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California Coast RV Road Trip

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Tag Archives: family travel

New airline policies anger family fliers

As a mother, blogger and expatriate American living in the Netherlands, Monique Rubin is no stranger to the special challenges of family travel. Even so, she experienced a new twist in pre-boarding procedures when a United gate agent recently announced:

“We are now boarding those with special needs, and we here at United consider children your blessing, not a special need, so we ask that you board according to your boarding number.”

Special needs or not, the incident, along with other industry developments, suggests that families getting ready to take off on their summer vacations may experience some bumps along the way.

The announcement Rubin heard was the result of United opting to discontinue the process of allowing families with small children to board before the general public, a procedure the airline had implemented earlier this year.

“What ended up happening is that we had more than a half-dozen different boarding groups,” said spokesman Rahsaan Johnson. “It actually caused more confusion than it resolved.”

Not surprisingly, the switch has generated plenty of controversy. According to a poll conducted by AirfareWatchdog.com after the United announcement, 61 percent of respondents approved of letting families board early, with 34 percent being opposed and 6 percent having no opinion.

Even more telling, perhaps, United’s move also prompted the launch of a petition — United Airlines: Keep Family Boarding — at Change.org. Initiated by Kaja Meade, a frequent flier and mother of a 9-month-old boy, the effort has garnered nearly 38,000 signatures since it went live on May 29.

“I think this policy loses sight of who the customer is,” said Meade. “There are already all sorts of ‘death by a 1,000 cuts’ when you travel and I feel this was an extreme step.”

Not necessarily, counters Johnson: “We’ll do what we’ve always done, which is if a man or woman walks up to an agent and says, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got two toddlers; can I get down the ramp a few minutes early?’ the agent will do what they can to make it happen.”

Live Poll

What do you think about United’s decision to end family pre-boarding?

In the meantime, traveling families may face an added challenge this summer as airlines set aside more seats — typically windows, aisles and those in the front of the main cabin — for passengers willing to pay an additional fee. As non-fee seats fill up, families face the choice of paying an extra $25 to $59 per seat to be together or finding themselves scattered throughout the cabin.

The prospect of young children sitting next to strangers instead of their parents is a frightening proposition for all concerned — parents, children, other travelers — and has raised the ire of parents, consumer groups and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has weighed in with letters to the Department of Transportation and calls for legislation against the fees.

“Requiring parents to pay an additional fee to make sure their kids are sitting next to them and in sight is ridiculous and simply over the top,” said Schumer in a statement. “This ill-conceived ploy to foist more fees on travelers could have profound implications for the safety of children on airlines and it needs to be revisited.”

The problem is exacerbated, says George Hobica, of AirfareWatchdog, when airlines limit the number of assignable seats they make available during booking or when only premium seats appear.

“It’s not that you won’t get a seat; it’s that you won’t get to choose a particular seat,” he told msnbc.com. “It’s part revenue play and part catering to their best customers. But it’s more of a revenue play.”

Airlines maintain the situation is not as dire as it’s often presented. It’s not uncommon for additional seats to become available in the days and hours before departure and gate agents and flight attendants are trained to spot potential problems and work with passengers to switch seats so families can fly together.

On the other hand, travelers should also remember that this is the airline industry and once an idea takes root, it inevitably spreads. While the trend of charging for premium coach seats is now well-embedded, the next step may be to charge a fee for all assigned seats.

Such fees, of course, are already commonplace at low-cost carriers — see this chart at AirfareWatchdog to see who charges what — but they could easily spread to the majors.

In March, for example, Delta introduced a new fare class called Basic Economy, which offers a slight discount ($12–$20) for travelers willing to forgo a seat assignment until check-in, along with other restrictions. The option is currently limited to flights between Detroit and four cities in Florida, where, it should come as no surprise, the carrier competes against airlines that typically don’t offer advance seat assignments.

Delta’s new fare is obviously a poor choice for travelers who want to sit together but it’s equally apparent that travelers who do want assigned seats are essentially paying for the privilege.

“We’ve made it abundantly clear that Basic Economy doesn’t come with advance seat assignments,” said spokesman Morgan Durrant. “If that’s an issue, you don’t have to buy that fare — we have another option for that.”

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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.


NYT: 7 tips for an easier family getaway

With summer just around the bend, many families are planning getaways. But figuring out all the details — from which hotels are child-friendly to how many diapers to pack for that five-hour flight (more is better) — can be critical for a smooth trip. Here are some lessons I have learned over the years, both from other travelers and through my own experience.

    1. Image: 100-year-old clock

      TRACK 2012

      Room with view and giant bedside clock

      Ghent, Belgium, has unusual rental built around the top of the clock tower of the city’s Sint-Pieters train station – part inn, part art exhibit.

    2. Survey: Low-cost airlines tops in customer satisfaction

    3. Man without hands not allowed to ride coaster

    4. Highbrows hit the high seas with NPR, PBS

    5. London’s secret small hotels

DON’T PACK WHAT YOU CAN GET THERE. Leave the extra formula, suntan lotion and Cheerios at home. Any extra cash you may spend will be offset by what you save in checked bag fees and overall inconvenience. Besides, you are inevitably going to forget something and have to make a run to the local grocery or convenience store anyway. If you’re willing to spend some money, you can give a list to the hotel concierge and ask him or her to buy your supplies in advance for a fee or a generous tip.

THINK COMPACT. The more you can leave behind the better, but there are times when taking along a travel bed or a foldable highchair is worth it. For example, when renting a house with friends last spring, my husband and I packed a borrowed BabyBjörn Travel Crib for our daughter, then a year old. Listed at about $220 in a recent Amazon.com search, the bed (which collapses into a compact carry-on that weighs just 11 pounds) isn’t cheap, but it is convenient.

Our friends, who have a 3-year-old, packed the KidCo PeaPod Plus travel bed — a pop-up tent with a blow-up mattress that weighs 6.9 pounds and folds into a convenient carry-on case. We also took our daughter’s Phil Ted’s Lobster highchair (about $70), which clamps onto most tables and folds flat for easy packing. Sure, we could have managed without it, but it worked perfectly at the breakfast bar and made mealtimes more enjoyable for everyone involved. (Keep in mind that most major hotels will provide a crib. Some, including the Soho and Tribeca Grand hotels in New York, even keep a few strollers on hand to lend to guests.)

TRAVELING BY PLANE? DON’T STUFF EVERYTHING INTO ONE CHECKED BAG. Airlines are generally losing fewer checked bags these days. But that’s little consolation if you’re one of the unlucky ones whose bag goes missing, especially if all the children’s clothes, gear and toys are in it. As a precaution, pack half of those items in one checked bag and half in another or in your carry-on. At a minimum, especially if you’re traveling with small children, take a change of clothes onboard for the child and yourself. That way, when she spills cranberry juice all over you, or her diaper leaks, you have options.

DON’T SCRIMP ON AIRLINE TICKETS. When you are trying to stick to a budget it’s tempting to book the cheaper connecting flight or convince yourself that you don’t need to spend $25 extra each way to check that portable travel bed. The nonstop flight and checked bag fees will add to your expenses, but it’s often not worth the risk of missing a connection or the effort involved in schlepping all those carry-on bags. At least one airline, Frontier, rewards passengers with no carry-on luggage or bags that fit under the seat by boarding them early. For more tips on navigating the major sticking points of flying with children, including the challenge of sitting together, see my Nov. 4 article, “Are We There Yet? When Families Fly.

GET CREATIVE WITH ENTERTAINMENT. You can quickly turn a luggage rack into an activity gym for an infant by hooking some dangling toys on it. Play-Doh is a godsend when traveling with toddlers who are too young to sit through an in-flight movie and too old to nap in your lap. When interest in that runs out, order ice and extra stirring straws. That kept our daughter entertained for hours after she quickly tired of all the books, stickers and other games we had packed for a two-flight trip to Ecuador when she was about a year old.

And there are plenty of apps that can help keep older children entertained on long flights and road trips. For app options organized by age, see the Dec. 21 Practical Traveler column, “Apps to Keep Children Happy.”

HIPSTER HOTELS ARE GREAT FOR KIDS. Though boutique hotels generally lack child-friendly amenities like children’s clubs or waterslides, parents with older children have told me that such hotels often have other attractions. Many teenagers and tweens love the trendy furniture and amenities like the oversize chess set by the Delano hotel’s pool in Miami or the pet goldfish offered upon check-in at the Soho Grand in New York. And families with young children who wake at the break of dawn often have the pool to themselves while other guests are sleeping off hangovers, as my husband and I discovered a few years ago when we stayed at the Donovan House in Washington, with our daughter, then 3 months old.

One caveat: Like many boutique hotels our room had a sexy shower but lacked a bathtub. (We bathed our daughter in the sink.) But at least we could pretend that we hadn’t completely lost our cool.

MAKE SURE THAT SUITE IS REALLY A SUITE. Many hotels will call a room with anything more than a bed and a desk in it a suite, whether it has a separate living room or not. That is a frustrating misnomer for parents looking to put a door between themselves and their offspring. For example, a “classic suite” at Starwood’s Le Méridien Philadelphia has a partial wall between the bedroom and living area, rather than a full wall and door. There are only three true suites at the hotel, which aren’t sold through the Web site.

Even chains with the word “suites” in their name are not foolproof. Only 10 percent of the rooms at Home2 Suites by Hilton, the chain’s new extended-stay brand, are truly suites with a bedroom and a living area separated by a door. The rest have a curtain that can be drawn halfway across the room to create a separate living area. That’s not to say that these hotels aren’t great for families looking to save money by sharing a room. Home2 Suites offers free continental breakfast and in-room kitchens with full-size refrigerators and dishwashers. But the only way to find out if that room is really a suite is to call the hotel and ask.

This story, “7 Tips for an Easier Family Getaway,” originally appeared in the New York Times.

Copyright © 2012 The New York Times

Disney World asks girl to change out of costume

It took April Spielman several hours to get ready for a visit to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., last weekend. It took a fraction of that for security officers to bar her from entering Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

The 15-year-old Spielman dressed up in a Tinker Bell costume she purchased online in an attempt to make a memorable first visit for her boyfriend, who dressed up as Peter Pan, she told clickorlando.com, the website of CBS affiliate WKMG.

“My makeup took two hours, my hair took another hour, and then I had to spray my body in glitter and paint my nails,” Spielman said.

Disney apparently thought she did a convincing job.

“They said I looked too good,” Spielman told clickorlando.com, and said Disney officials explained that kids might confuse her for the official Tinker Bell character.

Park officials asked Spielman to change, provided her with free clothes and gave her family FreePass tickets that meant no long lines for rides, clickorlando.com reported.

When Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, it raised the bar for theme parks everywhere and left its mark on how — and where — Americans vacation.

Launch slideshow

Disney World’s dress code, posted here, states it can deny entry to visitors wearing clothes that could be a distraction, including “adult costumes or clothing that can be viewed as a costume.” Kids under 10 are excluded from the rule.

This story originally appeared on clickorlando.com.

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Backpacking with the kids

Courtesy of Rosie Platt

Rosie and Ben Platt, with 13-month-old Toby, in the Jennie Lakes Wilderness in Sequoia National Forest.

For Rosie and Ben Platt of Portland, Ore., the keys to a successful backpacking trip with kids are “trail treats” and short distances. For Michael Lanza and Penny Beach of Boise, Idaho, plenty of breaks, candy bars and word games are crucial.

And for Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” it doesn’t matter what parents bust out to motivate kids on the trail — just that they get outside together.

“What better way to connect with your kid than to get away from the electronic distractions and peer pressure, and just go for a walk in the woods,” Louv said.

Many parents have felt the joy and rewards of day hiking with wee ones, but far fewer have backpacked overnight into the wilderness, kids in tow (or in-pack, as the case may be).

With the right gear, planning and attitude, parents and kids alike can reap the benefits of backcountry adventures.

On June 2 — the 20th anniversary of National Trails Day — families have another incentive to hit the trails: dozens of (mostly free) outdoor workshops, trail maintenance projects and guided hikes will be offered in just about every state. To find out what’s happening near you, check out American Hiking Society and click on your state.

Another resource for trail tips and tricks is through classes and workshops at REI, which has stores in 31 states. The Washington Trails Association‘s website has a great section on hiking with kids, as well as car-camping tips and a free “Families Go Hiking” newsletter.

Michael Lanza is Northwest editor of Backpacker magazine and author of “Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks.” He and wife, Penny, have hiked with their kids, now 9 and 11, since they were babies, and began family backpacking trips when the kids turned 6.

“When you get out for a few days or more of backpacking,” Lanza said, “you shake off the stresses and distractions of civilization and enjoy plenty of time for conversation with your companions, which is incredibly energizing and a pleasure we enjoy too rarely in normal life.”

Some family backpacking tips from Lanza, who also runs the website TheBigOutside.com:

  • Buy modern, lightweight gear: light backpacks, tents and cookware can shave at least 10 pounds from a family of four’s gear weight.
  • Make sure gear for kids fits them well. (Lanza includes reviews of kids and adults outdoor gear at TheBigOutside.com.)
  • Until age 9 or 10, kids should wear only a daypack, according to Lanza, with a liter of water, a few snacks and a stuffed animal. “Better to let them get a bit stronger and have some trail experience before having them carry much more than that,” he said. “Even 10 pounds feels like a bag of lead to a kid who weighs only 50 pounds.”
  • Take only what you need on a trip: one or two changes of all-weather clothes, only the amount of food needed plus a bit extra for ravenous kids, and the amount of water needed to reach the next water source.
  • Let kids take their favorite stuffed animals and favorite candy bars to eat when they’re halfway through each day’s mileage.
  • Remember a small first-aid kit.
  • Make sure the trip includes a river, creek, lake or wilderness beach because water “has never failed to entertain kids endlessly.”

Lanza tells parents not to be discouraged by the amount of work involved in backpacking with kids.

“Don’t wait,” he said. “Start car camping and day hiking when your children are small, and backpacking once they’re ready for that. Nurture in your kids an enthusiasm for hiking and camping beginning when they’re very young, and you will turn them into outdoors rock stars.”

Rosie and Ben Platt, who have backpacked with their now 4- and 6-year-old since they were babies, offer these tips:

  • Invest in ultralight gear, including small kids’ packs that can be strapped to adults’ packs if they get tired of carrying them.
  • No toys! “We made a pact from the start to not bring a single toy on the trail,” Rosie Platt said. “I was reluctant at first but it was the best move. Immediately, they found a favorite stick or rock.”
  • Bring plenty of trail treats such as MMs, gummy bears and Goldfish crackers. And seek out “treat trees” or count out 100 steps until the next goody stop.
  • Flexibility keeps it fun, she said. “Even if we hike in one mile to a mediocre campsite, it is still a memorable trip. Most of all, pack lightly, stick together and learn the flowers.”

What’s next for the adventurous Lanza and Platt families?

The Lanzas head to Norway in July to trek hut-to-hut for nine days through Jotunheimen National Park, through the highest mountains in northern Europe.

And the Platts plan to hike and camp at Yellowstone National Park in June, then head to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming for four days of canoeing to backcountry lakeside campsites.

Louv, who has  written eight books and co-founded the Children Nature Network, continues to fish and hike with his now grown sons. But he spends most of his time running down research about nature deficit in children.

He rattles off some unnerving statistics: American children spend 70-80 percent of their time in childcare being sedentary, not counting napping or eating; just 2-3 percent of their day is spent in vigorous activity. Only 17 percent of 15-year-olds get even an hour a day of vigorous activity. The result, partially at least: skyrocketing rates of asthma, obesity, vitamin D deficiency, anxiety and depression.

“Without direct physical contact with the natural world, children’s knowledge about the environment is abstract, for the most part, and they tend to see a world with problems that are overwhelming,” Louv said. “Being outside just for the joy of it is an antidote. In innumerable ways, it helps our children’s health and ability to think and create, and our own as well.”

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8 gadgets to keep kids busy while traveling

Sarah Spagnolo of Travel + Leisure has advice on how to keep little ones occupied while traveling.

Travel Kiddy Kids Travel Journal: Ages 5+
Older kids can personally document their journey with this customizable journal. With pages for maps, favorite places, daily activities, and favorite events kids can create their own unique souvenir of their adventure. $10 Travelkiddy.com

Related: America’s Best Family Hotels

Me Vs. You: Head-to-Head Brain Races: Ages 8+
Getting there is half the fun—but only if kids don’t get bored in the back seat. This set of two connected activity pads splits down the middle so two kids can race each other in completing challenges. Games include word searches, jumbles, scavenger hunts, puzzles, and speed mazes. The set comes with the two activity pads and two pencils. $10.99 Klutz.com 

Colorforms® 60th Anniversary Edition: Ages 3+
A reproduction of the classic 1951 product, this spiral book comes with 350 brightly colored Colorforms pieces. Kids can arrange the pieces that attach to any glossy surface in all kinds of shapes and figures. $39.99 Colorforms.com  

One Step Ahead Kids Travel Easel and Art Desk: Ages 2+
Pack this portable pop-up-art desk to keep your budding artist entertained on the road. The top pops up to form a two-sided easel with whiteboard and chalkboard surfaces for doodling. An added bonus, the carrying case holds art supplies and it doubles as a sturdy travel desk. $39.95 Onestepahead.com     

Melissa and Doug’s Trunki: Ages 2-5 
The colorful Trunki suitcases were designed with wheels so that kids can sit on and even ride them. They are carry-on approved and can hold up to 75 lbs of snacks, games, stuffed animals—whatever you consider travel essentials. $34.95 Fatbraintoys.com 

Contigo AUTOSEAL® Kids Trekker Cup: Ages 3-12
Though your kids might have outgrown sippy cups, drinks still have a tendency to spill during car rides. This cup’s ingenious shape makes it spill-resistant and easy for kids to hold. $11.99 for a two-pack, $6.99 individually. GoContigo.com

Kidz Gear Volume Limit Headphones: Ages 2+
These are among the first over-the-ear headphones designed specifically for children; a special control keeps volume at a safe level so you don’t have to worry. There’s even a remote and a mic for easy adjustments. $29.95 Apple.com

Wean Green Lunch Cubes: Ages 4+
This colorful tempered glass food container is perfect for road trips with kids. Its snap lid keeps food in place—and not all over your car. $17.99 for a pack of 2. WeanGreen.com

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