I'm blogging here from the beautiful 'rainbow nation' of South Africa. It's in the high 80's here, with a warm breeze blowing in from the Indian ocean, which I can see from the window here in my father in law's office. It is great to finally be here. It is a very long way from San Francisco. The trip was beyond exhausting, but really went about as well as one could expect. The whole geekyfamily can now be considered seasoned travellers, so I thought I would share a few tips for traveling half way across the world with a baby and an almost three year old:
1. Use Skypark, or equivalent. Take your own car to the airport, and use an off airport parking company that shuttles you right to the terminal, and has people to help with your mounds of luggage. Buses are as exotic as airplanes to our kids, the evil automobile being our main mode of transport, so we started out on an exciting note!
2. Pack as light as you possibly can. We booked seats for the kids (which I am so grateful for being able to do. Though despite having their own seats we both had a kid asleep on our lap for at least part of a flight), which meant we had a lot of baggage allowance, but of course babies cannot tote their own bags.
3. Use car seats on the plane. Much safer, and the kids are used to sleeping in them. We have the radian 80 seats that fold up and come with a shoulder strap, so though they are heavy, they are much less bulky to carry than the regular seats. Our two, amazingly, slept all the way from San Francisco to London.
4. Break up your journey. Instead of jumping straight on another 10 hour flight to Johannesburg, we spent one night in London. My lovely sister and her family live close to Heathrow, so we had a great 24hrs there. Geekygirl got some bonding time with her cousins (they even slept in the same bed), and we got to catch up and relax before steeling ourselves for the next leg of the journey.
5. Fly South African Airlines. Probably this only works if you are flying to Africa, but they were so awesome. Full interactive entertainment system, yummy food and free booze, (really nice south african red wine). They provided baby food, kids fun packs, and give you socks and eye masks and tiny toothbrushes (in a zebra striped pouch!). It was flying like it used to be before all the airlines went bankrupt.
6. Don't fly to Johannesburg from London over the holidays. There are many many South african ex pats. Most of them go home for the holidays. There are only about 5 immigration desks at Johannesburg international airport. We were the last people off the plane, and found ourselves at the back of an insanely long line. Well not really a line, more like a mob. For some reason, though we gate checked out stroller, it was not given to us at the gate in Joburg. And it was miles and miles of walking to get to the baggage claim. Luckily I had a baby carrier (an essential on any trip), but poor Geekygirl had to walk the whole way, since her dad and I were laden with bags. Another tip, practice carrying your carry on bags for half a mile, then decide exactly how many board books, toys, encyclopedias and barbells you really and truly need on the flight! On no account, though, remove the life saving portable DVD player and its extra battery, however much they may weigh. I borrowed one of these treasures at the last minute, having been reminded that its all very well getting the kids their own seats and their own TV, but often the programming does not include "Clifford the big red dog", or "Charlie and Lola".
7. Accept help. A couple of uniformed staff (very important in Jo burg to only accept help from the official people, apparently) saw our plight, and overheard us say that our connecting flight to Durban was in 1 hour. We were probably a good hour away from getting to the front of the immigration line, and then still had to collect our checked bags, re check them through to Durban and get over to the domestic terminal, so the prospect of making that connection was looking rather grim. These fabulous guys whizzed us through passport control, found our bags and shouldered some of the burden, rechecked them for us, jumping the queue due to what looked like some serious flirting with one of the ground staff, and then took us through the flight crew security instead of the passenger one. We made it with 10 minutes to spare!
8. Break the rules. Toddler only allowed pacifier and blanky for bedtime and car rides? Those are our rules but I added on planes, in airports and at any time during transit. But be warned, Blankies, those threatening objects, must be surrendered to the X ray machine. Mind you, the amount of filthy floors they have been dropped on between American and Africa, they probably are a biohazard by now.
9. Be prepared for the mother of all tantrums when the rules must be re-enforced. Having been a true trooper of a traveller, Geekygirl finally lost it completely when I took the paci away today. I think its her way of releasing all the stress of the last few days, and I'm grateful she saved her meltdown for the safety of our temporary home.
10. Take a tiny camera that fits in your jeans pocket, and take lots of pictures documenting the whole trip, not just the kodak moments. I'm planning on making a photo book for the kids, telling the story of this trip. Though they are too young to really remember it properly, I think a book will recharge those memories and keep them alive.