Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Iwakuni to Detroit: Traveling Internationally with a Three-Month-Old Baby

Miri's Travel Outfit

The time had come. Our hearts were breaking that our little bitty baby had only met one family member outside of her mom and dad! Miri is the first grandchild on both sides of the family and we were excited to pass her around and let her charm everyone with her sweet coos and smiles.

But then the anxiety set in. I was going to voluntarily be THAT WOMAN on the plane with the screeching, inconsolable child who ruined twelve hours of everyone else's lives trapped on that plane.

I put those thoughts aside and decided to think positively because I know Miri is too young for tantrums and any crying can be resolved through nursing, diaper changes, or being rocked to sleep. It worked! We had compliments from at least three people about how well she behaved.

I think a major part of our "good luck" is my awesome network of experienced mamas offering advice about how to make the trip as painless as possible. Here is a detailed list of things I packed, things I wish I'd packed, why I packed them, and how I packed them.

Miri fresh off 24 hours of travel. Joe asked, "How was breakfast?" and Miri replied, "A little plane."
First step: make sure you have all the proper documentation. This can take weeks to secure, so make it the first thing you consider. If you are a military family like us, apply for your baby’s passport as soon as you are out of the hospital.

Second step: Create a Golden Folder. Our family uses a folder to organize all passports, leave papers, print-outs of our itinerary, rental car reservation, hotel reservations, and boarding passes. We keep our military IDs and driver’s licenses on ourselves. The folder makes it easy for one person to contain the chaos of baby, baby gear, and luggage while the other knows where ALL the paperwork is and easily manages it.

Third step: If you’re breastfeeding, plan ahead. You’ll want to either pack a pump or set up a rental for when you arrive. I chose the latter and rented a Medela Symphony through a local Detroit hospital. I packed all the tubing and flanges, two bottles to pump into, and one bottle nipple. If you’re not planning on leaving your baby with a sitter, still bring a manual pump just in case baby has a problem with latch and you are engorged. I was a huge Boppy user until recently, so pack that if you think it will help with nursing on the plane. We packed the Boppy as a personal item and it was great just for a place for our baby to nap snuggled up to us.

These were our essentials. We could get to Michigan and buy everything else we needed but had these items on hand at all times:
  •  Passports
  • Military ID
  • Wallets
  • Leave Papers
  • iPhones & Chargers
  • Daily Medicine (I need to remember to take thyroid medication daily)
Clothes for Traveling (Summer):
  • Japanese airports and planes tend to be extremely warm in all seasons, so prepare for that. American airports and planes are very cold.
  •   For mom: Black socks (you’ll take off your shoes at security, yuck), black slip-on shoes (you don’t want to be lacing or zipping shoes when you have gear to pack at security), yoga pants (ahh), nursing tank top (easy access, discrete, also counts as a bra), and a colorful cardigan (also acts as a nursing cover in a pinch). Skip the jewelry or pants with belts. You have enough to worry about going through security and you don’t need baby pulling on your jewelry. I started the trip with my hair down but brought an elastic and clips for when I inevitably became a greasy mess. Black is nice because spit-up or spills don't show.
  • For baby: The best outfit was a short-sleeved onesie with footie pants. The footie pants kept her feet warm (crucial for sleep comfort!) and were easy to whip off to change the diaper in disgusting airplane/airport bathrooms. I packed a little cardigan too, but never used it since the weather was warm.
  • For dad: pants and a shirt. Joe ended up changing into shorts while in the Japanese airport because it was so warm. Keep the shorts in your carry-on.

These were our diaper bag essentials, a list I created from input from my well-traveled friends:
  • Large zip-lock bags (4) – I didn’t end up using a single one, thank goodness! But when diaper blow-outs or vomit happens, you will not be happy about throwing away that onesie or keeping that stinky thing in your bag for the remaining 23 hours of traveling.
  • Sandwich bag full of Clorox wipes. You’ll be allowed to gate check your stroller and car seat on most flights, but the Japanese domestic flights forced us to check them as luggage and use an ANA-provided stroller. I wiped that sucker down using about four Clorox wipes and was disgusted at how much grime came off. I put Miri in the stroller and still covered any parts her hands touched with the blanket we brought. These are also good for cleaning the bassinet if you are lucky enough to get one, or the stowaway table if the baby will be touching it. 
  • Diapers for the length of the trip + emergency stash. I’m a worry wart so I assumed the worst. I packed diapers to last for 36 hours. I had about ten in my diaper bag and another ten or so in my carry-on.
  • Wipes
  • Disposable changing pads – You’re not going to want to put your precious baby down on the gross changing tables in the airport or on the plane. Or maybe you do! And in that case, I don’t want to share that changing table with you.
  • Pacifiers – Miri usually doesn’t use pacifiers, but I brought two in plastic baggies to give her just in case. The baggies are important because you can stow them away again and know they are clean. 
  •  Two changes of clothes for baby – Just in case! I brought a onesie and a zip-up sleep-and-play outfit so I wouldn’t be hunting for socks and coordinating items on a dark plane or in a rush at the airport. 
  •  Nursing cover – I love my Bebe au Lait nursing cover. It’s enormous, light, covers everything, and has a little hoop at the top so I can check the baby’s latch and positioning without flashing everyone. I actually used it as a little tent on a few flights so Miri could have a dark place to sleep at the breast.
  • Toy for baby to play with. We have some colorful rings that kept Miri busy.
  • Blanket – Good for everything. If baby is squirmy and needs tummy time, put it on a carpeted surface at the terminal. Make sure you and your husband know which side is the floor side so you fold it gross-side-in each time.
  • Energy bars for mom (and dad!) – You might not be into whatever they are serving on the flight or miss it because you’re exhausted. Pack some protein bars because a hungry mommy is a VERY CRANKY mommy in my personal experience. 
  •  First aid kit – I always have a tiny one in my diaper bag, but I added baby Tylenol just in case. Friends recommended Benadryl just in case Miri was inconsolable, but I decided against drugging her for my fellow passenger’s comfort. Sorry!
  • A pocket for your water bottle. You will be buying water bottles left and right, especially if you’re a nursing mother. You’re hydrating for two! Don’t bring your own water bottle. And don’t buy a water bottle right before going through security (newb!). 

Miri in Tokyo on the way to Iwakuni: "Can't we just get home already?" This is the stroller ANA will lend you.

Getting Baby Around:
  • After polling my friends, I couldn’t decide between just a baby carrier or just my car seat/stroller system. We needed a car seat for our rental car anyway, so that helped us make up our minds. We have a Britax B-Safe car seat and B-Agile stroller and an Infantino baby carrier. We just tucked the carrier under the stroller when not in use. A nice thing about the stroller is that you can attach all your carry-ons to it. 
  •  The baby carrier is helpful when you need to calm the baby down with a soothing bounce. Miri stays so calm in the baby carrier! Also note that you can go through security wearing the baby in a carrier. 
  •  Mommy Hook – Look it up! I’m so thankful that I got a Mommy Hook as a baby shower gift. It’s a huge carabiner that you can easily hook bags on. I brought my Boppy in its plastic case and hung that on the Mommy Hook whenever we were in the airport. 
  •  On the advice of a friend, we bought Childress Gate Check bags on Amazon and they were amazing for saving our gate-checked stroller and car seat. The bags came back greasy, ripped, and wet, but everything inside was fine. Make this investment!
  • Umbrella in stroller. As long as you have the gate check bags, stuff an umbrella in your stroller too. You don’t know what the weather will be like when you arrive at your destination.

Flying out of Iwakuni:
  • Ask for a bulkhead row when booking your ticket or at check-in if you would like to use a bassinet. The bassinet was only available on the flight across the ocean for us, but it was a saving grace on my aching back to set Miri down for a nap instead of holding her.
  • Awesome tip from a friend: parking is free at the Iwakuni airport! The only catch is that you have to get your parking validated at the little booth after you go through security if you’ll be away for more than two weeks.
  • There is no food available (just drinks at a vending machine) at the Iwakuni airport after you go through security, and there is no food on the flight from Iwakuni to Tokyo. Have dinner first or prepare to eat the protein bars you packed! 
What did I miss? What would you add or leave behind? What do you pack for babies or kids of different ages?