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Taking the Kids

Wheeling and Dealing With Luggage

October 18, 1998|EILEEN OGINTZ

Thank heaven for little wheels.

These days, you'll find them on everything from backpacks to duffel bags, as well as those ubiquitous boxy suitcases that no well-equipped business traveler is without. Increasingly, traveling families--including mine--swear by them too.

"With the kids holding onto their own luggage, I've got a hand free to hold onto a kid," explains Brian Biehl, a New Hampshire dad of three who checked out more than a dozen bags for his new Family on Board travel products catalog.

"Having everyone in the family in charge of their own suitcase is great for lowering the stress level of being in an airport," adds Northern California mom Saskia Amaro.

And in hotels, too, agrees Nancy Schretter, who as head of AOL's Family Travel Network travels frequently with her two daughters. "The kids aren't arguing over who has more room in the suitcase. They each have their own space."

And a new toy. For young children, wheeling the suitcase turns a boring chore into a sure-to-please game. The kids may be too busy rolling their suitcases or backpacks along to remember they're bored, hungry or too tired to walk another step--most of the time anyway.

Washington, D.C.-based United Airlines flight attendant Susan Irick lets her 3-year-old daughter Brittany roll her small carry-on right to the gate, just like Mom. When Brittany gets tired, Irick adds, she simply hooks the bag onto the stroller.

Personally, I'm delighted that I'm not the family pack mule as we trudge from gate through airport to rented minivan to hotel parking lot. The kids have become experts at pulling their own bags off the luggage carousel (they've marked them with big luggage tags and brightly colored ribbons for quick identification), hooking their backpacks to their suitcases as I hook my laptop to mine. They usually beat me to the door.

"Kids want to travel just like Mom and Dad," explains Michelle Pittenger, a spokesman for the Luggage and Leather Goods Manufacturers of America. And as the number of people flying increases, it's no wonder that luggage makers and catalogs are marketing wheeled luggage, starting at under $50, designed for children. L.L. Bean product developer Bart Bartholomew, in fact, got the idea for the Maine-based catalog's successful kids' luggage line after seeing many children in airports accompanying Mom or Dad on business trips. Also a big family seller: Bean's Adventure Duffel on wheels, which comes in more than a dozen colors. (The kids' suitcase is $69; the duffels are $89. Call L.L. Bean at [800] 221-4221 or http://www.llbean.com.)

For his Family on Board catalog, Brian Biehl opted for Kelty's new kids' line. I like the "Rolling Sojourner" duffel ($105), which has side pockets and a small, zip-off mesh backpack perfect for carrying a child's must-have gear onto a plane or into a restaurant. (Active parents might like Eagle Creek's suitcase on wheels [$245] that comes with a detachable day pack. Call [800] 793-2075 or http://www.familyonboard.com.)

Biehl advises parents to look for luggage that is guaranteed by the manufacturer and well balanced. "A child should be able to handle a 50-pound or more bag if it's well balanced," he said. My 7-year-old certainly has without a problem.

Just as important is a rugged fabric that will resist tears and repel moisture. The Lands' End Catalog, for example, sells wheeled luggage made of 7-ounce nylon backed with vinyl. Parents or kids could happily use the mini carry-on ($175). I liked all the outside pockets. (Lands' End also offers a three-piece non-wheeled luggage set for kids for $99.50. Call Lands' End at [800] 356-4444 or http://www.landsend.com.)

The oh-so-cool Kipling line, distributed by Tumi Luggage and popular with fashion-savvy kids for their backpacks, has just introduced a mini wheel-away ideal for junior travelers. Kipling's wheeled backpacks and duffels also appear to be good bets. (The bags start at $159. Visit http://www.kipling.com for more information.)

The parents I talked to didn't have trouble limiting each member of the family to one small suitcase on wheels--as long as they weren't planning a ski trip.

"Just prioritize what you need and bring an extra collapsible duffel for souvenirs," suggests Saskia Amaro. She'll purchase secondhand sweaters before the trip so that she can leave them at her destination. Another tip: Opt for fleece pullovers rather than sweatshirts. They're warmer, dry fast and aren't as bulky.

"Plan to wash along the way," Schretter adds. Packing mix-and-match clothes in dark colors helps.

Even better, the kids won't be as picky about their clothes as at home, said Susan Irick, who knows just how finicky a 3-year-old can be about her outfit of the day. "They understand their options are limited to what you've brought."

But no matter how well your family packs your snazzy wheeled bags, don't count on wheeling them all on board. (The luggage manufacturing association's Web site at http:/www.llgma.org lists each airline's latest carry-on rules as well as packing tips.) Because there are no industrywide standards, the Federal Aviation Administration explains, it's not unusual for the same bag to be OK for carry-on the first leg of your flight but, as has happened to me, deemed too big for the connecting flight.

Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month.

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