By: Wendy Helfenbaum
When I was six and my sister was two, our plane to Miami was delayed indefinitely due to a snowstorm, forcing us to sleep at the airport. My sister and I were filled with excitement. My parents, however, not so much.
I remember the way their pinched faces twitched each time the cheerful airline spokesperson announced that our flight would definitely be soon taking off… Our luggage was long gone, having made its way somewhere towards the phantom plane that had not yet arrived. Snacks and patience were soon depleted, as hordes of stranded passengers paced, cursed and tried to find an available vinyl seat to doze in.
A million vacation tip sheets tell parents where to go, how to pack and what to visit, but many parents find out the hard way that some travel disasters are impossible to predict.
For Lynda Fortier, a recent trip to Egypt to visit her in-laws proved to be a lesson in resourcefulness. The fun started when her husband dashed off to park the car, leaving her to check-in eight overweight suitcases and three daughters under six years of age. When one daughter had to pee “right now,” Fortier couldn’t budge the luggage cart and was told she couldn’t leave it with the airline desk staff.
“I couldn’t let her pee on the floor, so let’s just say that the salad I’d brought for us to eat before we boarded the plane acquired a different dressing,” confesses Fortier. “I opened the Tupperware, zipped down her pants, and she went right there. Everybody was looking at me.”
A two-hour delay after they all boarded the plane was no treat, either. “We were stuck because of a technical problem,” she explains. “They wouldn’t let us off the plane, so my kids ended up running around, hanging off all kinds of strangers.”
Emily Kaufman, author of The Travel Mom’s Ultimate Book Of Family Travel, believes expecting the worst is often your best option.
“Bring everything with you that you anticipate needing for a 24-hour period, because there’s nothing onboard an airplane that’s going to help you help your child,” says Kaufman, mom of two teenagers. That includes extra clothing, emergency diapers for newly potty-trained tots, medication and snacks. Kaufman also suggests packing a zippered cosmetics case full of age-appropriate activities. “For me, it quells anxiety to know that I’m in control of my own destiny.”
What about when all your careful plans literally go straight down the toilet?
Jill Solomon still regrets last year’s trip to Mexico, which included such family-friendly activities as watching her 16-month-old daughter vomiting, while her 3-year-old son lay listless with fever and her husband grappled with the horrors of Montezuma’s Revenge (traveler’s diarrhea).
“It was a nightmare. My daughter couldn’t drink anything. My husband lost about 10 pounds in one day; we tossed out all his clothes,” recalls Solomon, a pediatrician who, this one time, forgot to pack Pedialyte, which prevents dehydration. “I was foolish; this was the first time I’d traveled anywhere with my kids besides Florida. Going to Mexico with your children is very different: you take a risk going somewhere where you can’t drink the water. It could be a week of hell.”
Solomon injected both her daughter and husband with medication from the local hospital to stop the vomiting. “I deal with sick people all the time, but when you’re in a foreign country and you don’t have any resources, it’s a very scary experience,” says Solomon, who managed to fly her family home four days after arriving at the all-inclusive resort.
Kaufman adds that some vacation disasters can be averted simply by doing some pre-departure homework, such as visiting your destination’s website and talking to people who’ve been there. “Arm yourself with information, and know what your options are. Most people don’t know, for example, that at Disney World there’s a quiet little place in the Magic Kingdom with TVs and mother’s helpers if your kid is throwing up.”
How to Avoid Vacation Disasters