Friday, May 23, 2014

Travel tips and observations

Sorry for being AWOL lately from the blog.  My family unexpectedly got the opportunity to go on a trip to visit Beaches Turks and Caicos. And when one gets an opportunity like that, one drops everything else and goes.  Regular blog posts will resume this weekend, but I wanted to make some random travel observations and share some tips while everything was fresh in mind.

1) If you fly with any regularity at all, look into getting into the TSA's Trusted Traveler program.  We had not booked our plane tickets ourselves, so had not provided our information to the airlines, and I thought it was too late to do so.  (We are already a part of the Trusted Traveler program, since we visit Canada often and have Nexus cards).  On our outgoing flight, we were flying on a redeye flight and TSA was kindly sending all the families with small kids (all wearing pajamas- too cute!) through the PreCheck line. In the PreCheck line, no one takes off shoes, liquids can stay in your bag and even light jackets can stay on. My husband had to unclip his phone and take metal out of his pockets, but that was the extent of it.  So quick and easy, which is wonderful when traveling with little ones!

On our return trip, I supplied our Nexus cards on check-in in the off chance that we could get Precheck approval, and was thrilled to see TSA PreCheck print out on our boarding passes.  At this point in our return trip we had been traveling for almost 20 hours, so not having any extra work at security was great. 

2) You can NEVER be over prepared for travel with kids.  You can never have too many batteries, snacks, spare clothes or chargers for your devices.  On our way out, I had tons of snacks and extra clothes that we didn't use.  But on the way home, these same previously unused snacks came in handy as our arrival home was delayed by 12 hours.  And even though my son had been fine on our outgoing flights, there was much airsickness on the way home, and much need for clean clothes.  Yes, 95% of your travel may go smoothly and you might not need the extra supplies, but that 5% will happen and you will be glad to be prepared.

Also, be prepared with non-electronic devices too.  Despite all my spare chargers, we ran out of power about 90 minutes before landing at home.  Thank goodness for a deck of cards. We played games, made up games and generally used the cards to get through the home stretch of travel.  Also, never overestimate the fun that can be had with a stack of post-it notes and a couple of crayons.  

2b) You can also never be over prepared mentally for travel with kids. My kids have been flying since they were little, but we still make it a point to talk through what to expect. They need to know that there are going to be lines and times when they are stuck in their seats and that they will be bored.  Let them know that Mommy and Daddy will do their best, but that sometimes an extra dose of patience will be required (this is much easier with slightly older kids, obviously).

2c) If multiple adults are traveling with multiple kids, make sure entertainment/snack supplies are divided up between adults.  My family was not seated together on one single flight this past trip and often wasn't even near each other on the plane. Which leads to my next point.

3)  Chances are pretty good that if you are traveling in a group of 3 or more, you will not end up with seats together, particularly if you book travel late.  This is just the reality of travel these days. The gate agent is your first line of help with this. Bring her/him the boarding passes, explain the situation.  They will do their best to help.  You wont likely end up all together still, but at least one adult will be with the kid/kids.  If they cannot help, the flight attendants will be your next line of help on the plane. We had gate agents help for most of our flights, but on our last flight got to the gate late, since we had a short connecting time.  We ended up trying to rearrange ourselves, which was stressful.  Ask the gate agent for help as soon as you get to the gate, even if boarding has started. Ideally, get to the gate earlier, if possible. 

4) Be friendly with other travelers.  Those without kids are going to be nervous about you showing up with little ones in tow.  A few smiles and friendly conversation goes a long way. And also be friendly with others traveling with little kids as well! I once was on a 5-hour flight alone with my kids and had forgotten to bring ANY batteries for their kids' tablet. Without the people that I had met in the airport loaning me some batteries, I would have been in serious trouble.

5)  Be friendly with flight attendants and everyone else that you meet, even when you are stressed.  They are trying their best, I promise.  Bring snacks for the flight attendants if you have time/space for that.  They eat a lot of airport food and a homebaked or healthy snack goes a long way. As does a friendly thank you or a hand drawn note from your kids.  Having kids draw thank you notes for flight attendants does double duty of entertaining the kids and making friends with people who can help you!

6) When travel becomes complicated, it's kind of fun to watch those casual airport friendships turn into teamwork. On our trip last week, we were delayed by 2 hours leaving Turks and Caicos. Which meant that almost everyone on the plane missed their connecting flights. It was heartwarming to see people find the other people traveling to the same place that they were going. People were helping each other with luggage, making sure everyone got new flights, waiting for each other as they headed off to their hotel or new flight gate.  Little teams of travelers were formed.

7) You will find stressful situations on trips. That's just the reality of leaving home. But there is a great, big, wonderful world out there to explore. And you will find good people on your travels.  On our trip this week, we'd had a very long day of travel, followed by customs (which I ended up going through with just the kids, since my husband is not an American citizen) and waiting for our suitcase, and I was wrecked and sweaty and tired and stressed while standing in line for customs.  A customs agent at a closed line took one look at me in the middle of the line, opened his desk and came over to grab our family to got through. It only saved us 5 or 10 minutes, but having someone show kindness like that meant so very much to me.


Heather! said...

Great tips! I do hope you'll share some pics from your trip. I'll be here drooling in envy...! ;)