Monday, January 19, 2015

Tips for shopping on board when you're traveling with kids

Shopping while you're on the plane can be a lot of fun: there are some great deals to be had (especially if you're on an international flight where the goods are truly tax-free), and it can be a nice way to buy presents for people you know or yourself. However, when you're traveling with kids it's not always easy to find the time for shopping (or anything else), with the frequent bathroom trips, boredom, potential tantrums, sibling fights, kids experiencing ear-pain from the cabin pressure, and so on.

These days, most airlines let you browse their sales catalog online, and that can definitely be a big help. Another great service provided by several airlines is on-board delivery: you can shop online for the items available in the on-board shop, and then have those items delivered to your seat during your flight. This makes the shopping experience a lot more convenient for parents. A sample of airlines that provide this service is:
  • Iceland Air's SagaShop  - also has some great items for sale that are made in Iceland, and feel kind of exotic to anyone who isn't from that country.
  • KLM's Shop@KLM - offers on-board delivery if you're flying out of Amsterdam
  • Lufthansa's WorldShop - offers airport delivery at Frankfurt airport, rather than on-board delivery.
Shopping at the airport can be one way to pass the time, but parents traveling with small children might not feel that comfortable browsing in a fancy airport shop with lots of expensive and fragile items on display. Still, those airport shops can look pretty enticing, and again, if the deals are truly tax/duty free then it can be a very good buy.

However, even if you do find a good deal, there are some things to think about when you purchase things on board or at the airport.

Do you have space in your bags?
If you're traveling with kids, your hand-luggage might already be rather full and heavy. Adding extra items, even if they're a good deal, might make your load even harder to carry to the next gate. Also consider how much your hand-luggage weighs: airlines don't usually weigh your carry-on (a lucky thing for me when my kids were babies!), but it does happen. And if you're over the limit, those new purchases could be a real problem.

Will you be able to bring it on your flight/s?
If you buy any kind of liquid products on board or at the airport, and are planning to bring them on your flight, you have to consider the airlines' rules about liquids on board. A container of liquid - for example lotion, perfume, wine, or beer - usually has to be 3 ounces/100 ml or smaller to be allowed in your hand-luggage. Sometimes, airlines do make exceptions for products bought on board, or at the airport of departure if the purchases are in a sealed plastic bag. However, if you have other connecting flights later on in your travels, you might have to put larger containers in your checked luggage.

This did happen to me once: I bought a bottle of body lotion in Amsterdam and was allowed to bring it on my flight from Amsterdam to Stockholm. But: when we went through security for our domestic Swedish flight with SAS, I was not allowed to bring the lotion (in a sealed plastic bag) in my hand-luggage on my next flight Luckily I was able to put the bottle in a bag and check that bag as an extra piece of luggage; otherwise I would have had to simply leave the gift at the security checkpoint.

Ways to avoid this problem:
  • Purchase items on your last flight/last airport stop.
  • Ask about the policies before you buy.
  • Put the item in your checked luggage.
  • Buy products that are no larger than 100 ml/3 ounces each.

Are there any customs restrictions?
Depending on where you're traveling, customs might have something to say about your purchase. This is especially true for alcohol: many countries restrict how much alcohol you are allowed to bring with you across the border. Check the rules before buying too many bottles of wine!

Friday, January 16, 2015

10 favourite books for my growing, traveling kids

My kids are turning 8 and 12 this year, and I can hardly believe that they are so grown up. They have been traveling since they were babies, teaching me a whole lot about air-travel, parenting, and both myself and themselves in the process. They both really love books and stories, and through the years we've gone through picture books, fairytales and all sorts of other tales. Here are 10 of their current literary favourites.

1. Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
My daughter is absolutely in love with Tolkien's world already. She might end up a bigger Tolkien-geek than I am, though time will tell... This story works for younger kids, teens, and adults, and has truly become a modern classic.

2. His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman
This trilogy of fantasy books is probably better suited for kids age 11 and up (and I mean up to adult age!), and Pullman has really created a fantastic and very original world. Great for reading out loud, or by yourself.

3. Animorphs, by K.A. Applegate
This book series is a new discovery in our home, even though the books are several years old by now. A group of kids fight back against an alien invasion, and can morph into various animal shapes. There are apparently 54 books in all!

4. The girl who loved wild horses, by Paul Goble
This beautifully illustrated book tells a very original and captivating story about a young native American girl and her love of horses, and the horses that come to love her.

5. 125 True Stories of Amazing Animals, by National Geographic Kids
Non-fiction books are a big hit at our house currently, and this easy-to-read book is one of the favourites.

6. The Ice Dragon, by G.R.R. Martin
Written by the author of "A Song of Ice And Fire"-books (made famous on TV as "Game of Thrones"), this is a book for children, young adults and adults. It's beautifully told and illustrated and very evocative. It's not for the smallest children, but definitely a fantastic story.

7. My Noisy Body, by Liza Fromer
Another non-fiction hit at my house, this book teaches kids a lot of true, interesting and rather hilarious facts about the human body. A great read for kids who will get a chuckle out of it for sure.

8. The Dog Breed Bible, by D. Caroline Coile
We got a dog this year, and the kids love looking at pictures of and reading about dogs. My daughter has become very interested in learning about various dog breeds. This books has lots of great pictures, and even though the text isn't written for kids, it still works great if your children already have an interest in dogs. 

9. Adventure Time Vol 1, 2, 3, and so on, by Ryan North
The crazy world of Adventure Time has become one of my kids' favourite TV-shows, and these comic-books are also popular reading. Get ready for the awesome weirdness of the Land of Ooo!

10. Weird But True!, by National Geographic Kids
Easy to read amazing and weird facts about various creatures and phenomena in the world: perfect for new readers to read by themselves. Get ready to learn some of those weird facts as your child follows you around and reads them to you (this might have happened to me).

Thursday, January 15, 2015

My 5 favourite travel gadgets

The world is overrun with travel gadgets. Some of them are rather amazing, some seem more interesting than useful, and some seem fantastic but are way out of my league price-wise. I do have some favourite gadgets that I always bring along my trips, and that really help make my life and traveling with my kids easier.

Here are my top 5 travel gadgets.

1. An e-reader with a good cover
Books are a must on any trip, anywhere, whether I'm going solo or with the kids. Reading a book is a great way to put the kids to bed at the end of the day, to pass the time at the airport, or to just relax my own brain when I get a moment to myself. My Kindle is loaded with books: fiction and non-fiction, books for me and books for the kids. Being able to bring a whole stack of books without it taking up hardly any space is a blessing.

A sturdy, zip-up cover for the Kindle makes it even easier to travel with. There are lots of e-readers out there (plus the apps you can use on other devices for the same purpose) - and I highly recommend this gadget to anyone and everyone.

2. USB/regular charger & adapter
Chargers and travel adapters are a must for international travel. I LOVE my new charger/adapter from SKROSS: it has two USB ports to charge various electronics, and can also be used as a regular adapter. One thing to look out for: not all adapters allow for the use of three-pronged plugs, and some devices require that feature (my laptop, for example).

3. Suitcases with wheels
After many years of international air-travel with my kids, I've come to the conclusion that every suitcase should have wheels. Small, big, soft-side, hard-side, duffel-bags or otherwise... everything is more convenient to handle when it has wheels. Sure, most airports have luggage carts, but sometimes they can be hard to find, and you also have to move around your luggage at other times: at hotels, at home, to and from a car, etc. Wheels just make things easier. My son loves tugging along wheeled suitcases, and that's another bonus of course.

4. Good tablet-covers
My kids were lucky enough to get a Samsung tablet each a while back, and they have been in use on all our trips since then. As anyone who has used a tablet knows, though, you need a good cover for a tablet in order to use it comfortably. We use silicone covers for regular, everyday use and a fold-up, leather cover when we travel in order to protect the screens.

5. Pen and paper
Yes, old-school gadgets are sometimes the best. No batteries, no chargers, no cables and totally wireless. Pen and paper works great for taking notes, doodling with the kids, writing down crazy ideas, playing tic-tac-toe and other "offline" games. If you pair the paper with a pen AND some crayons, you have an even better way to pass the time.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Travel gear that makes packing & travel easier

Packing my bags for travel is an activity that is both a lot of fun, since it means I'm getting ready for a trip; but also stressful, since it is sometimes hard to know what to pack and how to pack it.

Here are some items that will make packing your bags easier and hopefully help you avoid luggage-related problems.

1. Inflatable travel bags
I just saw these bags when I visited the travel store Wanderlust in Vancouver. They are reusable and inflate to protect whatever you put inside them. Perfect if you're packing some bottles of wine or perfume, or even fragile items like porcelain or glass.

2. Luggage tags
Luggage tags are a must: they might help you get your bags back if they get lost on the way, and they also make it easier to identify your suitcases when they come out on the conveyor belt at the airport!

3. Luggage scale
These days it can really cost you if your luggage is over the allowed weight-limit, so a luggage scale can come in very, very handy.

4. A protective sleeve for your tablet / e-reader / etc.
When you're stuffing your tablet, laptop, e-reader, or other electronic device into your hand-luggage it's a good idea if it's protected by a padded sleeve of some kind. There are many different sizes and styles for everything from cell-phones to laptops.

5. Jewelry organizer
Packing your jewelry can be a bit of a chore, and usually the items end up somehow tangled or disorganized at your destination. A nice jewelry roll or organizer can really help.

6. Water-proof laundry bag
I always bring an empty plastic bag in my hand-luggage, just in case I have to stash dirty or wet clothes during our trip. However, one of these reusable, water-proof bags would look a lot nicer and the "reusable" part is also a real plus.

7. TSA compliant toiletry bag for your hand-luggage
Refillable and reusable containers for your creams and liquids, and they all fit into a clear plastic pouch: no more messy ziploc bags! Definitely an item that will make packing for air-travel easier on you.

8. Diaper-change pad
If you're traveling by plane with a baby, a diaper-change pad and pouch to hold some wipes can really be a life saver in a cramped and not-very-clean airplane-bathroom. Pick something that folds up small enough to fit easily in your hand-luggage.
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