spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Flights and Mice- Part 1

on April 13, 2017

Hello, there! Something exciting: my sister has graciously agreed to share the details of her experience traveling with my favorite niece.  It’ll be her report of the travel TO Hawaii, then I’ll interject an Aulani Report and some reviews of other local activities, and then it’ll end with her travel FROM Hawaii.  These are her words- any comments I add will be in RED.

and away we go

And away we go…

Greetings, fans and followers of spreadsheetsandsuitcases!  I am delighted to be contributing a post to my favorite (and, in my opinion, the very best- aw, shucks) travel blog on the interwebs. It’s now been couple of weeks since my daughter – referred to previously as Hurricane Niece, a most accurate descriptor which shall remain – and I returned from our visit to the Aloha state.

That’s right, visit. I will never use the word “vacation” to describe any travel with children. As far as I am concerned, any time you take a kid somewhere with you, it’s just parenting elsewhere. You won’t find any hotel brochures featuring glossy photos of a mom rinsing day-old milk out of a sippy cup, or touting the comfort of the floor of the bathroom on which you’ll spend 20 minutes sitting as you convince your kid that the potty is indeed safe to use, and the bath will be taking place, whether they like it or not.

fancy tub

The only thing they got wrong is that I only have one child.  Ah yes, your famous waterproof gold lamé bathing gown.

But seeing as how my sister’s visit (see that?) to the east coast for my niece’s Quince was so brief, I decided that I would be brave & solo-parent in the tropics a few months later; my husband did not join us, as he will be having an actual vacation to Japan later this year, sans me & our daughter. Despite my initial reservations about taking my, shall we say, spirited child <snort> on such a long trip, I knew that I could do it, having witnessed firsthand that it could be done; my niece and nephew of course having accumulated 1000s of frequent flier miles practically before they could walk. My daughter needed to get better acquainted with her Tía, Tío, and primos, and I desperately needed some Sister Time.

sister time

I began planning by going here, and here I remained – my sister’s post on this very matter, which stayed open on my computer for 3 months, while I decided on schedules, mileage programs, hotels, what to pack and generally reassured me on a daily basis that, yes, I can do this. And furthermore, I shall tell you how it was all done.

wadsworth

1 carryon + 1 personal item+ 1 checked bag… SHUT UP!!!  Please tell me you readers have seen Clue.

The Tickets

On the advice of my sister (please assume from now on that this is the case unless otherwise specified), I applied for the Alaska Airlines VISA, as they offered great bonus miles, but more importantly, they have the annual companion airfare of $99+ taxes. This was the deciding factor, as Alaska Air doesn’t have many options for flights from the east coast, but they had just announced a merger with (and now absorption of) Virgin Airlines, so that would provide more routes out of NYC airports for future travel. I was already a Virgin Elevate member, so this was a win-win. So, after being approved (naturally), I created a mileage program account for myself and my daughter, and booked seats for my not-quite-3 year old without paying full fare, which for me would be the only advantage of booking a lap child at this age. This would allow for more baggage options and would give us both more space on the flights themselves. She’d like having her own seat but would by no means stay quietly buckled for the duration of the four separate 5+ hour flights. It would allow me to put up the armrest and hold her if she got fussy (check) or if she wanted to sleep on me (checccckkkkkkk on all flights, hours at a time) or if we just wanted to spread out a little bit more.

The Plan

I may not have known much, but I knew that a direct flight from Newark to Honolulu would NOT work for us. I prefer those for myself, or travelling with my husband or other adults (I’m of the “just get me there as quickly as possible” school of thought). Since children are unpredictable variables, the option to get the hell off the plane™ halfway through, get a few hours’ sleep in a real bed away from other people, was a must for this trip. Who knew what kind of condition she’d be in 5 hours in? This was not her first flight, though; we had taken her down to Ecuador when she was not quite 6 months old, but of course she was still a “meatloaf” as I call it (what a mental image, lol); easily to haul around, pop on a boob for soothing, had a carry-on’s worth of tiny, TINY clothes with some diapers, plus of course I had my husband there for hand-offs. Since absolutely none of this was going to be the case this time, I needed to be able to truthfully tell her we’d be “done with the avión soon” if she got rowdy. So, I planned out my ideal itinerary and scoped out the hotel options on our west coast layovers while I waited for my miles and companion fare to kick in (the first billing cycle after the minimum charge threshold was met).  This is a change from when I got the card- they used to deposit the Companion Fare code a few days after approval…I had mine in my Alaska Airlines online account ready to use before I even received the physical credit card in the mail.

For the hotels, I started at TripAdvisor, since it always nets a nice bit of eBates cashback. If they happened to be hotels where we have rewards, or if I could get some more miles, great, but since I had only one major requirement – 24 hour complimentary airport transfer – I wasn’t going to get super picky. Plus, I’m not NEARLY as skilled as my sister with the “Inception”-style deals-on-deals-on-deals (I’m sure she would have found a way to have them hand me a check for a night’s stay- heh) but I do what I can.

couponing

So I had done my research, and as soon as I saw the companion code in my Alaska Airlines account, I pounced!

flying cat

The Flights & Hotels & Luggages (oh my!)

FLIGHT 1: Newark (EWR) TO Seattle (SEA). I booked a 5pm departure, so it would be evening (8:35pm) when we landed on the west coast, thus more conducive to having a night’s sleep and starting to acclimate to new time zones. And as a ticketed passenger, my daughter was entitled to her own “personal bag”, a carry-on AND one piece of checked luggage (as of course, was I).  I took full advantage of this, though in different combinations.

LUGGAGE COMBO 1: 1 large spinner suitcase to be checked/claimed/re-checked; 1 multi-compartment backpack (which is what we have used as a “diaper bag” ever since she could walk/run) containing everything we would need for our overnight hotel stay (one night’s toiletries, pajamas, the next day’s clothing and shoes) that would be stowed away for the entire flight in the overhead, and would be my daughter’s allotted carry on bag; 1 traditional carry-on type shoulder bag which would hold our water, snacks, electronics, chargers, pull-ups, wipes, spare undies, books/toys that would be kept at my feet that would be at hand for everything we need during the flight (see “The Stuff” for a breakdown of what went in there); that’s my allotted carry on. For my personal bag, I have a slim crossbody purse to hold my phone, IDs, pens and to which I clipped the harness of her backpack, which was her own personal bag, holding her headphones & some snacks.

ooh bags

HOW THAT ALL WORKED OUT: As it happens, after one day’s delay due to Nor’easter Stella, Hurricane didn’t nap on departure day at all. That turned out to be a good thing, actually. She was hyped to be at the airport, to try out her harness, and to actually go through security (we had been playing “airport” for a couple of weeks- yay). She reached peak-toddler-adorableness during boarding when she fastened her own seatbelt (“I click it!”) and take-off (“WHOA!!!”), and then as soon as we reached cruising altitude, she told me she wanted me to hold her. In went the thumb, down came the eyelids and she was out, for almost the whole flight! The last half-hour she woke, and declared “I want Daddy! Want to go to my home.” So here was my plan, realized. I promised her we’d get [the hell] off the plane™ soon, and I kept that promise. Fist bump.

themed pj baby

I believe in themed clothing (in this case, airplane PJs for a flight landing at bedtime), and in not showing my kid’s face on the internet.

HOTEL 1: I chose the Comfort Inn & Suites SEA-TAC for its proximity and of course, its shuttle. My full review is up on TripAdvisor if you care to read the details. Even after a shuttle snafu, they made good and then some. I would highly recommend this hotel for anyone travelling through SEA-TAC, especially with kids.

bee harness

Thumbs (and wings) up!

 

FLIGHT 2: SEA to HNL. Booked a flight that left at a very reasonable 10am since my daughter loves to sleep in in the mornings, and since the layover would be more than 12 hours, I would have to claim my luggage before leaving the airport the night before, thus having to check it back in for the morning flight. I’d be ALONE with Hurricane for that series of tasks, so I needed plenty of time to wake, get some coffee, get back to the airport, and check-in that luggage.

LUGGAGE COMBO 2: 1 large suitcase and 1 “hotel needs” backpack to be checked; standard carry-on for in-flight needs; my personal bag & her personal bag.

HOW THAT WORKED OUT: This went really smoothly. I was able to check in the large suitcase and the hotel backpack easily, make it through security – this harness, man, a true lifesaver.  However, the flight itself was a little rougher in terms of keeping her captively entertained; we had the last row and in the aisle seat was a kind older lady who unfortunately was wheelchair-bound (of course, she was seated the whole time on the flight). But this meant that when Hurricane decided to make a break for it once we reached cruising altitude, all she had to do was duck under said lady’s legs and dash up the middle of the plane. All I could do was hit the call button as I semi-leapt over said lady’s lap and try to catch her. I’m imagining a graceful grand-jeté.  Thankfully, they had begun the beverage service so the cart blocked her path; otherwise I might be filing this report from some kind of holding pen, being questioned on why I “let” my kid try to rush the cockpit. After we squirmed our way back to our seats, I had to pull out the activity/entertainment bag and basically ply her with Goldfish crackers (GAG- same) & applesauce pouches, while holding her attention all too briefly with puffy stickers and stamp pads. And finally, my ace in the hole – out came the iPad and Moana and Maui kept her in the seat until we landed. One final anecdote – she treated the whole plane to a very loud rendition of “How Far I’ll Go” once we landed. I couldn’t have been more proud of that! <adoring applause>

 

The Stuff: How To Keep Yourself, Hurricane Toddler, The Rest Of The Passengers AND Flight Crew, Sane For 5 Hours at Time, 4 Times

So, what went into that all important “in-flight bag” and how did I keep Hurricane from running straight out onto the runway? And in the event she did scamper off, how would someone be able to return her to me when she may or may not answer questions about what her name is, let alone even have a clue what my real name is (“Mami” won’t get very far, I’d bet)? Like this!

Tottoos: would definitely use again, she was excited to put them on (and did not want us to remove them); chose the forearms but with long sleeves it was difficult to tell they are there (thinking of the worst case scenario where she runs off and an adult has to find it on her); perhaps the back of the neck would be better.  I’ve also heard of people putting them on the tops of the kids’ hands, since they are reliably water-resistant.

tottoos

Child headphones: she used them about half the time (she is used to watching videos without sound, so not being able to hear something wouldn’t bother her); they came with a separate cable to further restrict the volume level, though it was already restricted to begin with, tested them out on myself and found them acceptable even without that other cable; would definitely recommend.

Harness/Backpack: would definitely recommend this for a single parent traveler (and would be helpful in other cases, too); used a carabiner to clip the end to my purse vs. holding it like a “leash”, I think it provided both of us with a little more dignity and kept my hands actually free for going through the security line (taking off my shoes, etc); used another carabineer to clip it to the seatback pocket on the plane (of course there are no hooks for the hookstrap); it held her headphones, spare tottoos & small snacks perfectly; this one has outer pockets to easily hold the printed out itinerary and a self-laminated tag with her name, DOB and my contact info attached and tucked away but easily found if needed to by someone else.

bee harness with tag

MyBuddyTag: this was not as great as I thought it would be; it did connect easily to my phone (with the app downloaded) the first time, but drained so much battery when connected. Another drawback, once the little tag was placed in the wrist holder (rather difficult to do in the first place) the activation button (which also serves as a ‘panic’ button for older children) just never lined up with the wristband “button”. This meant that I had to remove the tag every time I wanted to re-connect it (after many days of non-use). The proximity alerts did work very well, however since it didn’t really have a real-time map function, and kids move so fast, it would just tell you the last known location approximately, but by then who knows where the kid might be. I wouldn’t recommend this product. The tottoos and the harness and high-level parent awareness would be enough for travel, I’d say. If there was another way to real-time map the location, I’d use that next time instead. Actually, now that I think about it, we use Tiles for all our stuff (keys, remotes, the car itself), so I’d probably just clip that to her somehow and call it a day! I keep saying I’m going to start using Tiles for DD’s keys, since she only knows where they are approximately 56% of the time.

Toys/Games/Markers/Stickers in the “in flight needs” bag: bought a carryall in Target on clearance, had lots of snap-on compartments to hold markers/crayons, anything small, with some zipped pockets, some mesh pockets, and what I thought would be most useful, the tray cover to snap on to the tray table on the plane and hold the whole thing in place. In reality, that part was way too big to fit on modern tray-tables which are now quite small so I ended up not using it at all (thankfully, it unzipped from the rest of it – I left it somewhere). The compartments holding the markers, etc were great. The Alaska trays are indeed quite small, and it varies by airline, but my bet is that even the bigger ones will eventually be downsized.  I’ve used these Table Toppers before in a pinch.table topper

While I was at Target, I cruised through the Dollar Spot and got a clipboard to which I clipped a couple of sheets of puffy stickers and a slim coloring book – that was actually useful and easily slipped into the slot holding the magazines/safety placards on the seatback in front of us; pro-tip, stamps/stamp pad are great, but NOT in red – it was very messy and extremely difficult to keep her and the seat, window, tray table clean. Self-inking stamps would have been much better (like the kind you get with address printed on them, or “Paid” or something, NOT something you have to have a separate inkpad for) or I just learned about “water pens” from Melissa & Doug, that let the kid “color” with the water, then it disappears from the page when it dries. Next time!

iPad with holder-cover: This was a life-saver, something novel (my daughter doesn’t have her own screens of any kind), stripped down to only the 3-4 most useful apps, and kept her entertained for hours. Be sure to prioritize and download any fave movies (the Disney Movies Anywhere app is great for this! We had 4-6 movies on the device expressly for use in “offline” mode, during the flight); the “Notes” app is also terrific, provided her with a nice drawing activity with her fingers (she even made her first “happy face” drawing!); Spotify was also great to have (used a free week’s trial for no ads) so that we could stream a lullaby playlist, so I don’t have to use my phone; we had YouTube Kids on it, too, safe video auto-play for when we were in the airport and whenever there was wifi. But the best part was the iPad cover – since it held the iPad securely (important), the cover part slipped easily into the slot holding the magazines/placards, so the she didn’t have to hold it, or have the tray down, or strain her neck to look down while using it.

ipad cover

Make sure to get the kind that hold the iPad itself, with cover (not just a magnetic cover)

 

On Alaska Airlines, they did also offer a rental of a tablet (a Microsoft Surface quaintly referred to as a “digi-pad”) for use during the flight which contained pre-downloaded entertainment for a $10 fee (on-board charge only). I didn’t know about this beforehand; they did try and get me to download their app for using the in-flight Wifi to the same effect, but you have to pay for that Wifi – nope. Besides, I would have wanted her own tried-and-true options anyway, though they did have Moana on there, smarties. For myself, I had my Kindle. I knew I’d never be able to handle headphones and logistics for any viewing sort of entertainment for myself, a Kindle is just fine for me and as soon as she was asleep (on ME, of course) I was able to read to my heart’s content.

All right folks, coming up next, my report on Aulani and other local activities.  Thanks to my sister for this post and the other part I’ll put up later on.  Lots of great info here 🙂

Advertisements

One response to “Flights and Mice- Part 1

  1. gina says:

    I loved to read the adventures and I can wait to read more!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: