There may be a few people out there that don’t understand the title of my blog post. These are probably the people who have never flown with young children. No matter how carefully you try to plan, there are always too many bags and/or kids and too few hands. The security line, which is never fun at the best of times, becomes a nightmare when you have to put your shoes back on while corralling several small children and trying to keep track of the 15 bins it required to get your family’s junk through the scanners.
Our family’s most awkward trip through the airport was probably the trip we took to Las Vegas when our kids were 16 months and 2 1/2. We had done a trip with two under two the year before and I was quite proud of my ability to pack everything we needed for a three night trip into two carry ons. This time we had three seats so I packed three carry on suitcases, along with two single strollers and various personal items. And that little bit of extra luggage, combined with the fact that we had two mobile toddlers going in two different directions was enough to push us over the edge into complete insanity. My husband called us a travelling circus and took to humming “Send in the Clowns”. For someone who once traveled around the world with only a 10 kg backpack, it was a bit of a rude awakening.
I had always resented paying checked bag fees and had done everything I could to avoid them, but at that point I gave up. For the next few trips we made I packed one large bag to check and brought the bare minimum on board with us, especially when we had to bring car seats along. I hated doing it, but for that period when we were travelling with toddlers, it really was the best way to go. But now things are slowly changing. With our youngest turning four soon, it’s beginning to get a bit easier. They now know the security line drill and can be trusted not to run off into the full body scanner the minute we let go of their hands. We’re moving from car seats to booster seats and it doesn’t feel like we have to haul half the house along with us anymore when we travel. And we’ve finally been able to go back to the days of not checking bags. So how does a family of four travel without checked bags and without looking like a travelling circus in the airport?
Use the kids full carry on allowance
Sure, there are a lot of cute suitcases out there for kids, but keep them for sleepovers and going to camp. You’re paying full price for your kid’s seat, so claim the maximum carry on allowance for them. We let each kid bring a small backpack of toys and books as their personal item, but bring a full, adult sized carry on for each child. This maximizes the amount that we can bring onto the plane without paying luggage fees. Another advantage of travel with small kids is that they don’t need all their leg room. If they run out of room in the overhead bins, you can stuff a bag under the seat in front of your child and avoid losing your own leg room for the entire flight.
I spent most of my 20’s travelling without ever owning a suitcase. However, we received a nice set of carry on bags as a wedding present and for a few years I ditched the pack and started travelling like a grown up, with proper suitcases. We just kept this up out of habit after the kids came along, but a few months ago when we went to New York, I felt that a pack would be easier for navigating the city so I dug up my trusty old pack. I don’t know why I gave it up! It holds as much as a carry on suitcase, it’s easier to fit into the overhead bin or under a seat and most importantly, it leaves your hands free for other things like strollers, maps, metro cards and of course kids. Two backpacks plus two small suitcases can hold quite a bit of stuff and each parent still has one hand free for other things.
Bring less junk
Okay, I know this is the oldest piece of packing advice in existence and is easier said than done for many people. But I really think that many people who say they hate to travel would really hate it a lot less if they didn’t start their trip by hauling a tonne of crap that they don’t really need along with them. I remember telling someone that I travel with only carry ons and had her ask, “but what about your hair products?” Um….you mean shampoo? I’ve been to several dozen countries, but I have yet to find one that didn’t sell shampoo. There are time when being the low maintenance type really pays off. And I get that if you’re the type of person that can’t imagine leaving your house without wearing make up or styling your hair, or having the right pair of shoes for each outfit it can be hard to change. Sort of. Okay, well not really. But here’s a thought. One of the wonderful things about travel is that you spend your days surrounded by complete strangers. No one in your destination will ever see you again. So why care what your hair looks like or if your shoes are selected for comfort rather than style. I’m not saying that travel is an excuse to look like a slob, but maybe it’s the perfect chance to try out a new minimalist look. Just saying.
Do laundry on the road
This is one area where condos and vacation rentals are really great. We’re going to Hawaii for ten nights in a few days and I’m only bringing three outfits per person because we’re renting a place with it’s own washer and dryer. A few minutes here and there of doing laundry will save me having to pack another bag. Hotel laundry service is rarely worth the price, but many places have self service machines which can be very useful. However, I do hope to avoid going back to my penniless backpacker method of doing laundry, which consisted of washing my clothes with my feet while taking a shower!
Remember to pack your sense of humour
I’ll never forget one trip we took to California. The kids were two and three and the airport security line was pretty bad that day, with too many travelers for too few staff. We were carrying two car seats and two strollers, so even with a minimum of luggage it was a bit of a hassle, but the family ahead of us looked like they had everything down. Their kids were a few years older than ours and pulling their own bags. The parents looked well organized and it looked like they had this whole travel thing down. They were putting their things into the bins to go through the scanner when suddenly the younger child said, “Mommy!” and I turned to see her throw up all over everything; the bags, the bins, the carpet, the security guys shoes. Our line was suddenly shut down and I just had time to hand a package of baby wipes over to the mom before we were herded to a different line, but I always think of that situation when things get crazy and think that it could always be worse.