We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

Travel advice, please

I’m leaving for the US in about five weeks (but who’s counting), and I need some advice for our trip.

First, the rental car (or, more specifically, rental mini-van, which seems to be the only vehicle which will accommodate four people with bloated luggage).

Giggle, Bug, and I are scheduled to arrive at the airport near College Town, USA on a weekend night in June at about 9:30pm, so about 3:30am for our Cairo-adjusted bodies. We’ll have been traveling since early that morning, Cairo time. We only have one connection from Cairo to College Town, through New York City, but I’m sure we’ll be zonked, especially me, since Mr. Four isn’t joining us until about a week later and I’ll be on my own with the boys.

Here’s the question. Do I go ahead and pick up the rental car when we arrive at the airport? It’s about 30 minutes from the airport to the place we’re staying in College Town, including some interstate, so I’d be driving that stretch on my own (my first time driving in almost a year). I have never arrived in the US from a trans-Atlantic flight feeling like I was ready to drive, but I could inhale some sugary sodas and push it. Perhaps I’ll be so excited to be in the US that I’ll have some extra energy.

The advantage of getting the car that night is that, once we’re in College Town and have had a good night’s sleep, we can head right out the door to our favorite Family Diner and grocery store. We can start living right away.

The other options are to get a taxi to take us to College Town or to beg a friend to pick us up at the airport. Better in the short term, but then we’d have to get a taxi or friend to take us back to the airport to get the rental car the next day, which would involve schlepping the kids around yet again because I don’t want to leave them, jet lagged and over stimulated, with someone they don’t really know.

Next round: carry-ons.
My boys have each taken two trans-Atlantic flights, and they both did great. However, those flights left at night. This flight leaves in the morning, which means the boys will be wide awake. Giggle will entertain himself by watching every movie and listening to every music station (and he’ll complain bitterly when we have to get off the plane). Bug is less predictable, though generally easier to amuse.

So, what should I bring on the plane to entertain them (keeping in mind I’m limited by what’s available in Cairo)? And, more importantly, what should I bring it in? Should they each have their own backpacks, or will this just be more stuff for me to carry around? And do I bring the large carry-on that only fits overhead but holds lots of stuff? The boys could then drag this one around the airports.

The complicating factor is our short layover in New York City, which means there’s a good chance we’ll miss our connection and end up spending the night in New York (exciting at any other time! but not this one!), without our luggage. So, on the plane, I want to bring at least one full change of clothes for the boys, and something approximating a change of clothes for me. Any carry-on advice, whether about the bag itself or what to put in it, is welcome.

Transporting the children: child carriers.

Last summer, Mr. Four and I brought a lightweight umbrella stroller and the Ergo baby carrier on the plane. Either boy fit in either. What should I bring this year? I don’t think I want to deal with the stroller, and I could get one pretty cheaply in the US. But what about the baby carrier? Either boy could go on my back, backpack-style. What’s easier: one kid on my back and me hauling the luggage? Or two kids walking (or perhaps one being carried) and me hauling the luggage? Or maybe one kid in a stroller?

And, finally, car seats.

Mr. Four and I, in our naivete, brought the boys’ car seats to Cairo. They are now shoved in some corner of our spare room, collecting dust. I definitely won’t bring them onto the plane, but should I bring them back to the US? We’d probably save about $100 or so in car seat rental for the minivan and maybe $50 or so in car seat rental for when we’re at my mom’s house, but they are really bulky, even when they’re in bags to be checked. I was hoping to minimize the amount of luggage I’ll have to deal with when it’s just me with the boys. The distance from the car into the airport, and then from baggage claim to outside, can be the most dreadful part of any trip.

I probably won’t bring the carseats back to Cairo if we bring them to the US, so we could use the luggage space for Fig Newtons and maple syrup and other essentials. Which would mean that if we ever want car seats here, we’re stuck. But that seems unlikely. So, what do you think?

Last question: am I making this complicated or is it complicated all on its own?


18 May 2008 - Posted by | bug, getting there, giggle, transportation


  1. OK, here’s my advice. On the rental car, get your friends to pick you up or take a taxi. You will be too blasted by your flight to be able to drive, and getting the rental will take a long time because you will have to wait in line, wait to get the car, etc. It is not worth it. Can the rental company deliver the car to you? Lots of car rental places do this… If you haven’t checked into this option already maybe it’s worth doing so.

    On carryons. I actually recommend bringing two full changes of clothes for you and the boys. You never know what could happen on the plane. You could get food spilled on you, thrown up on, or just sweat like crazy on the tarmac. And if you get stuck overnight you will be really suffering!

    And for the boys I say have them bring their own backpacks but limit what you put in it so it isn’t too heavy for them. I don’t know what to bring to entertain them though. Maybe the flight will have those video game consoles and in seat screens. I bet Giggle would love that!

    On child carriers I have no advice as we’re not at your stage of parenthood yet. We’re pretty big stroller people though, so I’m sure if I had advice, it would involve bringing 5 million strollers…

    Car seats. I say bring the two car seats from Cairo and then just leave them in the US. That way they’ll be there whenever you go home again. And if you ever decide you need a car seat in Cairo you can buy one or borrow one. And you’ll also have much more room for goodies on the way home. But about the fig newtons… I bought some the other day at Kimo market!! Pricey, but definitely available!

    Comment by cindy | 18 May 2008

  2. Here’s what I’d say, although I only travel with one kid:

    Carry-on: My advice is actually the opposite of Cindy’s. I say bring as little as possible. Instead of 2 changes of clothes, I’d bring a pair of pj’s and have them wear t-shirt, pants and a long sleeve something. The pj’s can double as a shirt in a pinch — plus, no one looks twice at a kid in pjs. For yourself, I’d bring only a shirt (and maybe not even that) and extra undees. Compared to lugging around extra clothes, walking around in a shirt with a spot is not a huge deal. If you really need something, you can always buy it.

    Car seat: Do you have a place to leave them in the US? I’d bring them back and leave them. I’ve heard mixed things about rental seats. How big/tall is Giggle? He might be ready for a booster seat only (the kind without a back).

    Child Carrier: I’d say bring a cheap stroller, even if you only need it for the airport. There is no way you can get a kid on your back, plus your carry on, plus the kid’s luggage. If your kids want to walk, you can put their backpacks (which they will want to bring but won’t want to carry) in the stroller.

    Kids carry-on: I’d give them each a small bag, but keep it light and keep in mind that you will probably end up carrying it. Put some snacks and a couple of things to color, etc. Think weight & bulk. We’ve been having all kinds of fun with a deck of cards lately.

    Car rental: I’d have someone pick you up if possible, or take a taxi. Whatever uses the lease logistics when you arrive. The next day you will have plenty of time.

    Other flights: You may not know that most of the major US airlines are now charging $25 – $50 if you want to check more than 1 bag per person. (I don’t think that includes car seats, but you should check). I know you’re planning on flying in country, so you may want to keep that in mind.

    Comment by Your sister | 18 May 2008

  3. Rental car – if you’re going to beg a friend to pick you up, how about begging them to cab it to the airport and drive your rental car back for you while you & the boys take a cab? Then the friend can continue on home in the cab after bringing the car. If you pay the cab fares it will cost a little more $$ but no trip back the next day and no driving while exhausted.

    Carry-on – for my 32 hours of travel with a 4 year old, I brought a big carryon (with clean underwear & Tshirt for me, but clean everything plus an extra T for the munchkin) for the overhead bin but right inside it was a small zipped bag that I could easily pull out and put under the seat. It had the toys/books/snacks for the flight for both of us. That way I still only had 1 bag to carry but didn’t have to be hopping up to get into the bin every time we wanted something.
    Best things for entertainment – colouring/sticker books, silly putty, a travel magnadoodle. Not sure if you stand a chance of getting the last 2, having never been to Cairo. 🙂


    Comment by June | 18 May 2008

  4. This may cost too much, but what about shipping the car seats ahead? Or bring just one if Giggle is big enough for a booster seat.

    I agree that you don’t want to pick up the rental car and drive after that long flight. You have enough friends at the other end that getting somebody to fetch you and somebody else to take you back the next day won’t be impossible (if I was there, I’d do it!).

    Having never traveled with little kids, I defer to those with experience…

    Comment by Monica | 18 May 2008

  5. I saw a little backpack each for the boys….hey can carry their own snacks and coloring books, etc. It won’t be too heavy and might make them feel more grown-up. One of those rolly suitcases is probably good for the overhead though.

    I’m with Monica on shipping the car seats back here. If I’m in town, I’d be happy to pick you up at the airport – my house is about 10 minutes from the airport, and I have plenty of trunk space with the CRV. Remind me again when you’re getting down here and we’ll figure it out.

    Good luck:)

    Comment by Suchi | 18 May 2008

  6. These are ALL the things I obsess about before traveling and I hardly get it right. The best thing about taking a cab is that they’re easy as pie and you’re where you want to be before you’d be at your rented car. And you’re right, that getting to the rental car is sometimes the very worst part of a trip. I can still feel Quinn pulling my hair from his comfy seat on my back as I tried to say no to all the crap the rental car lady tried to sell me. I didn’t get all the no’s out and paid for gas. Rookie mistake!

    Personally, half an hour drive is not that bad, once you’re in the car. It’s getting to the car that would take me down.

    I really don’t have advice for the rest, because I myself discuss and think and overthink all of it. One thing remains constant. Quinn never carries his own stuff and he never uses the toys we bring.

    Comment by rebekah | 18 May 2008

  7. When Cindy was 5 and her brother 4 I did a lot of international flights between Saudi and LA. by myself with the two children. I had purchased childrens backpacks and in each pack I put one complete change of clothes. In addition the children were allowed to put one toy. Later Cindy managed to put her “family” in her back pack. They wore these. In addition each child had a small light weight plastic “brief case” and in that they had crayons, books, cards, etc. things to occupy them on the plane. Ask Cindy about her walkman. I carried a backpack with a complete change of clothes for myself extra food and cups for drinks on the plane and what ever else I thought I needed. I tried to keep everything light. You will need your hands free for the boys. Take a stroller if you have one as it can be a trolly if you need one. (borrow Cindy’s stroller car seat) If I remember I always had a burst of energy when we landed as did the children. I would have friends meet me at the airport or rent a car which I managed but I think friends welcoming you makes the home coming much more relaxing. You can take a breath and have someone help you with luggage. Your biggest problem is going through customs in NY. Get one of the airport trollies and then they will reroute your luggage after customs.
    these are not necessarily suggestions but ideas on how I did it years ago.
    Jan Johnston

    Comment by cindy's mom | 18 May 2008

  8. Wow, you’re so planny and great! I admire your work.

    Rental car: I would probably just go ahead and pick up the car when you arrive at the airport. You can take the time you need to get it and drive as slowly as you want to get to town. No rush. The kids will probably fall asleep as soon as they see the car.

    Carry-ons: here’s what worked for me when the boys were around the ages of your kids. Bring one carry-on that you don’t need to open during the flight (unless there is a need for a complete change of clothes or something like that!)and that will fit on the over head compartment. Put things you might need if you stay over night in NY in this bag.
    Bring one carry on that you can keep handy under the seat in front of you. Bring some new books, coloring stuff, toys and treats, all well wrapped in wrapping paper. Get them out one by one. I would not let the kids have their own bags – you would probably be the one carrying them, or at least keeping track of them at the airports anyway, and it’s an extra worry you don’t need.

    child carriers: with the 2 carry-ons I would find it difficult to also bring the baby carrier. Whenever I didn’t have a stroller with me, I would usually pick up one of those hand-luggage carts and wheel the kids in it when we had to change flights at large airports.

    Car seats: with all the luggage and the kids, I would not try to bring the car seats, but seeing that you don’t need them here and that you do need them over there; why don’t you have Mr. Four bring them when he comes a week later?


    Comment by Jenni | 19 May 2008

  9. Thanks so much for all the advice!

    You have convinced me to 1) bring the stroller (for children or bags) and 2) have someone pick us up at the airport. I’ll probably bring one carry-on to abandon to the overhead, and then have bags in it, or a separate carry-on, with stuff for the plane. I realized I was hating the idea of opening and closing the overhead the whole flight, so that problem is solved. I’ll still have to decide about backpacks. The boys carry theirs everyday to school, so they’re pretty used to wearing them. Giggle in particular will want his own stuff. And what Giggle does, Bug will want to do. This might not be my decision–but the backpacks are small and manageable.

    Last summer Giggle and I had a long layover in Dulles airport as we transferred from the flight from Ethiopia to our local connection. We used the time to brush our teeth and change into clean clothes in the airport bathroom. It was so nice, even in our exhausted state, to refresh.

    I’ll also probably bring the car seats in their big bulky bags. And then I’ll leave them, eventually, with my mom, who has a basement.

    I’m also still convinced that we’re not going to make our connection in NYC, and we’ll be stuck there overnight… in which case maybe Monica will bring us bagels for breakfast! What more would a New Yorker want than to visit an airport hotel first thing on a Sunday morning? Oh, I can even get the New York Times. You know, for all that extra time I’ll have while single-moming it for the week.

    But if we do make our connection: I also have decided not to try to take the boys back with me the next day to get the rental car. Instead. I’ll try to find someone (any volunteers Suchi?) to watch them at the place where we’re staying or bring them to the house of a friend with kids, whom the boys remember – and then I’ll go on my own with a friend to the airport car rental place. As long as I prep them, they should be fine.

    On another note, I don’t know if I mentioned we have a great place to stay in College Town. Some professor friends of ours are away for the summer, and we’ll be staying at their place. They have kids, so the house is perfect for us.

    Comment by Ms. Four | 19 May 2008

  10. It sounds like you have made some good travel decisions. I can’t imagine traveling with 2 on your own (internationally or anywhere!).

    You can always leave Bug and Giggle with us while you run to get the rental car. I image Sam and the boys will remember each other pretty well, plus the boys will be next door to their old home, which they will definitely remember. Just remind me of the day and we’ll see what we can work out.

    Comment by Gretchen | 20 May 2008

  11. Gretchen, thanks! That would be perfect!

    In fact, the boys and I started talking about Sam today, and Bug kept asking to go play at this house. Then he asked for a popsicle. Then, I mentioned your name and he laughed with delight.

    And Giggle asked a few times when he’d see Sam. So apparently I brought him up way too son! But the boys definitely remember.

    I’ll email with details: thanks again!

    Comment by Ms. Four | 20 May 2008

  12. I just can’t believe there’s somewhere called ‘College Town.’

    Comment by Aussie | 22 May 2008

  13. Aussie, there’s a place called College Town as much as there’s a family called The Fours.

    Comment by Ms. Four | 22 May 2008

  14. Ms. Four, give me your flight details and I will supply rescue bagels if you’re trapped at an airport hotel.

    Comment by Monica | 22 May 2008

  15. Good luck on your trip. I saw your post and wanted to ran away screaming! These thoughts haunt me before trips but yet every time I have been surprised by how much can go wrong. But such is our lives. I wish the Star Trek transporter thingie is real! I want Scottie to freaking beam me up to my next destination!

    Comment by Don't Eat My Buchela! | 26 May 2008

  16. Hey – I just saw this post. What night are you coming in again? I’m sure between Suchi and I we can figure transportation out.

    Comment by angela | 6 June 2008

  17. Thanks, Angela! I’ll be in touch.

    Comment by Ms. Four | 6 June 2008

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