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Burdened Travelers

January 20, 2011

When you need gear like this, small bags become difficult.

Oh my gosh, people.  Remember how I was all: “traveling with a toddler is easy if you just bring a teeny backpack and blah blah blah?”  yeah.  well since you probably laughed *at* me at the time, I’ll go ahead and say you’d be laughing *with* me now.  because I’m laughing at myself. hard.

Traveling light is awesome.  I’m all for it.  I lived out of a backpack for four months straight and it wasn’t even completely full.  But Christmas travel for us this year was anything but light.  And I think that our friends from colder climes might have some insight into how that could be.

All of the corners I suggested cutting? we cut them.  We didn’t bring the pack’n’play, we packed in backpacks, we did laundry along the way… but here is where the wheels came off.  First, we were going to a cold place*.  And second we were going to a cold place with snow**.  And third, we were going to a cold place with snow on an airline that didn’t charge for checked in luggage. That didn’t even charge an oversized bag fee.***

Flood gates = open.

So there we were, in the airport, with the following:
* Two multi-day trekking backpacks
* Two snowboard bags packed to bursting with snowboard gear
* A car seat
* A stroller
* An 18-month-old

Hold on though, I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

So there we were, at our HOUSE with the following: see above.  When the car we’d ordered (seriously the only way to go – soooo much better than the standard taxi and not that much more money) shows up. Only it’s not the van or SUV that we’d requested. It’s a Towncar.

So there we were, in our driveway, trying to shove the following into a five-seater sedan:
* Two multi-day trekking backpacks

This is what all that crap looks like on a smarte carte. missing are the stroller and the car seat (which was still in the in-law's car at this point... oops)

* Two snowboard bags packed to bursting with snowboard gear
* A car seat
* A stroller
* Two full-sized adults
* An 18-month-old boy
* oh yeah and the driver.

I should have taken a picture but I didn’t think of it at the time because I was busy corralling Gus whilst Masa and the driver mashed my (smaller) snowboard bag into the trunk along with our packs, his (larger) snowboard bag into the front seat of the car, and the three of us plus car seat in the back of the towncar.

One short car ride and a loaded smarte carte later and we were all checked in and ready for our flight.  Everything went smoothly but it’s pretty unavoidable that getting to Vancouver Island is a bit of a pain in the patoot.

The hotel we stayed in at the airport - as viewed from our plane.

As planned, we stayed at the Fairmont Hotel that’s actually *in* the Vancouver airport set about catching the ferry to the Island the next morning.  This meant getting alllll of our bags, checking into the hotel (which was, of course, well equipped for this sort of endeavor and thankfully held all our non-necessary baggage in their storage for us).  In the morning, we got ourselves and our junk to the bus. The bus was taken to the ferry, and the ferry was sailed to Vancouver Island, where we were, at long last, collected by Masa’s parents.  The boards were lashed to the roof rack of their Escape Hybrid and the three of us were stuffed into the back seat.

And for the first time since I saw that undersized Towncar show up in front of our house, I relaxed a bit.  *siiiigh*

It was not elegant, and there were certainly dicey moments wondering whether and how it would all fit in a given vehicle. But we made it, intact. For ten whole days we didn’t have to think about carting all our things and our persons through any form of mass-transit. I had to laugh at myself though, as we packed the smarte carte till it looked like something out of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and rolled it, precariously, through one airport or another.

Despite the fact that we carted everything but the kitchen sink (and the pack’n’play!) to Canada and back, we came through relatively unscathed with the exception of nearly forgetting the car seat in the in-laws car and Masa and Gus’ boarding passes having the much maligned “Four SSSSs” on them. Which of course meant that we had to quickly try to teach Gus to say “don’t touch my junk”.  (We failed).  We were body scanned (even me because I was traveling with the would-be terrorists) and I was asked quasi inappropriate questions about my nursing bra. But on the whole, no big deal.

But I digress.  Here’s the summary: even though I preach simplicity in packing, I am forced to recognize that there are instances when you just can’t help but bring more than you can carry.  Here are my tips for traveling fully loaded:

1. If possible, order a car to pick you up and be sure to tell them exactly what you are bringing. This was our fatal flaw, we told them that we needed a van, but we didn’t specify that we were packing sporting equipment so they bumped us to a towncar.  On the way back we were able to get a minivan taxi but we’re looking into how to arrange a car pick up for our returns as well.  It doesn’t cost much more, maybe 10 dollars or so extra for our trip (taxi = $20ish and a car = $30 flat rate), but it’s so much better.  The car is clean, roomy, the driver is always super helpful. This time our driver helped us smoosh all our crap into her car and then she ran down to get us a smarte carte when we got to the airport. Worth every penny.

2. Be sure to know exactly where you’re going if you’ll be using various forms of transportation.  Navigating a crowded airport with a teetering cart is difficult enough without having to stress about going the wrong way.

3. If you have to overnight somewhere before you get to your final destination, pack all essentials in one place so you don’t have to rifle through all of your bags to find everyone’s toothbrushes, jammies and underwear.

4. Find out about payment methods, necessary reservations, and queuing times for all secondary transport.  For this trip we used,

A ferry navigating the active pass between Vancouver Island and the Mainland.

besides the air travel, a hired car, a bus, two ferries, and a taxi.  Some didn’t take credit cards, and so we had to have cash in the proper denominations and from the proper country.  Some needed reservations or required that we get there an hour ahead of time.  The return ferry trip even required both a reservation AND a certain arrival time.  So know before you go.  With a bunch of crap and a kid, you definitely don’t want to risk missing the boat (or bus) because you didn’t have enough of the right kind of cash or because your reservation is only valid if you arrive 45 minutes ahead of time.

5. If you’re traveling internationally with a child, and you’re a big dork like me, you may have to ASK them to stamp your passports these days.  I was so bummed when the Canadian customs dude didn’t stamp our passports because this was Gus’ first trip to the homeland (he’s a dual citizen) and I wanted it to be documented. The US guy obliged but mentioned that it was “only a US stamp” but at least our first use of the kid’s passport was documented somehow! Anyway I know from traveling with children (not mine) in the past that customs agents are almost always happy to stamp a kid’s passport if you make it a big deal and act all excited telling the kid that “they’re going to stamp your passport! Look!”

Happy Travels!!

* which means that the clothes we brought were bulkier
** which means that we wanted to bring our snow gear
*** which means that we (and by “we” I mean “masa” ) insisted on bringing our snowboards, boots, helmets… etc.

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