Question: My sons, 11 and 13, and I will be traveling to visit friends in Europe this summer with boys the same ages. My sons are very excited and want to take some things to enjoy with their new friends. We were considering taking Nerf guns that shoot soft Nerf darts. Alternatively, Hammacher Schlemmer makes a "gun" that shoots ping-pong balls. Would we be able to pack these in our luggage without a problem?
Answer: The Transportation Security Administration says yes. Nico Melendez, spokesman for the TSA, said the toys "shouldn't be a problem."
"Nerf guns aren't the problem," he added. "Real guns aren't the problem if they're transported properly," which means, among other things, declaring them to the airline, making sure they're unloaded and carrying them in the proper locked case.
This may be the first time in recent memory that guns aren't a problem -- at least, from the TSA's U.S.-based perspective. But note that the rules for carry-on and checked baggage vary from country to country, so what passes muster in the U.S. may not be OK abroad.
Also, consider that some European airlines have strict baggage-weight limitations, so the less you take, the better.
So as not to tempt fate (or some overzealous security or airline employee), Dr. Charles Shubin, medical director of the Children's Health Center at Mercy Family Care in Baltimore, gives Nerf a thumbs up but suggests taking Nerf basketballs and footballs (or soccer balls, if you're in Europe) instead of the shooters.
Jen Singer of Kinnelon, N.J., author of GoodHouskeeping.com's Good Grief! A Tale of Two Tweens blog and the book "You're a Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren't So Bad Either)," e-mailed me to say that, as "the mother of two boys, ages 9 and almost 11, who are currently chasing the neighbor's sons through the mud in my backyard," she tries to stay at places that have pools so the kids can blow off steam.
"The last thing my sons would need on a trip to Britain are toy guns to blast each other in the hotel room until someone breaks something (or someone) and/or shoot randomly in Piccadilly Circus until the British authorities tackle them and haul them off for terrorizing the tourists. Better to pack some good old-fashioned playing cards, travel games, like Battleship and chess, and Mad Libs, even if it means hearing 'poop' as the answer for both noun and verb a few hundred times during your trip."
Better, also, hearing your kids say poop than yourself uttering its more profane variation when you realize you've shot yourself in the foot by taking those blasted gun toys.
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