Hard Travelin’

21 Aug

This should really be title something more like “Happy Trails” rather than “Hard Travelin'”, but the Woody Guthrie song is so much cooler! When you have a child, traveling is not the same kind of adventure it once was. But at least you can still travel some; it’s not impossible, especially when there’s just one. When you have two (or more!) children, it’s a whole other ballpark, especially if there’s only one parent (luckily Conan and my mom both accompanied me for parts of the trip, although I was on my own for some). But people have done it before me in much more difficult circumstances, and other people do it all the time. Besides, I wasn’t going to get to visit Kentucky if I didn’t pull off the trip with a baby and a three year old, so I got the Little Engine That Could motto stuck in my head and chugged along. Here’s what I have to say about it, now that we all survived it (and mostly had fun to boot).

in the airport together, ready for flight one of three on the way up

in the airport together, ready for flight one of three on the way up

My Tips (By the time my kids are grown, I might be an expert)

I’ve flown with Lucia several times now, starting when she was 7 weeks old. Plus we’ve gone on numerous road trips, both in private cars and on public transport.  I’m no kind of expert, but I do have a couple tips for travelling with small children.

Really, layovers are your friend when you’re travelling with kids. You want time to get yourself a coffee or an alcoholic beverage if needed (no, just one, not the five drinks you might really need). You want time to eat something besides the granola bars and junk food treats you packed (do pack as many snacks as possible, though- some healthy and some outlandish). If your kid is crawling or walking, you want time to let them do that, to play, to stretch out more than they can on a plane. It’s a wait, but you can make the airport a fun place. I tell Lucia we are going on an exploring adventure! This is the keep-the-kid-entertained way of saying we walk around looking for someplace good to sit/ someplace good to eat/ something else fun to do.

For early morning (or middle of the freaking night) flights- put them to bed in whatever you want them to wear the next day. If you want them to wear pajamas to the airport, cool. If you want them to wear some other comfy-but-not-quite-pajamas outfit, then they can just sleep in that.

If your kid doesn’t want a real meal while travelling (sometimes I don’t either), then there are at least some pretty healthy snacks these days in most US airports. Get yourself something, too, or you end up with cranky, over-sugared, hungry child and parent.  (I mean, there’s stuff like fruit and greek yogurt! Hummus and pretzels! Seeing stuff like that readily available is always my first culture shock.)

If your kid is still in diapers, take an extra change of clothes in the carry-on (your purse or backpack or whatever will actually be on the plane with you). Your kid will almost inevitably have a poopy blowout, or vomit all over you at some point on your trip. So while you’re at it, throw an extra t-shirt or something in for yourself, too.

Rent a luggage cart! If they’re old enough, the kids can help push it around, or at least they can ride in it if they’re past infant stage. Even as infants, it’s nice to only worry about the baby.

Now for the serious details about this trip:

The Difficult Moments (But we got this, y’all!)

The way back home was hard in general because 1) the three of us were all sick with a cold and exhausted from 10 days of non-stop visiting and adventuring in Louisville, and 2) we had to get to the airport by 5am the first day! Lucia was having asthma symptoms with her cold and had to use a nebulizer every 4 hours (thank the goddess my best friend was able to lend me one for the trip). I’d gotten 3 or 4 hours of sleep, thanks to packing all night and nebulizing Lucia. Our saving grace was that my mom was going back with us as far as Mexico City, so really it wasn’t nearly as hard as it could have been.

On the way up to Kentucky, it had seemed like it might be perfect- Lucia wore herself out at the playground and promptly fell asleep on the last plane. Khalil was a little fussy, but I was able to get up and move around with him since Lucia was sleeping. Then she woke up. She couldn’t get comfortable. She wanted to go back to sleep. She didn’t want to be on the plane anymore. Etc, etc. I tried to sit down and pat her. She wanted me to carry her. Khalil started crying. Lucia started crying. Yikes! Double trouble crying on the plane, mom with the deer in headlights look! No one to rescue any of us!

I resolved the crying monsters problem by force-feeding Khalil (sorry, kiddo, use this as a pacifier, please) and singing to them both, with Lucia half-way sprawled onto me and me patting her head. Luckily, this worked, although I’d like to propose that people to have a little sympathy for the screaming kids and babies on planes, please. The parents don’t like it, either, and neither do the kids, really. Travelling is hard and makes everyone cranky sometimes. Parents are doing their best to keep everyone happy, but you can’t always solve everything.

The Outrageous Moments (But there’s still hope for humanity)

I was lucky enough to have a lot of help. Conan flew up with us as far as Mexico City, and then my mom flew back down with us to Mexico City- and they both turned out to be vitally needed. Additionally, strangers helped along the way. Someone helped me get my suitcase in the overhead bin on one of the planes. A lady in the seat across from me held Khalil for a while on another flight (yes I let strangers hold my baby under some circumstances). A flight attendant took Khalil on a tour of the plane for a little bit. When milk wasn’t a drink option on our early morning flight, another flight attendant gave Lucia some of her own personal milk (whole cow’s milk, not breast milk, folks). There were some definite good feelings about humanity happening at certain points.

Unfortunately, I also saw a lot of calloused, lousy behavior. I mean, I know you’re busy in the airport, but be a Good Samaritan when you can, please! If you notice, for instance, like my mom and I did, a woman with a sleeping toddler strapped to herself, a backpack on her back, a carry-on in one hand, the toddler’s drooping head in the other, offer that person some help! Maybe for health reasons some people can’t help. Maybe for time reasons some people can’t. But surely somebody can. Ask yourself: could I be that person to help?

My mom, the kids and I were the last people off the plane in Mexico City, besides this lady, so of course my mom offered to help her, even though my mom was already helping me. The flight attendants just stood there watching while my (short like me) mom had to climb on the seats to get this woman’s other carry-on out. Then my mom dragged the lady’s carry-on, as well as one of mine, as far as the gate in the airport. Luckily, after that, the woman found some other help. But I thought it was outrageous that no one had offered to help her up to then.

Then I got the dreaded red light in customs. I’d been hopeful for a green light, since someone two people before me in line pressed the button and got a red. But no. It was dreaded because I had two giant suitcases, two carry-ons, and a backpack for them to go through, not because I had anything prohibited (although they did eye my bottle of Annie’s Goddess Dressing for a long time; maybe they were just jealous). (And yes, like the other lady with two carry-ons, I do need all that stuff, thank you very much. No need to judge me.)

So Customs people say, okay, “Put all your bags through the x-ray machine…. Now put them up here on this table.” And they just watch you. I don’t know if there’s some rule about them not being able to help you, or if they’re just rude, but geez. Luckily, I am able to lift 50 pound bags, as long as I don’t have a baby strapped to me, and luckily, my mom was there to hold the baby for me. But I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I were there alone, with the baby on my chest. And there was certainly nowhere else to put him. And what if I just couldn’t physically lift them like that for some other reason? What do they do- send you to jail if you can’t put your suitcases on the table by yourself? Detain you until some other person gets the red right, too, and offers to help? It seems pretty ridiculous to me.

The Best Moments (Sharing the joy of discovery with my babies)


On the way up, we passed through the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport for the first time. We had our normal good time giggling about the magic stairs and magic sidewalks (escalators and moving sidewalks). Then someone clued me in that there was a kids’ play area behind the McDonald’s. It turned out to be a purely electronic play area. (No, we did not eat McDonalds, and yes, I could make a snarky comment about kids eating McDonalds and then sitting around playing computer games instead of doing physical activity. But I won’t, because travelling with kids is all about survival! Whatever it takes!) I found Lucia some shapes-matching computer game that she could play while I nursed her brother. She liked it so much she forgot about her previously dire need to return to the magic stairs. (Score one for McDonalds. Thanks!)

Then I hit the jackpot, while wandering aimlessly looking for something good to eat. We were “on an exploring adventure” and suddenly a miraculous set of words appeared before my eyes: Children’s Play Area, along with a gate number. “Lucia, you want a surprise?” I asked her.

She put on her super smile, the one so big her eyes and nose get scrunched up, and said, “Yeah! Is it chocolate?”

“Even better,” I told her, following the signs.

When we got there her eyes went wide in awe. “It’s a playground! For me!” She yelled and ran over to it. It was everything we could’ve dreamed of! A safe and appropriate place for my kid to run around, climb on stuff, play with other kids! Why doesn’t every airport have these? And why isn’t it advertised in the airport? I only found it because I stumbled across it. But you know parents 3 terminals down with long layovers would be there if they knew about it. Somebody send that airport a memo! Good job building this but please tell the people about it. The other passengers will be grateful, too, to be riding the plane with children who haven’t been sitting down all damn day.

the kid play area at Dallas Fort Worth airport is awesome!!!

the kid play area at Dallas Fort Worth airport is awesome!!! Lucia’s having so much fun, she’s just a blur. Bless her culture shock; she started talking to all the other kids in Spanish.

driving, of course, in the play area

driving, of course, in the play area- getting tired, but the need to play is greater than her sleepiness.

Khalil is a trooper everywhere we go. At the hotel restaurant in Mexico City, Mommy needed to eat without holding the baby, and ta-da! Khalil learned to sit in a high chair. He's  a good traveler, too.

Khalil is a trooper everywhere we go. At the hotel restaurant in Mexico City, Mommy needed to eat without holding the baby, and ta-da! Khalil learned to sit in a high chair. He’s a good traveler, too. (Notice how even the baby has bags under his eyes from our exhaustion by this point.)

The very best thing, though, was realizing that it’s also just a joy to travel with Lucia now that she is so communicative. She still remembered our last trip from over a year ago, and she loved that trip, so it’s easy to get her excited about travel. I think the two of us were equally thrilled, discussing who we would see and what we would do in Kentucky. (Yes on the zoo, but she’ll pass on seeing the lions. Yes to all our family members there- and we name each one of them. Yes to parks. Yes to eating asparagus. Ad infinitum. I don’t get tired of talking about it with her, either.)

She got a piece of candy for takeoff and landing (“Another treat?!). I taught her my prayer to the patron saint of travelers (which she didn’t want to repeat, but she listened nicely). We hold hands and say, “Here it comes, here it comes, almost there” when we’re almost “down to the ground” as Lucia says. I love love love sharing these moments with her. Even when she was over it and telling me she didn’t want to go on any more planes, she still hung in there. Even when we had to find a spot to plug in and use the nebulizer in the middle of the airport, she enjoyed our cuddling, book-reading time while she breathed into the machine. In the difficult moments, we still found something good and were able to discuss the happiness in what would happen next.

I am overjoyed that my baby girl likes to travel like her mama. I am proud that she is brave and tough, willing to see what happens next, hanging in there like a badass little 3 year old. I am so pleased that she is becoming a good little traveler in her own right. I can’t wait to do see what we discover next time!

Lucia in Cherokee Park, one of my favorite places in the world

Lucia in Cherokee Park, one of my favorite places in the world. Learning to explore is beautiful. 

2 Responses to “Hard Travelin’”

  1. fml221 August 21, 2015 at 9:21 pm #

    That really is the best part of having kids – getting to see the world all new again through their eyes. So glad you and Lucia are enjoying that – and know that soon Khalil will be a full player!

    • exiletomexico August 24, 2015 at 9:15 am #

      Yes, I can’t wait to “get to know” Khalil like this, too- and keep watching my nena grow and change and learn. It is so exciting.

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