International Flying with Toddlers

Originally Written: July 16, 2017

It seemed an impossible task. Fly international with a four year old and an one year old. How would I keep them entertained? When would I nap? Where would I hold my passports? The questions and potential disasters floated around in my head for weeks; an open wound I couldn’t cauterize no matter how much I tried. I’d lost my mind, believing I could corral the children through multiple security checkpoints, survive the endless hours in uncomfortable airline chairs, and make it to my connecting flight.

Fortunately, I had a couple advantages in my corner. The biggest being my propensity for organization. I would have been lost without my spreadsheets and calendars. About a month before my flight, I created a highly in-depth to-do list that showcased all my deadlines and important tasks.

For example, I recorded and set an alarm to administer Buster’s dog medicine as well as set a PURCHASE NO LATER THAN date for additional dog food. My chart reminded me to use Alex’s car and leave fresh towels out for the house sitter; it told me not to forget an appointment and reminded me to take the kids to certain events. A daily planner is something I’ve had with me for the last ten years, but this really kept me on track.

No reason to stress unnecessarily. Everything was written down and allocated to a specific time. Heck, during those crazy pre-trip days I even reminded myself to enjoy a hobby such as finish a book or free write for half an hour.

My luggage spreadsheet was just as detailed:

For the kids’ toys, I had purchased several zipper pouches and separated their items into each one.

I wanted to be able to find their toys quickly and keep them in manageable amounts. The red pouch held crayons, coloring pages, and writing worksheets. The black pouch contained Doc McStuffins mystery pouches and stickers, and the pink pouch held board books and a play phone.

This was one of my better ideas and something I’ll utilize again in the future.

By the time the morning of our flight rolled around, we were ready to roll.

We woke up at three in the morning. I’ll let that sink in for a second. It was an ungodly hour, but the time worked in our favor. I made four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut carrots into sticks, and packaged blueberries into plastic containers while the kids got dressed and split a banana.

Then it was time to load the car, walk the dog a final time, and take out the last bag of trash. We pulled out of the driveway at 4 o’clock. During normal hours of the day, it takes about two and a half hours to reach Frankfurt airport, but since there was hardly any traffic on the road we made it in two hours even.

I had booked an early bird rate online that allowed me to park right at the terminal. Taking into account it was peak summertime season and I was leaving my car for several weeks, the 140 dollar price point was well worth it. The QR reader gave me trouble when I found an empty row to enter – I really hope it doesn’t do that when I’m leaving, other vehicles might not appreciate the hold up – but when I did get the gate to raise, grabbing a spot was easy.

It was on the walk from the car to the entrance to the airport that I almost made a huge mistake. I had forgotten my baby carrier in the car! Thankfully, my mom was there to watch the kids while I jogged back to retrieve said item. It would have been a long, miserable travel day had I forgotten it.

The check-in desk for my airline wasn’t clearly marked at the entrance, so my mother and I spent a few minutes looking around for the correct location. Naturally, it was at the end of the room. One thing I wasn’t keen on was the layout out of Frankfurt. The building has check-in areas on the left and right hand sides of the room, leaving the middle area for arrivals. This caused a huge bottleneck and a constant mix of folks trying to get to their airline desk and others attempting to head to their cars.

Checking in was tedious but uneventful. I was prepared to show special documentation proving I could take the kids out of the country without my husband present, but the agent I got was fine with my passports. She talked to each kid briefly, checked our one suitcase in, and made sure the three of us were all seated together. I asked about getting my mom a spot near us, but unfortunately the flight was full and there wasn’t room.

The kids and I were in Row 7 while my mom was back in 22. I was on my own.

Next was going upstairs to the first security checkpoint. The elevators weren’t working, so I had to pull Evie out of the stroller and fold it up to get up the escalators; fortunately my City Mini single is extremely easy to fold and carry.

There was a moment of scrambling at this checkpoint due to passport fun, but I’d been forewarned about the possibility by a friend who’d traveled earlier in the month and knew to expect it. Once through that area, we were dumped in a section of the airport devoted to restaurants and shops.

It was about 7:30 a.m. by this point (check in had taken almost an hour) and my mom and I decided to stop and let the kids eat the breakfast I’d made the day before.

Granola bars and hard-boiled eggs. It sounds like the strangest meal to bring with us, but the kids devoured the food. Landon ate two. I knew they weren’t going to eat the food on the plane, so I wanted to ensure they had some protein in their bellies, and it was a good decision.

If you’ve got an early morning flight and eggs that need to be eaten, boil them and bring them for the little ones!

Once finished with breakfast, it was nearing eight o’clock and time to go through security. The part I dreaded most.

It was chaotic, but I survived.

I kept Evie in the carrier and threatened Landon with all the Mom-threats in my arsenal while I unloaded the Ipads and phones and passports and hand sanitizers into a bucket, then I threw my backpack on the belt followed by Landon’s. I took Evie out of the carrier and set her down, then proceeded to throw the Tula on the line. I had forgotten I’d worn a belt with my jeans and had to shuffle to get that that off. (A slip up on my part.)

The agent wanted the stroller folded up, so I did that really fast. Then I picked Evie back up and walked through the detectors while Landon followed after me.

The unloading was the easy bit. Getting all the belongings while keeping an eye on the kids was a stressful time. I unfolded the stroller first, then threw my backpack and the carrier in the seat. Landon was getting upset because he couldn’t put his bag back on and didn’t want to wait, but he had to suck it up and be patient, because I was shuffling the devices, belt, passports, and liquids in one hand and Evie in the other.

I walked us out of the way and got everything back in its spot then put that blessed belt back on.

We waited for my mom to get through her checkpoint, then we all stepped into yet another line at the gate. There were agents checking passports and boarding passes to get into the seating area, and it was there I received a gate check sticker for my stroller.

Once through that, my mom and I found a section of empty seats to park ourselves in while we took turns using the restroom and watching the kids run around and burn off energy. We stayed there for about half an hour before they began boarding the plane.

If you’ve flown on one airplane, you’ve flown on them all. There’s nothing I can really say that will set my plane apart from the other transports taking off that morning. We were the second row behind the bulkhead seats, which I really liked. It was almost more ideal than that first row, because I was allowed to stow our bags under the seats, meaning easier access to our stuff. But we also got the added benefit of not feeling like we were cramped and surrounded by bodies. Only one row of heads in front of us then a nice flat wall to look at.

Over the course of our nine hour flight, the kids watched a ton of television shows and movies on the provided screens. They both ate all the snacks I had packed in addition to two packets of airline pretzels. Evie napped for forty five minutes in my lap, and all three of us made two trips to bathroom.

You don’t know Mom skills until you’ve helped your four year old on to a disgusting plane lavatory then changed a toddler’s diaper on the provided table.

Upon debarkation, I hit a snafu at the gate. The attendants couldn’t track down my stroller. It was nowhere to be found, and eventually a worker told me (and another mom who’s gear was MIA) I’d have to file a lost claim at the counter.

Surprisingly, I took the news in stride. New strollers could be bought.

Sick kids, lost passports, sleep-deprived induced mistakes….those are the situations that would have sent me into a tailspin. But a misplaced stroller? Easy fix.

Fortunately, my lost item was on the belt at baggage claim. It somehow got shuffled in with the rest of the luggage. Alls well that ends well, plus the extra time I spent waiting by the plane allowed almost all the other passengers to get through customs. The line was virtually empty when we walked up.

The customs process was very straightforward and easy. Once through the forms kiosk, I spoke with an agent for a minute or two, then went to drop my suitcase back on a conveyor belt. One more agent check and I was walking into an extremely long security line.

Whew boy, that wait was a doozy. I was really scattered by that point, too, and remembered at the last minute I had an unopened water bottle I needed to chug before reaching the front.

Time for some fast hydration!

You would think the second security checkpoint would have been a breeze, since I had already done it once. However, I was a lot more tired this time around and the larger crowd frazzled my nerves. I dropped my belt and almost forgot my cell phone in my pocket. This airport had a special metal detector that they opened for me and the kids. An agent did a fantastic job sending the kids through one at a time by holding out stickers for them to retrieve. It was a small touch I appreciated.

The downside to waiting for them to open up that special line was that all my carry ons were creating a backlog at the end of the conveyor belt. I had to hustle to grab everything, because there were three or four other people already through the line, waiting on their things.

That was the second hardest moment of my day. Thank goodness I’ll only have one on the way home…

Our connecting gate was about a ten minute walk, and it was sweet relief to stretch our legs. I pushed the stroller with my carry on and the carrier in the seat and held Evie and Landon’s hands. Our legs were crying sweet tears of joy at the exercise. Those international legs are long and cramped, definitely not something that’s easy on one’s body.

Our last flight didn’t leave for almost an hour and a half, so I bought the kids some chicken fries and french fries from Burger King. Snack of champions, I know.

Weren’t on American soil sixty minutes and we were already indulging in terrible food. When in the U.S., right?

The second and last flight was the worst part of our traveling day. The kids were so tired; it was eleven o’clock at night in their minds. Landon fell asleep minutes after buckling into his seat. Evie took longer. She was that stereotypical crying baby on the plane. It was such a relief when she eventually gave up the fight and passed out, allowing me to grab a short fifteen minute nap mid-flight.

When we landed, I put Evie in the carrier and my mom carried Landon until we got to our stroller. (Which was actually waiting for us during de-boarding this time.)

We were in Florida!

Twenty one hours after waking in Germany, my little group was at our destination.

The adventure wasn’t quite finished yet, though. We stopped at a Chick Fil A located near our gate and grabbed some dinner, then met up with my father who was picking us up, and ate our dinner. I was so delirious with sleep I ate about half my sandwich then gave up. I couldn’t even tell you how the food tasted.

We retrieved our bags (after being paged to do so because we’d taken too long) and then traveled the hour to my parent’s house. By the time I got the kids in their room, I had been awake for twenty four hours and the kids thought it was morning time. It was a stressful hour, getting them to settle down and rest, and we all ended up awake at three a.m., but our traveling was officially over for the time.

Overall, the flights weren’t terrible. A million more things could have gone wrong, nothing but a Lightning McQueen toy was lost, and everyone I had to encounter was patient and willing to work with me. Nobody was upset that I was wrestling two young children by myself, and the poor girl stuck sitting next to Landon was very kind; she was thoughtful enough to throw away our trash while we were in the bathroom.

The experience was not something I’d rush to do again, but it also wasn’t so impossible I couldn’t manage if needed. I have no idea how this leg will compare to the return trek, but I hope it’s just as easy. Evie was restless throughout most of the first flight, but the one thing I have learned through experience is to stop caring what other people think.

So she’s antsy.

So she is frustrated she has to remain buckled for landing.

She’s one years old.

I’ll never see these people again and their lives will move on past my loud baby. And it wasn’t like I walked out unscathed.

The guys in Row Ten might not have been able to hear their movie because of my daughter, but I endured nine hours of kicking and pushing from the two year old sitting behind me.

Patience is the most important carry on you have pack when traveling.

Author: Alicia W.

Hello, I am a military spouse and mother of two. Together, my family has lived in three countries and traveled to dozens more. Combining my love of adventure with my passion for writing, I hope my website helps others create their own "awfully big adventures."

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