Packing light is not child’s play
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.