Moving Overseas Part 3: Flying from America to South Africa with a 3 year old and a baby (33 hours)
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2 hours in:
We arrived at the airport in DC after our two hour drive from Pennsylvania, and unloaded our bags onto the sidewalk where the bus shuttle was going to come and take us to the terminal. I changed diapers and got Callum (8 months) in the carrier. Oliver had a snack while Daniel took the car back around to the rental returns. We let two shuttles go past while we gathered all our things and then finally put all our bags onto the third shuttle to head to the terminal.
We got off the shuttle and the people waiting to get on could not believe how many bags came out of the bus. It was like a Mary Poppins bag that another bag would just appear from out of the bottom. One person even said to me, “that’s the most amount of bags I’ve ever seen” and someone else just said “good luck!”
Oliver ended up having to push the stroller (love our jogging stroller - this one is similar) with a carry on in it as we both had a cart each with three big bags bags, car seats and carry ons, in addition to a diaper bag, baby (in a carrier, similar, that I love for small babies) and a laptop bag so we couldn’t manage. He did such a great job and he loved being so helpful. We took the stroller and carrier because I knew there were times I would need my hands free and other times I knew he might need a nap in the stroller. I'm very happy with our decision to take both. I used the stroller for walking around the airports and naps, and then the carrier for boarding the plane, passport control and collecting our bags. We took it right to the gate every time and checked it. We usually check it in a nice big gate check bag so it didn't get too messed up, but we were using the two gate checker bags to protect our car seats that we took with us as well. Those got checked with our luggage all the way to our destination so we didn't have to worry about that thank goodness.
We actually didn’t end up knowing where we were once we got inside the airport so I stopped at an information booth to ask where the departures were. Daniel hates asking for directions but I did not want to take one step in the wrong direction so I happily asked for help. Do you ask for directions or just try figure it out by yourself?
We checked in and they took most of our bags from us which was great. We went through security with no problem and I could not believe how empty the airport was. It was a dead zone. I know a lot of people still aren’t traveling but it’s Washington DC. It was Monday at like 6pm and almost all the shops were closed. I can’t even remember what we got for a light dinner but all the restaurants were closed. I wanted to feed Oliver and give us something to hold us over as the flight only left at 9pm and I know it takes a while to get meals to you once you’ve taken off so needed everyone to last. I packed some baby food pouches for Callum which he had for the first time and enjoyed so that was nice. This bib (comes in so many patterns) was absolutely essential so not to make a mess on all his clothes (you can only take so many outfit changes) and I was so glad I bought it last minute. Very easy to store and clean.
Just to rewind a tiny bit-----A couple days before the flight Daniel came to me with a funny grin on his face. It’s the face he usually comes to me with when he is about to ask to play golf, which was going to be a hard no from me, only days away from leaving with a to-do list the size of a Harry Potter book. BUT – he said he had a really good offer to upgrade one of the legs of our journey to business class and did I want to go for it? I told him the obvious, which was if he was keen I was doubly keen!
5 hours in:
So, we boarded the airplane and got to our cubicle and it was a dream. I had always walked past the business class section thinking I would never be able to sit in one of those seats, but that day, I happily sat down and looked around at all my space and felt extremely privileged. I thought about all the people that couldn’t even afford to buy a car or hardly had money for food and yet there I was in my seat that reclined completely horizontally on a machine that takes you around the world in a flash (well not exactly but you know what I mean).
I think having grown up in South Africa where poverty is right in your face has made me stop and think about these things and I really hope that I can give my kids a childhood that is exposed to a lot of cultures and experiences so they too can pause and not grow up with an attitude of entitlement.
So, we had three seats, two next to each other, completely open/connected and then one opposite. We decided to book the first leg in business class as it was a lot longer (13 hours compared to 9 hours) and then do the next leg economy with the seats next to the bassinet. We got a hot towel, drinks in an actual glass and everyone was so helpful. We were flying Qatar by the way. We got dinner which was incredible and then they helped us transform the chair into a bed with like a sheet and blankets. I fed Callum to sleep and then ate my dinner while he slept on my lap before passing him to Daniel and transferring him to the space in between the two seats. Daniel had a little space on the side, but Oliver and Callum slept so well. We were so grateful!
I tried to get some sleep but honestly the stress of packing up our house and selling everything was still making my head spin and so it was so hard to try shut everything off and relax enough to sleep. You would think with how exhausted we were from doing all that, that I would be tired enough to sleep, but I just couldn’t. I did enjoyed resting lying down and then swopped with Daniel who was being pushed to the side by a small sleeping person and he slept in that single chair that I had been. The kids woke up with two hours to go and we were so grateful we had such an incredible experience. It was worth every penny.
18 hours in:
We got to Doha and had about 2.5 hours to wait for our next flight. I went and had a shower at one of those spa type places and was in and out of there in 10 minutes. There was a 10 minute and 25 minute option and the lady at the till was very skeptical when I said I could do it in 10 (I think that’s probably for men) but she didn’t know I’m a mom of two and I can be very quick when I need to be. Anyway, I left the boys with Daniel at the playground (yes there is a playground in the airport) and I was hopeful that Callum was taking a nap but I wanted to get back in case he wasn’t. And he wasn’t. Oliver had a good time running around and we made it onto the next flight just in time for a HUGE meltdown. We didn’t get a window seat. The shock. The horror. Remember I was talking about raising kids who aren’t entitled. Oops!
Anyway, it was the loud crying, screaming kind of meltdown where the passengers sitting around us just cringe and think that’s what it’s going to be like the rest of the flight and silently curse us under their breath. I used to be those passengers before I had kids so I know exactly how they were feeling. Anyway, I took Oliver to the bathroom and shut the door and just held him until he calmed down. The flight attendant came over and offered us a whole row of seats a few rows up (there were so many empty spots) and there was a window seat for Oliver. It kind of felt like he got his way after the tantrum but in reality, the air hostess didn’t even know what he was crying about, she just wanted to probably give us a little extra room away from a busier area. We just went with it because Oliver needed to lie down and sleep again, he was getting very tired.
I stayed with Callum near the bassinet but the guy next to me bailed because he probably thought the baby was going to be crying, but little did he know the baby is the most chilled boy on the planet. The chill baby did not sleep though! Oh my goodness, he was awake until the last hour of the flight, I’m not kidding. I was so tired but sweet Callum was up for the day, but it was night. Oh boy. What did we even do for 7 hours? We sat and played with baby toys, he lay in the bassinet, he crawled in the space by your legroom, we walked up to see big brother, we breastfed, we changed diapers (with this changing pad that is my favorite baby item I've used with both boys), we fed again, and then finally he slept for the last hour and a bit. I had two seats to try lie down on but I’m not as small and flexible to contort myself into tight spaces like I used to be able to, but it was great to have a minute before we landed in Johannesburg.
(I love that top right photo because all of our eyes tell a story)
I fed Callum on the descent to help with ears popping (mine are always worse on the descent) and he was due for a feed anyway. We got all our stuff together and headed to customs which I thought was going to be a nightmare but it turns out we ended up in a line with only one or two people in front of us so we were very thankful. The guy didn’t even ask us any questions which is usually TERRIFYING to me because I forget basic information like my name and am so nervous for absolutely no reason in those situations. On a side note, I got asked the most intense questions in France when returning to the US in 2016. They asked my occupation, then what school I worked at, and then on top of that the name of my principal which seemed like a lot from a security check-point and I was sweating even though I had nothing to be worried about, I just don’t want to look guilty of anything which makes me look guilty of everything lol.
So back to Jourg. We flew through customs and went to go get our bags but the carts in SA were significantly smaller than the American ones (just like the cars) and we needed some help, so two ladies helped us in the long trek from international arrivals to domestic departures. As we came up the elevator, we were waiting for Daniel and one of the ladies says, “No, no, no, come down” and I turn around to see Oliver standing on the thrid rail of the banister up on the second story leaning down with his body half over and I think I must have gone completely pail because it felt like there was no more blood left in my body. I rushed to him and got him down and told him to please stay right by me. My heart was beating so fast I almost cried. It could have been devastating. I thought he was right behind me but we got chatting while we were waiting and he got away from me in a couple seconds. I get shivers even typing this. I’m so glad he didn’t climb one rail higher.
30 hours in:
We got our bags checked in with British Airways for our last and final flight from Joburg to Durban and we had breakfast before boarding. It wasn’t such a long wait. We were so ready to be done with flying but we knew the flight was super short and the end was in sight. Callum fed to sleep and slept the whole way (it’s only an hour flight) and Oliver had fun looking out the window as it was a morning flight.
(Wearing a mask for so long in airports and on flights was pretty intense)
We finally got to Durban and all our bags had made it all the way which I was very thankful for. We got through to the waiting area and Daniel’s dad was waiting for us, ready to take us back to Hilton (1h15 drive) where we were going to surprise his mom. It was a long journey altogether but we only had two kids so at least we had one each. One other thing that was helpful was putting teething toys (or any baby toys) on pacifier clips so they didn't fall in the airport or on the airplane floor. It was something I had always done for restaurants and things but just in case you haven't done it before - it's a lifesaver for traveling with baby. Things I didn’t need were the manual breast pump I had bought, or the two activities I brought for Oliver - Peppa Pig stickers or a Paw Patrol magic coloring book but Daniel was mostly with Oliver so if he had known about them he probably would have used them.
33 hours of travel with two small kids and we finally MADE IT!!!! I know, I deserve a medal. Jokes, just a good night’s sleep. But jet lag was a whole other beast that I thought I was prepared for but actually wasn't. For next time.
Surprising Daniel’s mom was so much fun (you can read about it here). I guess it’s technically part four of our story really. We have more updates so stay tuned. Well done if you got this far!
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