Traveling with kids: International travel
This is part two of my travel series on the blog. Last week, I discussed domestic travel, specifically within Canada. This week, I’m addressing the enormous task of international travel with young children. About 4 months after having our second son, we decided to travel to Australia to visit my husband’s side of the family. We have gone three times before as a couple, and once with Vincent which was quite stress-free. This would be the first time with both kids, and slightly more stressful as previous trips. In fact, it was brutal. But with that said, we would do it again. Maybe not right away (we need to put the traumatic parts of the trip out of our memory first), but sure enough when the travel itch hits, we will be back in the air!
We did our best to have a good sleep the night before traveling, but as you may have read in my last travel post, we were already in the midst of our travels with our layover in Vancouver. The pro was that while the first night of sleep was terrible, the second (and last night) was much better. In an ideal world, if you’re going to have a layover before a long haul trip, try and stay more than one night since the first night somewhere new can be disruptive to your sleep schedule.
One major tip I suggest for parents traveling with babies is to book a bassinet seat. Even if your child does not use the bassinet, the seats designated for bassinet use are much more spacious and have a lot more leg room. The actual bassinet can accommodate babies up to 25 pounds (Air Canada). Most airlines have similar weight guidelines give or take a pound. This is a great chart to refer to for those guidelines. There is also a small fee to pay for these seats, but they are so worth it, especially on the long haul flights (10 hours+) when you may have to stand up and bounce around with your fussy baby (we did A LOT of this). Anton actually did sleep inside the bassinet, mostly for 30 minute cat naps, but those short naps gave me the chance to rest or eat without a baby in my lap.
During takeoff and landing, breastfeeding is allowed given you have the lap belt secured around you and the baby. It is a bit awkward, but it can be done. Unfortunately, I misunderstood the flight attendant during landing and thought she told me to stop nursing the baby as she made all these ambiguous hand gestures. So for the last 25 minutes of pre-landing to wheels touching the ground, the baby SCREAMED in my arms while being held against his will in an awkward sitting position constrained by his lap belt. The only thing you could hear from economy class was a baby screeching in horror at his milk-less situation. I was THAT mom. To add insult to injury, this was during the only leg of flight where the bassinet seats were all booked up, thus we were seated in a regular aisle seat. Plus, my husband and older son were in another aisle due to the overbooked nature of the flight. Thus, I was left to suffer with my screaming baby alone with noone to share my sorrowful state. Obviously noone was more upset about the situation than the baby, whom my heart did break for. But nothing made my blood boil more than when upon exiting the airplane, the flight attendant (whom I misunderstood) told me “Next time, you might want to nurse the baby when landing. Just a suggestion.” The audacity! *sigh* Anyways, it was obviously just a misunderstanding. But the lesson here is to go with your mama instincts. Baby needed to be fed, thus I should’ve done it stealthily even if it was against the rules (that clearly I made up).
The silver lining of the flight was that my older son did AMAZINGLY. We didn’t bring child-sized headphones, but he was happy to use my husband’s set and watched cartoons and play games for a good portion of the flight. He was not amused when he had to take off his headphones during take-off and landing, but no tears were shed thankfully (the baby took care of that). The only con about the bassinet seats are that the video monitors are underneath your seat, which must be stowed away for take-off and landing. Meanwhile, everyone who has a normal seat can continue to watch their movies since their screens are on the seat ahead of them. Definitely a high class problem, but nonetheless a deal breaker for a toddler.
Since we flew Air New Zealand, we had a layover in Auckland before heading to our final destination of Brisbane. While there, our oldest spent the entire time exploring and walking (running) around our gate. What I love about Australia and New Zealand are the amount of family and nursing rooms which have a spacious changing station, food warming station, and child sized toilet stalls. There are also small activity centers to occupy the kids every few gates.
When we finally arrived in Brisbane, it was late morning, so while I wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep for several hours, I had to fight the urge so I could adjust to local time sooner. My sister in law hosted a large family BBQ at her home, while our kids met some of their cousins for the first or second time. Our oldest son had no interest in napping and was a zombie by dinner. Thankfully he slept through the night without incident and joined his cousins for food and play around 7am. For the next few days, I would nap for an hour or so when the baby napped, but in general our jetlag was managed by going to bed at a reasonable hour and waking up when the kids did.
About three days after landing in Brisbane, we made the crazy decision to get back on an airplane. This time, a short flight to Melbourne. One of my husband’s good mates were getting married on a winery, so we thought this would be nice little romantic getaway within our vacation. But then I remembered, our kids were coming with us. My in laws were happy to watch the kids, but given that the baby was still nursing (and I didn’t want to pack my breast pump in my already full luggage), and we wanted to introduce the kids to some of my husband’s best friends, we decided to take the kids. The only issue was that the wedding we were attending was a child-free wedding. Thankfully I was told this in advance and a babysitting service was recommended to me. I was apprehensive about hiring someone I have never met before to watch our children, even for just a few hours while they’d be sleeping, but the website allowed me to see references and speak directly with my prospective sitter/nanny. The babysitter we ended up hiring was a lovely young lady who was in school for Early Childhood Education. She came to the bed and breakfast we were staying in, and watched the boys as they slept. For the first hour, I stayed in the room to get ready for the reception while she read books to our oldest child. Our son was quite taken with her. She was a fun, sweet, but no-nonsense type of caregiver. My kind of lady! I felt at ease as my husband and I enjoyed our “date night” dinner and dancing with his good friends. The sitter texted me every hour to give me a report (“they’re still sleeping soundly”).
One of my concerns while traveling is making sure my picky eater eats enough nutritious food. One of the ways I make sure he gets his daily dose of vegetables and fruits at home is through smoothies. Australia has wonderful cafes and restaurants that offer all day brunch menus. So whenever we ate out, we usually ordered a side of scrambled eggs and toast along with a green smoothie. This way, I felt assured that my kids were getting their nutrients, and I also got some new smoothie ideas to take home.
A trip to Australia is not complete without a trip to the beach. For the latter half of our trip, instead of going back and fourth from one relative’s house to another, we decided to rent a beach house on the Gold Coast and invited our relatives to come stay and visit us there. The benefit of this is that we don’t have to schlep all our bags and baby gear around from place to place, and the kids can settle into a routine even for just a few days. The beach house we rented was a close walk to the beach, and had a full kitchen, bbq and pool, which were all well utilized. Here’s the exact house we stayed in, which I would highly recommend! Our in laws stayed with us, and extended family visited on a daily basis. Our baby still got regular naps in, which was a huge mood booster for both he and I! My husband started each day with a dip in the ocean with our oldest, who was putting his YMCA swimming skills into practice.
There were a couple overcast days (aka a normal day in Vancouver), so we took those days to do a bit of shopping and sightseeing. One place we always love to visit are the animal sanctuaries. We went to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary to take our quintessential koala photos and see some cute and scary animals up close. I always enjoy this trip as much as the kids do. We also saw some kangaroos “creating new life” which our oldest pointed out to us as “playing around!” and decided to leave it at that.
Spending our last few days at the beach with family was just what we needed to complete our vacation. We had lazy mornings, spent quality time with family and had our fill of sun, surf and tim tams (we tried pineapple, white chocolate, salted caramel and turkish delight this time). And to put the cherry on top, both boys did much better on the flight home. It may have been the relaxing week we had, or awesome parenting on our part (definitely not the latter). Our oldest slept for a five hour stretch in the most awkward position. Our youngest responded to being put in the carrier and walking up and down the aisles. He promptly fell asleep each time we did this, but of course I had to wear him for the next two hours in order to get a solid stretch of sleep. Nevertheless, it was a memorable trip, and despite the stresses, we are looking forward to doing it again. Writing this post was actually quite healing. In fact, I think the travel itch is back! Call me crazy, because I’m already planning our next international trip…coming April 2017. Stay tuned!