Because I at least try to be a considerate and thoughtful traveler, I regularly look up phrases to suggest “the best way” of doing things. One such example? Parents traveling in First Class whilst their children trail along in steeragea lesser service category.
What I find most fascinating about the search results is the concurrent expression of two opinions that lead inexorably to parent shaming without a solution:
Children don’t belong in First Classunilaterally!, while
Parents who “abandon” their kids in Economy while riding up front themselves are monstrous jerks who should be drawn and quartered (or at least shot.)
Essentially, the sum of those two arguments leads to the conclusion that parents ought never travel in First Class while their children are under age.
Here’s where I’ll swing back around to a point I’ve stressed on this blog before: I often purchase tickets in premium cabins because of my health. Chronic autoimmune illness makes that option more comfortable—but also safer and healthier—for me.
I live with chronic pain.
Every day, I probably ache in at least a few joints. Travel—otherwise one of my great joys—can make my symptoms worse. A larger, more adaptable seat does help. More room, easier access to a lavatory, and the simple comfort of a foot rest or extensible leg support makes the difference between a successful trip and a multi-hour torture chamber.
Note that the acquisition of a more comfortable seat is something I do in addition to taking the most powerful opioid painkillers I’ve got. In transit, I will still suffer more pain than my daily average with these interventions. I choose the world-expanding possibilities of travel in spite of the cost, but the calculus for any given trip can be complex.
If there were legal protections on a minimum amount of space per passenger on a plane, the actionable facts in this argument could be different. If I were guaranteed a seat in Coach that provided enough room to shift position and freedom from being kicked and elbowed by even a plus-sized seat mate, I’d be open to debating the courtesies of keeping younger travelers out of the pointy end of the plane.
Since that is a pipe dream, however, the traveling public is going to have to tolerate my presence in Premium Economy and better, when I can afford it. And, where I go, there also will travel my children when I deem it desirable that they join me.
Given these facts, which option is preferable to the segment of society that objects to children in First Class and kids seated away from their folks?
My own choice is usually dictated by my finances.
When I score an awesome cheap fare up front, I typically book my little guy (middle school aged, so not so terribly tiny) in the seat next to me. He is delighted by the idea of a luxury trip, though modern domestic First Class is a far cry from gold-plated splendor. I prefer having his company to sitting alone.
Aer Lingus Business Class legroom
Coach legroom= 1″ from seatback
Then again, I do actively discourage any sense of entitlement to this, my more peer-influenceable child. He has also known the joys of sleeping in a cramped Economy seat on a too-long/too-short transatlantic flight, and he knows full well how to wait his turn in the interminable queue to board, settle quickly into his seat and stow his own carry on, and then keep himself to himself en route to make the uncomfortable as tolerable as possible for everyone else aboard the jet.
The older teen would rather sit on his own regardless because he’s way too cool to be seen with me, so he’s stowed in steerage unless a really high Coach fare is actually a poor value compared with the mileage earning and family togetherness opportunities of a bargain up front.
Don’t gasp–it does happen! Leisure travelers who covet rock bottom fares and business travelers whose companies pay top dollar tend to prefer flights on different days and times.
Always check fares in all classes before booking! You may find First Class for less than Coach. It’s rare, but I have seen it* myself.
This summer, I’m accompanying my husband to a conference in the UK and we’re bringing the little guy along. On the way out, his ticket, purchased with frequent flier miles, is in Comfort+ (i.e., Premium Economy) while his father will be four rowsaheadbut behind the magic curtain in Delta One.
My own flight, also bought with miles, will be on a different date, itinerary, and airline entirely. We don’t have that many miles on any given airline at one time. Also, I often depart ahead of time to allow a day (or more) of recovery before entering full “tourist mode” and because I enjoy travel so much more than DH does. He rarely takes even a single day off concurrent with his business trips.
It’s a transatlantic redeye, so the kid is expected to sit, settle, and sleep. His “solo” presence is unlikely be a bother to anyone at all under these circumstances, even offering his adjacent seatmate a bit more space due to his small stature. Purchasing the equivalent to his dad’s company-paid Business Class seat was simply out of our reach.
To be clear: I, personally, am not talking about abandoning a toddler 40 rows back from his responsible adult companion. Perhaps non-parents need to be told, too, that there is no single age when every child will be ready to sit alone. As with staying home alone without direct supervision, I’d judge the right age to be over six years at a minimum and by the age of 13 for almost everyone.
Our return to the US presents a completely different set of circumstances. The lo-o-o-ong nonstop flight from Ireland to the Pacific Northwest should see the boy wide awake and therefore more likely to want or need something from a parent, if only to ask if my usual strict limit of one sweet drink per flight could be adjusted, “just this once.” I also found a relatively low fare in a premium cabin whereas Economy on the direct flight I wanted was rather high. In this scenario, I’m opting to pay to seat my child up front next to me.
It’s been argued that children don’t appreciate the “best parts” of the premium cabin experience. For many travelers, that appears to be getting drunk! True, my son won’t be sipping champagne, and he isn’t overly inconvenienced by the cramped conditions in the cheapest seats so the extra room is “wasted” on him.
Both of us will enjoy easier access to the lavatory, however, and the better service offered by less harried flight attendants. My younger son is outgoing and friendly; he will appreciate plenty about traveling with a more gracious level of service. The fact that different elements of Business Class will tickle his pre-teen fancy doesn’t make his experience count for less.
Glacier view over Greenland
Where will my teen be during this jaunt? Well, he would rather fly alone to visit his grandparents sooner and leave the UK to the rest of us. Somehow, I’ve produced offspring that aren’t as interested in foreign travel as I am. After a bit of practice sitting in Coach 20 rows behind me, he graduated to a solo flight with Unaccompanied Minor service around age 12. Now, though still in high school and underage, he’s old enough to manage his own passage through the security gauntlet and onto a direct† flight without paying for the airline’s hand-holding.
My solo teen might also annoy those who like to complain, but he’s not an intrusive passenger with his slim build and quiet habits. On his last trip to visit Grandma, he texted me joyfully upon landing from his ultra cheap middle seat that the guy by the window didn’t need to pee even once. Never having to get up once makes a great flight by his metrics.
Feel free to compare that behavior to the tipsy adult who spills his third drink all over you and your laptop. The guy may offer to pay for your dry cleaning, but you’ll be wearing stained and sticky pants for the next half a day regardless.
*This actually seems to be most likely around holidays when families travel to be together. What a great way to treat yourself if clan gatherings are a source of great stress as well as joy for you.
†If there were a way to get him booked into a hotel without an adult in the event of delays or flight cancellations, I would trust him to make connections, too. The boy is downright competent!
QÔR is one of the many brands that has popped up in recent years seeking to combine modern performance fabrics with stylish silhouettes.
Want to commute by bike but need to meet a certain level of business appropriate attire upon arrival? QÔR could have what you’re looking for.
The same features that work for active commuting are key elements of a successful, compact travel wardrobe: fabrics that launder easily and dry quickly, resistwrinkles, and release odors.
Teen capsule wardrobe TOPS
Teen capsule wardrobe BOTTOMS
While QÔR makes pieces for both men and women, our household made the brand’s acquaintance with the purchase of men’s items for DH and DS1.
Travel capsule wardrobe for a teen boy
In a bid to create a compact, packable travel capsule wardrobe that could take my son almost anywhereI might drag himwith reasonable style, I picked out five† of QÔR’s pieces he could mix and match for our first order from the brand.
He’s a young teen just growing into men’s sizes. His more formal travel pieces will also serve as dress clothes for occasional use at home.
Three QÔR garments are his key travel pieces:
Navy jacket in Italian fleece
Merino hoodie (in grey)
Lightweight grey trousers in a quick dry, technical fabric
We combined these with long- and short-sleeved t-shirts (3 total), a pair of jeans, lightweight knit casual pants (1 pair) and shorts (1 pair), with a synthetic fiber, plaidbutton down shirt to complete* the wardrobe.
Most of the non-QÔR pieces in the capsule came from Coolibar, whose sun protective clothing represents the major part of our family’s summer/outdoor wardrobes.
The colors in the tartan dictated the color scheme for the rest of the wardrobe: navy and grey with touches of white and brighter blue. The t-shirts coordinated in navy, bright blue, and heather grey.
QÔR’s heavyweight navy jacket in a sweatshirt-like poly/cotton blend fleece is nice enough to pass inspection in situations where other men are wearing proper suits. Simultaneously, it is heavy enough to layer for warmth in chilly weather. There is a reasonably subtle, slightly asymmetrical zip closure behind the more traditional three button front to keep out drafts. It is comfortable enough that my son will grab it in lieu of a sweatshirt while lounging around our house.
Aside from the front zip closure, technical features include a zippered chest pocket and a reflective patch mostly hidden under the collar at the back of the neck. My use of flash photography is the reason it is so obvious in the first photo. There is a small, fairly subtle QÔR logo printed on one wrist.
Logo without flash
Logo reflecting flash
Chest pocket unzipped
Chest pocket zipped shut
Though the most expensive QÔR purchase I’ve made, the Italian Fleece Blazer ($158) is also the best value. It is versatile, meets my son’s needs perfectly, and he likes wearing it! If I weren’t afraid he’d outgrow it, I would buy a second right now to guard against its wearing out. A navy jacket certainly won’t ever go out of style.
Like many boys his age, my son prioritizes comfort over fashion. He likes to express himself with graphic tees, and he prefers certain colors over others, but, beyond that, he’d be happy with the same sweatpants and t-shirt combo every day.
Mom (a.k.a., I), on the other hand, expects a somewhat higher standard, especially when we travel together.
I don’t dress in a particularly formal way myself, but I have come to realize that being nicely put together makes city travel easier.
A very casual outfit must be changed to allow for some activities. Modesty restrictions at churches and temples require covering up tanks and shorts, for example, and the same garments are unthinkable for dining at nicer restaurants.
A young man wearing a navy jacket and grey slacks should be welcome every place he wishes to go.
Tank inspection at Vienna Military History Museum
The Italian Fleece Blazer is too thick to seriously consider hand washing during travel. That said, I rarely find a need to wash outer layers like this one whether at home or on the road. I have laundered this jacket once or twice using my home machine and laid it flat to dry. These photos reflect a frequently worn, occasionally washed garment.
One complaint my son has about his jacket is that a larger iPhone 6+ doesn’t fit its zippered chest pocket. He carries it in one of the two welt hand pockets, but it sticks out somewhat and I worry that it isn’t secure.
From my perspective, the jacket would benefit from an interior zip pocket large enough to secure a passport. If it had a rear vent, or, ideally, side vents, I suspect it would be just a bit more comfortable for travel, but my son never complained.
The hefty Italian fleece works for us because we live in New England. For our June trip to Iceland and Austria by way of Belgium and Germany, the blazer functioned best as an outer (heavyweight) layer.
Most of my son’s dress up occasions at home are likely to occur around the holidays when our weather is cool. Those living—or traveling—closer to the equator or looking for suits to wear primarily indoors should consider a lighter weight jacket for travel, but this one is great for Northern climes and cold-blooded types.
The Lightest Trouser
While less beloved than his fleece jacket, QÔR’sThe Lightest Trouser ($118, shown here in Steel Grey) lives up to the descriptive moniker. They pack up small and weigh very little. These pants are easy to travel with.
Make no mistake: my son would rather be wearing sweatpants. If he must wear “real pants,” however, he judges these very good. These trousers allow as much freedom of movement as knit sweats or joggers.
Lightest Trousers hold up to rounds of Mini Golf and Pit Put
Segway Tour training run in the Austrian Alps
Like many (most?) men’s brands, QÔR trouser sizing begins at a 30″ waist. My son is narrower than that, and still takes an XS size when available. In a tidy inverse of women’s vanity sizing, it turns out that men hate to be labeled “small”—or, God forbid, EXTRA small!—so options are frequently quite limited. He needs to belt these pants to keep them up, but they don’t look sloppy that way, even on the rare occasion when I insist he tuck in his shirt.
QÔR Lightest Trouser back details
Photos for this post show a young man who should be wearing a 28″/31″ in size 30″/32″ trousers that we hemmed by about an inch.
The polyester/spandex fabric blend is the best and the worst feature of the trousers. No other material would be so easy to travel with. That said, the synthetic does have a sheen to it and a difference in hand that no one would ever mistake for proper wool dress pants.
The week we received them, and before we packed them for Europe, I let my son do what he would if I weren’t around to nag him: he wore the same outfit, including these pants, every day for the better part of a week. He wore them sitting on the the floor to do his school work. He wore them to the gym with his dad. He no doubt wiped his hands on his trousers instead of a towel or napkin, etc.
After five days, I gave them an arms-length sniff test before washing them. No discernible odor. Anyone sniffing a teen any closer a) deserves whatever he gets, and b) is some kind of perv.
I held them up and stared intently: while not as crisp as a recently ironed suit trouser, there were no egregious wrinkles.
After washing in the morning with a load of delicates to simulate hand washing on the road, I hung The Lightest Trousers to dry for the length of a business day. They were ready to wear after dinner when I remembered to check on them—somewhere around eight hours later.
In practice, this held true during our travels, as well. These were the only pants he had with him that I would consider sink washing with total confidence that overnight would be sufficient time to dry. His knit bottoms were just too heavy to consider more than spot cleaning.
Blending in boarding a bus full of scientists in Klosterneuburg, Austria
My son never smelled stinky, his trousers didn’t seem inclined to stain, and they didn’t look sloppy when we dined in a fine European restaurant with my husband’s distinguished colleagues.
These trousers represent a best use case for when synthetic fabrics are a great solution.
Pullover Merino hoodie
Though not my son’s favorite piece to wear, the QÔR 17.5 Merino Pullover Hoodie ($98, shown in Aluminum Grey) in 195 GM, medium/light-mid- weight wool blended with 11% nylon for durability, was a key piece to make sure he was suitably attired for all the conditions we faced.
He brought the pullover with him when conditions didn’t seem to warrant a jacket because it was so compact and easily carried.
He layered it with all of his other pieces when the weather during our Iceland stopover felt more like winter than our expectations for mid-June.
He chose to layer a Frogg Toggs packable poncho on top to cope with the rain instead of bringing a waterproof jacket. He felt this combo was more comfortable, and the poncho weighed less than his existing rain coat, so I approved it for this particular summer trip.
Aside from the days in Iceland with significant rain that required the voluminous poncho, my son looked quite tidy, and pretty equivalent to local teens we saw on our travels. Even in European capitals, his attire compared well to other kids his age.
My son prefers zip front sweatshirts to pullovers. I seriously considered a similar weight alternative, the 190 Merino Full Zip Hoodie ($168), in Indigo Blue or one from another great brand, Icebreaker, to suit that preference.
For an expensive item, I did want to maximize his likely re-wearing of the garment by honoring his preferences. I want these pieces to be part of his everyday wardrobe; a young teen doesn’t need dedicated travel clothes he might outgrow before they’re worn out.
Two major and one minor point pushed me to choose what I thought was more practical over my son’s first choice. Packing bulk and washability were the deciding factors; appearance added weight to my choice.
A zip front and pockets would be bulkier and harder to wash with other delicates. Zippers tend to chew on other items in the wash!
The pullover style has a bit less fabric, fewer layers to delay dry time, and fewer parts that could fail. A zipper could also set off metal detectors during travel, though I suspect that’s unlikely. The extra zip layered beneath his Italian Fleece Blazer would also look a bit less sleek/tidy/nice compared to a pullover’s smooth front.
Finally, as for color, while I thought my son would look great in the lovely Indigo Blue color, grey was the more practical choice for maximum matching flexibility and avoiding stains. He likes brighter, more fun colors, but I was shopping and packing for versatility this time. We already had a second shade of vibrant blue featured in his button front and a t-shirt, so Indigo Blue might not work with every single garment we were packing.
The Pullover Hoodie packed down very small. My son could carry it inside his Tom Bihn Travel Cubelet ($40, Northwest Sky shown) along with his passport, wallet, and iPhone 6+. This compact, 5.7” x 7.3” x 3” bag could even be worn beneath his blazer for security where it counted.
Though packed full with the hoodie inside, all items could be removed and accessed without much difficulty or the inadvertent spilling of other items that occurs when it’s least convenient with a tightly packed bag. Most other hoodies—especially those with zippers—simply would not have passed this test.
Visible branding vs. the tourist who wants to blend in
QÔR branding is generally fairly subtle, though “active lifestyle” features like reflective strips might be visible or displayable with some pieces.
Logos on nice clothes annoy me. This is a pet peeve of mine with some performance brands, too proud of themselves to actually get my business. If I’m spending $50 and up for a merino wool t-shirt, I’d like to let the richness of the fabric speak for itself. I don’t need a corporate sponsor telling the world I buy cool clothes.
Logo without flash
If you can see a label on my clothes, odds are it’s the tag sticking up at my neckline. I’d prefer you let me know so I can tuck it away where it belongs!
QÔR makes quality pieces sold by top notch staff
QÔR quality has been consistently good. We have (okay, I have) washed, dried, packed, and (he has) worn and carried my son’s QÔR-centric wardrobe across America and to Europe over the better part of a year. The jacket and trousers are part of his regular, daily wardrobe. I have yet to notice any wear or tear, and have yet to find so much as a loose stitch to complain about.
Customer service made ordering from an untested brand easy and non-stressful. QÔR staffhavebeen truly exemplary, and they play a big part in making higher prices worth paying by my metrics.
I emailed back and forth, asking many questions about sizing and colors. One rep, Sue, grabbed product from the shelves and sent me cell phone photos of color combinations in response to my request for more information about how different blues and greys might work together.
I was offered free shipping to help make the remote fitting process easier. Policies seemed flexible, with a real dedication to making the shopping experience work for the customer.
Returns and exchanges are also easy. I did a few “back and forth” exchanges in search of correct sizes and preferred style and fit. I’ve come to trust that their guarantee is as straightforward as it seems:
“We’ll take it back if you don’t like it. Without question. At any time.”
Putting it all together makes a (capsule) wardrobe
A wisely chosen travel ensemble can take a tourist virtually anywhere. It needn’t be uncomfortable, either. I think this is as true for teens as it is for grown men and women.
Putting such an outfit together is a skill I’d like to teach my son while he still relies upon me to provide the bulk of his wardrobe.
If he takes up ballroom dancing or joins a performance group that wears tuxedos, he’ll have to sort out travel of that kind for himself. Odds don’t seem to point in that direction, however. His brother, on the other hand…
We packed for two weeks in Europe with no checked baggage, flying on a discount Economy ticket with Icelandair. My son’s entire wardrobe, plus a few items of mine, fit in a Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45.
Teen boy capsule wardrobe packed in Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45
Vienna, Austria demonstrating the futility of rolling suitcases
Combine a few special pieces sewn from easy care, packable fabrics with travel-oriented features like zippered pockets with a kid’s everyday wardrobe. Dress things up a little, but not too much. Keep comfort in mind while assessing good looks. Everyone can be happy. This strategy can take you anywhere in the world.
Though there are lots of great capsule wardrobe posts online, the vast majority are for women, and, then, mostly for young women. While the pace of change in men’s clothing may be slower than it is for that of ladies, both genders enjoy—but also sometimes suffer from—greater choice in what to wear than most people did in the past. Choices give one more room to pack inefficiently, potentially leading to over-filled bags that somehow still fail to contain what’s really needed.
First class Deutsche Bahn compartment on scenic Rhine Valley route from Innsbruck to Köln
The benefits of thoughtful planning and careful packing apply equally to men and women, young and old. In fact, I’d argue that family groups with kids of any age in tow will gain far more from thinking ahead and curating clothing choices than carefree singles do. Just multiply every excess by four, as well as every opportunity for something unexpected to pop up.
Other sources for technical fiber, thoughtfully designed packable clothes
If you like the idea of business-ish styling made with modern performance fabrics for ease of care, bike commuting, or one bag travel, but QÔR doesn’t have exactly what you’re looking for, I can also recommend Ministry of Supply menswear based upon one positive personal experience, Icebreaker for merino, and some of Ex Officio‘s less sporty pieces.
A few related brands I’ve got my eye on but haven’t yet tried include merino dress shirt maker Wool & Prince, Outlier, and British travel clothing specialist Rohan.
Gratitude to the long suffering teen who made this post possible
This post wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of help from and even more patienceon the part of my long-suffering teen. He posed for photos with only minimal eye rolling and answered more than a few questions about comfort and fit in spite of his constant desire to get back to his own interests sooner rather than later.
Without a doubt, my boy is a blessing.
†The other two pieces from our first order were a pair of light grey casual pants and a bright blue, merino wool blend polo shirt. Either of these could work in the travel wardrobe as they fit with the color scheme, but were ultimately not first choices for one bag travel on this particular trip to Europe.
Navy knit pants are dressier looking than light grey ones. My son also prefers the feel of a blend with more natural fibers than synthetic, which the Coolibar version offers. Polo shirts aren’t my son’s first choice for daily wear, so he chose t-shirts to wear when his collared shirt wasn’t required by the day’s dress code.
*There were also undergarments, including a set of long johns/base layers that doubled as pajamas, but my son has no commentary he’d like to add to the internet on the subject of men’s underwear.
A swimsuit was also included. Though he prefers the popular, knee-length, baggy board shorts everyone else is wearing around here, a somewhat briefer version was cheap on Amazon and packed much smaller than his old pair without provoking the teen horror of a fitted Speedo brief…
My son’s preference for short ankle socks packed up small (3 pairs), plus we carried three more pairs of taller, grey socks for colder days and dressier occasions where his ankles needed to be covered.
Icelanders expect you to follow the letter of their law when going for a swim: wash, naked, with soap before entering a public pool or hot tub.
I’m shocked by how many Americans post comments about washing first not being required at home. Actually, at my local YMCA in New England, a sign clearly states that “soap showers are required” before entering the pool.
It’s just that, at American pools, nobody enforces the law.
We have laws against jaywalking, too, but you’d never know it in most cities based upon enforcement.
Also, our instructional posters are plain English language ones without the helpful “red zone” graphics employed in Iceland.
Cell phone or camera use isn’t allowed in locker rooms thank God! so I’ll point you to others’ mysteriously captured photos for illustrations. Follow the links to pool etiquette articles, below.
Picture the typical men’s room sign “guy” infographic, then add big red circles glowing around head, armpits, groin, hands, and feet. Those are the parts it is mandatory to wash with soap before entering an Icelandic public swimming pool or hot tub.
I’m reinventing the wheel here, but it bears repeating again! since every Icelander seems to know that Americans (and Brits) arrive unprepared for proper Icelandic pool protocol. I read about a dozen “how to use a public pool in Iceland” posts myself, and yet, here I am reiterating much of the same advice.
Those posts helped me, so I hope to offer the same to another reader. Good travelers respect the places that they visit by following the rules.
Access for visitors with mild physical impairments to Icelandic pools
Another, perhaps less common, thing I want to address is accessibility in Icelandic public pool locker rooms.
I did find one blogger who writes about access from the perspective of a wheelchair user, but he only seemed to visit the swanky Blue Lagoon spa. For over $40 per person, it darn well better be fully accessible!
I was looking for an affordable, family-oriented experience more akin to what average Icelanders might enjoy with their own kids.
Also, my needs are far less intensive than those of a pool user who requires a lift (hoist) to access the water. I have arthritis and chronic pain due to an autoimmune condition. My accessibility needs are variable, but often minimal, and most relate to twisting and pushing with the hands.
Sometimes, however, hip or knee joint stiffness makes it hard for me to reach my own feet. Heck, I couldn’t get my arms high enough overhead (shoulder stiffness) for the requisite TSA scan when I departed from Boston the night before I visited my first Icelandic pool.
Some days, aside from morning stiffness in my fingers, I bend like a healthy person; other days, not so much. This is a big part of what drew me to the famous geothermal hot pots of Iceland during even a brief stopover.
When my joints are stiff, I’m also more prone to balance issues and potentially falling. My limbs don’t always respond the way I’m expecting to the commands sent from my brain.
I had questions before my first visit to a public pool in Iceland to which I couldn’t find answers online. I’ll try to enlighten those of you with similar concerns according to my own experience as an English speaking tourist with about two weeks’ experience in that country.
It’s not all that uncommon for me to give up my assigned seat to a stranger on a plane. I do it for couples, not just for children separated from mothers. I try to take actions that make the world a slightly better place.
I’ve been that mom flying alone with her kids, feeling more than a little desperate to keep them close to me. I’ve carefully selected seats only to have my plans disrupted by the airline when an equipment change erases all the previous selections.
On a recent Icelandair flight from KEF to BRU, I made a selfish choice. When the flight attendant asked me if I would give up my window seat for a child, I said, “No.”
Though I think my reasons were valid, I’m clearly carrying some guilt from that decision. I hate to make a child sad. I enjoy most kids, even on airplanes, and am more likely to help out another mom than glare when her baby kicks up a fuss.
Major exception: when your kid is kicking my seat, I am just one step away from being annoyed, and I will turn around and ask you to stop him or her. Apologetic and helpful parents defuse all of my frustration… unless the kid is old enough to be doing it on purpose and seems inclined to keep it up.
Children are free agents, no matter how hard we try to remain diligent. I police my own kids pretty hard in that regard because, as a traveler with chronic pain, I am being literal when I say, “I feel your pain!”
On a bad day, a rhythmic seat kicking is torture for me. I won’t yell at you or your kid, but I will expect you to do your best to stop the behavior.
And this segue brings us around to my primary motivation for saying no to another mother on Flight 554. I was already in pain.
I select window seats on flights most of the time because I want to get as far away as possible from the jostling at the aisle. Never mind a direct hit by the beverage cart, even a pair of average sized passengers passing in the aisle can result in a brush with my side that hurts. I’ve been smacked more than once by people carelessly removing bags from the overhead bin, too.
I’m sitting in a window seat because I like the view, but even more to avoid actual pain from accidental touch.
I think that alone is sufficient justification for turning down a fellow passenger, though it obviously still makes me feel bad.
In this case, it is also worth mentioning that this was a mother with three kids who looked to be preteens and above. The child in question was probably 12 or more, standing shoulder high to her mother. She didn’t look frightened or upset to be separated from her mom, she looked bored. She had headphones on and didn’t seem to be talking to her family members anyway.
I pointed out that the middle seat in our row was free, even closer to her family across the aisle than mine by the window. I held firm to the fact that I needed to stay where I was to avoid being bumped by other passengers.
I don’t know where the girl ended up sitting, but it wasn’t in my row, though the rest of the family stayed put across the aisle.
If a woman with a toddler had been standing in the aisle with pleading eyes, I would have moved before I even thought to protect my own fragile state. This was at the mere beginning of a two week trip, no less, when preserving my energy was really important.
Some people think it is always obnoxious for any passenger to ask another to give up a seat. Nonsense! The airlines are operating a virtual free-for-all of Darwinian proportions at 30,000 feet. It is easy for even an experienced traveler to end up separated from children who really aren’t in a good position to care for themselves.
Others suggest that families should always be accommodated. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I do believe that commercial airlines should be compelled by law to seat children under about age 12 or anyone with significant special needs adjacent to a caregiver before charging average passengers for the privilege of seats that suck less.
Airlines should profit less on seat selection. It costs them nothing compared with serving food, say, is a pure profit opportunity, and yet it creates real stress for groups traveling together. Unless paying for a reserved seat is an ironclad guarantee that I’m going to get exactly the seat and amenities I’ve selected–read the fine print, it usually is not a guarantee of anything but a charge to your credit card–then the system is a scam.
As a mom, if I can’t sit by my teen, I think, “Gee, too bad.” Then I return to my book. It’s no big deal.
When the situation is placement of my younger child who gets motion sick and has allergies and asthma, I work a little harder for a more satisfactory resolution. I suggest that I must be at least within sight of him lest he struggle with his breathing, though that situation is thankfully very rare.
I also tell whomever he’s seated next to that they might want to keep a barf bag ready, just in case. Maybe it’s just my family, but my kids tend to vomit on the person next to them at least as often as they get sick on themselves!
I’m totally honest with other airline passengers: my son doesn’t always throw up on a flight. It isn’t even most trips by airplane. Then again, he has vomited more than once due to turbulence.
Most passengers and/or flight attendants work together to help a parent find a better solution for a child with that kind of need. Though why the hell any passenger ever has to get involved is part of what makes me angry with the airlines: this is their problem to solve. It doesn’t belong to the poor soul who thought she’d reserved her favorite type of seat and would get to sit in it. Nor can a hapless parent who travels occasionally be expected to navigate the Byzantine world of airline chicanery.
Filing a complaint? No doubt there will soon be a $25 fee for that, too.
As my “more complicated to travel with” son nears the end of elementary school, however, even his “interesting” issues are less of a concern to me than they were with younger children in tow.
At this point, the kid might manage by himself to barf into a bag on his lap; when he was five, that chance was zero. I’m honestly uncertain as to what he would do with said bag once it was full of vomit unless I was there next to him to take it off his hands.
Parents should sit with their kids because this stuff happens, and no one cares as much as a child’s own parent. The parent isn’t trying to offload any responsibilities to other poorly placed passengers. Airline policies are simply inhumane and short-sighted.
It is patently obvious that this is not a black and white situation, but a matter of multiple shades of grey. Like most of life, actually, including whether or not a relatively nice person such as myself, a caring mother and lover of children, gives up her window seat to humor a pre-teen.
This time, I didn’t, but my conscious is clear. Well, mostly. After all, I did take the time to write this piece.
Attempting to wrangle every thought I’ve entertained about a week long trip to Europe would result in my posting about it after weeks if not months passed. Instead, I’ll try to focus rather narrowly on little slices of the journey. Knowing my propensity to go on and on and on, this might also keep my posts to a digestible length for the digital age.
Foodie fantasy outside the city of Barcelona
Here’s a not-so-secret secret: I’ve avoided driving in any nation except my own… okay, I’m ignoring Canada. Forgive me, neighbor to the north! But your roads are so similar to my own, and I can bring my own trusted car. It doesn’t count.
On this, my most recent trip to Europe, I faced a conundrum. Hire a rental car, or give up a much anticipated trip?
Renault Espace, felt like the largest car in Spain
I rented a car. I hated almost every minute of driving the lovely but oversized Renault Espace in even small cities like Vilafranca del Penedès and Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, but it did provide me with the means to reach a really sublime rural experience: a mother and son private cooking class with the owner at B&B Wine & Cooking in El Pla del Penedès, about 45 minutes outside of Barcelona.
Background: civil unrest in Catalunya & a nervous husband
Monument in Vilafranca with Catalan flag flying proud, NOT the national flag of Spain
My husband, whom we might politely describe as “travel averse,” was trying to dissuade me from joining him in Barcelona with DS2 at all. DH was near to canceling his own appearance at a really interesting conference. Why? The Catalan independence movement, and media depictions of dissent and violence that were widespread in the months leading up to our trip.
Back in the spring, when I found a reasonable* coach airfare to join DH on this jaunt to Spain, I immediately invited my children to come along. Shocking no one, my little guy opted to miss a week of school and join us; to my chagrin, my punk teen decided he would rather stick to his usual academic routine at home and demurred.
Though I find myself pondering whether someone could have switched DS1 at birth** for my rightful child, I do sort of understand the teenager’s desire to assert his independence by doing something—anything!—different from what his parent suggests.
Beyond the city limits: choosing an experience
So there were three of us headed to Spain in the early winter of 2017. We would be staying in the heart of Barcelona for the four nights of the conference. After that, DH booked his ticket home at the earliest possible moment. To save over $1000 each, DS2 and I needed to stay over until Saturday.
Spain flowers even in winter
Originally, I’d booked accommodations in the medieval center of Girona for the parent-child short break. Girona is about an hour north/northwest of Barcelona. Trains, while available, aren’t super convenient to that village, however. There is no city-traffic-avoiding route back to BCN Barcelona International Airport during morning rush hour without a private car. Parking in old Girona is also not known to be convenient.
While I was keen to visit this ancient town due to its beautifully preserved Jewish quarter and its being the setting for a great series of medieval mysteries, it turns out that the world has discovered Girona because Game of Thrones has filmed there. That’s a little too much pop popularity for me to visit El Call right now.
DH, fearing he would leave and then a transit strike—or worse, total civil unrest!—would leave his wife and child at the mercy of a rioting mass of Catalan separatists, wanted me to make a plan better suited to last minute changes and further removed from the politicized masses.
I booked a rental car from BCN for the morning of DH’s departure. This option provided us with freedom of movement in the face of taxi strikes or to flee more serious unrest in that unlikely event. I then found an intriguing bed and breakfast outside the city in which DS2 and I would spend our final two nights in Spain.
As an aside, I never felt unsafe in Barcelona or the surrounding region. Except possibly while negotiating the narrow, winding exit from the airport parking garage in an SUV the size of a semi, but you can’t blame that on politics.
Catalunya: experiencing hearth & home
One of the ideas I’d entertained for making the trip to Spain a pleasure for both myself and my younger son was a cooking class.
We (helped Marta while she) made that paella!
Yes, it’s true, any regular reader knows that I’m not typically an enthusiastic cook.
That said, I am an enthusiastic student of what makes other people—and other cultures—tick, and it is hard to place a finger on the pulse of Catalunya without discussing food. These are people who love to eat, who know how food really ought to be, and who seem to enjoy sharing all of the same.
I’d entertained the notion of this class in Barcelona, but the timing wasn’t working out quite right. Plus, if I’m honest, I would rather visit a nice, dusty history museum any day, whereas my son was hoping to stay in the hotel watching his favorite cartoons in various languages.
What did pop up when I started researching lodgings outside the city of Barcelona, but within a radius of about one hour, were farm- and winery- based experiences.
Penedès, if I’m getting this right, is the heart of the grape growing region that produces some the world’s best sparkling wines, or cava, as it’s known locally. At least one person with whom I spoke implied that champagne is basically just a French knock off of Catalan cava!
I won’t take a position in the subjective argument of “best” or the historical question of “first,” but I can tell you that it is easy for a non- aficionado to learn about and experience great sparkling wines in Penedès, even with a child in tow.
Signpost guides the way. Take the narrow dirt track to the right around the cluster of houses.
So I booked the B&B Wine & Cooking in El Pla del Penedès and hoped for the best. It had good reviews on Trip Advisor, but was mostly an unknown. I chose to use Hotels.com for booking, just in case any of it was less than legit, but, in the end, have nothing but good experiences to report from Penedès.
If I return, next time I will book directly with the B&B. When you do, they guarantee you the lowest room rate and give you a free bottle of cava as a welcome gift.
B&B Wine & Cooking, El Pla del Penedès
This bed and breakfast is family friendly. I’ll start there, because so many B&Bs in the USA are fussy establishments that seek to insulate their guests from such inconveniences as children and telecommunications. This is not that. Continue reading →