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Traveling with Stuffed Animals

Pengo and "Picasso"
    Stuffed animals are great travelers on family trips – they don't object to weird foods, can stay up late, no teeth to brush or face to wash, are wonderful company when a child goes to sleep in a strange place, kids love them, and best of all – they travel free!
    Packing for a family trip abroad, I told my two boys, ages 6 and 8, they could pick one stuffed animal to take along. My boys are like vanilla and chocolate, different in looks, what they like to eat, what sports they do, but this time, their decision was identical – they chose two small chubby penguins called the "Pengo Brothers," or just "Pengos" (no distinction between the two). Coincidentally, the tag on stuffed animals said Made in Indonesia. Traveling to Bali, my kids said with confidence, "We're bringing the Pengos back home." In fact, the Pengos had just started their travels to destinations around the world.
Pengo Brothers
    In our rented house in Bali, the Pengos made themselves right at home. A walk down a path along the rice fields, steps up through a carved stone gateway that was the way into our house yard. The airy spacious two-story house with shaded veranda was surrounded by a snug, lush tropical garden and towering coconut palms. During afternoon rainstorms, the boys played with the Pengos, propelling them around on toy wooden cars we'd bought in the open air market. At bedtime, the boys carefully placed the Pengos, like benevolent guardians, on the headboards above their smooth teak beds. The zip-lipped Pengos were joined by the sounds of unfamiliar birds and very loud frogs in the warm humid darkness.
      The following year, when we trekked off to India, the Pengos came along. We were on the move a lot, traveling to new places almost every day. No matter how complicated our travel arrangements, the Pengos were always calm and unflappable. Riding in the back of a camel cart, piled high with luggage and bedding and odd cooking equipment for a camel safari, the penguins took it in stride. The camel might be foaming at the mouth and snorting loudly, but the Pengo Brothers were serene. At night, they were tucked in with each boy in his sleeping bag, beaks poking out, dreaming under the stars in the Indian desert.
      Once or twice, we had to retrieve the penguins from spots where they might have been forgotten. For Christmas, we stayed in a festive "tent" palace in Jodhpur. Our tent was fit for royalty – walls and ceiling covered in brilliant yellow and red fabrics, shimmering bedspreads shot with golden threads, pillows and draperies everywhere. Just the place for a Pengo to get lost. When it came time to leave, our taxi driver was waiting, but Pengo was missing. Since I'm the perennial finder in the family, I did a quick mental check. "Think like a penguin, think like a penguin." First place to look was under the beds, but no Pengo. Moments later, as I slid my hand between the bed and wall, there was Pengo, tangled up in yards of fabric. The adventurous penguin was packed into our luggage and made it back safe and sound.
      When the boys were in 3rd and 5th grade, we spent four months in Europe. It was Sept. and there we were, getting on a plane to Amsterdam, instead of heading off to school or work. The Pengos were packed in day packs that we use for carry on luggage. When my younger boy started rummaging around his day pack for a book to read, he pulled out something soft and brown, like some kind of magic act. This squishy stuffed animal was a hermit crab called "Hermity." Hermity, the kind of guy who takes his home with him, was a stowaway. My boy explained with a note of defiance, "Hermity won the stuffed animal lottery (did all the other animals back at home have the losing tickets?) and a free round trip ticket to Europe."
      Our rented apartment in Amsterdam was our home base. While the boys and I were out every day seeing the sights, the Pengos and Hermity stayed in our apartment, ready to play when we got back. Our stuffed animals were a link to our life back in California and made our apartment feel like home.
Stuffed Animals
    We were on a boring shopping expedition to buy scarves and gloves in a department store in downtown Amsterdam when the boys discovered two cuddly wild boar toys. The soft furry wild boars, with white stripes down their back like real baby boars, were twice the size of the Pengos, but the "Hogsters" quickly joined our stuffed animal family. As the days grew colder, the Hogsters, "Hoggy" and "Sniffles," spent time playing with the Pengo Brothers and Hermity in our apartment. Sometimes all the animals just rolled over and played dead. Other times, the Pengos wore little buckets on their heads, while the Hogsters dangled from the floor lamp like mountain climbers.
      Back home from Europe, we realized we'd collected quite a menagerie on our travels. Along with the Hogsters, there was "Picasso" from Paris, a little yellow Eiffel tower with a lopsided grin, topped with a red beret. We'd also picked up three emerald green Nessies from Scotland. Each Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, had a beaming face and sported a plaid tam 'o shanter and bagpipes. One Nessie plays a tinny version of the Scottish national anthem when the cord is pulled. Our traveling animals were given a special spot on the shelves in the boy's rooms. But only the Pengos continued to travel.
    The next year on a spring break trip to the Yucatan, my boys discovered accessories for the Pengos. In Merida we were shopping for Mexican hats for the kids, when the boys spied miniature sombreros in the store. The tiny sombreros, red or black velvet trimmed with silver and decorated with embroidery, were a perfect fit for the Pengos.
    Accessories for the Pengos were everywhere in South America where we traveled the following summer. In Otavalo, Ecuador, we bought miniature ponchos and red felt hats for the "penguinos" in the same shop where we bought indigo boys' ponchos. The Otavalo market had tiny bamboo flutes, woven baskets, and fluffy little llamas. Back at our hotel, the Pengos were arrayed with their new purchases. There they were, two pear-shaped penguins wearing traditional ponchos and hats, riding on sweet-faced llamas. Moments later, the Pengos were leading the llamas by the nose, and the llamas were wearing the hats and ponchos.
      On a trip to Germany last summer, we vacationed in Binz, a beach resort on the Baltic Sea. The boys, now 11 and 13, tossed the Pengos into their luggage along with their music stuff and grubby tee shirts. The Pengos had become our trip talisman. No longer the snuggly toys for two little boys, the Pengos are now world travelers, comfortable everywhere.
    The beach at Binz is chock-full of rattan beach chairs, as far as the eye can see. Amidst the jumble of stuff in a souvenir shop in town, we spotted tiny white beach chairs with blue cushions, just big enough for the Pengos. And who could resist two little perky fuzzy white sea lions with black plastic noses, sea-going companions for the Pengos. Returning to Berlin, we added a couple of bears, decked out in aviator jackets and foggy goggles to travel with our stuffed animal family.
  We have photos of the Pengos in all sorts of situations from everywhere we've traveled. Our hotel room or rented house is always the setting for the Pengos adventures. In Guatemala, a sturdy Pengo singled-handedly fended off an attack of fierce jungle animals, a jaguar, monkey, crocodile, armadillo, and coatimundi wooden animals, surrounded by the dense jungle in a turquoise and blue tropical print bedspread. You can guess who came out ahead.
  Stuffed animals are travel companions who are always ready for the next adventure. For little kids, a stuffed animal is a piece of home in a new place. Even after your kids are bigger, the traveling stuffed animal becomes a trip mascot. They are a warm, tangible reminder of all the imagination and comfort there is in the world.
  Tips for your traveling stuffed animals

Pick a small toy – Take one that doesn't take up much space and packs easily (leave the giant bears, hippos and rhinos at home.)

Don't take the most treasured stuffed animal – There's a small chance that your animal traveler may get misplaced and end up an expatriate.

Make sure your plush toy is washable –You never know what may end up on your beloved toy – from crushed crackers to the results of a distressed stomach. Pick a color that won't show the dirt (pure white gets grubby looking in half a second.)
Pack your stuffed animals in carry-on luggage – If your checked luggage gets lost, the kids can still go to sleep with their snuggly animals.
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