Navigating airlines with loads of luggage can be challenging in and of itself. Doing it by yourself with children adds a whole other layer of challenge to your moving adventure.
When we moved to Quito, I found out one week before leaving that I would be making the move alone, while Will was detained in Hong Kong on business. I had handled infants and toddlers on a plane, so I was not too concerned about our now-older children, but the luggage was another issue altogether. We travel with more items than most of our traveling friends, but far less than many families moving to a new country for a year. The bulk of our bags is occupied with everything you could imagine, except clothing. Our clothing situation is minimal. The issue for us is our book obsession, art supplies and computer gear. We have streamlined some of our books with electronic readers, but, as our children speak three languages, we carry French and Spanish books with us as well. They are not as easy to get on an e-reader, and, frankly, there is still something about a physical book that is quite powerful for younger kids. We also have our home/worldschooling books. We all love to read, and, no matter how inconvenient, we are willing to carry books all over the globe to support our reading passion. Doing so, however, has not always proved easy. Here are some of my tried and true tips for traveling or moving to another country alone with children—and everything else—in tow.
BOOK DIRECT FLIGHTS ONLY
We booked our flight to Quito, Ecuador, months before we realized I would be doing it alone. We would have two layovers. We decided, at the time, that the four of us could handle all the carry-ons and such. We felt the lower flight cost was well worth the bit of hassle. When we were one man down for the actual trip, we realized that was not the case.
Our first stop was in El Salvador, where we had to remove our six carry-ons from the overhead compartment and maneuver them through the airport. To make matters worse, we were over the allotted weight capacity, and lifting those six carry-ons up into the overhead bin for the second time was not easy.
Our second stop in Columbia was a completely different story. We landed out in a field of sorts, but we were definitely not delivered to the gate. We had to exit down a metal staircase. There were no ramps on which to roll the bags. The kids’ bags were way too heavy for them to carry down the staircase. To make matters more burdensome, each had an awkwardly sized item, as well (a guitar and a keyboard). This was a major challenge. I told them both to leave their suitcases at the top of the stairs, and, then, I would go back up and get them. I underestimated how difficult it would be to go back up, while everyone else was hurriedly and aggressively coming down. One kind passenger helped, but most others had both hands occupied. This act was repeated two additional times, as we boarded—and eventually exited—another plan under the same circumstances an hour later.
This was not the only challenge, however. In Columbia, we were forced to go through security again. This meant unpacking and repacking electronics, musical instruments, shoes and more—all of which proved arduous. The findings? We had neglected to remove the needle from the sewing machine, which leads me to our next tip.
REMOVE THE NEEDLE
… or any other item that might send up a red flag. When you are traveling with too much luggage that is over the weight limit, what you want to avoid are red flags. I know this is basic information, but our little needle incident prompted a parade of security guards to gather around and discuss the proper way to remove it for 10 minutes. Not only did we cause a bit of a scene, but also this gave them the opportunity to take a closer look at all of our stuff. In the end, no one could figure out how to remove the needle, so they let us go. Avalon was ready to cry, if they decided to keep the sewing machine.
Simply put, it is best to stick to the rules. Stay within weight limits, be sure to remove any forbidden items and work to move through security and the airport at large as inconspicuously as possible to avoid potential expense, delays and frustrations.
PREPARE THE CHILDREN
Avalon and Largo are very well-traveled and understand airports and airplanes. They have carried or dragged their own bags for as long as they have been able to walk. When we travel we always make sure they have several books, activities and snacks to keep them busy during the flight. In addition, I bring books to read to them, games to play and crafts. They are easy travelers and, quite frankly, I enjoy being on airplanes with them.
But, traveling alone with them with a lot of heavy luggage is a different experience. They did not have their own carry-ons to fill with goodies of their choosing. They did not have extra snacks or their favorite snuggly blankets. The usual “travel routine” was very disrupted. There was not enough room to have activities, toys and blankets in the bags. We all had to make do with the few items we were able to cram in the side pouches and music cases.
In addition, they had to carry more than they had ever been asked to carry before. I am all for pushing my kids to do hard things, but this was beyond that. I was asking them to perform duties that most adults could not handle.
In order to prepare them for the trip, I decided that honesty was the best policy. I told them that this was going to be a hard day of travel—probably their hardest ever. I told them that I was going to ask them to do adult stuff that was probably way beyond their ability and strength. I told them that we would all get tired, cranky and probably hungry, but we would survive. I apologized for asking them to push their limits this much, but I assured them that we could do it if we worked together and asked for help from strangers.
As I predicted we were all tired, hungry and cranky by the time we arrived in Quito, but we survived. The kids did amazingly, considering the circumstances, and I know they felt proud of what we had accomplished.
I always—always—travel with snacks, and, often, with a meal. Except this time. Why? Because we did not have one ounce of space to spare. Airport and flights can be unpredictable and the worse part of travel is when you have a hungry kid on your hands.
In our case, we had a two-hour layover at each stop, so I assumed we would have time to grab something, even if it was a donut. What I did not factor in was that we would have to go through security again at one airport or that we would sit on a shuttle bus in a cow field for 30 minutes at another airport. I did have a couple of snack bars, but it was clearly not enough.
By the time we arrived in Columbia, the kids were starving. I sat with the six carry-ons and sent them off to hunt for food. In my exhaustion, I neglected to tell them that we only had 45 minutes until our flight. Honestly, even if I was not tired I might have still figured 45 minutes was plenty of time. What I did not know at the time was that they had to shuttle us to the plane that was a good 10 minutes from the gate. As a result, they had to call the boarding time earlier than 45 minutes.
AvaLar arrived back at the gate just as they were doing last call. Unfortunately, Avalon had still not purchased her food, but there was no time left. We boarded the shuttle with six bags, and a small amount of food—which we shared—but it was not enough. Don’t sacrifice snacks. Make the space.
I am a person who never uses porters. We always travel light, which usually means one bag per person. But, moving to a new country is a completely different story. Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a porter. Think of it as an equitable exchange: you are helping them provide for their families, and they are helping you keep your sanity. We had absolutely no choice than to use a porter in our situation. We had seven bags and six carry-ons with only six arms to do the work.
Make sure you have small bills, so you are not searching around the airport for change. Most porters will have change, but if it is early in the morning they might not.
In addition, you might end up at an airport that has restrictions as to where the porters can be positioned, so you might even need coins to put into machines for your own racks. We had to do this when we landed in Quito in order to get our bags through customs. We had to take everything off the conveyor belt and load it on to three luggage carts with all of our carry-ons. Then, each one of us had to carefully push our own cart to customs. We were quite happy to see that there were men at customs, who were willing to help us unload our bags and load them back on our carts, so we could exit the airport. Again, have that tip money ready.
PREARRANGE TRANSPORTATION TO YOUR ACCOMMODATIONS
When I travel with Will, we never prearrange transportation. We always figure it out in when we arrive at our location. This usually allows us to find the best price, and the resources from which we can choose, seem to be greater once we are on the ground.
Considering our luggage load, I was not willing to search for someone who could fit us in his or her car. Plus, a look of desperation on my face may have set us up to be taken advantage of. Just seeing your name on a sign at the end of a long, hard day of traveling brings joy and relief.
ASK FOR HELP
I have always prided myself on being self-sufficient, but everyone has his or her limits. In this situation, I found myself asking for help to get our bags up and down from the overhead. Unfortunately, there were often women older and smaller around us so I just had to pull through.
READ THE FINE PRINT (again and again and again)
As I worked to get our bags to the perfect weight and avoid overage charges, I missed an important detail. The airline allotted one bag at 50 pounds or two at a combined weight of 70 pounds. The paragraph regarding weight regulations for that airline was literally 20 sentences of the smallest print I had ever seen. It was broken down by continent, destination and time of year, but it was all mashed together in a paragraph. My graphic designer brain wanted a visual—a graph. Of course, I scanned the paragraph until I arrived at the information for traveling from Central America to South America. When I saw the one bag at 50 pounds, I stopped reading. In my haste, I neglected to see that if we had two bags per person (which we did), there was a combined-weight requirement, as well.
I was in shock when I was told I was over the weight limit at 5 a.m. in Costa Rica on the morning of our departure. Fortunately, we paid less than I initially anticipated in overage charges, but it was still quite a bit of expense and unforeseen frustration.
I know it is not always easy to get plenty of rest or solid night of sleep the night before departure, but do your best. It will help you get through the long day much more peacefully. I think this is a great tip for any traveler—whether going solo or traveling with your partner. I have to say that in most of our traveling situations, Will and I are usually up half the night before we travel. We always have work to finish up, and we find ourselves packing at midnight after the last load of laundry has finished.
I was determined to be more organized with this trip. I had no choice. I knew we would all have an unpleasant trip if we were not rested.
We decided to book a hotel at the airport for the night before our departure. It made sense for many reasons. First, we would have had to wake up at 2 a.m. if we were leaving from our house. Second, staying at a hotel would force us to be packed up a day early, which would give us time to rest.
I cannot deny that I was a bit tired on our flight day. We still had an early flight, and, physically, it was exhausting, but I did feel stress free. We relaxed in our hotel the night before, talked about our new adventure and ate junk food from the vending machines. It is a good memory.
DON’T PACK FOR YOUR PARTNER
You will be so busy packing for yourself, packing for the family and managing the travel day on your own, that you will need your partner to take care of his or her own items. Will packed all of his items and some household items before he left. You are a team, and, even if one of you will not be there for the actual travel, you need to work together to launch to your next WorldTowning location. Be caring and empathic for what each of you is experiencing—both the one who is managing the move, and the other who is missing it.
Have you made a WorldTowning move or traveled without your partner? Tell me your tips.
Are you interested in becoming a WorldTowner?