Easing the Single Parent Travel Burden (part I)
This article discusses additional ways to hand over travel responsibilities to your kid(s) so that you, the single parent, do not have to carry the entire “responsibility burden.” In a previous article, I discussed ways for your older kids, age nine or ten and above, to become skillful map readers and navigators, freeing you to focus on your driving or just enjoy the sights as you stroll around town. What about the younger children, age eight or nine and younger? What can they do to ease your single parent travel burden and made them feel they hold a responsible part in the success of the trip? Here are a few ideas:
LOCATE THE SAFETY EXITS
From the time my son was four years old I made him responsible for locating exit doors on planes and in hotels and theatres. I explained the importance of his job and he took it to heart. Every time we checked into a hotel, he would always remember to look down the hallway and count the number of doors to the fire exit. Although we have never experienced a hotel fire, it is nice to know that I have one less thing to worry about when I check in. Kids, less encumbered with responsibilities, are more likely to focus on a single task.
LEARN THE NAME OF THE HOTEL
My first major trip traveling as a single adult with my two kids was to the Knoxville World’s Fair. My kids were then four and eleven years old. Fearful of separation in a large, crowded area, I made sure both my children knew the name of our hotel and had them repeat it back to me every so often. We witnessed one six-year-old child get lost, a memorable object lesson for my young son. Thereafter, whenever we traveled, without being prompted, my son memorized the hotel name as soon as we checked in. If you are traveling in a foreign country, have your child carry with him the cover from a set of matches. (Don’t give your child the matches; that’s inviting disaster).
Big kids benefit from this object lesson too. While I was working for a major European student tour company, our headquarters in Philadelphia received a phone call from the Pan American Airways office in downtown Rome. It seemed a high school student from one of our groups to Italy had wandered off by himself on a free afternoon, gotten lost in the city, and didn’t know the name of his hotel. He did remember that he had flown on Pan American so he walked into their office and explained his problem. After checking his flight information, the airlines were able to verify his group information and called our office in the U. S. to get the name of his hotel. Although the student rated a poor grade in the memory department, he certainly deserved an “A” for ingenuity.
Little ones can be responsible for counting luggage every time you make a move – arrival at your destination via airplane, checking out of the hotel, leaving a train or bus. The first couple of years my little son bordered on becoming “Mr. Annoying,” as we had to stop cold in our tracks while he did a formal luggage count (usually a total of three bags and two small backpacks). But it made him and his older sister acutely aware of the importance of not leaving things behind.
FINAL ROOM OR COMPARTMENT SEARCH.
When you feel your child is ready, let him or her be responsible for the final room search before you check out of the hotel or leave the train. Kids are good at this. Once they are shown how to properly search a room for items that are left behind (under beds, in drawers and closets, behind the shower curtain) you can count on them to do a suitable search and relieve you of that burden. Of course, until they are tall enough, you will have to check the shelves in the closet!
As the years went by and my son reached his pre-teens and later his teens, he automatically took on more responsibility for the luggage and I was happy to be relieved of this burden as well. When we did curbside check-in at airports, he would stay outside with the luggage until the porter actually picked it up and took it inside, so I didn’t have to worry about curbside theft. When we traveled on buses throughout third world countries he would watch the porters load the luggage on top or inside, making certain the luggage was tied and secured properly. At times he even got up on top of the bus and helped the young men, making friends along the way. I am sure his efforts saved us from some lost or damaged luggage.
Only once did I challenge my son’s “Baggage Master” authority and then it was to my regret. We were in Bolivia and had just disembarked from a hydrofoil which had transported us from Isla del Sol to another interesting hotel on the banks of Lake Titicaca. Unable to book the hotels separately, we had signed up for a four night package that included the transfers, porterage and a guide, along with the two hotels. As my son prepared to remove the luggage from the hydrofoil so we could take it to our room, the guide stopped us and said, “No, the porters will remove the luggage and bring it to your room.” Conscious of his duty, my son then positioned himself to watch the porters do their job. The guide came over to me and insisted we go and enjoy ourselves in the hotel and that our actions made him lose face and look like he wasn’t doing his job. When I told this to my son, he was thought it was a bad idea. Torn between offending my son and committing a cultural faux pas, I chose the former. I asked Greg to back off and then walked over to the guide and told him I held him personally responsible for our luggage.
About twenty minutes later my son came running up the stairs to our hotel room, yelling that our luggage was on its way to Quito. As requested Greg had left the hydrofoil dock but shortly thereafter only to see half our bags being carted away in a big red pick up truck. The two of us, with smoke coming out of our ears, stormed into the hotel lobby, to find our guide. He was shocked and apologetic and did address the problem immediately. Our lost luggage arrived back at our hotel and was delivered to our room about 3:00am that night. After that the guide never questioned my son when Greg stood watch over our luggage and I resolved to do the same.