Hola friends. How are you? Did you get a chance to read Sarah’s amazing story about how she got the city life and nature for a fraction of what most people pay? If you have five minutes it is an amazing dose of inspiration from this weeks Inside a Traveler’s Walls.
Now I must say that I am no novice to flying without Will. I have flown without him with a three-month old, with a three-month old and a toddler and with sick kids more times than I can count. But, nothing compares to flying without him with massive amounts of luggage and two stops. Nothing. I will take nursing babies and throw up any day of the week over seven checked bags and six carry ons, oh and some rule breaking. Yep! It was that ugly. It will go down in the books as my hardest air travel trip to date. I know now that I will learn to live without a lot of the “stuff” we travel with if I ever have to do this alone again or I will find myself another hot latino for hire for the day. Ha!
We do 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. Yes, our clothing situation is minimal. The issue is our book obsession, art supplies and computer gear. Before you even say it, we do have two Kindles. Since our children speak three languages we carry French and Spanish books with us as well. They are not as easy to get on the Kindle and frankly there is still something about a physical book that is quite powerful for younger kids. Oh, and then there are the home/world schooling books. Again some are on the Kindle, but most are not. We are a huge reading family and I will carry books all over this globe in order to support this passion. Someday it will be just Will and I and our Kindles and I will dream of dragging books from continent to continent. Ok, maybe not, but I will miss what the books symbolize…happy kids.
Today I would like to share some of my tips for moving to a new country without another adult and massive amounts of luggage.
DIRECT FLIGHTS ONLY
Makes sense, right? In our case we booked our flight to Quito, Ecuador months before we realized I would be doing it alone. Actually I never even found out I would be doing it alone until a week before our flight when Will needed to extend his work trip in Hong Kong. And I only remembered we had two layovers when I looked at my flight information the night before we flew. I almost passed out. When we booked our flight to Quito we decided that we could handle two layovers with all the carry ons because we would be four people. The savings in the flight was well worth the bit of hassle. Flash forward five months and the savings was definitely not worth it.
In our case we left Costa Rica and flew to El Salvador (north), then flew to Columbia (south and past Costa Rica again) and then to Ecuador (southwest). Leaving Costa Rica was not much of an issue, but when we landed in El Salvador we had to remove our six carryons from the over head and into the airport. Now I am sure I do not have to explain to you that we were well OVER the weight capacity and lifting those six carry ons up into the overhead for the second time was not easy. Plus, none of them really fit under the seat in front of us. As per airline rules you get one carry on and one personal item that fits under the seat. Each time we boarded our planes (remember three total) I took a deep breath and prayed to the travel gods that I would not be met with a cranky flight attendant that would hold me to the rules. Luckily those travel gods were on my side.
Columbia was a completely different story. We landed out in a field, well, not exactly, but we were definitely not delivered to the gate. We had to exit down a metal staircase and there were no ramps for dragging the bags. The kids bags were way too heavy for them to carry down a staircase, plus they each had an awkward item as well (guitar and keyboard). This was a major challenge. I told them both to leave their suitcase at the top of the stairs and then I would go back up and get it for them. I want you to create a visual of me trying to go up stairs where everyone is aggressively coming down. There was one kind passenger who helped with one of the bags. I am sure more would have helped, but most people had both of their hands occupied. What goes down, must go up or is it the other way around? Ha! We had to do this four times because we had to get back on another plane with the same scenario an hour later. I was ready to die after dragging four of the six carry ons up the stairs for the final time and into the overhead for the third time. Again, a kind flight attendant helped me in Columbia. I think he could see I was at breakdown mode.
And a final note… Columbia made us go through security again. All the electronics had to come out, the instruments, our shoes, you get the idea. Then it all had to be strategically placed back into its spot. Of course on this second security check they noticed we did not remove the needle in the sewing machine which takes me to our next tip.
REMOVE THE NEEDLE
Or any other item that might send up a red flag because when you are traveling with too much luggage and your weight is over the limit you don’t want red flags. I know this is flying 101, but I was pushing the limits and hoped they would not notice. This little needle incident caused 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 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. Phew! Avalon was prepared to cry if they decided to keep the sewing machine.
This situation could have ended differently, glad it did not. My advice is to go over your carry ons a second time and be sure to remove any items that will draw attention to you and your massive amounts of over weight luggage.
PREPARE THE CHILDREN
Avalon and Largo are very well-traveled and understand airports/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 to travel with and quite frankly I enjoy being on airplanes with them.
But, traveling alone with them with a lot of HEAVY LUGGAGE is a whole different experience. They did not have their own carry on to fill with goodies of their choosing. They did not have extra snacks or their favorite snuggly blanket. 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 have 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 amazing 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. Did it suck? Yes. 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.
I think you know how this is going to go, right? 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, two more bags of food and a cranky Avalon. Largo and I shared our food with her and I promised an enormous plate of sushi as soon as we found a place in Quito. I was wishing I had shoved some more snack items in our luggage, even if I had to put them in my bra.
Don’t sacrifice snacks. In the end a cranky kid is not pleasant. 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 you are helping them provide for their family 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. You can do the math.
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 so you might even need coins to put in to 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 willing to help us unload our bags and load them back on to our carts in order to exit the airport. Again, have that tip money ready. I would have paid them $100 at this point in the trip. I was about ready to drop dead. Which brings me to the next tip…
PRE-ARRANGE TRANSPORTATION TO YOUR ACCOMMODATIONS
When I travel with Will we never do this. We always just wing in when we arrive. This usually gives us the best price and our resources seem to be greater once we are on the ground.
Considering our luggage load I was not willing to search around for someone who could fit us in their car. Plus, this situation could have easily set us up for being taken advantage of once they saw the desperation on my face. I cannot tell you how happy I was to see my name on a sign held by a very young latino. I knew my hours of lifting were done. hallelujah!
I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to fit everything in a vehicle the size of a Rav 4. He did put two bags on the roof, but still, impressive.
ASK FOR HELP
I have always pride myself on being self-sufficient, but everyone has their 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. I have a lot of neck and back issues so I was anticipating extreme pain within a day or two. Luckily, I felt no pain. Thank you again travel gods.
READ THE FINE PRINT (again and again and again)
In my quest to create the perfect weight bag, in order to avoid overage charges, I missed a tiny (ok, huge) detail. When it says one bag at 50 pounds make sure you read the second part that says OR two at a combined weight of 70. The paragraph regarding weight regulations for Avianca was literally 20 sentences of the smallest print I have ever seen. It was broken down by continent, destination, time of year, but it was all mashed together in a paragraph. My graphic designer brain wanted a handy-dandy 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 of course we did) the COMBINED weight had a requirement as well.
So, you can imagine my shock when I was told I was over the limited at 5 am in Costa Rica on the morning of our departure. I felt the lump in my throat and could see hundreds of dollars in overage charges. Honestly, I don’t know what she did, maybe took pity on me??? But, we managed to get away from the whole experience with under $300 in overage. Considering our additional suitcase was $150 I am thinking we made out ok. I had visions of us having to go through bags and just trash stuff until we got to a more reasonable fee.
I know it is not always easy to get plenty of sleep and a 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 anyone traveling regardless if you are doing it alone, with children or without a 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 am 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. Finally, we could return the rental car and deal with the damage the day before our flight. This was a great idea considering how long it took us at Alamo to deal with the claim for the repair.
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 chilled out in our hotel the night before, talked about the new adventure and ate junk food from the vending machines. Perfect!
DON’T PACK FOR YOUR PARTNER
Don’t do it! I never do this anyway, but definitely do not do it if you are going to be responsible for family packing and the travel day. Since you are the one left to handle the family packing and travel day it is only fair that your partner have their items packed before they leave you alone.
I can honestly tell you that Will packed all of his items and some household items before he left. I think if he had left me with all of it there might have been some items “mysteriously” missing. Asking one person to pack and travel alone is a lot. If you are the one doing it alone make sure your partner understands that you need their help before launching. If you are the one leaving your partner to handle the heavy lifting (both mentally and physically) be sympathetic to this stressful situation and help as much as you can before you leave them.
I have to say that after re reading this post I think all of these tips are great for any travel day, but particularly necessary if you are traveling with massive amounts of luggage, kids and no other adult. The massive amounts of luggage are the kicker. It is hard to navigate airports when you are overloaded with luggage, that is why we always travel so light except when moving from country to country.
In all honesty I hope to never have to move to a new country without Will again, but if I do I will definitely change some things to make it more enjoyable. Top on my list will be to make sure it is a direct flight. All the layovers were the killer for us.
I also hope you never have to travel like this, but if you do I hope my tips have been helpful.
Maybe this is great food for thought for the next time you travel. Is travel stressful, physically and mentally exhausting for you? Maybe it is because you are dragging a lot of baggage. Maybe try simplifying down, just doing a carry on, skipping baggage claim and see how the experience goes.
So tell me, do you have a tip that I should add to the list from your traveling without a partner days?