Pack­ing light is not child’s play

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

AF­TER years trav­el­ling alone, I was beginning to come to grips with the art of fly­ing light — mix-and­match black ev­ery­thing in a svelte Sam­sonite — when along came the chil­dren. It was back to square one, to an era when gen­tle folk roamed the world with sev­eral dozen trunks and porters tot­tered in their gilded wake.

I wish. Our grand tours tend to in­volve a gross of soft-pack bags on wob­bly, dys­func­tional wheels, with not a porter in sight, sup­ple­mented by back­packs so over-stuffed they won’t fit into an over­head locker without an almighty shove, draw­ing dis­ap­prov­ing glances from solo fly­ers car­ry­ing lit­tle more than a wafer-thin lap­top.

Pack­ing for chil­dren when fly­ing is not so much an art as a craft, and a fairly crude one at that. For­get those mag­a­zine ads for busi­ness or pre­mium econ­omy air­line classes show­ing el­e­gant folk re­clin­ing full-length with a glass of pinot gri­gio and not a crease in their crim­plenes.

You’ll be bat­tling down a nar­row aisle, small peo­ple at­tached to your arms and legs like baby orang-utans, shoul­ders strung with bulging nappy bags that slip­slap fel­low pas­sen­gers in the face, with any luck, those en­joy­ing their ‘‘grig’’.

I be­gan fly­ing when my elder son was only a cou­ple of months old. He was soon joined by a lit­tle brother. Ev­ery flight to visit their grand­par­ents in­volved a jug­gling act of one on the knee, one in a seat, in con­stant ro­ta­tion.

I soon learned the key to any flight was to pack in the mode of an SAS op­er­a­tive. A thrillingly di­vert­ing ar­ray of toys lay at the heart of this sur­vival kit. From rat­tles and food-stained teddy bears we soon pro­gressed to back­packs filled with lit­tle trains (not pop­u­lar with the mil­i­tant metal de­tec­tor chaps).

We then pro­ceeded to plas­tic di­nosaurs (more pop­u­lar with mil­i­tant metal de­tec­tor chaps but not pop­u­lar with fel­low air­line pas­sen­gers un­pre­pared for re-en­act­ments on their seat backs). Then on to foot­balls — which, I am­told upon board­ing, may ex­plode in the rar­efied at­mos­phere — to ar­rive at early ado­les­cence, when chil­dren pack (rather cre­atively) for them­selves, gen­er­ally assem­bling an ar­moury of tech­no­log­i­cal equip­ment that will en­able them to en­dure their par­ents’ com­pany in a con­fined space for any­thing up to 24 hours.

We were once de­layed at the dreaded metal de­tec­tor when our elder son’s heavy back­pack was in­spected to re­veal a Swiss Army pocket knife, lap­top, a cou­ple of phones, a copy of the

(the 7kg cabin bag­gage limit ex­ceeded right there), a por­ta­ble weather sta­tion, world clock and two quite large stereo speak­ers.

Re­turn­ing from over­seas fam­ily hol­i­days tends to cre­ate enor­mous ten­sion on the pack­ing front. Mum and Dad have rather vari­ant the­o­ries on how ev­ery­thing can best be squeezed in (given there’s al­ways twice as much). And each blames the other for al­low­ing sons to have pur­chased re­mote-con­trolled mon­ster trucks, a robot and, yes, two even larger stereo speak­ers of a brand mirac­u­lously cheaper in Bali than at home. Or in the US, we are told au­thor­i­ta­tively by son No. 1, who has man­aged to track down ev­ery WiFi hot spot on the is­land, en­abling him to surf the web’s in­fi­nite shop­ping pos­si­bil­i­ties.

What tips can I give you? De­mand to in­spect your chil­dren’s back­packs be­fore leav­ing home. Al­ways take at least two ‘‘break­out’’ soft bags at the bot­tom of your suit­case and, if at all pos­si­ble, sim­ply ground the ju­nior jet­set­ters and pack them off to their grand­par­ents.

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