We did it! We survived our first venture abroad with kids. Sure, we’ve been to Canada but I’m talking about a trans-Atlantic European vacation crossing multiple time zones, 10 hours in the air, and being someplace where you really do feel far from home.
Granted we chose England and Iceland as our destinations, not India or Peru. So the transition was made easy by the fact that everyone spoke English, even in Iceland, albeit with a charming accent and a quaint local lexicon.The food was similar to what we might find on the menu back in Seattle with the exception of Haggis, smoked Puffin and Minke whale (which I would not recommend eating). Whether we liked it or not, we had access to all of life’s modern conveniences including Wi-Fi, Starbucks and flat screen TV’s (even in the 17th century manor we rented). It was a perfect introduction to international travel for our kids.
We travel quite a bit with our children, mainly due to the fact that most of our family lives on the East Coast. In order to maintain healthy family ties we cross the country once or twice a year. So we’re no strangers to all of the unforeseen and uncontrollable mishaps that can happen when traveling. Still, I took note of a few things this go around which I either patted myself on the back about or cursed myself for not being being better prepared.
If you’re able to make your plane tickets well in advance do so! You will likely get a better deal and perhaps a better shot at flying business class (especially if you have any frequent flyer points). I know, you’ll get dirty looks from other passengers (perhaps real business people) who don’t want children disturbing the cush scene they’ve got going on. Oh, but your legs and back will thank you immensely, especially if you are of the long limbed breed. So, as the British would say to those childless snobs, “Piss off!”
We did NOT book our tickets well in advance. As a result, we were only able to upgrade my husband to business class for one leg of the trip. I won’t tell you the horrifying amount it would have cost to upgrade just him for all legs of the trip. Since I was left to manage the kids in Economy (just one more reason why I should be considered for sainthood) I was very thankful for making sure I had properly downloaded a few movies and audio books onto our laptop and iPad. I say “properly” because there have been some very unfortunate times when I downloaded a movie but did not make it viewable in airplane mode. Being the primary source of entertainment for your kids during a five hour flight is just as disastrous as it sounds.
I was also thankful I had packed some snacks. Well fed and entertained kids are happy kids. Even though Iceland Air provides special kid meals playfully packaged with games included (I love this airline, kid meals, no baggage fees and beautiful blonde male and female flight attendants) I knew my picky eaters would probably not touch it.
After one connection and getting a total of two hours of sleep we finally landed in London’s Heathrow Airport. Dazed and confused we made what seemed like an endless trek across the airport to customs. My daughter, the 7 year old, kept squeezing my hand and complaining that she didn’t feel well. Chalking it up to just being tired and grumpy I dismissed her pleas to stop and pushed her onward. Such inattentive parenting bit my husband and I in the ass several minutes later when she puked while waiting in the very long customs line. Causing a bit of a scene we were ushered out of line and into a nearby bathroom. The upside was that after we had cleaned her up we were granted permission to go in the “fast track” lane. In these days of ebola and mysterious transcontinental viruses airport security probably thought it best to keep our sickly daughter separated from the rest of the crowd. However, I would NEVER suggest playing on such fears in the future when trying to avoid long lines!
Once through customs and with our bags “reclaimed” (as they say in England) we hopped into an iconic London black cab and made our way to our hotel. We had the pleasure of running into traffic which, needless to say prolonged the ride. Already a bit nervous about my daughter’s frail jet lagged state, and knowing her tendency for motion sickness, I kept a sharp eye on her. Sure enough, about three quarters of the way through the cab ride she uttered those ill-fated words, “I don’t feel very good” and promptly upchucked all over her clothes and the cab floor. Down went the windows and out came the hand wipes and tissues, which I praised myself for packing! That and a change of clothes I had stuffed in my daughter’s carry on bag at the last minute. The only thing that would have undeniably made me “Super Mom” was if I had packed some plastic baggies to dispose of the soiled wipes and clothes. Instead I had to settle for a pocket in my backpack. Amid cries of disgust from my son, tears from my daughter and panicked expletives from my husband, we wiped down the car seat and floor, and performed a quick wardrobe change. Fortunately, the cab was equipped with one of those glass windows separating the driver from the passengers so the driver worked his way through traffic in blissful ignorance to the mayhem that was happening behind him. We gave him a generous tip!
At our hotel, we felt like we had just crossed the finish line of a marathon. Exhausted, stiff and in need of a good stretch and hydration. But we also felt a sense of accomplishment. We had made it, perhaps not gracefully but we made it. Now, the real trip could begin!
If you and your young family are planning to travel abroad in the near future, remember these key tips to help make your experience more manageable:
-Properly downloaded entertainment
-Change of clothes
-An open mind and great sense of humor
As for dealing with the jet lag and new time zones once you reach your final destination, I’m afraid I’m no help there. Despite our efforts to push through and stay active until bedtime, my kids still woke up at 4am on our first morning.
About the Author
Meg Butterworth lives in NW Seattle with her husband and two children. She’s been a part of the PEPS community for almost nine years. WOW! When she has a couple of kid free hours she enjoys writing, exploring Seattle, and enjoying a couple of beverages with her life line of fellow Mom friends.