Travel with Children Lesson Learned


Bring Bags!

We have done a fair bit of driving, visiting different places in and around Panama City as well as around Coclé province, which is central Panama on the Pacific coast. There are a few areas where the roads are pretty curvy as you ascend or descend the central mountains just West of Panama City, and going up and down to El Valle de Anton.

Our van in square as seen from belltower of La iglesia Colonial de Santiago Apóstol, de Natá de Los Caballeros, Coclé province of Panama

Our van in square as seen from belltower of La iglesia Colonial de Santiago Apóstol, de Natá de Los Caballeros, Coclé province of Panama

We quickly learned a good use of all those plastic shopping bags you get from the grocery stores or department stores. They are useful to have in the car in case anyone gets motion sickness. We keep a couple pairs, tested for leaks, having have at least one ‘bag fail’ episode, for each child. Even those who don’t normally get car sick are not impervious to the ‘chain reaction’ when stuck in an enclosed area and one child starts getting sick.

The shopping bags are lightweight and fold down to small spaces. They can be stuck in the side pocket of a handbag, or just stuck next to a seat or in a handle or holder near the seat.

This little secret has saved us on numerous occasions.

¡Buen viaje!

International Travel with Children

Our family with 9 children on horseback in El Valle de Anton

Our family with 9 children on horseback
in El Valle de Anton

As a family with 9 small children, we have had some great away-from-home adventures.  We generally try to take our children with us whenever we travel, from adoption trips to Guatemala, trade shows and continuing education meetings on the West Coast, Canada and Central America, to just plain interesting and fun trips for extended periods.  When we only had 5 little ones we took a 9-day trip around Arizona and New Mexico in an RV  with 9 of us (including Robyn’s parents), when we had 6 children we took them all to Costa Rica for a week to study rain and cloud forests, volcanoes and Latin American cultures.

Now we are in Panama for three months where we are concentrating on learning swimming, Spanish language, and cultures of Indigenous and resident populations of Panama.

9 children jump into pool

Our crew of 9 children jumping into the pool

We are having a great time, and also learning more about ourselves and our children, as well as traveling with children.

As time permits, and I am finding time in short supply, we will try to add more blog posts with some helpful things we’ve learned in order to guide others who may want to visit “Family Friendly Panama”.

Our family with 9 children on an Embera dug-out canoe

Our family with 9 children on an Embera piragua, or dug-out canoe

Types of Involuntary Child Connectors

My previous article pointed out that there are different times and situations that might call for different types of connections between children and parents.  There are a variety of means to connect a child to a parent when traveling or even when just out and about around town.  This article will look at different  tools available and utilized to connect a child to a parent by involuntary means.

As Featured On EzineArticles

As Featured On EzineArticles

Which type of involuntary child connector do you use?  (You might be surprised…)

There are people on the web and in your neighborhood who will vocally oppose the use of child harnesses, tethers and leashes as inhumane or humiliating.  What many of them do not realize is that a large number of them use even more restrictive means of connecting and even controlling the movements of their children.


There are a number of child carriers.  There are child slings, front carriers, back carriers, papoose packs, and backpack carriers, to name a few.  These tend to be the most secure carriers, often used for young children before they can walk.  They also happen to be the most restrictive carriers as they bodily connect the child to the parent with a lot of body contact and little freedom to move.


Believe it or not, strollers are an involuntary means of connecting a child to an adult.  The child is connected into the seat by a three-point or five-point harness, while the parent pushes the stroller to be in complete control of where and when the travel takes place.  The child has a small area within the stroller seat to wiggle around, but not much personal freedom.  Bassinet strollers can be used for infants, reclining strollers can be used with slightly older children, upright strollers when a child can sit on their own, etc.  Children who are old enough to walk are occasionally put in stroller on a long hike or jog (think jogging strollers) when they otherwise may not be able to complete the trek without the need to be carried.  Likewise, they have often been used in settings such as art galleries or museums to keep a child comfortable, and possibly contained.


Leading strings are attachments sewn directly into clothing, an invention of 17th century Netherlands, with which to help children learn to walk without falling and to guide them in their direction of walking.  A modern day article that functions in a similar fashion is called “walking wings”.  While this gives a child freedom to contact the ground and a small range of freedom, a two-handled connection to the parent or caretaker provides a fairly high level of security to prevent falls.


A body harness fits as a vest or crossing-strap attachment to a child’s torso which is then connected to a parent by means of a connecting tether or strap.  The child may walk or play on the ground, but is restricted to remain within the distance of the connector from the parent.  As the connection between the harness and the strap is usually located on the back of the child, there is little chance of children in such a harness being able to disconnect themselves.  A body harness will not typically prevent a child from falling, but will prevent a child from running off.  An example of use would be on the sidewalk along a busy street.  A cute adaption of this harness is a backpack in the shape of an animal, which then gets a ‘piggyback ride’ from the child.  The animal’s tail is the connecting strap in disguise.


This article consists of a belt that fits around a child’s waist which is then connected to a parent by a connecting strap.  An alternative approach to this is a fanny pack a child wears like a belt, but is able to store personal items in, that still happens to be connected to an adult by a strap.  Since the child is tethered at the waist, there is a little more freedom than with a torso harness, where a child is tethered from waist to shoulders.  Again, there is a set amount of freedom to explore based on the length of the connecting strap.  This device is unlikely to prevent falls if a child loses his or her footing.


This is a simple strap that attaches to a child’s wrist on one end, and an adult on the other end.  One current variation on this product is a wristwatch-looking Velcro strap that attaches to the child’s wrist and a similar looking one that attaches to an adult’s wrist.  Each has a cord with a hook attachment of variable length that connect between the two.  The ‘length of freedom’ granted to the child is a combination of the length of the connecting strap or cord, the length of the child’s arm, and to some degree the length of the adult’s arm.  This also gives a larger degree of freedom, as these tend to be the easiest from which a child may detach themselves.

The above list illustrates there are a variety of means by which a child may be involuntarily connected to an adult.  The list progresses from the most restrictive of those included to the least.  As noted, also, each is used for a slightly different purpose in different security settings.  In general, the more freedom allowed, the less security delivered.  Some may have been surprised to recognize that child carriers and strollers are in the same class of involuntary connectors as harnesses, tethers and leashes.  Were you?

My next article will examine the pros and cons of using the harness-leash-tether types of involuntary child connectors.  Please stay tuned; you might be entertained….

About the author:

David D. Pellei, MD, is the father of 9 children, ages 1-10 years at the time of this writing.  Both his work and leisure take him traveling with family often.  He just recently completed a 27-day journey with his wife and 9 children, driving a van up and down the East Coast of the United States, visiting historic sites from the periods of the American Revolution and the Civil War.  You can read about his trip on the blog:  27 Days in a Green Tin Can.

With his help, and in conjunction with a pediatric occupational therapist, David’s wife Robyn has created Gripsterz, a voluntary character handle, which is just one means of connecting a child to a parent.  You can read more about Robyn and Gripsterz at her website

Child Leashes-Harnesses-Tethers: For or Against?

Child Leashes-Harnesses-Tethers:  For or Against?…..More like, Beware the extremists!

Fade out to scenario….

I got into the strangest discussionthe other day.  I, a long-haired, barefooted, beach-dwelling dude, was strolling pleasantly along my white soft-sand beach with the wind in my hair.  The gulls calling and gliding on the breeze, and the smell of salty air and coconut oil toasting in the sun gave me a warm, perfect feeling.  When who did I encounter, but a rough Irish bloke wearing the largest pair of winter galoshes!  He accosted me about my bare feet, saying where he came from the air is cold, and the angry Irish sea is violent as it crashes on the rough shore pebbles to slowly wear them smooth.  He insisted we should all be wearing heavy rubber galoshes at all times to protect our feet, while I insisted we should all live in bare feet with no exceptions so we could enjoy the sand in our toes.  We spent the rest of the day arguing over who was right.

Barefoot Public domain image used courtesy of

Fade back to reality…

As Featured On EzineArticles

As Featured On EzineArticles

Which type of involuntary child connector do you use?  (You might be surprised…)

It might be evident from the scenario above that an argument may last a long time if we only reference our own perspective at the current moment and apply it to everyone else without considering their situation and perspective may be different from our own.  In reading web articles and blogs regarding voluntary versus involuntary means of connecting children to parents while in public, this seems to occur unusually frequently.  One group or company may claim a certain product or method is the silver bullet to solve all problems for all families at all times.  Conversely, others argue vociferously against child tethers, harnesses and leashes altogether, deeming it unfit treatment for anyone at any time.  Ironically, many of the same people strongly advocate for the use of involuntary strollers or carriers.

The point is that both sides should avoid absolutes and judgment.  In the barefoot versus galoshes scenario above, one might agree that going barefoot may be fitting on a warm Carribean soft-sand beach.  But the Irish sea argument holds water (excuse the pun) on its own home turf.  And a third person would probably advocate for crampons if they just came off a glacier climb.  The old quote ‘different strokes for different folks’ holds true here.  Or, even with the same person, to paraphrase Ecclesiates, ‘to everything there is a season, a time to every purpose’.

So it is with family connectors.  The proper use of the proper tool or technique will depend on many things.  It may depend on the individual make-up of a family, including the number of children and age range, the temperament and abilities of each child, and the needs and possibly special needs of each child.  A family with an eight year old and a twelve year old may not need a child harness, nor a stroller, nor even a hand hold, in the proper setting.  However, a family with three-year-old twins may need a lot more attention and help to keep up with the young crew.  And a family with four or even eight will realize the adults don’t have enough hands to hold onto everyone.

Likewise, different settings call for different measures.  A family may not likely need strollers or harnesses in their church nursery, but they may want something to keep the children a little closer in a shopping mall, and closer still while crossing a busy street or parking lot.  While sitting at a departure gate waiting for a flight, a child may not need anything but the parent in the next chair, but my guess is an extra pair of hands would be most useful to help manage things going through airport security checkpoints.

Speaking of airports and security, things will also differ based on the level of security in different geographic areas, settings, and times.  It may be fine to escort a few children around a Pennsylvania farm on a non-harvest day.  But my guess is that it would be somewhat harrowing to escort the same bunch through Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  The different levels of security would likely call for different methods of keeping contact.  Likewise, a missionary family with six small children will be taking different precautions when they traverse the campus of the JAARS missionary training center in Waxhaw, NC, than when they pass through a third world city in an area known for abductions and human trafficking.

The end picture is that unlike our barefoot versus galoshes argument at the beginning of our article, we need to keep an open mind with respect to what will work for ourselves and other people, and anyone arguing absolutes should consider that other people may have different perspectives and situations than our own.  Not all families have the same number of children with the same ages, temperaments and needs.  Not all settings will require they same level of connection between family members.  And certainly not all levels of security will require one single answer.

In my next article, I will attempt to explore and classify different types of involuntary child connectors (stay tuned, as you might be surprised by some on the list…).

About the author:

David D. Pellei, MD, is the father of 9 children, ages 1-10 years at the time of this writing.  Both his work and leisure take him traveling with family often.  He just recently completed a 27-day journey with his wife and 9 children, driving a van up and down the East Coast of the United States, visiting historic sites from the periods of the American Revolution and the Civil War.  You can read about his trip on the blog:  27 Days in a Green Tin Can.

With his help, and in conjunction with a pediatric occupational therapist, David’s wife Robyn has created Gripsterz, a voluntary character handle, which is just one means of connecting a child to a parent.  You can read more about Robyn and Gripsterz at her website

Author’s outline notes below:

(avoid judgement)

  • Different strokes for different folks—barefoot analogy
    • Different families
    • Different children
      • Number of children
      • Ages & abilities
      • Temperaments
      • Needs & special needs
    • Different settings
    • Different levels of security


Alternative to Child Leash-Part 3, Gripsterz offers help for the Clingy Child

[Note:  This is a short series of blogs that are a mental exercise in organizing my thoughts to ultimately create a few short articles.  Please forgive any hypothetical, theoretical, grammatical, or other errors as I hammer this into a less-shapeless form. Gentle comments and suggestions welcome.   Thanks for your patience. –DP] For the ‘runner’ segment of the article, please see the following link:  “Runner Link”

Child leashes and alternatives:

“Yes, but what if your child is A RUNNER”?

  • For the ‘runner’ segment of the article, please see the following link:  “Runner Link”
  • “My child doesn’t run, he clings to my leg so I can’t walk!”

    Scenario: The un-twin twins  (continued…)

    You have two-and-a-half year old twins. You know they are yours and you know they are twins because you were there. They came out of the same womb on the same day. And that is where the similarities ended. From day one they grew and developed into two diametrically different beings.

    Casey is hyperactive and gregarious. She has no fear, and no discretion. She will talk to anyone, anywhere, about anything…all the time.

    Charles  is quiet and contemplating. Sensitive and cautious, he holds each bite of food in his mouth a full minute before chewing and swallowing. In the same time his sister has finished off a 6,000 calorie course with two glasses of milk and is running out in the gardenias and heather chasing squirrels.

    All that is fine and dandy…while you are home. But today, and every Tuesday, you have to get the groceries.

    You shuffle down the neatly packed aisles, with chatty Casey running ahead, and Charles firmly gripping to your leg, more closely applied than a mollusk to its shell. You asymmetrically drag along slowly, while calling ahead for Casey to slow down and stay close.

    She gets to the end a full half-length ahead of you, and turns the corner. You hear the “CRASH”, and a moment later the overhead blare: “Clean up on Aisle 10, end-cap”. All you can do is continue to shuffle your way hurriedly to the end of the lane and hope no one is hurt…..

    – – –

    Gripsterz Helps for The Clinging Child

    The clinging child, Charles, in our above illustration, helps demonstrate another benefit of Gripsterz.  The monkey handle allows a slightly less-than-bold child to hold a familiar ‘pal’, and the attachment remains as a physical connection to Mom, helping bestow the child with the comfort and confidence they need to venture a little more out on their own, while freeing up just a little extra space to allow Mom to walk in comfort.

    The Agora Principle

    The “agora” was the wide-open public square of Ancient Greece.  It is the root of the term “agoraphobia”, or fear of wide-open spaces.

    Gripsterz encourages an apprehensive child to take an extra step and explore a little more, and slowly build their confidence in a comfortable and secure environment.  Children develop their space-compensating capacities at different tempos.  Just as a newborn is better able to cope with a small, confined space such as a bassinet, and a slightly older baby can cope with a pack-and-play better than a wide open room, it is similar with growing children being exposed to the “agora”.

    Children ‘grow’ their space-comfort and space-compensating capacities over time.  Many children these days spend a fair part of their day indoors at home, at nursery, at daycare, at school, at Church.  It takes time for them to develop comfort in larger open areas, particularly where there are a lot of people and/or variables.  Some examples of places would include a shopping mall, a busy city street, a large store or supermarket.  Processing all of these variables when new can be understandably intimidating to some children and cause them to cling to what is known and secure:  usually Mom’s leg.

    We have a good friend who has twins very similar to the above description.  When we originally designed Gripsterz we had in mind the ‘keeping your little ones close’ concept.  Our friend used it and alerted us to the tremendous relief she was given as it “gave me my leg back and let me walk comfortably with both kids”.

    Please share your stories of ‘leg huggers’ or ‘runners’ with us!Gripsterz short handle can be used with timid children


    Traveling with Children: Day 17 of 27 days in a green tin can with 9 children–NY1

    Phew!  Back to blogging!  Life and business has been coming at us full speed, so fun and just a little scary.

    But for now, our trip…our adventure (and since more time has passed, we are passing into that phase where you start to forget all the little nuances and only recall the thrills – I will try not to be too rosey!)

    Day 17: On our way to NYC – the BIG APPLE!  Us – with nine young children – hitting the grandest city in the country!  Did you know that NYC was originally purchased for $24!  Yep – gotta love homeschool knowledge. (Won’t go into all the cultural issues associated with that purchase, that’s a topic for the highschool level!)

    We started off after the morning rush hour passed (giving us time to get up, get the little ones fed and dressed, and get out the door) from Auntie Ria’s house, we packed everyone in the van, and drove to the Metro North station.  We got tickets and played around, entertaining  some folks on the platform.  Then we caught the train into Grand Central Station.  I still can’t believe that we were there!  So far, so good – all 9 kids made it on and off the subway and up the ramp to that Grand place – thanks to Gripsterz! For most of our little guys, it was their first time there and the vaulted ceilings and grand scale of things was quite impressive for them.

    After taking a few moments to “soak it all in” and look the place and the people over really good (and counting children, again) – we hit the streets of New York!

    I have to break in here and tell you that I am the absolute BEST “counter to 9” in the universe!!!  My whole life (and 9 little ones) depends on it!

    We strode down those city sidewalks and met up with a couple of cousins and some friends at the Museum of Natural History. … Can you picture our parade – not quite Macy’s but pretty close!

    The museum was fun – lots of cool animals to see.  Our favorite room to explore was the ocean room with it’s lifesize whale in the ceiling.  Through the years, Dave and I have come to recognize that when you are visiting with other adults and trying the watch kids at the same time….bad things can happen!  Your focus slips from the children to the adults and you just can’t count right!  In our case, we had split up to tour different parts of the museum – and unknown to us…Dave’s cell phone battery had died and my walkie-talkie battery was dead!  We were communicationless!!!  So, me and my small group were standing in the very, very crowded entrance room, hoping that Daddy would sense where we were and come by.  Eventually, we did meet and gather back in another room, however…our 7 yr/old missed the “move along” cue (he was distracted by boredom while waiting).  All of our Gripsterz were occupied by smaller siblings and I was thrilled to be “together” again.  It didn’t take long before Dave was counting to 9 (he is a very good counter also!) and he could only get to 8!  Problem!!!  In a flash, we acknowledged the problem (only 8!) and started the back-track search.  Despite the large crowd of people, our 7 yr/old was quickly spotted by Dave, close to where we had been waiting in the entrance area.

    Fortunately, while we were on the way into the city on the Metro North line, we role-played with all the kids what to do if you get lost or separated from the group, and we put business cards with cellphone contacts in their pockets, just in case something like this might happen.  It was only about a minute before Dave noticed he was missing and circled back to get him.  All was well, but the little guy got quite a scare and stayed really close for the rest of the outing!  Thanks to the talk on the train he was able to keep it all together and not panic.  I will share our tips about how to prepare kids for something like this at the end of this post.

    After leaving the museum, we walked by Central Park and stepped in for a few minutes.  What an incredible park!!  After that great landmark we made our way back onto the subway and headed for Times Square!  Are we not crazy!!!  Our goal was to find somewhere to eat dinner, preferably somewhere nice.  Times Square was crowded and busy (duh!).  I kept having to remind the children to look up and capture the moment – take in the lights and all the signs.  Nothing like the *bling* of Times Square!  The dinner option was quickly blasted away by the 2 hr waits, so we opted for giant cookies instead!  Cookies for dinner – how great is that!

    Needless to say – the Metro ride home that night was rather solemn and quiet – most of our crew slept!

    TIPS: Prepping your kids for crowded event or destination

    – Dress the kids in colorful shirts or clothes, making them easily seen.

    – Talk to them prior to going and tell them what to do if they get separated from you.  Tell them to…

    *Stay where they are, if they wander around looking for you they will only get even more lost

    *If they see a police officer, ask for help – otherwise…

    *Ask another mommy for help, a mother with a child will be least threatening to them and you and she will totally understand the panic that you and the child will be in.  It is the safest option for reaching out to a stranger.

    *Don’t be afraid to scream!  Matter of a fact – do scream, call for Mommy or Daddy as loud as possible.  Being lost is no time to get quite or be concerned about causing a scene!

    – Place some kind of ID on your child(ren).  There are great ones that you can buy, check out or use whatever you have.  Any sheet of paper, a business card, something that has your name and phone number on it.  Tell your child what it is and when to use it.  In a pinch, I have also heard of people writing on their child’s skin (back, arm, or leg)!

    – Get a Gripsterz!  Will help keep those little ones close and let everyone have fun!  You just have to be a little careful in the most crowded spaces, wouldn’t want to “catch” someone in the strap – a good time to use the short Gripsterz strap!

    –Note:  For the following list of images, click on any thumbnail to enlarge the picture—