In my glory days of single-dom I did a lot of business travel. Now that my frequent flier status is reset to zero and I only travel once a year my mind plays tricks on the memories. Gone are the memories of missed connections, lost luggage and boring meetings in a jet-lag haze. What I remember was peace and freedom. I remember business class and the occasional upgrade to first. In my misty memory, it was something like this (thank you Rachel Weisz via British Airways):
Now, I have no special status, no expense account sending me via upper class. And since I travel with kids not only am I in economy (which long-haul really isn't that bad) but I'm in The Way Back. I searched the files of stock photography to show an "After" shot but I found they are all liars - there are photos of fake families having fun traveling. Which is such a hoot.
A good iconic image that more accurately depicts air travel with young kids is this:
Ok, it wasn't really that bad.
We recently returned from a 2-week stay in Nashville and central Illinois. A much-needed comfort-food trip and surrounding myself with my favorite people. But in order to get there (and home) I traveled alone for the first time with both boys. That's right. Nice to Nashville by myself with a 3 year old and 1 year old. I know I'm not the first one to brave it and I'm grateful to all those who went before me & the tips they left scattered throughout the Internet.
And for those of you who want to know, or are seeking advice, here's my list of how we survived (the rest can stop reading now):
Attitude Adjustment: A friend of mine who's made the journey before reminded me - the trip doesn't last forever. It will be over, and you'll be at your destination. Also - they won't be little forever and at some point you won't need to strategize for weeks in advance.
Allow for LOTS of extra time: Can't be stressed enough. We arrived at Nice Aeroport a full two-hours before our flight. Same thing on the return.
If traveling with a baby, fight for the bassinet seat. Even if the baby never sleeps there, you will be so grateful for the space. Little Guy slept for an hour and half on the way over, and 3 hours during the night return. Was so glad to be able to go the restroom! On the return flight I was dismayed to realize that not only was I not in the row with bassinet, but I wasn't in a bulkhead either - critical for needed space. After no help from the crew, I walked back to the row with Little Guy in arms and explained to the bourgeois couple sitting there the situation and asked them to trade with me. They were not happy about it - they had obviously requested those seats for the space and yet could not refuse a tiny baby.
Weigh your checked luggage. With all the airlines restricting checked luggage, it's a good idea to weigh what you're taking. My HUGE suitcase is just at the allowable size limit, and upon check-in I was 100g over the weight limit.
Gate check your stroller. Air France doesn't allow this and for that reason I don't fly with them. For this trip, Boo was in the stroller while I carried Little Guy in the Ergobaby (still love that thing!). You will be so glad if you have to change planes or go through US Customs - in my book the worst part of the trip.
Carry ons: The little present thing works. Also, snacks/treats they don't normally get (just be careful of the sugar effect - time it well). Take a change of clothes for everyone. I learned that while usually it's shirts that get soiled on a plane it's the pants since everyone is sitting down. Little Guy required a full change on the trip home and I was so glad to have it. My strategy is as follows: one diaper bag with a few changes, all travel documents, water bottles, milk bottle for LG and snacks. Carry one duffel (in the picture above) with toys, sleep aids, extra clothes, formula. Also - aluminum water bottles. It was great to carry them on empty then have them filled on the plane - no messy cups, no worries about security.
Accept all help offered. Smile. Apologize. Make friends. On the daytime flight over, Boo made friends with everyone (which was good because he decided the cabin was his own playground). One nice man traveling alone offered all sorts of help - he said he had twins and knew what it was like. On particular flight attendant, Allison from South Carolina, entertained Lucas and generally made my flight bearable. I commerserated with another mom flying to NY alone with her three young boys. We helped each other.
A special note on US Customs and TSA Security: This is always the worst part of the trip for me. After an already long journey, with two little kids, the US puts all entrants into the country through a fairly detailed rigamorole -something I've not experienced in other countries. It's a pain even if you're a US Citizen. Before making a connecting flight you must a) stand in a long line for passport control and some questions (where are you coming from? how long have you been away or are staying, etc) while in sleep-deprived state with whiny / sleepy / bored kids underfoot, then b) collect all your checked luggage and officially cross the border which is symbolized by handing your customs declaration sheet to the agent then c) hand check luggage back to agent on the other side and d) rush like hell to make your connection which will invariably require going through security ( shoes off for EVERYONE, including the Robeez of Little Guy, bags practically completely unpacked, etc). Good luck on tight connections. In my experience, minimum of two hours to be safe. The good news is that often there are dedicated lines for family at security and at the very least people are usually (though not always) helpful and accommodating.
Last: The flight over has nothing on the awfulness of post-arrival jet-lag. We all suffered for a week afterward, and just kind of lived slightly zombie-like through the first days of vacation and then after getting back. My tricks for this are: