Traveling With the Kids:  IG2BTK Tour 2014


It’s Good to Be The King.

The site’s been silent recently since we just returned yesterday from a two week trip to Europe – Paris, London and Edinburgh – which was dubbed the It’s Good to Be The King 2014 tour.  This is the follow-up to the family’s 2011 European Collapse tour (here and here).  Just as I found that traveling with children changes as they age, it continues to change as they work their way through the teen years (Eldest is no longer a teen and Youngest might as well be for what it’s worth).  I clearly remember when traveling with kids meant assuring that there were sufficient diapers and plenty of activities planned to make the physical aspect of traveling easier for the youngsters.  But that’s progressed and while I love traveling with the family, there are moments when the changes are jarring. 

So what’s worth noting with the teens and nascent adult?

  • Make sure that the kids understand that if breakfast is included in the cost of the room, then they’d better take advantage of the "free food" instead of sleeping in and then looking for a lunch because they’re hungry.  For that matter, make sure that the kids understand the difference between a continental breakfast – the serve yourself available at places such as Hampton Inn – and what is referred to as an english breakfast, which is prepared by a cook and brought by staff for an additional charge.  Likewise, keep water bottles refilled so that you don’t have to spend money needlessly on water.
  • Make sure that they understand that they are clearly prey for any number of grifters and beggars.  Paris was loaded with gypsies at public sites who approached with request for petition signatures; the catch was that if you signed the petition, you’d receive small useless token as thanks and a demand for money to pay for said token.  I first learned this schtick in New York City last year after signing a petition for some Buddhist about his temple.  He gave me some meaningless fabric flower petal and demanded $20 and when I refused, it got…unpleasant.  I’m fortunate that my paternal male line has a recessive asshole gene for such moments.  The kids learned to simply repeat no and keep on walking.
  • Press personal security.  Men’s wallets should be shifted to the front pocket and women’s purses should be held with the strap over the shoulder and the zipper compartment secured.  Since I carry a backpack during the travels, I kept it slung over the shoulder with the zippers secured towards the front so that they were near the hand grasping the strap in order to thwart anyone who might try to unzip it from the rear.
  • Make sure that the kids know what to expect from the weather and can pack accordingly, and likewise for any special events planned that might require better dress.  Since the last stop on the tour was Edinburgh, Scotland, I checked the expected weather in advance and found that the mid-June averages were a full 20 degrees less than here, akin to a mid-Spring day instead of summer.  Also decide whether you trust them to pack without a physical luggage check or if you just want to run through a checklist prior to departure.  The kids are old enough now that if they choose to ignore common sense in clothing choices, they can suffer well if they’re chilly. 
  • Expect moments of cognitive dissonance since the kids are now growing and are capable of far more than they were younger.  This was personally the case with Eldest, who is well into college and could legally order alcohol at meals.  Our traveling philosophy is that the kids should experience the local culture as much as possible but within the bounds of legality and this especially goes to the issue of alcohol.  What is the legal drinking age where you’re at?  It was 16 in Italy, so Eldest could have an occasional beer or wine at dinner during the Collapse tour in 2011 while Middle could only share ours.  But it’s 18 in France, England and Scotland and the wait staff throughout was assiduous in carding, so Eldest could again order at dinner – and not occasionally – while Middle was again stuck sharing ours.  My only caveat with Eldest was that she have something that wasn’t usually available here so if you’re going to have a beer, make sure that it isn’t a Budweiser.  The dissonance also struck in handling the processes since Eldest was much quicker in figuring out the Paris metrocard machines than I was, leading to an apology to her for being brusque because I couldn’t believe that she had it down quicker than me.
  • Security goes beyond the physical and to the cyber aspect as well.  Kids should be aware that while they can certainly share with their friends, such a prolonged trip isn’t something to be announced via Facebook or another social networking platform where literally anybody – and if the kid has more than 500 "friends", it’s anybody – can see that the house is wide open for pillaging and/or epic parties. 
  • Use any opportunity available for teaching the kids, whether it’s about politics, economics, history or simply life.  Our accommodations in London were a classic mix of the sixth level of Dante’s Inferno and John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers and as satisfying as yelling would be, I was cognizant that the kids were watching.  So the lessons were twofold:  first, that the person in front of you is liable to not be the person responsible for your dilemma so yelling is probably harmful since you become the enemy instead of the wronged customer; second, that you need to have a plan and know what you actually want when you find that one responsible party. Talk about the situation and pick it apart with the kids, and then share the results of any actions or conversations with them.  In other words, plan, execute and then do a post-mortem on the situation. 
  • Teach the kids to double-check that what they’ve purchased is actually what’s wrapped up by the sales staff.  Twice this trip, my wife and I found that items that we thought we were purchasing weren’t what actually came out of the package.  My wife was more upset since she was purchasing silk scarf whereas I was bringing home a bottle of scottish whiskey and cream.  I’ll certainly see through my disappointment, but it might not be as easy for a ten-year old who had her heart set on a special something.

One of our principal family values is the exposure to other cultures and we’ll continue to travel as the opportunities arise – or we make them.  But all things change and the nature of the family vacation does as well with the aging and maturing of the kids.  Carpe diem.


The Site…

Since this site started, I’ve managed to put out hundreds of articles at a fairly steady pace – although it has declined in the past several months due to family demands.  Life is going to again intrude on the writing and the site will be silent for a few weeks.  Still here since I’ve managed to renew the domain name without screwing that up, but the new articles will be quiet.

But things will flow again in a few weeks and I hope that you will continue reading.  Thanks for reading the articles and putting me on the RSS feed, which is about the only metric to which I pay attention.

It is greatly appreciated.

     – The PracticalDad

Conversation with the Teen:  Is the American Middle Class Dead?

You know that a concept has hit the mainstream when high school social studies teachers raise it in class.  Such was the case with the apparently imminent death of the American Middle Class, a topic that was raised by Middle’s honors history teacher the other week.  This teacher is a known and highly respected quantity since Eldest made it a point to tell Middle that he had to get this guy if at all possible since he makes it a point to riff on the subject matter with topics of modern consequence.  As he discussed the industrialization of the Far East, he shifted the topic over to the problems facing today’s American Middle Class and it was a topic that Middle brought home in a later conversation.

What Middle, and most, know is that the American Middle Class is suffering from a significant income drop over the past decade due to a true paucity of jobs.  He’s aware that many of the jobs now created are of the lower paying, benefit-free variety in the service sector so that the typical American that loses a decent survivable wage job can replace it with a lower paying job.  The first whammy is the loss of income and the second whammy is the new need to suddenly pay for previously "free" benefits that had been covered by the former employer such as health insurance.  Okay, you not only now have less but you have new and unexpected uses for that decreased income…When the news hit that millions of health insurance policies were being cancelled and the former policyholders were being forced to go to the market via the 1929 Obamacare Flivver (with a rumble seat), we had to explain that the cancellations were actually expected since the old policies were non-compliant with the new health insurance feature. Reissuing new ones with the required features, available to anyone now, would cause new policies with wholly new pricing.  Lesser income, likelihood of more variant hours worked and a new category for the money than what was faced by the parents are huge stressors.

So the middle class is under assault but like the refrain from the old Monty Python skit goes, I’m not dead yet…

PracticalDad Price Index – June 2014 – Prices Up (But Due to Supply, Not the Fed…)

The results of the June 2014 PracticalDad Price Index are in and it tracks with what we’re seeing in the media as prices are up again, driven by increases in dairy and meat prices.  The Total Index for the 47 item grocery marketbasket rose from May’s 109.85 (November 2010 = 100) to June’s 110.53.  Removing the ten non-food items in the basket (see the basket composition here), the Food-Only Index for the remaining 37 foodstuff items rose significantly from May’s 111.54 (November 2010 = 100) to June’s 112.65.  In other words, the price of the representative foodstuffs in the basket are up 12.65% since November 2010’s Index inception but the Food-Only Index is still well below the high of 114.33 reached in December 2012.

There appears to be a significant difference between the reasons for the recent and prior price increases however.  In late 2012, there were significant increases in the prices of commodity items such as canola oil (affected by oil prices and the offsetting rise in biofuel demand), sugar and coffee due to the apparent flow of hot money liquidity caused by the existant quantitative easing process.  But since then, the Federal Reserve has step-decreased the quantitative easing to approximately $45 Billion per month so that the money isn’t flowing as readily as it did previously.  When the Food-Only Index peaked in December 2012 at 114.33 (14.33% over the November 2010 start), the average cost of a 48 ounce bottle of canola oil was $4.09 and the cost of a five pound bag of sugar was $3.49.  As of June 2014 however, the cost of the same size bottle of canola oil is $3.96 and the adjusted cost of a bag of sugar is $2.82; note that the sugar has been adjusted upwards to a five pound bag size since the grocers and producers have decreased the standard size bag of sugar via stealth inflation to a four pound bag.  The unadjusted price of a bag of sugar is even less now.  It’s the same for coffee.  Even though the producers utilized stealth inflation packaging changes to decrease the size of the standard can from 13 ounces to anywhere between 11 and 11.5 ounces, the adjusted cost of the can of coffee (back to a 13 ounce equivalence) is now averaging $3.30.  This is down from the December 2012 can price of $4.47, for a decrease of 26% over the same 18 month period.  Again, the hot money has receded…

But why the renewed price increases now?  After the December 2012 peak, the Indices actually began to decline and you could watch the ongoing combat between the Fed policies and deflationary forces caused by a weakened economy.  But the uptick began again recently and this time is due not to monetary policies but to actual forces of supply and demand.  In the past year, the size of the national cattle herds have actually dropped to lows not seen since 1952 and drought out west is worsening, affecting the food and dairy supply out of that region.  Beef has since increased in the cost per pound as well as dairy and cheese prices; also on the cusp is the effect of PEDV – Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus – which has caused hog farmers to cull herds with affected swine.  This disease began in the US in mid 2013 and has spread with an impact on the cost of bacon and ham.  While I do not track the cost of bacon, a pound of sliced cooked deli ham has risen from $4.83 in December 2012 to $6.32 in June 2014 for an increase of almost 31% in an 18 month period.

This is clearly beyond the purview of the Fed policies and it probably makes some within the bowels of the Marriner Eccles Building happy since it accomplishes what they wanted in the first place.  The only problem is that these price issues are beyond the immediate remedy of the Powers That Be and compound the impact of a decreasing family income.


PracticalDad Price Index – June 2014
Month Total Index (11/10 = 100) Food-Only Index (11/10 = 100) Spread
3/14 109.41 112.06 2.82
4/14 110.28 113.59 3.31
5/14 109.85 111.54 1.69
6/14 110.53 112.65 2.12