It started when we realized we had far too much stuff. Even after giving away boxes and boxes of it, we still had to buy three large suitcases, at which point we had eight suitcases, a cello, a carry on suitcase, and our backpacks and briefcases, and one large picture.  Where did it all come from? Perhaps a topic for another post, but the focus today is the impact that had on our travels.

On Tuesday night, we called the airline to check that this many bags would not be a problem. We were told that  our bags would be checked through. We called back again Wednesday to check on the number of bags allowed and overage fees. At that time, we were told that in fact the tickets were not joined, and our bags would not be checked through, which would mean difficult times in the Mumbai airport. As a result, late Wednesday night (11pm and later), a day before leaving india, we found ourselves exploring shipping options. We went online and found many descriptions of the complications involved in shipping through the postal office, the cost of shipping through companies such as DSL, and so on. They all seemed very extravagant or complicated. But we had too many bags. We kept packing (hoping it would at least all fit in our suitcases) and discussed what to do for too many hours.

The next morning we heard that there might be an inexpensive boat shipment option from a neighbor. Turns out this wasn’t true, but it prompted us to ask IIIT for help, which worked out well. They arranged for someone to come and weigh our bags and we were quoted a price of around $600 for 100 kg of shipping. We decided to take it, since we were expecting to have to pay around $200 in extra luggage fees in any case to take those things. We schlepped the other six bags and the cello to the airport.

We loaded all of our things in one car and drove behind in the other. We left super early for the airport, which was a good idea. We got there at 3:15 for a 6pm flight.

When we tried to check in, we were told that Mom and kids were supposed to be on a 7am flight, which we had obviously missed. Apparently our travel agent [1] had booked us on the 6pm flight, then changed the ticket without telling us! Would we be able to get to Mumbai in time to catch our flight home? How much would it cost us? How long would it take to find out? We could see things were going to be difficult for us and the kids, so it was clearly game time!  We started working out the rules for points: -5 for asking when we would arrive, -10 for whining, +500 if we could get the bags checked through, and 55 for doing something you wouldn’t normally do. We decided on 1000 for getting on the plane (since we now needed new tickets) and -50 for quarreling, -20 for yelling at someone.

My son started us out on the right foot by earning 5 points when he allowed my daughter to be the calculator even though he had been planning on doing it, in a very polite voice.

Mom worked magic on the ticket desk, by pointing out that we had confirmed the flight and not been told we had the time wrong (and it was obvious it was the travel agent’s fault [1] and not ours) and they agreed to try to resolve the fees for a new ticket. After an about 1.5 hours wait (during which the kids behaved perfectly, even though some of their food fell on the ground and they were starving), we were given tickets on the 6pm flight for only 1500 Rs each (the change fee, no ticketing fee).

The next challenge was getting all the luggage on and checked through. We were told that the bags were too heavy, but after rearranging we managed to get by with a wink and only 1 bag that was too heavy. Point hit though — the extra 5 kg in that bag cost us $200. Also we lost 20 when one person got to the yelling point (happily, this happened only twice in our entire trip).

All bags checked, all fees paid, we headed through security, and went to buy food, only to discover that we were down to 605 Rs, only enough for one Pizza. Daddy worked magic and got two squeezed out of it by a nice teller (20 pts), and sent Kavi looking for supplementary coins for water. Lo and behold, we discovered 300 Rs more. We settled in and ate, and now are on the airplane.

Our last feat was getting the picture stowed, Mommy did it without a problem. We’re on the airplane now, with a total of 2815 points (and our entire remaining Indian bank account spent!). Even so, excellent score for level 1 :). We will level up to two when we land in Mumbai.

[2 hours later]

Mumbai was crazy mainly for the reasons that Mumbai is always crazy for international passengers – 5 security checks, a long bus ride, and so on. To make things extra fun, we added in an upset stomach (long bathroom visit required) and a request by Continental that we pay a missing fee for an extra bag (eventually they waived it after we said we’d carry the bag on and they couldn’t find it). In the end we got to our plane as they were loading passengers, i.e. with no time to spare, but not late either. Score!

The trip from Mumbai to home was 17 hours long, but uneventful. However, our day wasn’t done when we landed. Customs was complicated by the immigration officer only citing 3 passengers on our forms (we were 4), and then we had to track down our ride (the grandparents). We gave each child 500 points for making it through this last level without a melt down, and 1000 for making it through with no whining. They were, after all, exhausted. Score again!

Once we had all found each other, the kids went home, but we still had to submit paperwork for our swiss visas! On to NY city to the consulate, which opened at 8:30am. We quickly learned that we were missing important information (photos of the kids, photocopies of our passports, filled applications). After visiting 4 separate shops we managed to collect all the needed information, and get the applications submitted. If all goes smoothly, we will pick up the visas next week.

Points mean absolutely nothing after the trip, but the kids still love collecting them. And they allow us to adjust and set expectations. For example, at one point when my daughter (only 6) was clearly losing it from exhaustion, I told her that she could no longer lose points (by bad behavior), only earn them (by good behavior). With the pressure off, she rose to the occasion. Not only that, but I think it got the adults on better behavior, both by making it more fun (and thus more bearable) and by making concrete the example that needed to be set. It also helped relieve tension: For example, when an adult did begin to lose it, a ready response was “Ok, 20 points off” without escalating things. I expect this is a game we will use and re-use as long as possible :).

I’m beginning to feel home, even if for a short while. It was interesting to observe the conversations among store keepers and customers outside the visa office and think about how different things would have been back in Hyderabad (and how the same). Breakfast at a diner vs a roadside stall. Cold weather. Hopefully soon, a bathtub full of hot water (both luxuries I couldn’t have in India). For now, I’m sitting in the car minutes from home at 12pm EST. It’s 10:30pm in India, on Friday, over 32 hours after I left India.

[1] http://www.vijaywarty.com/ — NEVER USE HIM!