonShame campaign, and see shaming in general for the passive-aggressive hatemongering it is. I also encourage you to take positive and constructive action when you see carry-on violators. Quietly ask gate agents to enforce airline policies. Write letters to airlines about specific violations you’ve witnessed. This is the way to respect others and engineer change. Anything else is just trolling for attention.

Downsizing what you pack on family trips

Building fairy houses on the road.

Building fairy houses on the road.

I was inspired earlier this week when I read a post by my writer friend and family travel buddy, Julie Schwietert Collazo, about how to stop packing “so much crap” when you travel with kids. The story, which Julie published Monday, prefaced a trip she and her family were taking this weekend. The gist of the piece: Among family travelers, downsizing what you bring on trips always is a good thing.

I’ve got many favorite lines from the piece, but this, by far, is tops: “Your kids don’t need all the things you think they need. Children are far more resourceful than we give them credit for. In fact, they are far more resourceful than you are. For them, anything can be turned into a toy.”

In our family, we’ve proved this very sentiment countless times. Just this week, in fact, during stops on two of three local road trips, L’s used twigs and tree leaves to build “fairy houses.”

Beyond this advice, I *love* Julie’s recommendation for subjecting all of the kids’ items to a “wants” and “needs” test. This is something we do before every trip as well—down to laying everything on a bed and evaluating the items individually. Our needs: a few basic outfits, a streamlined toiletries bag, a box of crayons and some paper. Our wants: Extra princess dresses, travel board games, maybe some bubbles.

As Julie suggests, it also is a good idea to prioritize packing items that serve multiple functions and require minimal management. Julie’s best example is an all-purpose sarong. Our fave: The Kindle Fire HD, which currently has about 100 kids’ books (we used to schlep the old-fashioned kind everywhere).

In addition to these great suggestions, we have some other tips to share—secondary recommendations for downsizing the stuff you bring on family trips:

  • Bring sponge and tiny squirt-bottle of dishwashing detergent. This enables you to leave multiple cups and snack containers at home. If you’ve got a little little one, this setup also is a great way to clean pacifiers (and minimize the number of pacifiers you bring in the first place).
  • Embrace the glue stick. Having this little sucker will allow you to leave at least half of your child’s coloring implements at home. It also will allow your child to make artwork that incorporates items and objects from real life. (Such as leaves. And twigs. And local currency.)
  • Give each child the opportunity to bring three small personal items. This process teaches them how to be selective. It also gives them the opportunity to feel like they have an important say in how the packing experience plays out.

Finally—and Julie suggests this, too—consider packing only backpacks instead of roller bags. This strategy minimizes the Sherpa-shlep for us dads, and allows for freer movement around airports. It also eliminates those inevitable moments where we parents accidentally roll over our kids’ feet. Traveling is challenging enough on its own; the last thing we need as mom or dad is to spark an unnecessary meltdown.

What are your tips for downsizing the stuff you bring on family trips?

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