Flying with kids - 6 tips when you're packing your bags

Packing your bags and suitcases when you're traveling with kids can be a real challenge. There just seems to be so much stuff to bring, and never really enough space. With most airlines charging fees if you bring too many pieces of luggage, and if they're over the weight-limit, there's even more pressure to bring less. Also, you might run into problems handling all that luggage at the airport, especially if you're traveling as the only adult with one or more children.

Here are my top tips for how to make things easier on yourself, and avoid potential problems.

1. Check the airline's policies
Different airlines can have different policies for how many pieces of luggage each traveler is allowed, and how much that luggage can weigh before a fee is charged. Check with your airline to make sure you know what the deal is. Special rules often apply to parents traveling with infants. If your children are paying for tickets (anytime they're over 2 years of age usually), they are allowed to bring luggage along, so that gives families a bit more luggage-space!

2. Wheeled luggage is easier to handle at airport
I love wheeled suitcases and wheeled bags of all kinds. Usually, it's not that hard to find a luggage cart at the airport, but it's just a lot easier if you at least have the option to easily move all your pieces of luggage without a cart. My son also really likes pulling a suitcase at the airport, so that's an added plus.

3. Only bring clothes you KNOW will be used
When packing for a trip, especially a longer one, it's easy to bring a lot of items "just in case". A couple of extra "fancy" outfits maybe, or that second jacket, or a couple of extra shirts. If you're packing for the whole family, all the extras add up quickly. Over the years, I've learned to be very firm: nothing gets into the suitcase unless I know the kids like to wear it. (Same rule applies to my own stuff!) Also, as long as you have access to a washing machine where you're going, you can really limit how much clothing you bring along.

4. Rent, buy, borrow
Things like a stroller, a car seat, a portable crib, and so on, can take up a lot of space and be a real bother to check at the airport. Consider the option of renting, borrowing, or even buying certain items at your destination instead. Some hotels provide stroller rentals. Car seats can often be had from car rental companies. Friends and relatives might be able to find you other items you need.

5. Tag your bags before you go to the airport
You definitely want your name and contact information on every piece of luggage you check in. I've printed out tag-inserts that include name, address, cell-phone number and email address for our luggage. Tag your bags properly before you're at the airport. Once you're there, you might not get a chance to do it, especially if you're traveling with young children that have to be closely supervised.

6. Buy a portable luggage-scale
This can save you money, and give you peace of mind. There are lots of different models and brands, and once you have one, you can pack your bags and know that you won't get stuck with additional fees. (Or at least you'll be ready for those additional fees!)

International Book Week - Tales for kids from all over the world

Reading about other countries and people from other places is a great place to get kids interested in the world and travel. Of course, there are all sorts of books and stories written by authors from all ove the world to choose from, but something many kids (both young and slightly older) might enjoy are fairy-tales, folk tales, and mythology from different countries and cultures.

There's a wealth of these kinds of tales available both online and in paper book-form. Here are some great links to access some of that material that you can access with your child. To me, this is a great way to explore the world with your children through stories and books.

World of Tales
This website provides reading tips for tales and stories from countries all around the world, and you can also read some of classic folk-tales (like HC Andersen and Aesop's fables) right on the site. There are links to audio fairy-tales, and animated tales as well. It's a great resource with tons of links and tips.

Fairy Tales from Around the World
Here you can download tales from various countries in PDF format. There are Indian, Celtic, Japanese, Welsh, and Irish stories, as well as many, many more.

Fairy Tales of the World
This is another site with tales from various countries. There are Asian, American, European, African, and Australian stories here and they are all illustrated as well.

Myths from around the World
This Scholastic site has links to myths from different cultures all over the world. There are also links to other resources, like books and websites, if your children want to explore the subject of mythology further.

The Big Myth
This is a great interactive website with myths from all the corners of the world. You can watch the animated stories, order a CD with the myths, there are resources for teachers, and you can download PDF files as well. A great site with lots of information.

Magic Tails
On this site, you can find print books, or download books for the Kindle, iPad or iPhone, all with creation myths from around the world. The mythology has been retold by writer Rich Brown, who runs the Magic Tails website.

5 fun things to do with kids in downtown Vancouver

My kids and I are lucky to be living just outside Vancouver, Canada, which is (though I am biased) one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

If you're traveling in this part of the world, and visiting Vancouver, there are lots of fun things to do around the city with your kids. Here are some of my family's favorite places and activities.

Third Beach, Stanley Park.
1. Walk around Stanley Park
A visit to Stanley Park is a must for anyone in Vancouver, whether you're a local or tourist. There's so much to do: beaches, playgrounds, walking the seawall, renting a bike and riding around the park, seeing the gardens... My kids love going there, and for more ideas on what to do, check out this post: 13 things to do in Stanley Park.

2. Visit Science World
Science World is one of the best places to take your kids for hands-on, educational fun. You can learn about electricity, alternative energy sources, the human body, animals and insects, and much much more. It's walking distance from the downtown core, or you can take the Skytrain to the Main Street/Science World Station.

3. Explore Vancouver Aquarium
Together with Science World, the Aquarium is my kids' favorite destination if they get to pick one themselves. The Aquarium is located inside Stanley Park, so it's a perfect spot to visit if you're already there. It's fun for kids, it's educational, and it's just a tremendous experience for adults and kids to see some fantastic creatures up close and personal. 

4. Enjoy Granville Island
This is another place my kids love to visit. There's a lot to do here: shop for one-of-a-kind arts and crafts in the stores, buy some local produce, take a walk around the island, have some ice cream or baked goods at a cafe, spend some time at the playground, have a meal at a restaurant, or just people-watch, listen to the buskers, or chase some pigeons around. For some tips about what to do if you visit, you can read: 12 fun things to do with kids on Granville Island.

5. Ride a ferry
For a cheap and easy way to see Vancouver from the water (and this is a city where the water is everywhere), grab your kids and hop aboard one of the little bright-colored ferries that travel around the city. False Creek Ferries and Aquabus go to many destinations, including Granville Island, Yaletown, Science World, and the Maritime Museum.

Accommodation for traveling kids: Hotell Kung Carl, Stockholm, Sweden

On our recent trip to Sweden, I spent two nights in central Stockholm at Best Western's Hotell Kung Carl, right near Stureplan.

This hotel is about as centrally located as you can get in Stockholm. It's an easy walk to the shopping district on Drottninggatan, to the park at Kungsträdgården, and to Old Town. Right next door and across street there are some great restaurants, and Spy Bar, one of Stockholm's prime late-night party spots.

The only problem with the location is that there will be some noise: we heard cars and the occasional siren both nights, but it was not enough to really disturb our sleep.
The skylight-"tower" with chandelier.
The room
Kung Carl is a beautiful hotel in one of Stockholm's older buildings. Our spacious family room had everything we needed: a fridge for snacks and drinks (none were provided but we bought some from the stores inside the nearby subway station, a couple of bunk beds for the kids, plus two very comfortable regular beds. We had free internet access, TV with a couple of kids' channels (none in English though), a nice bathroom (though it had only a shower and no bathtub), and lots of space for bags and clothes.

Adding to the experience was that the room was just beautiful. We were on the top floor with a high ceiling and a tower-like skylight. A small round window looked out right over Stureplan outside, with all the hustle and bustle going on there.

View across the street from our window.
The one thing we missed was a pool, mainly because the kids really like playing in the water, but we were plenty busy sightseeing and might not have had time to use one anyway.

A buffet breakfast was served in the restaurant inside the hotel and there was plenty of great food: Swedish specialties like "filmjölk" and crisp bread, as well as bacon, eggs, and pancakes, and a whole lot more, including fresh fruits, cheeses, and baked goods.

The restaurant was closed except for breakfast when we were there, but at other times of the year they also serve lunch and dinner.

The staff at the front desk was friendly and helpful, and our room was kept spotlessly clean every day. However, my parents who were staying at the hotel with us, did have some issues with their room. It was not cleaned every day, but seemed to be "forgotten" a couple of times. Not a good thing, especially at a relatively fancy and expensive place like this.

I liked our room a lot, and thought the location was great. However, the hotel didn't necessarily feel all that kid-friendly. A bath tub in our room, a pool, maybe some more kids' channels or the ability to rent kids' movies at the front desk would have been much appreciated. I'd probably recommend this place more for travelers without children, but we did have a very good stay.

Flying with kids: 10 ways to pass time at the airport

As my kids have gotten a little bit older, they are now 5 and 9 years old, I find that time spent waiting in airports is almost more challenging than time spent on board the airplane. Once we're in the air, they have their little entertainment-screens to keep them busy, there are drinks and snacks and meals being served, and they often get sleepy on longer flights.

However, in airports, they seem to get way more antsy. Maybe it's because time spent in airports means you're just waiting rather than actually traveling somewhere. I know I often feel restless before I get on board the flight, and the same is probably true for the kids. Sometimes you will also end up waiting at the airport a lot longer than you planned on: delays do happen when you travel by plane!

Of course, there are things you can do in airports, and what you choose to do to entertain your children (or how they choose to entertain themselves), will depend a lot on their ages, personalities and preferences. Here are 10 ideas for how to spend your time at the airport:

1. Find a play area
Many airports have a play area for kids somewhere on the premises. For younger kids, this can be the best option: they can run and play freely before they have to sit still on the airplane. Ask at the information desk, or look at an airport map to try to locate available play spaces.

2. Watch the planes & your luggage
This is my son's favourite activity at the airport. He's quite happy to stand at any window and watch the planes on the tarmac. It's even more fun if he can see the plane we'll be boarding, and especially extra fun if he can see the luggage being loaded onto the plane. He loves trying to spot our suitcases as they're being put into the hold. 

3. Eat in peace & quiet
Eating on board an airplane can be challenging for kids: too much going on, and a lot of awkwardness when you try to eat off your tray-table. Adding to the difficulty: food often doesn't taste as good at high altitude, and kids who are anxious or excited sometimes have a hard time settling down for a meal on board. Having a sit-down meal at the airport before departure can help both pass the time, and fill some hungry stomachs. Go to a restaurant, or buy some foods you can take with you and eat while sitting at your gate.

4. Play some hands-on games
There are travel-versions of many popular games that are perfect to bring out when you're getting bored at the airport: chess, 4 in a row, card games of all kinds, memory games... Pick one you know your kids like, and bring it in your hand-luggage.

5. Run around
Younger kids can find it very challenging to sit still, and stand around in lineups. When you're traveling by plane, you will probably be doing a lot of both those things. One way to help them burn off some steam is to find a quiet, relatively spacious part of the airport (away from security areas and other passengers), and let them goof around and even run around a bit. Don't bug other passengers, and don't cause a security alert, but let them get moving for a while and then they might be better able to handle sitting still on board the plane.

6. Read a book
I find that the engine noise on board often make it difficult to read books aloud. A book is a lot easier to share with your children when you're sitting waiting at the gate at the airport, whether it's an e-book, or a regular book.

7. Use the internet
These days, most airports have some kind of internet access. Some have free wifi for a limited time, other airports offer free wifi for as long as you're there. If you've brought along a tablet, laptop or other electronic gadget, this might be the time to let your kids browse the net, play some online games, check their email and favorite websites, and generally just kill time on the web.

8. Go to the bathroom

Going to the bathroom on board a plane is a very cramped and sometimes very dirty experience. Spend at least some of your airport time in the bathrooms there: it's a much easier place for kids to get comfortable in, and for mom and dad to do things like change baby diapers, wash hands and faces, and so on.

9. Shop
Maybe the time at the airport can be used to get some cool local souvenirs, books, magazines, snacks for the flight, candy, or whatever else is on offer. Most airports have a lot of shops in them, and if your kids are into shopping, this might be a good time to do that.

10. Do some arts & crafts
My kids usually prefer using their coloring books and drawing pads when we're waiting at the airport. Find a good table, or a space on the floor, and break out the crayons, markers, sticker books, and whatever other supplies you've packed. This can be a nice, relaxing way to spend the time until your flight is ready to depart.
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