Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Airplanes and airports and taxis, oh my!

I last left off on our travel saga at the point at which I kissed all the exhaustion and drama of preparing for our trip 'goodbye!' Or rather, 'Ciao!' We said good bye to our lovely home on the West coast too, which always chokes me up a bit too. I knew my adventures were not over yet though, as I had more than nine hours of travelling ahead of me; with two children and no other adults. This is one of the points at which I was accused of being 'mental,' and in this case, my buddy was right. I originally thought it would be no problem, being that I had only recently endured a weather related travel hiccup that resulted in 21 hours hanging out in the Denver airport as the solo adult with my girls, both of whom had some sort of cold or tummy bug. If I can handle that, then I can handle a trip to Europe on my own, EASY. Right? Well, lets just say that yes, I can handle it, but that doesn't mean I ought to try. I had booked an overnight flight, reckoning that it would be better if they slept, all be it fitfully, and then we arrived in Europe in the afternoon and then went to bed after only half a day. This plan turned out to be a good one, but in execution it was pretty tough.

The tricky bits, for your future adventure planning reference were these:

Dilemma 1) il bagaglio

I wanted to avoid excess baggage fees, but be adequately stocked for living abroad for 4+ months as homeschoolers and prepared for two or three seasons at that. So I packed ruthlessly, keeping our large bags as light as possible (fees were by weight and quantity) and weighed them ahead of time (50 lbs or less, one checked per traveler). I checked the two biggies, and one carry-on size with all the heavy stuff squashed into it. We also brought with us one carry on and one personal item each. Carry-ons were one violin, one wheely suitcase (heavy), one large backpack. Personal items were one laptop, and two kid-sized backpacks. If I had to do it over (and unless I never leave Italy, I will), and went with another overnight flight, I would check most of what was in the children's backpacks (toys and crafts for entertainment mostly) and rely on the movies and maybe one or two little things I bring with me to keep them occupied. My friend sent me a great set of links a while ago, relevant to traveling internationally with children, and one of my favorite suggestions was to bring a bunch of wrapped little gifts (stickers, mini-books, beads, dollar store stuff) to reveal at relevant intervals. I have used that before and totally love it, but it mostly just works for daytime flights/car rides. A change of clothes and pyjamas for each of us did prove to be a good idea, as the girls' checked bags were rerouted for some reason and didn't arrive for two days or so after we got there. The hard part was hauling all our carry-on and personal item bags through two airports, two security checks with two cranky and tired kids. My back was still really sore from moving house, and all the heavy bags didn't help. At the first stop-over we literally walked all the way from one end of the airport to the other in one giant semi-circle…pretty far for little legs that were already tired.

Lesson 1: bring as little as possible ON THE PLANE but still make sure you have the essentials, change of clothes, valuable electronics etc. Rely on new experiences and electronic entertainment as the primary engagement for half-pints. If you are on your own with children and have great airport distances to cover, consider booking (ahead of time) space on one of those little cart things to zoom you from A to B and back again.

Dilemma 2) dormire

Sleep, or lack there of, was a bit of a stretch. My seven year old, Ladybug was totally pysched to watch a movie (Disney at that, which is a first for her, sort of), so I let her. That meant that she slept quite a bit less than she would have otherwise and was pretty tired for several days after. My little one who is four, Sparkle, passed out early on and slept for most of the long flight, but

fitfully, because she needed to have used the toilet first. It seems that whenever we travel I totally lose sight of our basic routine. I made the mistake of taking advantage of the huge movie selection available and watching one before resting. I was tired enough that I could have slept more if I hadn't. We were in a block of three seats, and I sat in the middle to keep the peace, which was the least comfortable for me, so I will have to try out some other arrangements next time. I will let you know when I figure it out. This image is of my own lap. Not much room for a tired mama other than vertical.

Lesson 2: Sleep as much as possible and then enjoy the entertainment if you are rested/unable to rest. That goes for kids too. As for comfort arrangements, making beds for small kids on the floor can help, but isn't a good solution if there is turbulence and the seat belt sign is on. I woke in quite a panic to rough turbulence and hauled Sparkle off the floor, much to her chagrin. I felt like a bit of an idiot after I woke up more and realized how much I had panicked.

Dilemma 3) immigrazione e non parlo Italiano

Next time I would study the immigration and border controls and relevant phrases a bit more thoroughly. I naievely assumed that it would be relatively simple to cross into Europe. I made the mistake of giving the officals the wrong 'permission to travel' letter from my Man that was months old and for a different trip, which confused them and me and made a bit of a hash of things. My Man and the girls and I do not share a last name, and we are common-law spouses in the first place, so in the end, even once I gave them the right letter, they wanted to see him to verify I wasn't travelling illegally with my own kids. I owe my Man thanks on that one, as he was eagerly waiting for us at the airport while all this was going down. They spoke some English, but not much and I speak almost no Italian (starting to learn though), so communication was tricky as well.

Lesson 3: I would recommend to have your paperwork in perfect order, get rid of old permission letters, and be sure to have current ones; learn the appropriate phrases for border crossings and make sure there is always someone to come and get you, a particular someone if possible.

All things considered, our trip went pretty smoothly. Now that I am six days in and mostly over jet lag, it doesn't seem like it was all that bad, but I have to give huge credit to the girls, who are turning into great little travelers.


  1. Hey Devi, thanks so much for taking the time to do your postings. I really enjoy reading about your travel experience and perhaps gaining a little wisdom. Hope you are having a amazing time! I know you are. Nora missed ladybug and Sparkle and hopes that they will have lots of stories to share.

  2. We totally overpacked in flight entertainment on our trip to France this summer as well. Who knew planes had so many movies to pick from? Not like when we were kids... My little Moose misses the Ladybug and Sparkle!

  3. Love, Love Love reading this Devi! Thanks so much for the advice. It's worth it's weight in gold. Can't wait for the next installment.