Alternative to hotel cots: the Kid-O-Bunk

The Kid-O-Bunk.

The Kid-O-Bunk.

Hotels have a lot of nerve charging $10 or $15 for cots in which to put the kids on a family vacation. A cheaper and more efficient alternative: the Kid-O-Bunk, from a company named Disc-O-Bed.

In a nutshell, the Kid-O-Bunk is a portable hammock-like bunk bed comprising two separate portable cots that can be stacked on top of each other. The portable cots also can be used separately, or jerry-rigged to form a bench. The $290 travel tool disassembles completely and fit into supplied carry bags. What’s more, the sleeping “decks” are made of machine-washable polyester, which means you can guarantee that the thing is as good as new after each and every use.

To be clear—I haven’t used the thing yet. But I can only imagine how this would change our family trips.

For starters, we wouldn’t have to share beds with the kids, a common occurrence when the four of us travel as a group. Second, we wouldn’t even have to ORDER cots, something we usually do (though, again, the kids rarely spend more than an hour or two in them).

Finally, the Kid-O-Bunk would give everybody—especially the girls—his or her own space, something we often crave when we’re all crammed into a hotel room on a family trip.

The next time we all stay in a hotel we’ll actually be a party of five, making something like the Kid-O-Bunk even more useful. Add this to my Christmas list, y’all. I can’t wait for our kids to experience it for themselves.

Weight training, family travel style

Little R, (well) before the body bench press.

Little R, (well) before the body bench press.

There are a lot of benefits to traveling with family for the holidays. Enabling your kids to build bonds with cousins is a big one. Watching them engage in extended family traditions is another (even if you, like I, are NOT a fan of The Sound of Music).

Another benefit: Building muscle mass by carrying sleeping kids like potato sacks.

I’m not talking about lugging all the crap (though I have written about that before). Instead, I’m talking about actually carrying the kids AFTER THEY HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP. If you’re a mom or dad, you know what I mean here—the end-of-night ritual where you have to pick up your sleeping child, somehow grapple with the kid’s apparent bonelessness as you toss him or her over your shoulders, and stumble out to the car, only to do it all again when you get back to the hotel (or wherever else you’re staying).

I’ve done with at least one child this every holiday now for the last five. And let me tell you—as the kids get older and bigger and heavier, it schlepping them around at midnight never ever gets easier.

The first challenge: They weigh a lot. At L’s last checkup, she clocked in at just under 50 pounds—no small potatoes, even for a bruiser like myself (that was a joke, people). The second challenge: Temporary blindness. When you’re carrying a child across your upper body, you can’t really see. This means you need to be extra-specially careful navigating stairs and corners.

Of course the third and final challenge is simply keeping the child asleep, knowing full well that if you wake up the little Mister or Miss, all hell will break loose and you’ll spend the next hour of your holiday struggling to get the kid back to dreamland.

I’d like to sit here and tell you I’ve got all sorts of tips for doing this easily. The problem: I don’t. My advice on this subject is especially typical. Bend at the knees, use your body to support the child, don’t make loud noises. If you’ve got input to share, please do so in the comment field below. If not, rest assured that I’ve been working out quite a bit these last few weeks, and I should be ready to bench press a small 13-year-old by the time Kwanzaa is done.

What are your tips for carrying a sleeping kid after a long holiday with family?

Jet Lag Exorcism

L and her Legos. Sometime between 4 and 6 a.m.

L and her Legos. Sometime between 4 and 6 a.m.

We contemplated bringing in some priests this week to save our older daughter from the mysterious entity that had possessed her.

Then, after enduring L’s hitting and kicking and scratching and biting and screaming and writhing around like a maniac, Powerwoman and I realized it wasn’t a demon that possessed our girl, but instead just a really horrid case of jet lag.

We should have seen it coming. That first night—Christmas Eve, actually—she woke up for the day at 2 a.m. On the three nights that followed, she woke up at 4 a.m. In between, the child fought naps as if she were an ultimate fighter and they were an opponent in UFC 168. It was a recipe for cataclysmic disaster.

Everyone told us coming home from England was easy. Stay awake until 8 or 9 p.m. the first few nights, they said, and catching up on the eight hour time difference will be a cinch.

For the grownups, this advice rang true. For the kids, however, it was easier said than done.

I mean, really, how does one force a child to “stay awake,” especially when she is falling asleep on her feet, at the dinner table, in the car, and just about everywhere in between? At what point does the whole drive to beat jet lag become inhumane? What’s more, with kids who are so sensitive to subtle changes in the sleep schedule to begin with, to what extent is it worth bending over backward at all?

Thankfully, today, our kind, creative and loving child reclaimed her body and we called off the exorcism. What we learned over the course of this past week: There’s no way to predict how jet lag will affect your children, and there’s no way to minimize the effects of it on your kids.

I guess I could couch this epiphany another way. Last decade, Sportscaster Dan Patrick coined the phrase, “You can’t stop him, you can only try to contain him.” Patrick meant for those words to describe athletes who left their opponents helpless on defense. He could have been talking about jet lag in relation to kids.

Next time we complete an international flight, we’ll just resign ourselves to a few days of parenting hell. At some point, it has to get easier for all of us. Right?

What are your suggestions for minimizing the effects of jet leg on kids?

Family Travel Lessons from Life in London

The rest of the pod, running to another adventure.

The rest of the pod, running to another adventure.

By the time this post is published on Monday, our wandering pod will be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, well on our way back to California after four months in London.

If you’ve read this blog during our visit, you know we’ve had some pretty spectacular experiences. If you haven’t read it, allow me to summarize: The last four months undoubtedly have changed our lives, and also have given us a new appreciation for a variety of aspects of traveling as a unit.

Here are some of the things we’ve learned:

Family travel isn’t always rainbows and unicorns
So many blogs like this one focus only on the positives. And there are thousands of positives to traveling with kids. That said, allow me to be the first to tell you: Sometimes, traveling with kids REALLY SUCKS. The kids get cranky. You get stressed. You fight with your spouse. The cycle starts again. We had our fair share of miserable moments during our stint overseas. My advice: Focus on the good stuff; keep perspective on the bad stuff and you’ll survive.

Discipline is hard on the road
All parents know that when kids act up, they need to be disciplined. The challenge? Disciplining them is harder when you’re away from home. How do you give a time-out without the time-out corner? How do you roll when the kid throws a temper tantrum in public? How constructive is it to deprive them of their favorite things in a new place? Answers to each of these questions will differ for each family. But the questions themselves prove there is no easy way to tackle these issues.

Sleep is relative
At home, each of our daughters has her own room. At our flat in London, the kids shared a room. This meant that at some point every night, R would cry and wake up her sister, who would come and sleep with us. We always were hesitant to send L back to her bed for fear of further disrupting R. The bottom line: All bets are off when it comes to kids’ sleep schedules on the road. It doesn’t really matter when they sleep or where they get their REM cycles. So long as they do.

‘Eating well’ is subjective
Powerwoman and I consider ourselves proponents of healthy eating. We push vegetables. We try to limit sweets. During our stint in London, where food options were limited and the kids were pickier than they are at home, we lowered our standards. Suddenly slices of raw pepper qualified as “vegetable,” and frankfurters qualified as “protein.” We rationalized these decisions by acknowledging that the moves were only temporary. Our reasoning: On the road, the No. 1 goal should be just making sure your kids eat.

Public transportation is your friend
Buses and trains did much more than shuttle our family from Point A to Point B; on days when one or both of the girls had trouble behaving, public transportation vehicles served as the ultimate distractors, quashing tantrums before they even began. L was mesmerized by the Tube, while R preferred the “double-bus.” In both cases, the girls reacted to the public vehicles as if they were rides at an amusement park. No, this won’t work for every kid. But it certainly is worth a shot.

Overplanning is for amateurs
There were days during our 4-month visit when I had lofty goals of hitting two or three different tourist destinations/attractions in an afternoon. Not surprisingly, I failed to meet my objectives every single time. The reality: Moving around a city with two children takes a lot longer than you think it will. They’re slow. They eat a lot. They like to go off-script and explore things you never suspected they’d want to explore. The best way to prepare for this dillydallying is to resist the urge to over-plan, and focus on one thing for each day.

The last lesson we learned in London pertained to how we parents judge ourselves. The gist: We need to cut ourselves some slack. Yes, there were days when our kids were the loudest kids on public transit. And, yes, there were other days when we were too tired after a week of schlepping to bring the kids to the local playground or museum. Neither case was cause for the suspension of our licenses as mom and dad. We learned that making ourselves crazy about apparent failures as parents only sapped our energy to parent the way we should. Furthermore, in the scheme of things (at least from our experiences), we weren’t failing as badly as we thought.

What practical lessons have you learned about family travel over the years?

Luxury Hotel Bathrooms: The New Nurseries?

Our "nursery" at the Trump.

Our “nursery” at the Trump.

One of our daughters—L, the older one—is a heavy sleeper. The other, R, wakes at the squeak of a mouse. As you can imagine, when the four of us hit the road and spend nights in standard hotel rooms, this mismatch can create some dicey situations around bedtime.

Our solution: We get creative.

Sometimes this means bringing tents to create rooms within the room. Other times it means crafting folding room partitions out of couch cushions.

For at least part of the time on our most recent trip to Oahu (we got home late Tuesday after 10 days away), it meant something else: During our stay at the Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk, we turned a second bathroom in our one-bedroom condo into sleeping quarters for little R.

By day, this room served its usual purpose—because it was close to the front door of our unit, we utilized the luxurious walk-in shower to rinse sand off our feet after days at the beach.

By night, however, we transformed the john into a nursery, complete with stuffed animals on the (closed) toilet seat, a sound machine on the sink and a giant crib on the tile floor in the center of the room.

When R was ready to go to bed, we pushed the crib toward the shower so we could swing the door around, then pulled it back and closed the door part way (to minimize disruptions).

Overall, the strategy worked beautifully. Behind the partially closed door (and with the help of those simulated crashing waves), R was able to sleep soundly while her sister, Powerwoman and I puttered about the rest of the condo. Because the bathroom had a bit of an echo, when R woke up in the middle of the night from the pain of new teeth, we were able to hear her cries without the aid of a monitor.

(In case you’re wondering, L can sleep through anything. She takes after me in that department.)

No, having our baby sleep in the bathroom at a five-star property wasn’t ideal. And I’m sure the marketing gurus at the property will cringe to read about how we improvised to get everybody some much-needed sleep.

The bottom line: It worked.

When you’re on the road with small children, practical trumps fancy-pants every time. The sooner we embrace this credo, the better off all of us will be.

What are some unusual sleeping solutions you’ve tried on the road with your kids?

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