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By Brian Hoyt

No longer can my wife and I hop the subway to the airport with a
backpack and a beach towel. We can fill up an entire station wagon now
… yes, I own a station wagon. We have the car seat, the Pack ‘n Play, my
daughter’s toys and sheets and stuffed animals and her special
crackers, and that book I was intent on bringing that I will never
finish. And then, of course, there are the million other items that are sure to
put our luggage over the weight limit when we check in at the airport.


There must be an easier way to take a family vacation, to make this
journey more manageable. I don’t want to cringe at the very thought of
packing and moving from point A to point B. Travel is supposed to be
fun … isn’t it? 

Friends of the family travel battlefield, here are a few tips for making this experience … I won’t say easy, but more palatable:

  • The drop off. If your departure destination is anything like one
    of our friendly Chicago-area airports, know that sometimes a two-step
    process is better for your mental health. Step One: I like to
    drive right to Hourly Parking, drop off my wife, children and baggage
    first. I walk them to a secure place, usually a seat in the baggage
    area near other travelers, where they will sit for a few minutes while
    I park the car. Hourly Parking is usually right within an airport. For
    around 5 to 6 bucks, you can park for 30 minutes and secure a luggage
    cart(a saving grace of the family traveler). Step Two: Drive
    back to the economy parking, park your car and shuttle back to airport
    — a process that usually takes around 20 minutes max. Not having to
    endure the trip back to the terminal on the shuttle with your bags and
    toddler can actually be one of the most meditative parts of your
  • To buy or not to buy. Okay, so junior is right around the
    2-year-old-mark and you are debating on-the-lap child vs. the purchase
    of a seat on your next flight. My wife and I have the "2 Hour Rule."
    If a flight is over two hours, we buy (especially if we are dealing
    with a child over 1 year old — the squirmy year). More than two hours
    on a plane means a definite meltdown of Three Mile Island proportions.
    We did a lap childon our recent Miami vacation. Huge mistake, and
    everyone on the plane paid for it. And if you are concerned about
    having to take a car seat on the plane or if you should buy one of
    those car seat/stroller combos, check out the new FAA-approved child
    safety harness systems you can purchase for around $75. The harness
    straps around the seat and seatbelt, making the toddler (who can sit up
    on their own) secure. Note: The FAA-approved child harness differs from
    some of the "belly belts" that I’ve seen online, which attach to the
    parent’s own body. Some airlines do not allow the "belly belts," but in
    my experience, most flights allow use of the FAA-approved, in-seat
    child harness systems.

  • To bring or not to bring. We always bring our car seat, so do as I say and not as I do. For child #2, since we have the whole airline seat harness thing figured out, we shall be leaving behind this additional piece of luggage. Most of the time, we know friends and or family who can loan us a car seat at our final travel destination. But when we can’t find a freebie, car rental companies usually have them in stock. Make sure to call ahead and reserve a car seat if you go this route. Also — the same rule applies for the Pack ‘n Play. Most hotels and resorts now have Pack ‘n Plays and/or cribs that are available to customers. And shockingly, they have their own sheets! And they are clean! And your child will be able to sleep on these items that you can unpack and leave at home where they belong. The key rule of thought here to consider — and dads, I am talking to you — consider the back pain you will endure from carting these items on your journey. If they might have it where you’re going, leave yours at home!
  • Ship it. Face it, you tried to make the baggage weight limit, but your wife had to make sure your child had the five stuffed animals needed to ensure a restful night of peaceful sleep. And admittedly, I am an awful packer and bring too many clothes. And when you make it to the airport, you are constantly shocked your bags are over the 50-pound weight limit! You might just want to suck it up and pay the penalty. I usually pay vs. shifting clothes and other packed goods from one bag to another while trying in vain to make weight (it being difficult to shift items from one piece of luggage that weighs 51.2 pounds to our other bag that weighs 49.7 lbs). So ship it and stop the madness. First, who wants to lug all that stuff to and fro? Second, with some helpful planning, the major shipping companies usually have easily accessible offices in most tourism destinations. Third, shipping something — especially if it’s ground vs. air — can be a viable solution from a pricing standpoint vs. getting hit with airline penalties. And when you arrive at your hotel, your stuff will be waiting for you! One other tip, consider shipping back your dirty clothes to lighten the load and create room for all those souvenirs you bought!
  • Transportation at the beach. It is likely you’re bringing a stroller if you have an infant or a slow walking toddler. Two schools of thought: First, some parents I know are fans of the $10.99 cheapie fold-up you can buy at any discount store. The small strollers make getting through airport security a breeze, but navigating white sandy beaches is a disaster in the making. The cheapie stroller = you holding your child with one arm and lugging your stroller and other beach bag necessities in the other as you navigate the maze of umbrella, blankets and sand castles. Go with the 3-wheel running stroller — the SUV of baby transportation. The big wheels make sand travel more manageable. And while getting these large strollers through security is more a burden, you gain the ability to transport additional beach cargo to that perfect spot. They also make the perfect beach chair/recliner for your child, and by draping a large towel over the stroller itself, an oasis from the sun or the perfect rolling bed for a midday nap. 

So there you have it. Budget some additional "sanity" funds to make travel easier for you. Running strollers and approved child harnesses aren’t cheap. I admit that luggage carts, shipping clothes and hourly parking can also begin to add up. But travel should be about the experience of being there. The cloud of the journey itself should not weigh heavy on your soul. The dynamics of being a parent have changed your trip. But building that first sand castle with your daughter or seeing your son swim in the warm waters of Florida for the first time will make it all worth it! So off I go to make my 900th attempt to read this book I will likely never finish.

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Brian Hoyt is the head of corporate communications and government affairs for Orbitz Worldwide. He and his wife are parents to an energetic 2-year-old daughter. They live in Chicago, but their families reside on the East Coast, so they have become frequent family fliers. Their favorite places to visit are Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Florida, the Shenandoah Mountains, Charleston, S.C., and Yankee Stadium.

Tagged: Family time

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