Piece of cake, traveling with kids!

Who said it was difficult and challenging to travel with kids, especially travelling with kids less than 2 years old – and two of them? … now we have three!

Well, we’ve been on several short and long haul flights with our kids across Europe and the Atlantic to visit the Caribbean.  They have behaved really well 99% of the time.  It’s the last 1% that can be tricky and that everybody is giving out about.  The moment when everything is completely out of control.

As a parent, you of course dread the moment you step onto the plane.  Deep inside you fear that something odd will happen that results in an outright and devastating disaster such as uncontrollable screaming and a fierce attack of smelly pooh.  The despair and fear is equally present in the faces of your fellow passengers.  Reading their mind would scare most kids, and some adults, into depression.

You have witnessed how some kids can behave on journeys, other kids of course.  But most of the time, their parents let them crawl on the seats, play with noisy toys or run around like small versions of William Wallace – screaming “Freeeeeedom!”  Other times, kids just want to make the most of the journey, testing their parents’ resolve and sanity, doing stuff they would never do at home.  But, the worst case scenario is something far more deadly and invisible – smelly pooh, vomit, sudden emotional outburst and high pitch screams.  Screams so loud that even the pilot appears, fearing that some electrical circuits will be damaged or windows pop.

The first thought you have when sitting down in you designated stamp sized seat, while trying to hold your child and luggage, is “Will the kids behave again?”

There’s always a doubt at the back in your mind, and even when you look at your offspring’s eyes and their excited smile, you know anything is possible with these tiny buggers.

The worst thing you can do is to make a fuss of it or remind them to behave, which I normally do, as this just triggers a natural defence mechanism, wanting them to revolt against orders.  If you start pushing them around, hassling them or anticipate trouble, then it will come – that’s the way it works with kids.  I was exactly like that as a kid.  Just ask my parents.

We had an incident flying home from the Dominican Republic.  These long haul flights are normally night flights and the plane takes off around 21.30 (ish).  There had been problems during check-in, which is another blog, and it made me very anxious.  Our kids were getting tired, which is good and bad.  We were the last people on the plane, ran to our seats and tried to smile calmly to the other passengers, assuring them that everything would be fine.

The first hour of the flight was the worst of my life.

  • Our son tired and hungry = not a great combination
  • Our daughter exhausted = less favourable, and not too violent outbursts

Within minutes of take-off, both kids were crying – no, let me rephrase – screaming their lungs out.  My left eyebrow started to twitch nervously and I wrongly attempted to force them to sit still in their seats during take-off.  I often use a trick taught to me by my father, which is speaking angrily through my teeth, only moving the lips, and having angry eyes.  My son was actually sitting in a cot bed attached to the wall and didn’t have any reason to complain – I thought.  They both wanted to be with mummy.

It took some excellent parenting skills from my wife to calm them down, and then they slept the rest of the flight.  Brilliant!  My wife has some amazing powers that only women possess.  They don’t care about the noise level or other people’s stares, and simply gets down to business of relaxing the kids.  This normally takes anywhere from 5 – 55 minutes.

Other locations for minor tantrums or scenes are:

  • By plane, train or bus; my greatest phobia is changing diapers in small confined spaces, e.g. airplane toilets.  The smell travels so damn fast, especially through air condition systems, and can trigger bio-hazard alarms to go off and they this is to the annoyance of fellow travellers.
  • By car; when you are the driver and you can do nothing about the noise level.  You can feel the blood pressure increase by the second.  The only option is to pull over and take a breather.  Read this blog for an example.
  • By car; a toilet is urgently needed, so you are forced to stop at the side of the road (doesn’t matter if this is the busiest motorway in Europe) and hold your child in an awkward position while they do their business.  You will with 99.99% certainty get pee on your shoes, pants, child’s pants + underwear and the car – probably all of them.
  • By bus; where your child needs to go to the toilet NOW and the toilet on the bus is either none existing or faulty.   Do you pee on the floor?
  • By boat; again, your daughter desperately has to pee.  The only option is to let her pee on the floor of the boat – it’s full of water anyway.

Travelling by train is actually easy.  You can quickly get to the toilet, plenty to see and you would have packed a survival lunch bag/box.  There’s no need for kids to be strapped in, so they can be entertained.

Something that has worked very well for my wife and I, is to bringing loads toys.  These could easily be toys bought in EuroSaver shops, as long as they have something new to play with.  It is only when the kids get older that they demand PS3/DS games or and iPod.

For long or short journeys by car, I can highly recommend a portable DVD player and a few hundred DVDs.

Bring plenty of snacks and drinks, and of course changing clothes if you should have a small accident.

Enjoy your next holiday – I know I will.

In fairness, our kids are actually very good travellers and rarely cause unnecessary trouble for us.  They read their books, play with toys or watch a movie.  Lately, my daughter has started to sing for us while we are driving, but I’m for some reason not allowed to join in or sing solo.  Imagine if somebody her me!

My wife is fantastic with the kids and really knows how to calm them.  One of her methods involves putting on loud music in the car, so nobody can hear anything or simply just listen to her iPod.  Seriously, she has some magic that only she knows and she refuses to teach me.  I’m sure she will teach our daughter the same magic one day.

Again, thanks to my wonderful wife, we can travel in total calmness.

eTicket blessing or curse?

Modern day technology is great and if airlines can reduce their flight cost slightly by introducing eTickets, then I’ll support it fully.  So, when we went to the Dominican Republic in December 2006, we were given eTickets.  Our kids were at that time 17 months (son) and 2,5 years (daughter).

For my parents’ generation, an eTicket is effectively a ticket that you get by email (I hope you know what email is?) and print.  Then you simply show the print-out to the ticket check-in person.

The journey started in Dublin, where we booked in our luggage and got our boarding cards; bounty beaches here we come. I will in another blog, tell you about the Dominican Republic as a travel destination, and how it was for the kids.

After two wonderful weeks in the Caribbean, we had to return home to Europe.  Flights from these parts of the World are normally overnight flights, so we left the hotel mid afternoon to make sure we had enough time to check-in and of course do some duty-free shopping; rum and sweets.

Approx. 150 people had the same idea as us, so when we arrived at the airport, we immediately started to queue.  Speed was not essential to the check-in staff and time was being wasted away standing and waiting.  I was amazed how well the kids behaved, considering the time of day this was.

These planes can carry 2-300 passengers and they all check-in at the same time!!  After queuing for almost 45 minutes, we were thankfully asked to come to the first class check-in desk; probably because they knew the kids would at some stage start to act up.  My prayers had been answered – excellent.

This is where our nightmare started.  The guy behind the counter didn’t know anything about eTickets and said that our son did not have a ticket and could not fly.  How did they expect he had arrived to the Dominican Republic and how was he meant to get back home?

So, staying calm, I kindly showed him our son’s eTicket (with his name) and his passport, to demonstrate that this was indeed a ticket and my son’s ticket.  But, to my horror, the clerk insisted that it was not possible for an infant (kids below the age of 24 months) to travel on an eTicket.  Were we meant to leave him behind alone?

The story is about to take another turn, as my wife had enough and demanded to speak to the supervisor.  Please note, my wife is from South America and the supervisor she’s from the Dominican Republic, so both with short fuses and hot tempers.

The South-American girls locked horns, steam starting to emerge from their foreheads and they were arguing for about 10-15 minutes solid – getting absolutely nowhere.  Well, except for demonstrating to the entire airport that they did not agree and did not intend to agree either.

I’m far from a relaxed traveller, which is an understatement.  I’m the kind of person that checks for tickets, passwords and money every 3 minutes, and leave for the airport 5 hours before check-in opens.  The closer we got to departure time, the more stressed I got, nervous that we wouldn’t make the flight – despite 150 people still hadn’t checked in!

My turn to talk to the supervisor. I turned on my Danish charm, much to the dismay of my wife, and calmly explained the problem to the supervisor.  We had bought the eTickets in Dublin, by a travel agency, and used them to fly to the Dominican Republic via Paris.  In order to get home, I even offered to pay for a new (real) ticket for my son, but assured her that I would demand a refund when I returned home to Ireland, contacting her boss.  I might even have mentioned the word legal actions.  She finally eased up and checked us in, against her air hostess religion.

The funny thing about this story is that my son was too young to sit in a seat by himself, so we were only meant to book him on the flight as a named passenger.  He was going to sit in our lap or sleep in a cot on the flight.

Right, luggage booked in and boarding cards in hand.  Off to security check-in.

It was my responsibility to carry the boarding cards – big mistake.

By mistake, I left a boarding card behind in security and when we were boarding at the gate, we only had three boarding cards!  Panic set in and I was starting to faint.  We were not meant to leave this place.  The air hostess contacted the check-in desk to check if they could get a replacement boarding card.  My wife was certain that it was the same “lovely” supervisor that answered the call.

Finally, they came walking slowly with a new boarding card – it was in fact my wife’s boarding I had managed to lose.  I was a nervous wreck at this stage.  Thanks to my wife, we managed to get on the flight home, boarding as the last passengers.  At this point, my son was getting very angry, but that’s another story.

Lessons learned:

  1. Make sure that your child, if less than 24 months, can travel on a eTicket
    1. If not, then get a paper ticket
  2. NEVER carry the boarding cards in one hand, while picking up a crate during security check-in with the other hand
  3. Relax, you will of course make the flight, especially if there are more than 100 passengers behind you during check-in

🙂 🙂

Republica Dominicana…reggaeton all the way

My wife, a South American beauty, needs to get sun every year, and no, the local sunbeds will not do.  It’s a bit like a flower that needs sun rays to grow and live.  Living in a somewhat grey and wet environment like Ireland, similar to Mordor in regards to clouds and rain, is not ideal for a white plumeria flower, like my wife.

The Latina flower (my wife) is the event manager for the family, and therefor in charge of organising the family holidays.  In 2006 she planned a trip to the Dominican Republic, Punta Cana, taking place in early December 2006.

Punta means Point, or rather a point, or location. Cana is a name used for a type of palm tree and the leaves that have been used for roofing for centuries, in that region.

There are no direct flights to Punta Cana from Dublin, so my wife found some tickets via Paris, flying wife Air France.

Let the adventures begin!

One thing to note about the Air France planes is that they are designed for tight arse French people, so a Scandinavian and South American arse (also known as Lopez) does not exactly fit comfortably into the narrow seat space…and the flight from Paris to Punta Cana is 8 hours. My left butt cheek was well sleep 22 minutes into the flight and I developed a slight limp when bringing the kids to the toilet.  Toilets are terriblè small too.

Anyway, traveling with kids under the age of 3 always creates some fears, especially for the fellow passengers.  You know, as soon as you board the flight, that the other passengers are somewhat sceptical and apprehensive about this.  Their eyes and faces says it all “Oh no…please don’t sit close to me, please, please, please!” Our kids were 1.5 and 2.5 years old and were about to embark on a 18 hour journey; Dublin -> Paris -> Punta Cana (all in one day).  God have mercy on us, cause our kids will not have when they get bored and hungry.

Another “interesting” fact about Air France is that they do not imclude infants under the age of 24 months when calculating food for passengers, hence they didn’t have food for my son.  But, some people learn VERY quickly, especially when dealing with South American temper and my sons Scandinavian viking anger that erupts when he gets hungry.  These little tight arse French stewardesses learn all about customer service, quickly.

The journey out went somewhat smoothly.  No scenes or painful moments.  Our kids were of course brilliant.

Upon arriving to the International Airport in the Dominican Republic, you have to get a tourist visitor card.  This is all done in the impressive airport, queuing in 30 degrees (celcius) – before you get the luggage.  We arrived around 19.00 local time, so it was still roasting, and we had to drive approx. 40 minutes with a local “driver” to our hotel.  My wife always book our personal driver when traveling abroad, which is a luxury, but excellent.  It saves us a lot of hassle with the wannabe drivers and helpers outside the airport, as we were collected from the arrivals lounge.

It was difficult to gage what the country was like, as it was still dark, but it came across as very poor.  Perhaps it had something to do with the speed we were going, across gravel roads and speed bumps the size of giant anacondas.  But, must villages were completely dark, made up of metal shacks and fireplaces in oil barrels.

We stayed in a 5 star all-inclusive resort with its own private beach.  There were 10 different restaurants and when I say all-inclusive, I mean all-inclusive.  Even my cigarettes and room service were included, happy days.  Alocohol and smokes from 10am onwards, every day, for two weeks.  We could even bring home wine from the resort restaurants, to enjoy in the suite.

Staff were super friendly and my son had all the female staff wrapped around his fingers, to much amazement and happiness of his father (me). “I taught you well, my little grasshopper”.  The female staff rushed to our son, as soon as we entered a restaurant, lifting and hugging him.  When I tried to hug them, they slapped my face, and so did my wife.  Where is the justice in that?

  • The resort even had a little zoo!
  • The pool area was huge and had its own in-the-pool bar
  • Breakfast buffet had EVERYTHING you could think of, with a local flavor, and the kids ate loads – so did we

The room we had was like a small apartment, own balcony and view of both swimming pools + the beach.  All aminities were within 5 minutes walk.

The beach, wow!   Pure white sand, with bar staff servicing guests on quad-bikes.  Sitting underneath palm trees, kids playing in the sand, suntanned beach beauty next to me (my wife of course), a cold Caipirinha in my hand and a smoke … what more could I ask for? All-inclusive….ha ha ha…this is life!

As a result, we more or less stayed in the resort for 2 weeks solid.  We only ventured outside on a couple of occasions.  Once to see the local shopping area outside resort, consisting of a pharmacy, a cafe and 243 souvenir shops.  The local people were extremely friendly.

The second time away from the resort we went to an animal park, Animal Adventure Park, driving in a traditional Dominican bus; explosion of colors of red and yellow, and loud reggaeton music – poco loco driver!  We spend the day with the animal trainers, touching and holding all kind of animals including: sea lions, monkeys, turtles, parrots, tucan, iguana, stingrays and a giant white tiger.

They had about 10 dogs keeping the tigers under control, somewhat distressing circumstances given that these cats were 500lbs beasts.  Ripping these tiny dogs to pieces would be an easy task – and, I got slightly freaked out, when the dogs started to chase something in the bushes behind me, which turned out to be the second white tiger.  Last, but not least, I got to hold a white python, reminding most of the male tourists of Salma Hayek in”Dusk till Dawn“.  Not that I have a body like Salma Hayek, but because of the white snake of course.

Dominican Republic introduced the family to Reggaeton; reggae mixed with dance rythms. The kids absolutely loved it and went bonkers when it was played in the resort speakers or on the TC in the apartment.  My son would start dancing in the middle of the restaurant, to the joy of the female staff who’d dance with him – brilliant!  To this day, we still put it on in the house (using our Apple kit of course) and blast the neighbors out, dancing like the Jackson Five. It’s happy music and is great for any party.

After two weeks we were sad having to go home.  I still remember how weird it was, seeing palm trees covered with Christmas lights and Christmas tunes played on the speakers, while the sun was blazing.  Would we go back?  Well beside the minor ticket problem in the airport, any day.