Two parents, five overweight bags, and a college-bound daughter about to burst into tears. Talk about a stressful beginning to the "Long Goodbye."
We'd opted to fly Southwest to bring my daughter, Mel, to college because we each could bring two bags free. I hadn't bargained on them being so heavy. I should have weighed them, I thought ruefully, as we frantically rearranged shoes, books, and jeans. Luckily, Mel had an extra backpack stashed in the largest duffel. Luckily, the ticket agent was patient. Luckily, those behind us were kind. In the end, we didn't have to pay for a single overweight bag (you can view Southwest's baggage policies here, and remember, if in doubt, it helps if you weigh bags before you arrive at the airport so you are not surprised).
“Let's hope that's the most stress we have this weekend," my husband Andy said, as we made our way through security. Right!
“Are you going to cry, Mom?" my son, Matt, had asked me when we boarded the flight to take him to California to college. Seven years later, as we were again winging west taking our third and final child to college, I remembered Matt’s question. I knew the weekend would be stressful, not to mention an emotional rollercoaster—just like the admissions process.
One thing I had learned. Like all of those other big parenting moments, it won’t go exactly the way we hope. Parents who expect one picture-perfect memorable moment after another will invariably be disappointed—just like the time when the kids whined at Disney World, or it rained in Hawaii. I just hope for a minimum of histrionics. First stop, of course, was Bed Bath & Beyond (good thing I had a stack of 20 percent off coupons with me). The store, like the hotel, was crowded with freshmen pushing loaded carts, parents trailing behind, presumably with credit cards in hand.
“I’m an official college student now!” Mel declared happily, as she stashed her brand-new college ID in her pocket.
Then came the hard part—moving in. It took nearly an hour of screwing, unscrewing, tugging, and hammering to raise the beds and move the furniture to maximize the floor space. By the time we left—and after a run to the grocery, nursery for plants for the window, and thrift shop for a bike, we were exhausted, but the girls’ beds were made with bright orange and turquoise sheets, clothes were hung in the closets, and the room was beginning to seem like home, especially when the girls put up pictures—far more of their friends than families..
The next day, Mel and her floor mates headed to sessions for new students, while we had a schedule of our own on campus where we covered topics like “parenting at a distance” and had meet-and-greets with professors and administrators.
But all too soon, it was time to go. Be prepared that your child may want to get rid of you as quickly as possible (remember middle school?).
Sure, we deserve better (at least a heartfelt "thanks, Mom and Dad") after helping them navigate the college-application process, calming their I'll-never-get-accepted-anywhere jitters, helping them survive the rejections and celebrate the acceptances, and, of course, agreeing to foot the bill for their higher education. “Group Hug!” Mel said pulling her arms around us as we got ready to leave.
This time, I wiped away tears. Her dad did too. Mel just grinned.
Eileen Ogintz writes the widely syndicated column "TakingtheKids" Her series of family guides for Taking the Kids throughout the Western United States are now available for the NOOK and Kindle.
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Of course you’re a little nervous. It’s not easy to put a child on a plane solo whether they’re five or 15, whether this is their first flight or 50th. Thousands of kids as young as five routinely fly on Southwest every year and especially in summer. Parents pay $50 each way to make sure they are taken care of and supervised. But on Southwest, once kids are 12, they are no longer considered “unaccompanied minors.” Airline personnel won’t even know the kids are alone unless the kids tell them. That’s why you should have a “what if” conversation beforehand. What if your teen misses her connection or gets stranded? Tell them they must immediately tell the flight attendants or gate agents that they are traveling alone and call you (make sure they have a working cell phone with the numbers where you can be reached ) so you can discuss the options with an airline representative. They shouldn’t leave the airport with a stranger. And they should have money or a cash card. If you don’t think you—or your young teen--can handle that situation, send them with another family member or make the trip with them.
Here are 10 tips to make it easier sending any child on a plane by themselves this summer:
Carefully check the website for the rules and fees. Book the earliest flight of the day. On Southwest, unaccompanied minors ages five to 11 may only travel on nonstop or direct flights which don’t require a change of planes. If your teen is old enough to fly without supervision but looks young, bring along a copy of her birth certificate or passport. Otherwise, children under 18 are not required to show photo ID. Make sure your child has a copy of his itinerary and knows where he's supposed to be going and who is picking him up. Make sure your child has a card in his backpack with the numbers for you and your backups, in case you are momentarily unavailable, and for those charged with meeting them. Pack plenty of food, entertainment (include something new), a sweatshirt and a clean tee shirt (in case of spills) in their backpacks. Request a "gate pass" to go through security with your kids so you can stay with them until they board. Reassure them if their flight is diverted or grandpa is delayed meeting them, Southwest personnel will take care of them. Stay at the airport until your child’s flight is airborne -- in the event of a mechanical problem that brings the plane back to the gate. Relax! The calmer you are, the calmer the kids.
Just don't count on a goodbye kiss Copyright 2011 Eileen Ogintz
Eileen Ogintz writes the widely syndicated column TakingtheKids and offers family travel tips on Southwest.com Chapters from her family travel books are now available for NOOK and Kindle for as little as 99 cents.
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I hate saying no—especially on vacation. No, you can’t have that $50 sweatshirt. No, you can’t order that $30 steak. Vacation is a time to indulge, after all. But budgets are tight and none of us want to pull out that credit card on vacation and worry about the bill later. The good news: You can have plenty of fun in the in the sun and not bust the budget. Here’s how to get the most bang from your vacation buck this summer:
STAY PUT With the cost of gas, opt for a place where you want to stay several days and explore from there—on foot or by public transportation. Hit one national park instead of three! Explore one city—via public transportation. ALTERNATE PRICEY ATTRACTIONS with activities that won't cost much--a hike in a state park, an afternoon at the beach or the pool, popcorn and movie in your vacation rental. Use the web and local parenting publications where you are visiting to seek out lesser known, inexpensive local attractions. SCOPE OUT local free attractions—the best playground or skate park in town, a tour of the local potato chip or chocolate factory. Use social media to get local parents’ faves before you visit; Ask any local you meet—the concierge at your hotel, the police officer on the corner for their family’s picks. JOIN FORCES with another family or your extended family to split costs. You'll save on lodging, food and can even split child care chores. Just make sure you chose friends or relatives with similar vacation styles! EAT IN for breakfast; picnic for lunch—even at the theme parks. Relax with take-out around the pool in the evening or barbeque. You’ll save money and eat healthier. Besides, it’s no fun to eat out with the kids every meal. BOOK SMART by choosing places that are off season-- Arizona in summer, for example. Who cares if it’s hot if you have a pool or the beach! Opt for a city hotel on the weekend when business travelers are gone and a resort locale during the week. Check to see if rates change if you shift your dates slightly. DON'T BE SHY about asking for discounts. Remember, people in the travel industry need your business as much as you need to stretch your vacation dollar. Look for free nights, free room upgrades, resort credits for food, kids’ programs, spas and more. RESIST TEMPTATION to buy that pricey souvenir. You don't really need it. Start a funny souvenir collection this year--salt and pepper shakers, frogs, holiday ornaments. The more kitschy the better. Limit yourself to $10. Give the kids a souvenir budget and stick to it! GO HOME A DAY EARLY rather than penny pinch on your entire trip. You will end up spending the same amount but won't be worried about busting your budget. TRAVEL GREENER by using reusable water bottles. You’ll not only save money but will help the environment. And you get instant souvenirs when the kids slap stickers on theirs!
Copyright 2011 Eileen Ogintz
For more summer travel tips, visit www.Takingthekids.com
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Eileen Ogintz is considered a leading national travel expert and syndicated columnist of the weekly column "Taking the Kids." Her work is also featured on southwest.com, and for the first time, we are featuring her Spring Break tips with our fellow Nuts readers! I've spent Spring Breaks hunting for the "perfect" sand dollar on a Sanibel Island beach, watching major leaguers at Spring Training games, along with my little leaguers, and exploring the Grand Canyon with a couple of young hikers who were thrilled to become Junior Rangers. So, if you think Spring Break is only for college kids, think again. While more college students opt to do volunteer work on their breaks (and you can certainly find a family volunteer project, too) families have discovered that it is easier -- and often cheaper -- to get away in the spring than in the summer when camps and summer jobs -- not to mention work schedules and peak travel season perils -- wreak havoc with family vacation planning. That's why despite the recession you can expect to see parents and kids racing down ski slopes all around the country ( www.ski.com ). In Vermont, try a smaller, less expensive area like Bolton Valley ( www.boltonvalley.com ). California's Northstar-at-Tahoe ( http://www.northstarattahoe.com ) offers deep family discounts. Kids can ski two days here for $30 and you get half-off a second kids' ski lessons. Or choose instead to cheer on your favorite teams at Spring Training games in Florida ( www.floridagrapefruitleague.com ) and Arizona ( www.cactusleague.com ). Look for deals like at the InterContinental Tampa ( www.intercontampa.com ), which is close to George Steinbrenner's Legends Field. Here you'll save 25 percent on the best rate and get a "Fan Tool Kit," which includes a baseball for signing, a box of Cracker Jack and a lot more. (The kids will love this!) In Arizona, the historic Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa ( http://www.wigwamresort.com/ ) offers an overnight Spring Training escape package starting at just $219, plus resort credits, while the W Scottsdale Hotel & Residences ( www.starwoodhotels.com/ ), a hip downtown property, promises the chance to mingle with the players at practice, suite accommodations, signed baseball gear and buy-one-get-one tickets -- as long as you can afford $1,000 per night. Throughout March and April, look for deals in Hawaii like those at Maui's Honua Kai Resort & Spa ( www.honuakaimaui.com ). Honua offers up to 35 percent off the room rate, which starts at just $260/night for a one-bedroom suite. Or try the Caribbean (look for kids up to 15 free deals available now at Club Med, www.clubmed.com , as long as you book by March 1.) If sailing is more your style, share dinner with grandparents on mega cruise ships ( www.cruisemates.com ) while happily comparing notes at what a great deal you scored. "In past years, many of these ships and categories would be sold out by now," according to Heidi Allison-Shane from Cruise Compete.com ( http://www.cruisecompete.com/specials/holiday/spring_break_cruises/2 ). She notes that while prices are up from last year, they still remain 10 percent lower than 2008 with especially good deals on the ultra deluxe liners. "There is great availability right now as consumers are waiting until the last minute to book," she adds. You certainly don't have to bust the budget either. Take a short cruise, for example, from a port near your home (Norwegian Cruise Line ( www.ncl.com ) is launching Nickelodeon-themed cruises from New York City in late April) or head to a ski resort touting free nights and lift tickets (The Canyons ( www.thecanyons.com ), for example, in Utah gives two lift tickets for every room booked). Take the train (kids travel at a deep discount on Amtrak, www.amtrak.com ) and explore a nearby city. (Look for the latest family hotel deals on city tourism Websites like www.bostonusa.com , www.nycgo.com or www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com ). Go with one child if the others have to stay home. Go solo if your significant other can't get away. Use the opportunity to try something new. Learn to scuba dive or snowboard, explore a museum devoted to sport like the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., ( www.hoophall.com ) where basketball was first invented, or music (the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, www.rockhall.com or spies (the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., www.spymuseum.org ). So many families come to Orlando for Spring Break -- 2.6 million visitors in March and April -- that you'll see more kids here than at any other time of year, except summer. And it won't be nearly as hot. (Check out the new Super Deal program and new Magicard offers on everything from Disney World attractions to accommodations and restaurants, www.visitorlando.com/deals ). Buy three nights and get two more free, including a week's unlimited admission to Universal Studios' two parks where the much anticipated "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" will open later this spring -- less than $800 for two adults and two parents ( www.universalorlando.com ). You may even score free admission to see The Mouse himself at Walt Disney World, if your family spends a day volunteering. (Visit www.disneyparks.com for details and other deals). Look for hotel packages in Orlando and elsewhere, especially for families. In honor of Holiday Inn Club Vacations in Orlando, Fla.'s first anniversary ( www.hiclubvacations.com/anniversary ), for example, guests can score an upgrade to a two-bedroom villa, a $250 resort credit, lazy river tubes, mini golf and more. Or you can avoid hotels entirely. One friend checks www.craigslist.com for apartment rentals in cities where she wants to visit and proposes what she'd like to pay, typically scoring a deal -- at half the going rate, she boasted. Also try sites like www.vrbo.com and www.homeaway.com where you can also negotiate directly with a homeowner or check out www.perfectfamilyvacation.com for good deals on digs in resort locales with multi-bedrooms. Travelocity has more than 100 hotels for under $100 per night. Hotels are where the values are this spring with rates down 10 percent or more in destinations like Orlando, Cancun, Honolulu, South Florida and Tampa/St. Petersburg, reports Travelocity's Genevieve Brown. Last Spring Break -- my daughter Mel's last before she went away to college -- I let her lead the way straight to Austria's Oetztal Valley, about an hour from Innsbruck. We holed up in the Hotel Regina ( www.hotel-regina.com ), a small, quaint hotel, and skied every day, traversing glaciers, viewing the Alps and stopping at traditional wooden huts for hearty lunches of homemade sausage and apple strudel. Mel, an avid skier, was thrilled by the mountains and by the fact that she could drink legally. I was thrilled to have her all to myself for a few days. "Good bonding time," she told me. Exactly what a Spring Break should be -- wherever you go. To read more of Eileen's tips, check out http://www.takingthekids.com/
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