Travels with Mini-Me is a new series by Fodor's contributor Rachel Felder that explores the special and, truth be told, unique relationship that her 11 year old daughter has with all-things-travel, from breezing through the airport to eating adventurously no matter what the destination. First up, navigating the airport.
Most travelers have whined about airports and the joys of quart-sized transparent bags and removed shoes at security. Not me. For the last 11 years, I've been lucky enough to spend most of my airport time in the company of a traveling companion who's always fun: my ultra-sophisticated daughter, aka Mini-Me.
For anyone that's spent time with their kids in airports, that enthusiasm might seem hard to believe. Taking your child to the airport is all about bracing yourself for tantrums and boredom, right? Well, we've never seen it that way. Focusing on the excitement of going somewhere special—often to a place Mini-Me's been to before, like Miami or London, so she can visualize the destination—helps keep everyone in a good mood, as do enough diversions (plenty of toys when she was younger; an iPhone and books now) for even a vast flight delay.
By treating her like a fellow travel companion rather than a ticking time bomb, these days Mini-Me is more like a savvy adult than a child. She always heads to the airport in comfortable but chic slip-on shoes, noise-reducing headphones in hand, carry-on wheelie packed (since, as a seasoned flier, she's never one to waste time at the baggage carousel), and in the mood for an adventure. Even when she was younger, Mini-Me was always so excited about traveling that the airport (an inherent part of the trip) never seemed like a nuisance—a useful attitude that I highly recommend adopting for kids and their parents everywhere.
So, what exactly do we do at the airport to keep Mini-Me smiling? First, we spend time at the gate making a list of everything we want to do in our destination, mapping plans out day by day including one daily kid-centric pick (like gelato in Rome or the zoo in Berlin). On our way home, we make lists of our favorite parts of the trip—we've been doing this since she was quite young. I always travel with a computer, so we're often look online for ideas or post photos on Facebook.
Of course, Mini-Me's positive attitude has evolved over the years, and we've tweaked the way we travel to reinforce it. Like most kids, we've found that she prefers bigger airports (and their shops, restaurants, and large jets), so sometimes we'll take a train—from Paris to Brittany, for example—instead of opting for a shuttle flight on a tiny regional plane. Rushing to catch a potentially-missed flight stresses us all out, so we always get to airports early, and for layovers (like a recent one at Gatwick) will sometimes splurge for lounge access. And we always pick up treats at the airport.
Trekking through a handful of the same airports has let Mini-Me develop some personal favorites like duty free food shopping at Charles de Gaulles in Paris, Bathlazar pastries at JetBlue's terminal at JFK, smoked salmon (seriously) from Heathrow, and a LaFrieda burger when we pass through LaGuardia.
For airports we don't know as well, we check out shopping and food options online beforehand (she didn't get the nickname Petite Gourmande for nothing) to plan ahead how to spend our time. Since our everyday schedules are always over-filled (with homework and deadlines, which sometimes feel like the same thing), we both love wandering through airport shops at leisure, even for something as mundane as a new magazine or a splurgy tube of lipgloss.
Even when she was in a stroller and diapers, figuring out ways to keep my daughter entertained has taught me to think of the airport as a fun part of the entire trip, not a necessary evil to get somewhere. And that, even when I'm traveling alone, has been a great lesson indeed.