In this three part series, I am detailing the planning and execution that went into traveling solo with two kids internationally when I traveled from Germany to Minnesota to visit family.
A great deal of planning went into ensuring our successful trip so I’m sharing what we did that did and didn’t work for us. In Part 1 I talked about most of the planning steps we took prior to arriving at the airport which brings us to how we managed during transit.
Let’s get started…
9. We arrived early
We’ve all heard the recommendation to arrive three hours before international flights (two hours for domestic) to allow ample time for navigating the airport, getting through security screening, getting to your gate, etc. We did that on both outbound and return flights.
It helped for a couple reasons: we had plenty of time to get through security; it gave me ample time to reorganize the bags once we got through security; it meant I had time to feed and change both kids before boarding; and it meant they each had some time out of their car seats before boarding.
On our return trip we used the extra time almost identically, with the added stress of driving around for about 20 minutes looking for a parking space.
10. We parked our lot at the gate
The time I did not do this, we missed the call for early boarding and had to contend with other passengers who were already on the plane. While everyone was super helpful, encouraging, or indifferent (which is miles better than hostile), I felt rushed and like a burden. For the other three flights, sitting at the gate alerted the gate agents to our need for early boarding, earned us the limited “cabin-baggage” tags for our carry-ons on the small aircraft, and ensured we didn’t miss the call for early boarding.
11. I made an extra effort to be kind
We attracted a lot of attention. A mom traveling with two kids (one on her chest and one towed in a car seat on a trailer), two large bags, and two diaper bags, is bound to do that. I made sure to use all my best manners. And, honestly, I think it made a world of difference. Not just because I was extra polite, but because we all approached this endeavor with a positive attitude. And I’ve never been the recipient of so many kind words. At least every other person we encountered was either helpful or encouraging: putting up our suitcase, holding the kids so I could get their car seats in, carrying something up or down a jetway staircase, or complimenting my organization, strength, or patience. Every single word and deed contributed to an amazing trip.
12. I was super organized
This started with the packing list (load plan). Every single thing we carried had a place and purpose.
At first, I packed everything the way that I wanted it organized during our long flight. When I was satisfied it was appropriately organized, I removed all the liquids and put them into the quart sized bags (one for each ticketed passenger). Then I stowed these bags in the same pocket with the bag of liquid medicines and bags of food to make them easy to grab for the security inspection.
I used the zippered pocket on the baby carrier to hold things we needed immediately like our Passports, tickets, my phone, and relevant currency, while we were on the move. Once our boarding passes were no longer relevant, I tucked them inside our backpack.
Things we didn’t need until we arrived at our destination went into the suitcase. With one midline zipper, it wasn’t practical for getting in and out of frequently during the flight. This was always stowed out of the way (at the front of the cabin on the short flights, and overhead on the long flights).
I used a multi-compartment Osprey backpack (very similar to this one) to pack the litany of stuff we needed (or possibly needed) for the flight. All the activities were nicely tucked in the laptop compartment of the third pocket as well as an old-school pocket folder containing our necessary documents and, finally, our electronic devices. I bagged, labeled, and tucked the food in the order we would eat it in both the third and second pockets (including towel bibs, utensils, Pouch Buddy, water bottle nipple, and a sippy cup). In the unlikely event I was forced to check my son’s car seat, I also carried a CARES harness in an elastic netted side pocket. All the kids’ prescriptions (HINT: ask your kids’ pediatrician to write scripts for liquid pain medicines – they don’t count against your liquid limit and it doesn’t matter if they are over 3 ounces), syringes, and a thermometer (the only one we use!) were bagged and tucked at the bottom of the third pocket. My cell phone, and our tickets and Passports (when they weren’t in the pocket on the carrier) were zipped up in the small devices pocket at the top between the first and second pocket. Finally, all the small and important stuff was neatly organized in the heavily compartmentalized first pocket. This included my pacsafe RFIDsafe wallet (tucked safely in an internal zippered pocket), my prescriptions, neatly folded and rubber-banded garbage bags (so I could collect our trash instead of letting it pile up somewhere), a small bottle of hand sanitizer, a zippered pouch I carry in my purse with other sundries like ear plugs, headphones, a small case with antacids, a small case with hair ties, etc.
I made sure to keep accessible everything we needed for the flights. On our outbound leg, the first flight was super short so the aircraft was smaller. Since my Osprey backpack was stuffed, it was not carry-on sized and I knew they would stow it. Running on that assumption, I took from the Osprey what I thought we would need and placed it in the kids’ diaper bags. Since the flight was short, we had eaten, and I had changed the kids’ diapers prior to boarding, this amounted to some toys to distract the kids. For the longer flights, I stowed things we wouldn’t need in the carry-on and made sure everything in the backpack and diaper bags was where I was expecting it to be.
Once we boarded, I put the car seats in first as quickly and well as I could and then stowed our things where we needed them for the flight and based on our seating arrangement. Because airline employees aren’t allowed to help install the car seats, they did other things to help like carry things and hold the kids. Once we got the seats in, I placed the bag with food and activities closest (under the seat to my nearest front), the diaper bags close (under the seats to the front of my kids), and the carry-on the farthest (in the overhead bin) from us.
We are almost done with this three part series. If you’ve hung in there this far, I sure hope some of this information was helpful or stimulated some different ideas about how you can make your trip a success too. In the third and final part, I talk about shipping what we needed, car seats, and some of the tools we used to make things easier.