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Advice from the front line: travel by plane

The Chicago trip was our first time flying. It went better than we expected. Lots of people have posted about their own trips, and everyone’s kids are different. Still, here’s how we did it, and what worked (or didn’t) for us. Way too long and not very edited. I figure it is a pretty small audience that will find it helpful, so did not spend insane amounts of time on it.

Plane travel

° We chose to drive 90 miles away to have a direct flight instead of two. I think this decision was critical in our success. Getting through the airport, waiting, boarding, checking the stroller, getting on the plane, take off, landing, getting off the plane, remaking the stroller… doing all these things twice might have broken one or more of us. Plus the increased risk of delays and missed flights. Hanging out in one airport made things much easier than doing it twice. We also timed the 90 mile drive with naptime so they slept most of the drive.

° Two days before we left we took the kiddos to the doctor to have their ears checked. They exhibited no signs of infection, but they’ve each had multiple infections this year. I have been on two many planes with screaming children at take off and landing, and wanted to be safe. They both had ear infections. I am thankful we did this because I know how painful ear and sinus pressure at take off and landing can be.

° We also gave them both Tylenol before take off. Generally, we are conservative about drugging the kiddos. But again, we figured better be safe on that pain. Jordan slept through most take offs and landings and seemed unperturbed, and he is easily perturbed. Sarah seemed uncomfortable at landing on the return trip. She became silent and dazed and I actually grabbed the barf bag from fear she was nauseous. But neither cried nor screamed at all.

° So, advantage of antibiotics for travel: less discomfort. Disadvantage: diaper changes. Our kiddos became pooping machines. I changed three poopy diapers in the Harrisburg airport. One was seconds before boarding, and as a result, on the floor in a corner (sorry Sarah). I strongly dislike public bathrooms for changes, and am quite the germ phobe. I find that having a cloth changing pad so it can be washed (as opposed to the kind you fold up and use over and over) makes me feel a bit cleaner. I go in with one kid, set everything up, then after the change, leave everything set up, switch kids with Eric, and change the other kid. I’ve become rather efficient at the public bathroom changes, especially now that they can stand while waiting to wash hands etc.

° They gave us seats adjacent. At boarding we learned that each three seat row has only five oxygen masks, so there cannot be two lap babies per row. We had to find people to change with one of us. So we were both in window seats, Eric in front of me. Not ideal, especially because we packed as though we were going to be next to each other. Lots of passing over the seats, including babies. I wish we had packed for separate rows.

° Having the stroller in the airport was critical for containing children, feeding them quickly, and moving them quickly.

° However, on the way there with flight delays, we gave them lots of time to walk around the airport. They are at an age that walking is delightful and novel, so they loved the stretching. It also tired them out enough to be willing to be more still on the flight.

° I did nurse Sarah on the plane both ways (twice on the way there). .She started fussing for it, pulling at my shirt, etc. It seemed less of a scene, plus I’ve read it helps the ear pressure. It would have been easier if Eric were in the next seat and not a strange man. But both times I think we were discrete enough that the man next to me did not notice (even the old man reading National Review). The first flight when I was in the window I faced the window and she was on the inside so it was quite discrete. The second time I was on the aisle and could not have her head in the aisle (as it is the drink carts kept hitting or feet) so her head was quite close to the man next to us. She is little enough that it worked; it might have been harder with Jordan, though I did nurse him as people were deplaning. I considered warning the man next to me I was about to, but decided just to do it.

° I once read on another blog that you should dress twins alike for plane travel so you get maximal cuteness. I am really not into dressing them alike. I did my best, putting them both in jeans and striped shirts. But the shirts were different enough that Eric laughed at my attempt and I do not think anyone noticed the similarity.

° Security was not even as bad as I expected. I have heard you can go to the front of the line with children but the lines were short enough we did not need to. I had a little mantra (“computer, liquids, shoes, babies, strollers”) of what we needed to do. All liquids (antibiotics, Tylenol, Purell, though truthfully I forgot a Purell in another bag and they did not call us out) were in a quart baggy as required. Pulled that and computer out of our 3 bags. Took off everyone’s shoes (yes, even the babes). Sent bags, shoes, coats, computer, and baggy through security. I picked up both babes and carried them through the machine. Then Eric folded the stroller and sent it through security, came through himself, and redid the stroller. Babes back in stroller, then everyone’s shoes, reassembled bags, etc. I cannot, though, imagine how I could have done it with two 18 month olds alone. Someone would have had to help me with the stroller.

° Right: we always accepted help. A man carried our stroller onto the plane so we could fold it up in advance and carry the babes rather than do it at the end of the airway. On the way back a grad student we know did it for us. These little things really helped our efficiency. And did not just help us but others, because then we did not hold everyone else up.

Packing

° I feel very good about our packing. My advice is pack a lot but not too much (I know). We had three checked bags: one large roller, one small roller, one small duffel. Three carryons (plus stroller): one diaper bag, one Eric work bag, one Eva computer bag (though work bags had lots of other things). .

° In big suitcases. We packed light on grown up clothes to rewear, even though it was a conference for us. For babes basically one outfit per day plus two, and two sleepers each. I figured we could wash things in sink if necessary, and it was not necessary. We brought our own baby blankets and loveys, but not sheets. Other things we packed in checked luggage:

o Washcloths (but we used hotel towels for the first time)

o A few changing pads (could have used towels in hotel room, though)

o Bowls, spoons, and forks for the room (did not use these much but enough that it was worth bringing)

o Sippy cups.

o Disposable bibs. I’m sorry environment, but I love these things. They fit so easily in the diaper bag, and you do not have to clean them.

o Disposable place mats. Again, environment-guilt. But our kids do not do well with plates in front of them (unless you like plates on the floor in restaurants), and if we want to feed ourselves, we need to put food in front of them. Putting food directly on restaurant tables freaks me out, so the disposable place mats with tape to stick to the table were a huge convenience.

o Night light. Hotel rooms can be super dark at night and it helped the grown ups move around, though we did use some lights away from the kids.

o Outlet plugs. Thank goodness.

o Toys and books. The kiddos did not really use the toys we packed much (we only packed a few). They did read the books a fair bit. In the room they enjoyed little shampoo bottles, empty water bottles, and hotel magazines and books.

o The rain shield on the stroller helped tremendously for the Chicago weather. Less rain and more wind. The kiddos were quite toasty in the stroller while we froze.

° In carry on:

o More diapers than we could imagine needing. Sarah and Jordan wear different sizes so I really overstocked.

o More wipes than we could imagine needing. I still ran out between diaper changes, hands, and wipe downs of contact areas.

o Lots of plastic bags for garbage.

o New toys. I bought travel magnadoodles which worked a bit but generally they did well without toys (though on a 6 hour flight it would have been totally different). They did enjoy books on the plane, though.

o Snacks. We brought all kinds of junk, like goldfish, Gerber apple bits, and Wegmans fruit flats. They love these things and they worked well for distraction waiting and on the plane.

o Disposable bibs (these were critical for the airport Chinese food they ate in the stroller).

o Loveys (just in case our luggage got lost).

Hotel room

° All sleeping in the same room is rough. At home the kiddos are good about putdown, but when we were in the same room it was challenging. There was no door to close. I had to listen to them cry. I would go back to them every 5 minutes and try to comfort them, they would calm down, and then they would get upset when I walked away again. I would duck behind a bed or in the bathroom while I waited them out. Eric usually left the room so only one of us was there, which helped. Once asleep the kiddos did fine and we could whisper or work (did not try watching TV), but the falling asleep was rough. We shut most lights and actually played the same music we play at home (plugged the Ipod into the room’s alarm clock). Naps were even more challenging, they just wanted to snuggle and cuddle. I am not sure what we could have done differently though; everyone I talk to says, yup, it’s hard.

° The first night while the kids fussed it out Eric went to the grocery store. He bought diapers and wipes and lots of food. We got a fridge for the room (most hotels let you rent one) so we had milk, cheese, yogurt, and then lots of snacks for kids and grown ups. Our kids eat 5 times a day so food in the room was critical.

° We brought our portable booster seats. These are perhaps my favorite non-registered-for shower gift. They work great at friends’ houses, and even at our house for friends’ kids. They pack up really small and are light. We only could use one as the room had only one chair. But it was great to attach it to the chair (see video). Our kids do not do well eating unconfined. We tried a picnic on the floor but food went everywhere and they kept running around and not eating. Once we set up the booster seat, they would ask to go in it when hungry. They had to take turns, but it was great for feeding them, and honestly, keeping them in a few extra minutes to keep one child constrained (again, see video, they did not mind).

Other

° Eating out: in general they did great eating out. I brought little toys though mostly the novelty, straws, and food interested them. The biggest challenge for us was getting enough fruit and vegetables in them in restaurants. There were few things our kids would eat (they love peas, corn, and green beans). Jordan ate some broccoli at the Asian restaurants, but Sarah did not. Neither had interest in veggie tempura. The pizza place had basically no veggies they like, and were even out of milk (who runs out of milk?). We should have bought a few veggies at the grocery store to eat in the room or to add to restaurant meals. But mostly they survived on starches and proteins and cheese.

° At home we have strict schedules. Away we went with the flow, napping at off times, eating at off times, and staying up too late. It worked, with enough excitement to keep them going, though they were more worn out and fussier toward the end of the trip (I don’t think that much non-scheduling would have worked for a whole week, as they did not sleep enough each night). Upon return home they pretty easily returned to their regular schedule.

° The art museum had an enormous line. We considered leaving, and then we saw the handicap ramp. We really had no other way to get in other than fold up the stroller and carry both kiddos and the stroller up the stairs. So we cut the line. We felt some guilt. But then we have twin toddlers, we deserve an occasional break.

Advice from the front line

If you’re changing your son immediately post-nap, perhaps don’t stand there with the diaper open saying “wow, that’s a dry diaper!” If he then says “uh oh” maybe don’t stand there, diaper still open, asking “what’s uh oh? what’s the matter sweetheart?”

Or you could ignore my advice, and, like me, within seconds, need to change his shirt, pants, clean diaper, two layers of changing pad, your own shirt, pants, and socks.

Just a thought.

How I ebay

Suz asked me to say more about how I use ebay for clothes, and I’m happy to share what works for me, because I actually enjoy doing it (and I wish I had enough time to sell things on ebay, I think I’d make a decent amount of money back).

I love using ebay, though, obsessive personality that I have, I sometimes spend more time than I should there. I have had great luck buying used, good condition clothes. Some are for daycare because they really dirty their clothes up there. But I have also gotten some great dresses for Sarah and really cute shirts for Jordan. Because I buy things in lots, sometimes there are items too nice for daycare, so they get worn on weekends.

The first lot I bought was preemie clothes, as it was hard to find them in town (not that I was leaving the house), and on line everything was overpriced. They outgrew them in a month, but while they could wear them, they were super useful. I then bought a bunch of summer stuff (lots of t-shirts and shorts for Jordan, and dresses and other items for Sarah), and just bought some fall/winter stuff. I bought two lots for Jordan, one with 6 items ($4.50, plus shipping), and this one with 16 items for $27 plus shipping.

I bought a lot of 66 items for Sarah for more than I should have spent if I didn’t go over my mentally predetermined limit, but still, it works out to about $1 an item. You can’t do that even at a used clothing store.

Here are some of the things I do.

  • I generally only buy lots. If you’re buying cheap clothes, it makes no sense to buy one item at a time and pay for shipping on each. Lots of 6 or more items, though, start to be worth the shipping (I guess an exception would be buying multiple items from the same seller to ship together, but then you’d have to be sure to win multiple items, likely resulting in bidding more than you might have).
  • Use the categories. If I go to clothing, infants and toddlers, boys, 12-18 months, mixed items/lots, there are currently 779 items! For girls, 572.
  • To avoid browsing them all, I then search within that list with brands I like (Gymboree, Gap, Old Navy, Greendog, Children’s Place…). It doesn’t mean every item is that brand, but it means it’s included, and I avoid a lot that has really cheap brands. Searching Gymboree, I get that 572 down to 92, a reasonable list to browse.
  • Doing this today, here’s a decent looking girls’ lot
  • I don’t have to love every item, because some can be back up clothes at daycare, and some can be given to charity because I spend so little on each item. And I actually like having clothes I didn’t pick out item by item, so I’m not attached and disappointed when they come home stained.
  • Good sellers will have multiple photos, sometimes one of the whole lot, and others of items close up. They will also list each item and their condition.
  • I buy used clothing lots (you can find new ones), but even then some come new with tags (as was true for the dress Sarah wore on her birthday, part of a lot of 6 other used dresses that I loved).
  • You can check out the past feedback on any seller, to make sure they’re trustworthy.
  • When I started doing it, I lurked for a while to get a sense of how bidding went, and what things sold for. I won’t go into details of the rules of ebay; you can learn that on the site. The basic thing is, most auctions have a starting bid. You can put in any bid that is higher than that starting bid. If you’re the first, you’ll start at starting bid. Let’s say the minimum is $1, and you put in $20, you’ll currently be bidding $1. If someone else bids less than $20 (let’s say $15), your bid will go up to above theirs, $15.01, and you’ll still be winning. If they bid $20.01, then they’re the current winner.
  • What I discovered is there seems to be two primary ways of bidding on these lots:
  • Method A: Do nothing. Wait until there are about 2 minutes left in the auction (exact number of minutes depends on how risky you are), then bid the most you would want to pay.
  • Method B: As soon as you see the auction, bid the most you would want to pay. Sit back and see what happens.
  • The advantage of Method A is that you may win for significantly less than you’d be willing to pay. There may be no one else bidding, only others waiting until the last minute. They then won’t know how much you’re willing to pay, or try to test your limits. So in the end, you might win with a very low number, or you might win with your maximum bid, or you might lose.
  • The advantage of Method B is that you don’t have to obsess or watch the auction. You put your bid in and walk away (of course, I am never able to do this and have to watch if I’m winning or not). Because you’re the first in, for someone else to win, they have to bid more than your maximum (whereas in Method A, if you come in at the last minute, and someone already has bid your maximum, you lose).
  • I think Method A has a bit more success because of the surprise factor. Also, my problem with Method B (which happened with the 66 item lot) is I get frustrated if someone comes along and outbids me, so then I go above my originally determined maximum to try to win it back.
  • So, I recommend setting a mental limit, and sticking with it. There are enough lots that if you lose one, there’s another to try. I definitely have lost some.
  • I usually pay immediately upon winning, and the items tend to be delivered very quickly. Then throw them all in the laundry, and voila, instant wardrobe.
  • Last week I made my first exception to buying lots. You can find many new clothing items on ebay. People seem to make money off of buying popular brands like Gymboree and Hanna Andersson when they are way reduced at the end of the season (there are currently 736 items for girls 12 to 18 months if you search Gymboree, NWT). Then they sell them, new with tags, the following year so they are in season. I personally tried buying some Gymboree clothes from their website at the end of this past summer for next summer, though who knows if the sizes are right. So enter the ebayers, who can sell these new clothes in season, just a year off (do you care if your 2 year old is wearing this year’s or last year’s fashions?). I bought Sarah a dress for Christmas (yes, already) this way, for less than ½ of the new price. Not cheap like the items in the lots, but less than I’d pay at the mall or direct from the store web site before Christmas. As an example, here’s a cute HA sweater, retail $48, starting bid, $10.

If anyone has other questions I haven’t addressed here, I’m happy to answer them in comments, or by email. Also, I feel weird posting links to the actual items I’ve recently won here, but if you want to see them to get a sense of what I saw and what I got, email me and I’ll email you the link.


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