31 January 2009

working with LAG regulations

After September 11, some of the more annoying regulations to come into effect are the Liquids, Aerosols and Gels (LAG) regulations. It means that you can only carry a limited amount of liquids etc in your carryon luggage. Containers must be 100ml/grams or less, and you can only have as many as will fit into a transparent 1L (approx 20 x 20cm) ziplockable bag.

This isn't a problem if you're travelling with checked luggage, but we like to travel with carryon only, as its so much easier getting around that way, with kids in tow.

Before our last trip, we tried shampoo bars of soap. We were really hopeful and I tried it for about 2 months, but in the end, I just didn't like the feel it gave my hair. I also didn't like the fact that the conditioner used with it is Apple cider vinegar (which I don't particularly like the smell of) and that would mean that we'd have to take that with us (or buy it) because it too is a liquid, which sort of defeated the purpose...

Today I found an interesting product while searching on the web: shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc that comes as dry sheets, meaning that they aren't liquid anymore and therefore not an issue for flying. With a dry hand (interesting idea in a shower) you get the sheets out of the packet to wash or condition your hair. Great idea.

But what I wanted to know was "does it work?"

At Gridskipper - The Worldwide Travel Blog I found a review of the products. There are fifty sheets in each pack, and apparently you need about 6 each time to get a reasonable lather and for it to feel like it is doing something. They go a bit globby, and as for getting them out of the pack with a dry hand while in the shower... So while they sound great in theory, perhaps they're not in practise.

Yesterday I read a tip about toothpaste dots. The idea of these is that you can use a dehydrator to dry little dots of toothpaste that can be rehydrated when you need to use them.

My mind got to wondering... can you dehydrate shampoo and conditioner in the same way, so that you can use a dried "lump" of shampoo or conditioner for each time you want to wash your hair? That way, you know the product already, because you can just use your normal haircare products. But, I wonder if they reconstitute to work in the same way that they would have before they were dehydrated.

Anyone with a dehydrator tried this? Does it work? Anyone want to try it for me?

Surely some hikers have tried this before, as liquids have more weight than dry stuff and hikers have long wanted to reduce the weight they carry - long before general travelling light became fashionable!

Make friends with adventure stores

Until we started travelling, we really didn't go into adventure stores (e.g. Kathmandu, Snowgum, Paddy Palin). Now we can't go past without going inside to check out the new gadgets they stock. Adventure stores are designed for adventure holidays (backpacking, bushwalking, cross-country skiing etc.) - but they carry a phenomenal array of things which are useful for your more hotel-and-hire-car type of world traveller.

Because we have travelled with cabin luggage only, they were an invaluable source for micro-sized and feather-weight equipment.

You have to know when to shop. The regular prices can be very high, and the sale prices very reasonable. We do not purchase other than during sales. Of our luggage (two cabin-sized bags) one cost about two-thirds the original price, and we got the other at half price. A substantial saving.

If they have a membership club or scheme, consider joining - it may be worthwhile for additional discounts, particularly if you have a large shopping list.

So, what did we get from adventure stores? 
  • Micro-sized super-absorbent towels; 
  • 1 litre plastic roll-up bottles that can take boiling water (for carrying additional fresh drinking water); 
  • quick-dry clothing - shirts and pants in particular; 
  • our luggage; 
  • quick-dry breathable thermal tops; 
  • lightweight drinking mugs; 
  • fold-away backpacks; 
  • elastic pegless laundry clothes-line.
Shop carefully, as there are many excellent products - and bargains - to be had. Be careful not to get swept up in the excitement of the array of gadgets available: not all of it is useful for all types of holidays (however fun they might be!).

30 January 2009

Queues and kids can be fun!

Queueing and kids can be a nightmare. Plan well, and do everything you can to avoid the queues.
  • Anticipate where you might be queueing and get to popular sights early (this means well before opening time). We have done the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, and the Vatican museums early and wasted minimal time lining up for entry.

  • Book ahead where possible. We pre-booked our entry to the Alhambra in Spain three-months in advance and it took less than 5 minutes to collect the tickets at the entry. We also pre-booked the two-day hop-on hop-off bus tour in New York because we didn't know what sort of queues we might encounter when we got there (none, as it turned out).

  • In cities, buy city passes where possible, as these often enable you to skip the queues completely, or at least give you shorter queues. Kids are often free, so it is your adult tickets you’d be waiting for. The city passes are very economical if you plan to visit lots of popular sights. The Paris Pass (www.paris-pass.com) is worth every cent paid for it, as long as you do go to a number of the sights available: we took 10 minutes to walk into Versailles (held up only by the ubiquitous X-Ray scanning of our backpacks) on a blisteringly hot day, as opposed to the 4 hour ticket queue which we would have faced otherwise.

  • Queueing is usually not a problem in locations which are away from peak tourist destinations.

  • Transport passes for whole days, or multiple days will mean you can hop on and off transport much more easily, and often travel more cheaply. You may even be able to pre-purchase over the internet. Just be careful to keep the tickets in good condition: our 4-day Paris tickets stopped working after 2 days, and we once had a pointless argument in Melbourne over a train ticket that got folded in half which could not be read in the barrier.

  • Keep a snack and drink on hand, in a small backpack (larger bags often have to be left at cloakrooms) for the queueing and post-queueing experience.

29 January 2009

favourite travel items: T2 portacot

When we took our first overseas trip with a very young child, we booked accommodation that supplied us with a cot for our infant. For our next trip we decided that we would have much more flexibility if we took our cot with us, as we would not need to find places that could supply one.

However, the portacot we owned weighed about 15kg. Not great for transporting anywhere, let alone halfway round the globe. So we looked into lighter portacots. In our online searching, we found the Phil and Ted's T2 portacot. On the websites, it said it weighed only 2.5kg. Not quite believing this, we were pleased to find that the baby-goods shop at our local shopping mall stocked them, and we checked it out. It really did weigh only 2.5kg, and it was fantastic.

We duly purchased one, and we have loved it ever since. Family members have also borrowed it to take it away on holidays with them.

Why do we love the Phil and Ted's T2 Portacot so much?
- it is lightweight and compact.
- it is like a small tent (even has tent peg holes so that you can peg it down on a beach etc.) and while it takes a little while to get up to speed on putting it together, it it easy enough.
- the sides are mesh which allows for breathability and the top zips up so that it is mozzie-proof.
- the mattress is a self-inflating thin one, but is quite thick enough for comfort and warmth. It is easy to slip a cot mattress-size fitted sheet over it.
- it has its own bag for neat packaway, and for travelling. There's no reason the whole bag couldn't be checked in on its own, as check-in luggage for air travel.

The only downside that we have found is that it can be a little difficult to put it all back in the bag. The main section of the tent is quite thick when folded up, and it can be difficult to get the mattress roll in with it. But with a little practice, this too can be mastered.

But for its weight and compactness, this portacot cannot be beaten!

There is a newer model that has been released, the Phil and Ted's Traveller. We haven't seen or tried it, but apparently its a bit heavier (3.6kg). The side has a zip this time which is an improvement, and the whole thing is supposedly more sturdy. One feature that others haven't liked about it is that the mattress has to be inserted into a sleeve in the base, meaning it can no longer be fitted with a sheet or blanket. It would be interesting to see the new model to evaluate it, but we're still very happy with our T2, and would recommend it to anyone.

28 January 2009

favourite travel items

On our travels we have come up with an ever growing list of favourite travel items. These are things we have tried and loved and now wouldn't leave home without.

We will occasionally post "Favourite Travel Items" so that you can see what we love, and why.

27 January 2009

No 1 piece of advice: travel light

Our favourite piece of advice is to travel light. Navigating metros, taxis, cobblestones, stairs and fast paced cities with kids is much easier with small, light luggage.

We chose wheelie bags that also had zip-away backpack straps, meaning that we could wheel when we wanted to, and put them on our backs when we needed to. In many situations I’d much prefer holding my children’s hands and having my bag on my back, than holding onto my luggage and having my kids wandering free. Sometimes this is just a matter of security and safety.

Our older child has her own wheelie bag, and our younger child carries a small backpack.

We now travel with cabin luggage only. It is a pleasure to travel this way. This is especially useful if you will be taking lots of flights, as there will be no lost or damaged luggage. There is less stuff to keep track of as well, and you’ll know that when you have kids, there seems to be an inordinate amount of “stuff”!

If you think that this sort of travelling light might be for you, we recommend that you visit OneBag.com for helpful information on how to do it.

And if you think it sounds impossible for travelling with kids, it certainly isn't! We've done it and loved it.

26 January 2009

Travel with kids - and enjoy it!

Travelling with kids can be a great experience for many reasons. Whenever we are planning an overseas trip, there is always be someone who asks, "So are you taking the kids with you?" Our answer is always a resounding "YES!"

We love to travel and we love to travel with our kids. Our eldest went with us on her first interstate trip when she was 3 months old, and then overseas when she was 19 months. Both experiences were really positive. Kids learn so much from seeing the world around them, and we'd much rather have them with us than leave them at home with someone else.

Over the years, with our different trips, we have collected tips for enjoying travel with kids. We'll be sharing them with you here. Strap yourself (and your kids) in and enjoy the ride!