living: traveling

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Before you go on any trip, talk about it with your child.  Role play what you might experience (taking off shoes at the airport, long lines, tiny bathrooms) and if you can show your child pictures of the travel method (planes, trains) as well as your destination.

Flying can be a lot of fun—it’s always a challenge—prepare yourself and it will be smoother.
Buying Tickets
Children under 2 are not required to have a purchased seat.  It is much more comfortable if they do—but if the expense is too much, you’ll manage.
If you can choose seats before, look at the configuration.  We try to take a full side row (2 or 3 seats) and then the seat across the row.  This way you can get in and out at your leisure.
Since you are going to remove many things from your carry-on bags, make your life easier by:

  • pack a bag full of all the things you are going to have to remove and put in the bins to go through security: dvd player, headphones (if they have batteries which some noise reduction ones do), lap top computer, cameras, and all liquids (which must be necessary like medicines, contact lens solutions, etc. and must also be in Ziploc bags).
  • when you are finished going through security, re arrange your carry-on bags by putting all the things you need access to on the plane in one bag, and remind yourself where everything is.
  • pack a lot of sugarless gum,  organic lollipops in case your child feels sick and can’t chew gum or gum isn’t helping, and Cheerio-type cereal in a bag (this is good to eat slowly and avoid feeling ill).
  • have baby-wipes with you—they are very easy and perform many functions, even after your child doesn’t need them for diaper changes.
  • if you are going to be on the plane during a meal, consider bringing sandwiches and other foods your family likes that is portable.

Airports are starting to have “family lines” where you are saved from the glances of the people behind you in line who have no idea how much you have accomplished just getting to the airport.
Always keep and gate-check your stroller—it helps you carry things (or your child) through the airport and if your flight is delayed it’s a great place to have a child sleep.
The airport is full of temptation—be prepared to acquiesce or fend off requests for candy, small stuffed animals, and donuts.   If you haven’t packed food you’ll find most airports have some healthier options, and I usually buy one “special treat”.
Once in the plane—take out all stuff you're going to need on the flight (dvds, earphones, books, gum) so you can find it easily.  At first I thought pre-boarding just made you spend too much time in the plane—if you have a baby, this is true.  But if you have kids, it actually helps to get them in and settled—then you can have them draw or watch a dvd.

Our flight is 6 (7, 8, 10, 12) hours long!  How do we manage our kids on a plane?
A plane is one of the few places where age appropriate behavior isn’t always appreciated by you or your fellow passengers—and certainly not for the length of a flight. International travel allows you to fly at night, which helps—a tired child will usually sleep for a few hours.  Choose seats wisely— we’ve done well sitting in 2 sets of 2 seats:  it allows easy access and different permutations.  At one point we actually had both children sitting together watching a Laurie Berkner dvd while we sat and read our books—I was almost giddy!
Speaking of dvds, this is definitely time to invest in the personal player and a few discs to watch. Pack small toys that you don’t mind losing—throughout the year I save items from birthday party gift bags and put them in a shopping bag in the closet—I pull out a few and put them in my carry-on bag and stash a few more in our luggage for the return flight.  Handheld drawing toys, magnetic dress-up dolls, etc. are easy to play with in a small space.
On a recent trip, I gave each child a new bendable figure keychain before boarding which kept them occupied a lot of the time between boarding and takeoff. I bring gum, lollipops, small bags of snacks.  Use trips to the bathroom to stretch and explore as much as you can.  And try to keep a sense of humor with people who aren’t being friendly.
Are we there yet?  Are we there yet?
Before you go on a trip, talk about it with your child.  Make it a story: in a month we are going to California for Dave and Shannon’s wedding!  We’re going to take a taxi to the airport, get on the airplane to San Francisco, and then we’re going to drive to the beach.  We’re staying in a house when we get there.  You can add layers—compare how long the flights will be in terms of things kids know, talk about packing special sleeping things, clothes for the wedding, what bag you’re packing in, etc.  The more predictable, the easier the trip will be and the easier the unpredictable things will be to deal with. Dinosaurs Travel by Brown & Brown is a great book that covers all kinds of travel and the details kids find interesting.

Following is an article I wrote for The Resident magazine.  Click here for the pdf version with photos.


By Kira Wizner
My husband is a public school teacher and writer, so we’re used to taking a long vacation in the summer. Since we’ve had kids, we’ve been hesitant to spend money to travel since it always seems harder than being at home.  But this summer, with one child out of the stroller and the other down to one nap, usually in the stroller, we decided it was time.  We would spend July in Paris— the international city I know the best.
I remembered pouring over a two-inch thick home exchange catalogue when I was in high school, at my best friend’s Riverside Drive apartment.  Her parents, even though they had a large Roseville collection, had swapped a few times and loved it.  That’s what I wanted for us—an apartment, with stuff, where we could live.  Our house was babyproofed—perfect for a family with or without kids.  Because we live In New York we’ve been trying to limit our acquisition of things.  This was definitely something we could do.
I started looking in September, 2007, and by the end of October we had connected with a French family and agreed to our exchange.
I chose from the many home exchange sites.  I liked the .org (random, I know) and the $90 fee for on-line privileges for a year, waived if you don’t find an exchange. My New York paranoia allowed me to put up photos of our apartment, but not the children, and I didn’t include our phone or apartment number in the listing.  I wrote: “please email”.  Homelink allows you to be specific about your apartment details and your preferred destinations with certain codes that are translated for the international sites, as well as letting you write about your apartment and neighborhood in your own language.
We got a lot of requests fairly quickly—many from people wanting to travel in the fall (not what we wanted) but a good number for the summer.  We had to work out the dates—one promising family with kids the same age as ours could only travel in August (we needed July) and then in mid-October we got our first email from our future partners.
The French family was comprised of mom (video editor), dad (psychiatrist), teenage daughter, and maybe a friend of hers.  The dates worked.  They had done eleven previous exchanges, at least 2 in New York.  I asked about space for my girls (they had one more bedroom than listed on the site), if they could get a few toys (yes), if maybe one of the daughter’s friends could babysit (probably) and if they had air conditioning (no).
We agreed to buy plane tickets around the new year: we were very specific with dates so there would be no confusion.  We talked on the phone once before we bought tickets, once right before we left, and did the rest through email.  We mailed our house keys a week in advance—their daughter had an exam rescheduled so she would be in Paris to meet us and give us the keys.
Preparing Our Apartment
From the moment I bought the plane tickets I was inspired to pare down.  Combined with a general desire to reduce our carbon foot-print and not have an apartment full of stuff, I was very motivated.  By the time we were ready to leave, I just had to put away personal things:  a box of notes and current mail, things from our night-tables.  I cleared out a section of the closet, a few drawers, and a big shelf in the bathroom.
We left some good fresh pasta, pesto, a bottle of wine and zucchini for a first meal (a common practice among swappers).  I left an unlimited Metrocard we had purchased and curly hair products from Devachan for Charlotte, their teenage daughter (I also made her an appointment after noting her curls in the photos they sent and emailing with her) and our cell-phones, which we had also agreed to swap.
Arriving in Paris
We arrived at the house early on a Monday morning, and Charlotte let us in-- she would meet her parents in NYC after her last exams.  (If Charlotte hadn’t been in Paris, the concierge who lives in the building would have greeted us.  In NYC, we were going to arrange for friends to meet them, but after talking with them, we decided just to mail the keys instead.) We were exhausted, she was sweet—we saw a few things around the apartment (the dishwasher/cooktop-oven combo appliance—don’t use them both at once, she warned!) and then she left.  There were presents for our girls on the table—adorable little plates and utensils with the French Barbapapa characters. Two sets of pens (which my two and a half year old at one point drew all over a bedspread with), colored pencils, and paper.
They had prepared a big book with appliance information, neighborhood information, etc.  I panicked a bit—I had written a few pages (not nearly as detailed) but forgot to print them out.  I emailed that right away.  It was just about what we expected: less renovated and a bit smaller than our apartment, but in a better location—a very reasonable swap.
During the three weeks, we emailed with little questions. Me: could you please save the Magazine Section from the Sunday paper?  Where is the switch for the sparkly lights in the hallway?  Them: “about the generator of ice in the refrigerator…i suppose we have to put it water in the hole inside the door...? what sort of water...? normal or special...?”  (of course, they just had to push the metal ice-sensor bar down in the freezer—but this was very funny to us).
Arriving home we found our apartment very neat, with some nice leftovers (good olive oil, organic grapes).  We had left each other photos of our trips and thank you notes.  In their apartment my daughter had a nosebleed on a pretty pillowcase and we broke a ceramic mug.  In NY the hole that had been threatening to rip on our couch finally did and they broke the living room light switch.
Would we do it again?  Oui!  Besides the fact that it was essentially free, it felt healthy, like we weren’t wasting anything—we finished each other’s milk and eggs, and used each other’s already paid for cell phones.  We also kept an eye on each other’s apartments, rather than leaving them empty.  Our travel experience felt more like a living experience.  We weren’t crazy, we left our stuff-- it was a great idea.


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