Traveling abroad with an infant does not have to be as scary as it sounds, so let me take a moment out of settling into my new home to talk about what it's like. I've been in Uganda now for about a week and haven't talked about our much dreaded journey from New York. I say dreaded because traveling with my four-month-old by plane was about the scariest thing I've ever had to do.
Maybe this doesn't sound so bad, and maybe it wouldn't have been so scary if it was a direct flight. But from what I know, there are no direct flights from NY to Uganda so a layover was inevitable. What made it so scary was that our layover was 11-hours-long ... in Egypt!
For a moment I actually considered just staying in the airport and somehow passing the time by, you know, hanging out as if I didn't have a newborn in tow who probably wouldn't think it was such a good idea. It wasn't until someone mentioned I should probably book a hotel room that I really started to do some research about layover accommodation.
Never had it occurred to me that some airlines will provide free or discounted hotel accommodation if you have a long layover. I mean, it makes total sense, and it's a huge relief for travelers, especially families with young children.
But first things first. You have to actually get the information from the airline whether it be through their website or by phone. This probably sounds so obvious to you, but apparently it was the most difficult part for me since Egyptair made it extremely difficult to get any info. The information on their website gave vague details about layovers, while the only telephone number provided for their offices wasn't working. I even called Egyptair in Egypt hoping to speak to someone, but the language difference made it impossible for the call agent to understand me. So I had to dig reeeally deep in the Internet files to get some info.
Finally I came across a website that had a list of airlines and their layover accommodations (the comment board had even more), and what would you know? Egyptair made the list! And, it turned out that they offered a free room and meal if your layover was (I think) more than six hours. But just a word of advice: always make sure you get the official word from the airlines themselves. I could have totally been assed out when I got to Egypt had that information been wrong.
There was so much more I was curious about, like simply, what's it like to travel such a distance with a baby, especially when you're by yourself. For months I scoured blogs collecting as much info as I could. Most was comforting, affirming that it's nowhere close to your worst nightmare. These are the ones I found most helpful and that actually worked for me:
1. Book your flight around your baby's sleep schedule.
Obviously that's not always an option, but if you can, go for it. My son isn't on a set schedule, but he does go to bed anywhere from 7-9pm (on a good day), so I was lucky enough to find a flight departing in the evening. Now when your flight is full of stops and layovers, there's only so much you can do. Whatever happens, just remember to stay calm which really helps baby relax a bit.
2. Feed baby during take off and landing.
They say the pressure of taking off and landing can agitate a baby, and sucking on a bottle or breastfeeding can avoid all of that. I did EVERYTHING I could to breastfeed Elijah right before take off to avoid any crying, and by the grace of God, not only did he take choo choo (what we call breastfeeding in my family, thanks to my husband), but he fell right asleep. God is so good.
I don't think I worried much about landing since I knew we were getting off the plane. BUT, if you're nowhere near an exit, you might want to do a feeding. Nobody is thinking about letting you off the plane first 'cause you're a mama, at least from my experience. Anyone who has flown knows that getting off a crowded plane is every man for himself. So be sure to have something to keep your little one preoccupied because walking around the plane won't be an option with the aisles completely clogged.
3. Consider where you and your baby will be most comfortably seated on the plane.
I'm a window-seater 'till the day I die. Maybe you are too, but remember that you may be getting up a few times to either go to the restroom, or walk around the plane. Yes, Elijah went right to sleep once we took off, but guess what? He sure did have a nice, funky mess of a poop, I'd say, during the first five minutes of his nap. Now you know you don't wake a sleeping baby, especially on a plane, so I sat my behind right there, in the funk, as did everyone else (sorry!) and waited until he woke up...2 hours later:/
Anyway that's all besides the point but the point is, I had to ask the two gentlemen in the middle and aisle seats to wake up and get up so I could take Elijah to the bathroom to change.
So, the moral of the story is, if you don't want to bother people with asking them to get up a few times, then the window seat may not be for you. Do understand that most people, and I repeat most people, won't mind at all. So your choice.
Also keep in mind if you prefer sitting in the front of the plane, middle, or back. Everyone has their theory as to where is better for a baby, you probably won't know what works until you fly with your child.
I know on our flights I avoided the front. Most people choose those seats for reasons like getting off the plane first, and I heard that you feel less turbulence there too. So the back tends to have more seats available if the flight isn't full. You may get really lucky with a free seat next to you which just gives you more space for you, baby, and your things.
But I've also heard that many families choose the back for those same reasons, so it could get a little noisy with kids playing and babies crying.
And last thing, figure out whether or not you want a seat with a bassinet attached in front. Those are actually great if you have a lap infant, that way you don't have to keep your little one in your lap. Make sure you bring a blanket to cover the bassinet. And remember you have to request the bassinet. I wasn't able to make this arrangement through Egyptair since I couldn't get in touch with anyone, but with other airlines, you may be able to do it online or by phone. Either way, do this right after you book; there's a limited amount of bassinets on each flight.
And while we're at it, make sure seat arrangements are reserved for you and baby for each leg of your trip, departing and returning.
4. Do yourself a favor—pack light and smart!
I'm talking about, down to the type of carry-on bag you use. I used this super uncomfortable-type duffel bag with too-short straps and, just all kinds of awkwardness going on. Ugh! I was so annoyed because, for one, it was way too heavy and it hurt my shoulder, and to get it on and off my shoulder was a bitch. Straight up. So half the time I had to carry it with one hand. And to get in there and find stuff was next to impossible. I had that duffel bag, another carry-on suitcase (packed to the max), a baby bag (packed to the max), AND a baby. Yeah. Not smart—don't do it like that, okay?
5. Figure out baggage limits and charges for overweight luggage ahead of time.
To piggy back off of number 4, get as much as you can into your checked luggage. Shoot, you might even want to have an extra piece of luggage on deck, bite the bullet and pay the extra fees for it. Trust me when I say it's worth it. When you're traveling with a child, you need your hands to be free, so try not to overdue it with the carry-on stuff. And remember to weigh everything before you get to the airport. Rearranging suitcases to not pay extra fees while you're baby's in a sling—not cool.
6. Bring extra diapers, food, clothes, and other necessities.
Flying can be very tricky and unpredictable. Luggages disappear. Flights get cancelled or delayed. Shit happens. So keep that in mind while packing your carry-on luggage. Bring as many diapers as can fit. Bottles of milk (if you're breastfeeding than you kinda luck out here), food, some like to pack baby tylenol in case of fever—just whatever you and baby can't live without in case anything happens and you can't get to you're checked bags.
7. Think ahead about how'll you'll maneuver when going to the bathroom.
While at the airport, everything was going great until I had to use the bathroom. Where do I hang the baby bag? Or the other two carry-on bags? My bathroom stall was missing a hook, so I had to go find another one. Pay attention to the little things.
And then (trying to be all proactive) I figured I'd change Elijah's diaper before we boarded our flight that way I didn't have to worry about once we boarded. Smart, right? Well! First of all, you won't be putting your baby on the bare surface of the baby-changing table in the ladies room (you better not!) You'll need a blanket; so I suggest you get that out first, BEFORE you take your baby out of his sling or carrier. 'Cause once he's out, getting him back in will take some work and time and time is money (and sanity) when you're trying to catch a flight. Get that blanket down on the changing table, and figure out where you'll put your bags since you can't hold them and change baby at the same time. And if you're a germaphobe like me you can't imagine putting them on a public bathroom floor.
So, I did all of this backwards and nearly broke down crying. I was trying to be all strong, passing up help from women who could see I was struggling, until I finally gave in. This one woman could tell I was about to politely decline her assistance (I'm so damn prideful) and she insisted, like, "Um no. I got you, honey. This is hard. I've been there. Let me help you." She stood there with me as my bag rack and listened to me as I let out all my worries and concerns about my trip (which I couldn't do with my family 'cause I didn't want them to worry and think I was crazy for doing this by myself in the first place).
Moral of the story: think about the things you normally wouldn't have to worry about as a single woman traveling. You're a momma now. Think like one.
8. You get to board first.
Love this. Enjoy this. First-class treatment, baby. Get to your gate on time 'cause there's nothing more annoying than having to squeeze through an aisle full of people to get to your seat.
9. Keep your documents accessible at all times.
Yeah, you could keep your passports and tickets in the baby bag, your purse, or backpack, but if you have a lot of things, it may not be that easy to get to. I was thinking, maybe a fanny pack would be awesome in this situation. It just sounds like it's easy to get to, and you probably won't have much else in there since not much can fit. Oh, and don't forget a pen for when it's time to fill out customs forms.
10. You might want to put your iPad, laptop, and other forms of entertainment in your check-in luggage.
Hate to break it to you, but it's not like it used to be when you'd pull out a good book or iPad for a movie to keep you preoccupied. Now this depends, of course, on what your arrangements are. If your baby is in the bassinet and is sleeping or just hanging out, then fine; you pretty much have the space to have something on your lap. Or maybe you bought a seat so you can keep baby in the car seat next to you. But if you're like me who had Elijah on my lap the entire time, then you may not get much use out that stuff. Anyway most flights have the personal TVs right in front of you.
11. You still have to pay for your infant to fly
Whether you want a seat for your baby, a bassinet, or you're willing to fly with baby on your lap, you still pay. I don't know if it's a full price ticket or discounted depending on age (usually up to age 2) for a separate seat, but I know for a lap infant you pay something like 5 or 10 percent of your ticket. So despite what you may have heard, lap infant tickets are not free.
I hope these tips help you!
Now back to our trip...
The flight from New York to Egypt was a little over ten hours and went quite smoothly despite a little turbulence and two bowel movements from Elijah. He slept most of the way which was a relief, and I still managed to eat and get a little shut eye.
The best and most relieving part of this trip was when we got to Cairo. We were accommodated with a hotel room, two meals, and transportation to and from the airport. I cannot tell you how helpful that was considering our layover was eleven hours. We took a nap, got a bite to eat, and casually waited for the shuttle bus to drop us back to our terminal.
People were surprisingly helpful along the way offering help and words of advice. I also ran into a friend at Cairo airport who helped tremendously, carrying my ginormous luggage and preoccupying me with much-needed conversation as a diversion to everything that was going on.
Once we made our way back to the airport, we got a little confused with the gates, but we had more than enough time and eventually found our way. We boarded once again for the second leg of our journey and again had a pretty uneventful flight. Elijah slept for most of it, and when he was awake I walked around with him a bit to keep him calm.
Our quick layover in Nairobi was, well, quick. After an hour we were on board heading to our final destination, Uganda. Though this was the quickest of the flights, Elijah seemed most fussy on this one. I'm sure all the traveling was catching up to him at this point. And I'm sure he was super excited, too, to see his dada!
Landing in Entebbe airport was the most gratifying moment ever. It was liberating just thinking about what it took for us to get there, and I felt incredibly blessed to have made it safely and to have come across such kind, helpful people along the way. Also, it was made pretty clear to me that my child was meant for the life of travel. He made his mama so proud:)
Moving across the world can be intimidating, especially when you have this little person with you that you are responsible for. The kind gestures and words made our trip all the more successful but from now on, daddy comes with us wherever we go!
Being here I now know that as a unit, we will go further than we've ever dreamed. I can't wait to see where this journey takes us!
Have you traveled long distance with a young child? What was that experience like for you?