Just say no to goody bags for fellow passengers

Offending goody bag, circa 2014

Offending goody bag, circa 2014

The family travel world was buzzing this week with outrage over the suggestion that parents who fly with kids should bribe other passengers with goody bags for their patience.

This ridiculous assertion—which first surfaced back in 2014, mind you—was aired anew in an absurd New York Times story by (former editor) Damon Darlin, and was Tweeted and retweeted a zillion times by other family travel haters around the world. Then came the rebuttals, most convincingly from Heather Havrilesky in New York magazine.

At first I tried to downplay the whole thing, addressing it with a throwaway line in my previous post.

Now, however, as more and more of my friends and colleagues have asked for my opinion on the subject, I feel it warrants a degree of standalone treatment here. So let me make sure I don’t mince words.

THE NOTION OF FAMILY TRAVELERS GIVING GOODY BAGS AS OFFERINGS TO OTHER PASSENGERS IS COMPLETE LUNACY AND ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT.

In case my true feelings didn’t come through there, let me repeat: FUCK NO. NEVER.

To further explain my take on this issue, I’d like to pull some text from a column I wrote for Parenting magazine (about a similarly ridiculous issue) back in 2012:

“My pet peeve is this whole notion that we parents somehow bend the rules just by bringing babies into the airplane environment.

Here’s my take, plain and simple: If an airline is going to sell me a ticket and I obtain that ticket in the same fashion as other passengers obtain theirs, I am just entitled to bring aboard my baby as others are entitled to ‘carry-on’ potentially annoying stuff that Federal Aviation Administration regulations allow them.

Like a propensity for loud-talking. Or snoring. Or a knack for passing silent-but-deadly gas.”

You don’t see people who travel with these conditions giving out peace offerings to other passengers. Like halitosis-sufferers distributing nose plugs to help seat-mates avoid the rotten-onion breath. Or snorers doling out ear plugs so people don’t have to listen to them cutting wood for four hours over the red states in the middle of the country.

So why would anyone ever think goody bags to make up for potentially loud babies is OK?

Let’s be honest. Flying has become an exercise in patience. For everyone. Each flight has a lot of people, crammed into tiny metal tubes for long periods of time. Under these conditions, everything is magnified. But the sooner fellow passengers recognize that this reality applies to all of us, the better off we’ll be.

Put differently, if my wife and I fly with our baby and we don’t put forth maximum effort to soothe her when she cries, that’s our fault, not the baby’s, and fellow passengers are more than entitled to hate us accordingly. But if we’re trying like heck to get the baby to calm down and the baby simply won’t stop crying, that’s life. You don’t need to work for The New York Times to understand that sometimes babies are going to act like babies. Fellow passengers never will hear an apology—or get pre-emptive Tootsie Rolls—from this father for that.

Softening on road-trip screen-time

Our new setup.

Our new setup.

You can teach an old dog new tricks.

That was the lesson from today’s road trip to North Lake Tahoe, where we’ll spend the better part of the next week at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe. (One of the reasons we’re here: the tents in which the girls are sleeping as I write this post.)

In the olden days—you know, four years ago, when L was one—I swore I’d never be the kind of parent who stuck his kids in front of a screen on road trips. I grumbled about the parents who fail to engage kids on long drives, cited research about the deleterious effects of screen time, noted that my kids seemed more lethargic after watching TV, and vowed that I’d never, EVER soften on this stance.

Today, however, I finally and formally caved; the kids watched Frozen on our Kindle Fire during the first 100 minutes of the drive.

Logistically, this development was easy; once I installed a plastic arm from iGrip to the pole of my headrest, the biggest challenge was staying awake to write about it. Philosophically, however, it was a HUGE deal for me.

The kids, of course, thought their new in-car entertainment system was a real treat. As soon as the movie ended, they clamored for more.

And that’s where I drew the line.

You see, after years of railing against the notion of screens in cars on road trips, I wasn’t about to embrace these suckers on an unlimited basis. Instead, my new philosophy on the subject revolves around limited exposure—they can watch ONE movie or ONE program per drive. Nothing more. No matter what.

So far, the new policy seems to be working out for everyone. The lesson: In family travel (and in everything, really), be ready to admit you’re wrong.

What’s your opinion about screen time for kids on road trips?

What a Pisser

Where does the urine go anyway?

Where does the urine go anyway?

We saw so many memorable sights this weekend in London: Families frolicking on an ice-skating rink near the Tower of London, little boys and girls marveling at holiday lights in Old Spitalfields Market, even “elves” working overtime at Hamley’s toy store.

Oh, we also saw a bunch of grown men urinating in public.

Sorry if that last sentence struck you as a bit of a shock. The reality is that it shocked the hell out of me and my wife, too. Especially since the urination was happening at a fiberglass urination station with four urinals, set up in the middle of the sidewalk across the street from a popular bar near Leicester Square.

Thankfully, we were sans kiddos when we witnessed this debacle. Still, the scene raises some questions:

1. What would we have said to our girls if we had seen the urinators with them?
2. Why was there a place for grown men to wee in public anyway?

I could go on and on with my outrage about these things. I also could write pages about my ire over the gender bias they represent. (Why don’t women get a place to wee on the street? I mean, when they drink beer they have to wee as well. Are their bladders not worthy of such convenience?) Heck, you could even argue that these public pissers are so improper that they actually are anti-British.

I’ve chronicled my complaints in a letter to the Westminster Council. I’d share it here, but, trust me when I tell you: The missive ain’t pretty.

Instead, because this is a family travel blog, in these pages I’ll stick to the bigger issue: When you’re traveling with the entire family, it can be *really* uncomfortable to explain certain sights and sounds to your kids. Even if you are the most quick-thinking human on Earth, there usually is no easy way to do it. Nor should you have to.

Powerwoman and I are big supporters of tackling issues head-on; if we had seen the urinals with our girls, we likely would have justified the scene as some sort of overflow bathroom.

Still, I must admit: This is NOT the kind of thing I wish to have to explain to my little girls. Ever.

To my knowledge, these public urinals haven’t made their way to the U.S. yet, and that’s a good thing. If and when they do, we’ll be ready to fight them and keep urinals where they belong: In the men’s room.

How do you explain uncomfortable and inappropriate sights and scenes to kids while traveling?

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