The kindness of strangers (with a helping of technology)

Today’s public service announcement is a simple one, kids: Don’t leave your backpack on the train.

It was a beautiful day, so we decided to ride our bikes to the train station one town over, take our bikes onto the train, explore new areas of Nuremburg, and then train-and-bike back home. And for the most part, it was great. But as we were wrestling our bikes/trailer/kid off the train, I forgot my backpack lying on the seat next to me. And I realized it juuuuuust as the train was pulling out of a station.

But this isn’t just any “forgotten bag” story. We had a few wrinkles, of course. This particular day was a holiday in Bavaria, so everything was closed, including the help desk at the train station. And the backpack didn’t just include hats and sunscreen, it included my wallet, phone and two family passports. Passports we would need in 10 days for a trip back to the U.S.

Huh.

So we biked home as fast as we could and logged on to the lost and found page for the train system. Filled out form. Prayed to St. Anthony. Started researching how to get a new passport issued. Prayed to St. Anthony a little more. Realized I have an iPhone, so I could log into FindMyPhone!

And thanks to the wonder of technology, I could see my phone traveling (presumably still in the backpack) on the train back toward us. I gave the husband instructions and had him drive off to the train station to intercept the phone. But before it got to the station, the phone started moving down a country road. My phone was off the train! I activated the Lost Mode for the phone which displays instructions on the lock screen and activates an alert beep. The phone kept moving. I kept activating the beep. Husband kept driving. I was trying my best to give him directions to the phone, but it was taking a circuitous route through a semi-rural area.

Finally the phone rested at what looked like a residential neighborhood at the edge of a large field. I kept activating the beep and hoping it would annoy the phone finder so much that he or she would hurry up and call me. More prayers to St. Anthony.

The next day, I checked in on the phone and saw that it was still in the same place. Armed with markers, paper, tape and Google Translate, I made signs to blanket the area, offering a reward for the return of the backpack. As I was driving away, I got a call. With some very broken English and very, very broken German, I figured out that a nice lady in the area had found my backpack.

When I arrived at Liane’s apartment, I expected that she would simply hand me the backpack. But Liane had more to say. In her stern grandmotherly way, she scolded me for having my passports in my backpack. “A copy! You need copy only!” she explained when I sheepishly told her (and her neighbor and daughter, who had both come over to help facilitate and translate, apparently) that as expats we are technically supposed to have them with us at all times.

Then she showed me how she had to bury the backpack in pillows in a corner behind the sofa because of the “beep beep beep” of the phone. I apologized and gave her a reward. We laughed and smiled and hugged. She showed me pictures of her children and pictures of her favorite movie stars. She told me that she collects stamps and could I send her some postcards from America, preferably with stamps of movie stars. And she told me that her birthday and Elvis’s birthday were the same day, so maybe I could send her a birthday card too?

Sure thing, Liane. It’s the least I can do.

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The long-haul carry-on bag

kid's back pack for travel

packed up and ready to roll

After several flights with E, I’ve developed a few rules for our carry-on bags to help make our journeys more enjoyable. While every flight is different, and needs change as E grows, we have a few tried-and-true items we never leave home without. Will they eliminate the possibility of melt-downs? No. Will they end all boredom and wiggling? No. But hopefully they will give us at least a bit of peace and quiet and keep us from being that family on the plane.

E’s backpack

Fjallraven mini back pack

Kid’s backpack, perfect for long trips and short hops.

E loves to carry his own back pack and pick out the things that will go inside. I got him this yellow Fjallraven for a few reasons:

  1. It is mini-sized, so it won’t make him top-heavy.
  2. The top handles make it easy for me to grab if I need to keep him out of harm’s way.
  3. The bright color makes him easy to spot and and the backpack hard to accidentally leave behind.
  4. The straps adjust all the way to grown-up length, so if he decides to ditch it, I can put it on and keep my hands free.

It doesn’t hold a lot, which I think is a good thing. He can find what he’s looking for and there aren’t’ so many items that I can’t keep track of them when he invariably pulls them all out and dumps then on the floor.

In his back pack, we tend to stash the following:

  • Crayons and Post-it notes in an old Altoids tin (thanks Pinterest!)
  • A stuffed animal
  • A Melissa and Doug Water Wow tablet
  • Snacks
  • A few books
  • A  rubber dinosaur
  • Fuzzy pipe cleaners
  • Tape (Tape is awesome. Make tape balls, stick it on your face to make funny faces, re-seal snacks, label stuff…)

I carry my trusty L.L. Bean Quad backpack which has traveled with us on several trips and holds an amazing amount of gear and flotsam.

L.L. Bean Quad back pack

L.L. Bean Quad back pack

In my back pack:

  • Toddler water bottle
  • E’s blanket
  • Overnight essentials dopp kit (toothpaste and tooth brush, facial wipes, contact lenses and glasses, etc.)
  • Diaper change pack
  • Set of clothes for E
  • Set of clothes for me (Do not discount this one. If your child gets motion sickness, the person they throw up on will not be themselves. Trust me.)
  • iPad and charging cord!
  • Travel documents and wallet
  • Headphones for both of us (one noise-cancelling set, one ear-bud set)
  • Snacks
  • A few small, wrapped toys to use in a emergency

Will we forget something? Of course! But we are not traveling to a remote or desolate destination. We’re traveling to a major international airport. As long as we have enough diapers to get us through any delayed flights and tarmac-sitting, I think we will be OK.

Transporting toddlers

toddler travel in backpack

Anytime is nap time with the right gear.

When you’re even a bit off the beaten path, the big SUV stroller isn’t going to cut it. While great for malls, sidewalks and airports, we have dirt paths, cobblestone streets and tight quarters ahead of us. The little legs of a three-footer can only go so far–or too far. Traveling with toddlers means both energy and containment are going to be issues. We do have an umbrella stroller for some outings and city exploration (a completely disposable one purchased on sale for $20 at Target. And bonus: it looks like a shark so E truly enjoys riding in it.) But for the most part, we have found the secret to toddler travel success is a really sturdy backpack. Even better, ours was a hand-me-down from a similarly adventurous family. So it was road tested, yet still in terrific shape.

We carried E along mountain trails, zig-zagged through street festivals and up and down dozens of flights of stairs without a problem. He got a great view, up and away from dirt, feet and dogs. He often fell asleep in it, which while not ideal, is of course better than no nap at all. And it help a TON in the storage pocket, so all the diaper stuff, bottles and toys were with E, which meant the parents could split up without accidentally stranding one with a fussy baby and no supplies.

I’ve seen a few other products that are worth exploring. This belt system from Obi-Baby-Carrier seems to work for bigger kids and eliminates the bulk of the backpack, which would be great during the to-and-from. It’s compact enough to throw into your daybag as an option for kids who get tired along the way.

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photo from obi-baby-carrier.com

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photo from obi-baby-carrier.com