by Eileen Wacker
When we relocated to Seoul, Korea from Connecticut, our four kids were aged 3 months, 17 months, 4-years-old and 5-years-old. During the plane trip and associated travel were some of the toughest moments I can remember. The flight attendants were shushing my kids who spilled food and irritated passengers. The toddler sobbed when I escaped to use the bathroom. Then came the dreaded rousing of the jet-lagged children once we landed, and getting through the terminal and security with two baby carriages. I think our journey was the definition of “schlep” and no one had fun.
Every summer as our vacation back to the states approached I would start to perspire as a felt a sense of foreboding. Traveling had become a “necessary evil” if we wanted to go on "exotic" vacations and/or visit family.
But aren’t vacations supposed to be fun? Isn’t this what we save our hard earned vacation time and money for? Today our home is in Honolulu. We decided we needed to put "Operation Travel should be Fun” into effect. Its basic premise is minimizing chaos and adding elements of fun for kids that naturally are not good travelers.
Tip 1: be in control of your mindset and mood
First you must convince yourself that staying positive is a mindset that you can achieve. Oh, this is much harder than it seems and you will be tested repeatedly by overly intrusive security agents, other passengers who seem to think the rules of waiting in line, etc, don’t apply to them, the overworked gate agent who acts as if she/he does not care about delays and missed connections, and yes, the dreaded clueless travelers who hold up every line fiddling with their shoes and trying to board when they are not supposed to. And, of course, we can't forget our children who start to complain and grumble at the first hint of inconvenience. So, try to keep a smile in the face of all this.
Tip 2: meaningful assignments make traveling much more efficient
Give out assignments in advance and you will be surprised that your kids will complete them with enthusiasm. If your kids are too young to handle the task on their own, have them as “partners in charge” and do it with them. Here are our travel jobs:
- The “plane researcher” finds the answers to these questions: Does each seat have its own electronics? Do they serve food kids will eat? Where is everyone seated?
What kind of plane is it? What is the percentage of the flight arriving on time? (Hint: Check out this website for answers.)
- The “weather checker” helps in packing appropriate clothes.
- The “airport researcher” plots a path from security to the gate(s), checks on locations of restaurants and changing stations in rest rooms and decides if baby carriages are necessary for speedy progress.
- The "electronics manager" makes sure all devices are fully charged and chargers are labeled and packed for easy access during the security check. And this person reminds everyone to turn their phone settings to airplane mode “ON”!
- The "check in manager" handles the advance printing of boarding passes and making duplicates, if applicable, checking the flight status prior to departure from home and planning drop-off procedures at the airport.
Tip 3: pack reading materials
Every family member should have one book for reading and one for activities. My daughter prefers a book of mazes; my son brings the latest joke book. We try to load one book on my Kindle. At the moment, our 8-year-old wants to read Island of the Blue Dolphins and our 12-year-old loves the “Hunger Games” series.
Tip 4: perfect the art of the carry-on
Optimize the balance between carry-on and packed luggage. Approach this as if it is a science. For kids, the key is how many hours the items keep them occupied. Here’s our short list:
- Sample carry-on for parents: Sunglasses; iPad and ear phones; Kindle, plastic bag with a toothbrush; foldable sundress and a pair of socks; a few magazines; iPhone and charger; kids’ snacks (yes, we get stuck with them--Goldfish, fruit snacks, graham crackers); empty water bottle; something for work; earphones and travel itinerary, confirmations and contact information. I carry a separate purse as well.
- Sample carry-on for older child : (backpack) Kindle & charger, iPod and earphones, change of clothes, a book each, notebook, pens and colored pencils, toothbrush and toothpaste, surfing magazine, socks, and empty water bottle.
- Sample carry-on for younger two children: (backpack) Change of clothes, DS and games, action figures, a dinosaur, one book each including maze-puzzle book, empty water bottle, socks, toothbrush, tiger stuffed animal, portable DVD player and several “Scooby Doo’s” and a “Despicable Me” DVD.
Tip 5: other honorable mentions
Wear shoes that are easy to take on and off at security (and on the flight). We see so many people wearing sneakers. Pack them in the checked suitcase unless there is a health reason to wear them.
Be nice to young mothers struggling to control their children. I massively appreciated a kind word or sympathetic smile.
In summary, summer traveling involving airline flights and airports will always be challenging but keep your positive mindset. You can do it and it’s worth it! Happy travels.
Eileen Wacker, a Harvard Business School graduate, lived and worked in seven different countries, including the United States. She is the author of the children's book, Silent Samurai and the Magnificent Rescue, the third installment of the Mom’s Choice Award Winning Fujimini Adventure Series.