spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Flights and Mice- Part 1

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…

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Bags, backpacks, and day bags, oh my…

Today, let’s discuss suitcases, carry-ons, and day/touring bags.  We’ll choose bags, and then fill them later.  Squee! Containers of all kinds are my Kryptonite, so of course I love carrying something nice that also keeps my travel stuff organized.  Note that nice does not necessarily equal expensive.  I also hate paying for more than I need.  I’ve carefully researched and chosen some travel bags recently, and thought I’d share my opinions on the subject. Once upon a time, all my disposable income was spent on me, and my sister and I used to shop together like pros.  I fell in love with a luggage collection called “Color on the Go” by Diane Von Furstenberg.  It featured blue suede-ish material with white leather accents.  My sister fell right with me, except she loved the pink version.  I can’t remember what the original price for my luggage was, but I do remember paying close to $300 for the 2 pieces I got.  I got a “feed bag” carry-on style tote and a 20″ rolling carry-on.  I promptly named the rolling one “Diane.”  No idea why I didn’t name the other one “Von Furstenberg” at the time, but I will do so now.  My sister and I learned lessons with these bags: she learned that they should never be checked, as her beautiful pink suede bag came off the baggage claim belt with a bunch of black grease marks on it.  I learned that “Von Furstenberg” was great for the plane since it had a crossbody strap and fit right under the seat in front of me, but still had issues.  I hate carry handles, sigh.  “Diane” was kind of a pain due to being pretty heavy even while completely empty and not having spinner wheels.  I always got compliments from the flight attendants, though.  Of course, this line has been discontinued for some time now. *sniff*

Meet "Diane."

Meet Diane,

Meet "Von Furstenberg."

and her buddy Von Furstenberg.

Worry not, fellow OCDers, my set has matching colors!  My shade is the one on the bottom.  These beautiful bags are now reserved for when I travel completely alone- like when I surprised my sister and mom by popping over to NJ for 30 hours for my sister’s baby shower last year.  My sister realized I was at my parent’s house the night before the party when she spotted Diane in the hallway 🙂 Anyway, my daughter was born, and I was starting to plan her lifetime of travel.  I decided to buy a luggage set by Traveler’s Choice.  It included a large 28″ Pullman, a 26″ rolling duffle, a 24″ Pullman, a 22″ rolling carry-on, and softsided carry-on duffle bag.  Pretty sure I paid less than $150 for the whole set from Overstock.com, many moons ago.  It was a good bargain, and I used those bags for many years.  I still have the softsided bag, and the last suitcase of the set only broke a few months ago.  Lessons learned since purchasing that set: a 28″ suitcase is way too big to handle, even with good inline wheels, and a bag that big is almost impossible to keep under the 50# weight limit on most US airlines.  I also learned that a 26″ rolling duffle is pretty much the perfect size of checked suitcase for my family; fully stuffed, it just reaches 50# (49.5# on our last trip)!  Now that we are a family of 4, this is what we use. Suitcases: I recently replaced the 26″ rolling duffle from the Traveler’s Choice set with a 25″ one from eBags, and took her on her first spin to Ecuador.  So many organizing sections.  It was perfect, and the blue color is absolutely luscious.  The eBags brand is awesome- I have the Piazza crossbody bag for weekend errands, the Kayla Town Square which I take to work every day, the Bistro lunch tote, and have gotten laptop backpacks for my husband and father.  All are excellent quality, with really well-thought-out organizational features.  Plus they have a great warranty.  I got this for about $145, which is a great price for the quality.

I love you, transporter of mundane things.

Hello, lover.

When we take another checked bag, we use a 26″ red spinner Pullman that we got from Ross years ago for about $50.  Very handy at the airport, though because of its one big interior space, it’s easy to overpack, weight limit-wise. Avoiding overweight baggage fees is mandatory, so I never travel without my luggage scale.  It’s the last thing I throw into the suitcase. Carry-ons: I need my hands to be free for traveling with little ones, so I prefer a crossbody style or a backpack.  On the Ecuador trip, I used my daughter’s old Land’s End backpack that she used for school for 1 year before deciding that she needed a new one, even though the one she wound up getting was a drawstring bag of all things….but I digress.  It was available, not too “little girly,” free to me 🙂 and fit my carry-on requirements:

  • needs at least 2 separate big compartments.  I use one compartment for electronics stuff (charging cables, headphones) the trip-planning binder, puzzle book, etc.  The second compartment is for small personal items like flip-flops, pashmina, makeup, and the 3-1-1 TSA-approved toiletry bag.
  • at least 2 smaller compartments on the outside, 1 with a secure zipper.  Need an easy-to-reach place for my snacks once on the plane, and my travel wallet, cell phone, highlighter/pen combo and iPod go in the zippered compartment.
  • needs 2 side pockets.  I always, always carry an empty plastic water bottle through security and then fill it up at a water fountain, and add a flavor packet.  The bottle uses 1 side pocket, and then I can stick any old thing in the other side pocket: my sunglasses, phone charger, one of the kids’ water bottles, a hair clip, etc.
  • at least one smaller compartment inside, preferable with a zipper closure.  A good place for a small pouch containing a cash stash, the meds I am traveling with, jewelry, and a spare pen (you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had to lend my spare pen to my husband, or substitute it for a dropped crayon when I can’t see where the crayon has fallen).

This is the exact bag! No shame in using something labeled for kids. I’m short, so it’s a proportional fit anyway.

 Land’s End has a very good warranty policy, too.  For a while, you could return stuff ordered online to any physical Sears location.  I think they discontinued that, though. Day/touring bag: last year I decided I needed a new travel day bag, because the aforementioned eBags Piazza bag was simply too small to carry a day’s worth of sightseeing stuff.  The water bottle pocket was too small for my preferred bottle (this Rubbermaid, which has a large opening for easy filling, a screw-on top, no straws/nooks/crannies in the lid that are impossible to clean, and can hold at least 20oz of water at a time), and the strap becomes uncomfortable when the bag is heavy.  Perfect for weekend errands, not good for all-day activities, like theme park touring. The last 2 times we went to Disney World, I used a smaller-than-standard backpack that I got on clearance at Old-Navy for $3.97.  Seriously.  That thing was a workhorse, and I used it at Disney after using it at college in my senior year.  I loved the compartments on that thing, especially a small sleeve attached to the shoulder strap that held my student ID and bus pass for easy access.  Eventually, things started to break in it, and it got some stuff spilled on it.  After our last Disney trip, I realized the bag was too big for the streamlined approach I take to what to carry in the parks (a post on that within the next few months), plus it had the very common problem of having a black interior lining.  It becomes a black hole for stuff, especially when searching for something in a low-light environment.  So with several trips on the horizon, I set about searching for the perfect day/touring bag.  Requirements:

  • crossbody style.  This is non-negotiable.  In addition to being crossbody, it needed to NOT have carry handles.  I hate the way they flop about and get in the way of the outside zippers.
  • water bottle pocket big enough for the Rubbermaid.
  • outside zip pocket on the back side, which rests against the body.  For peace of mind and easy access to confirmation printouts, tickets, etc.
  • soft fabric material that “molds” against the body.  You can’t call me animal-friendly by any stretch of the imagination (mmmm, bacon), but I do object to leather bags.  The molding is important, because who wants to wear a rigid rectangle against their hips?
  • comfy adjustable strap…remember this thing will be loaded up with 10-12 hours worth of stuff.  No stiff webbing rubbing against my neck, please!
  • light-colored interior lining.  Coordinating lighter color is even better.
  • several small pockets inside and outside, some with zippers and some without.  Dedicated place for my sunglasses, phone, padded pocket for the iPod, small section for lip gloss/compact, purse hanger, etc.
  • main compartment big enough for travel wallet, camera, small book.  Able to hold 8×11 papers folded in half without crumpling them.
  • ideally, the bag should be able to sort of stand up on its own when not full.  This is tricky, too stiff and it won’t mold.  Too soft and it’ll flop over at the slightest breeze and get dirty in the process.
  • available in some shade of blue.

With those specs in mind, I started to search on ebags.com, Amazon, and Zappos.com.  I bought 6 different bags, from brands like PacSafe, Baggallini, Lug, and Kipling.  I found plusses and minuses with all of them, but in the end I chose to keep the Lug Shimmy in this gorgeous Ocean color.  It fit all of my requirements, plus it has a sturdy clear plastic strip on the bottom, which helps the base of the bag not get wet or dirty, and help it stand up just enough.  If I recall correctly, it was about $68.  They’ve since discontinued this bag!  I’ve used it daily for 2 long trips already and it still looks brand new, so I’m sure it’ll last until I’m tired of it and am forced (LOL!) to shop for a new day bag.  We’ll see how she does on her inaugural trip to a Disney park!

Once again, blue.

Once again, blue.

This post has made me nostalgic for another piece from the DVF Color On the Go set.   I loved it at the time, but felt I was already spending too much money on this luggage, so I didn’t get it.  I should have though, because I’ve regretted not buying it ever since.  Maybe I’ll find it one day!

DVF Color On the Go Beauty Case, I've never forgotten you!

DVF Color On the Go Beauty Case, I’ve never forgotten you!

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Traveling with Tweens: pre-trip and on-board

Soooooooooooooo much easier than traveling with babies and toddlers.  No diapers, no car seats, no constant need to entertain a tiny dictator with chubby fists.  But that’s not to say traveling with tweens is without its challenges.  First, I’ll admit that I’m lucky.  Despite some early experiences with motion sickness, my daughter has always been a good traveler- she loves airports and hotels and suitcases, and sleeps well despite changes in her environment. My son is not quite as easy so far, but every trip he gets better.  So if your little ones are more of a challenge, fear not- they may outgrow it and become easygoing traveling tweens.  Alright, let’s go on a trip with some not-quite-teens!

Tweens on the cover of Newsweek in 1999!

Tweens on the cover of Newsweek in 1999!

One of my favorite things about traveling with my daughter as a tween is her ability to have some input into the trip.  Not only can she weigh in on where to go, she can help research fun things to do while we’re there.  Don’t get me wrong: it’s not always a rosy montage of mother and daughter reading guidebooks together and perfecting the itinerary.  I get a lot of “I don’t know” responses when I ask for opinions, and also a bunch of “whatever, Mom.”  But, when I frame the questions just right, she gives me some great insight.

General questions get you nowhere, especially in the beginning stages of planning when the sky’s the limit.  When I asked, “What do you want to do on our road trip to NY state?” I got a blank stare.  But when I said, “Let’s watch this YouTube video of Niagara Falls stuff,” I got, “I want to go on that boat!”  And so the Maid of the Mist was added to the schedule.  I posed several either/or scenarios to further narrow down several entertainment choices, and even some hotel choices when the price was similar enough not to make a big difference to the budget.  Side note: when I first demonstrated my ability to use YouTube, my daughter said she thought this was more my speed:

very funny, young lady

very funny, young lady

Child vs. Adult prices

Here’s where you really need to do some research on attractions and tickets.  Every place has their own definition of “child,” “junior,” or “student” rate.  If it’s very specific, like Child (age 3-14), it’s easy to follow the pricing guideline.  If it just says Children, that’s easy, too, because for all intents and purposes, it means age 17 and under.  Sometimes you have to ask about the Student rate when attending events near college campuses- they sometimes only refer to students with University ID.  But sometimes they’ll accept any student, so if you recall the Carry-On Packing list from the spreadsheet tutorial, you’ll see that my Girl’s list includes photo ID. Passports for travelers age 16 and under are renewed every 5 years, as they are considered children’s passports.  For domestic trips, I make her bring her school ID, since it’s the most recent photo.  While it doesn’t contain her date of birth, it usually states what grade she is in, which calms the ticket-takers when they see she has a child’s ticket (she looks older than she is).

Which brings up a sometimes-sticky situation.  We all know people who lie or teach their kids to lie about their age to save money on experiences, especially theme park admissions.  It’s tempting, but I’ll tell you why I don’t do it- first, my parents did a good job teaching me not to lie, and I’m still a little afraid of collective disappointment in me from the nation of Ecuador.  Second, I’m really bad at it- I’d be a terrible poker player.  Third, it’s not worth it to me- I can find so many other ways to save money on our travels that the possibility of my child forgetting what age they’re “supposed” to be and messing up the ruse, or just feeling nervous that I’m doing something wrong to save a few dollars, would ruin the enjoyment for me.  In the case of Disney, the kind of ticket one holds affects who gets a room key and can charge items to the room.  The extra few bucks for everyone to have the proper ticket is worth the peace of mind for me.  Speaking of Disney, they consider anyone over the age of 9 an adult!  Yeesh, Mickey.

Pre-trip tips

Consider these steps for getting your tween excited about a trip:

  1. Be excited about the trip yourself.  I geek out on the daily regarding our trips no matter how far off or speculative they are.  She rolls her eyes a lot, and doesn’t get excited until the few weeks before we leave.  But I know that underneath it all, my enthusiasm rubs off on her.  And (don’t tell her friends), she definitely does the Double-Digit Dance with the rest of us.  Wait. You don’t dance around to trip-themed music when the trip countdown dips below 100 days?  You’re missing out.
  2. Let her plan an afternoon, structure an evening, or choose a meal.  She loves the Olive Garden, so despite the fact that it is a middle-of-the-road chain restaurant that’s not even terribly authentic, we make sure to go there when on the mainland.  I might feel differently about eating there after I’ve been to Italy, but probably not.  That salad dressing is fantastic in any language.
  3. Provide an incentive *coughMONEYcough* Plan for extra opportunities for tweens to earn money beyond their regular allowance, specifically so they’ll have more spending cash for the trip.  Set some sort of guideline for souvenirs, and they can be responsible for the rest.  In our case, we promise at least 1 item under $20 per place/attraction, and if she wants something more expensive than that, she has to cover it.  This is great time to use gift cards or prepaid cards.  Since she needs to practice real-life math, I make her do the calculations before she gets to the register: how much is left on the card, how much will you spend + tax, how much should you have left after that.  Knowing the expectations and limits in advance cuts down on the “gimmes.”
  4. Review the itinerary.  Just hit the major points, since they’ll be provided a copy to refer to as needed.  It’s just a way to set up expectations and review the timeline.  Most kids feel comforted when they know what’s coming up.
  5. Get them their own luggage.  After age 10, they can pack mostly on their own (still review to make sure they don’t pack liquids on the carry-on), plus they find it fun to roll that little suitcase down the tarmac.  Tip: I wouldn’t get them “kid” luggage per se, as those little plastic cases break easily and lack organizational features.  But don’t break the bank either.  Ross or TJ Maxx is a good place to shop for good-quality, intermediate price luggage in Hawaii.  It should last at least partway through high school.
the Goldilocks of luggage

the Goldilocks of luggage

On-board tips

Try these out for smooth sailing while flying.  Or road-tripping.  Or train-riding. Or sailing!

  1. Let them bring electronics.  Look, I hate when kids have their heads buried into a tablet or iPod.  I’d much rather she read a physical book.  But that’s the way it is these days, so she has a Kindle Fire, and can choose to read or watch a movie or catch up on emails when she wants to.  I set some limits, like an electronic curfew, and no devices while eating or during active conversations.  But on an otherwise boring stretch of travel- go ahead and play Flappy Birds.
  2. Engage them in conversation.  The last week before we leave on a trip, I try to find out what she’s studying in school.  More often than not, I can find some link to an element of our trip.  Recently, we left on the last day of school, so that didn’t work.  But she was doing a musical theatre-themed summer program, so our mother-daughter night out to see Newsies on Broadway fit right in, and we had a great time talking about whether the show would be a good fit as part of the program.
  3. Thank them for their patience.  At best, you’ll only wait for your next mode of transit.  At worst, your travel will be fraught with delays.  Part of the pleasure of traveling with a tween is that, for the most part, you don’t deal with “I’m  overtired” tantrums.  Foster that good momentum with plenty of praise for their patience.  It’s like insurance against a potentially snotty remark.
  4. Leave them alone.  Yeah, sometimes you reach that snotty remark or tantrum phase, and because your tween has a full vocabulary, their words and actions can really hurt.  First, keep your cool, and remember that these are technically still children and even if they are great travelers, they can and do reach a limit.  Have more expectations than you would for a younger child, but don’t expect them to keep up with all the adults.  Give them a safe space to blow off steam and just move on.  Often, just asking if they need a break is enough to get through a confrontation.

Other considerations

Motion sickness: we had success with the chewable Dramamine, but it does have to be taken well before embarking on travel.  Natural remedies usually contain some sort of ginger element.  My daughter doesn’t need Dramamine anymore, but I take it with us anyway.  Ginger ale is easy to find, so we use that as a preemptive strike.  On cruises, there is usually a bowl of free motion-sickness meds outside the health center of the ship.

Establish whether house-rules will apply, and if so, enforce them.  If not, explain any “vacation variation.”  If your tween is allowed to take the bus alone, stay home alone for a set amount of time, or independently walk to their friend’s house down the block, explain that they might not have as much freedom in unfamiliar locations.  Also, reiterate rules about talking to strangers and giving away too much personal information about themselves, the family, or even the trip.  I’m sure a burglar would love to overhear that you left your home unattended until next Tuesday.  Rules about respecting themselves and each other remain in force at all times.

Arrange some tween-parent time on the trip. This really applies if there are siblings involved.  If you have an only child, arrange some time for each parent to spend time with them alone.  Make sure to do some fun stuff with just your tween, tailored to their interests.  It’s nice way to enjoy their company without the distraction of their siblings’ needs.  You may even get a full conversation out of them! Dare to dream.

Document their perspective of the trip: encourage your tween to take pictures and video, and journal the trip somehow.  You parents will wind up in some of the trip pictures this way!  After you sort through all the selfies, of course.  My daughter really loves when I choose some of her pictures to print for inclusion in the trip album.  Come on, are you really surprised that I make a physical album?  Don’t worry, we also do a Picasa slideshow to send to the high-tech family.


Tweens really value old-fashioned dictionaries.

So- how will YOU travel with your tween?

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