We were flying above the Pacific Ocean, people were reading, snoozing and relaxing. People besides me, because I was traveling internationally with a toddler. The first hint of things to come was in Korea. We had a 2 hour layover and he ran away from me and tried to climb on the luggage carousel. Traveling internationally used to mean drinking wine and reading Vogue. Not anymore. What was I thinking? Apparently I was thinking stupid thoughts. Due to my husband’s deployments and exercises, I have done the single parent trip many times. In an effort to allow my military friends to learn from my mistakes, I have eight tips for traveling with children.
1. Bring at least one extra shirt for yourself. On that first trip from Asia, I had extra everything for the baby. That did me little good when he spit up on me. By the time I reached Seattle I reeked. Make room, you need a shirt.
2. Ask for help. My goodness, babies and children have a lot of gear. I was standing in the airport with a baby, a stroller, a diaper bag and a large suitcase. I spotted a young Air Force lad and said, “Excuse me young man, could you please help me?” He was happy to do so. Get help. You only have two hands and you need to hold the baby.
3. If you have toddlers and kindergarten children, accept the following seriously: It is going to be hard to entertain them. Ignore this at your own peril. Get thee to the dollar store before your trip. Pick up age appropriate toys. Ideas? Coloring books and crayons, little puzzles, little soldiers or other action figures are all good. Keep these treasures vouchsafed in your carry on. Use them as needed. The kids will begin to think that your carry on is magical. So will you. Snacks? Bring graham crackers, goldfish and homemade trail mix–whatever your little ones like. Make the snack fun. I promise, the payback is huge.
4. For the love of all that is holy, when they announce pre boarding, do it! You need to get on the plane and get the kids and gear settled. Be pleasant with your gate agent; they are the boss of the gate, and your flight. When you reach the gate say hello and mention pre boarding. They want you to get settled as much as you do. It facilitates the entire boarding process.
5. If at all possible arrange to have someone meet you at your destination. I was quite the world traveler when I was single and very accustomed to getting around on my own. You are NOT on your own. You have a little associate or associates that will complicate any transit. When my son was 10 months old we flew to Kyoto to visit a colleague. Originally, I said I would make my way to their home. My host insisted he would collect me, help with the bags and guide me there. I didn’t want to be a bother, but he was adamant. Our friends live in the country outside of Kyoto. I would have had to take a bus from Osaka to Kyoto, a train from Kyoto to Biwako and then a taxi from the village to their house. I never would have made it without his gallant help. I would have been lost in Japan with a baby. Don’t go there.
6. Don’t forget the buddies. Or blankie or whatever toy is special. My son’s plush “Ted” has seen more of the world than most people. You can rely on your kid’s buddy to buffer boo boos and ease new surroundings. Do not underestimate buddy power.
7. Routine is crucial to a successful trip. If they take a bath every night at home, they should take one on the road too. I used to pack a mesh bag of little tub toys. The navy divers and boats were favorites.
8. If you are staying with friends and family and they say something like, “let me watch the baby, you look tired.” Take them up on their gracious offer. My mother-in-law said this to me. I was visiting from Japan and I had a terrible cold. I went back to bed and slept for three more hours. I will always bless her for that kindness.
After my first solo trip, I knew what to expect. It didn’t get easier, but it was doable. In the end, taking the baby home to see his grandparents for the first time was worth it. Visiting the beautiful city of Kyoto was worth it. Learning that I could handle challenging situations? Definitely worth it. Safe travels…