Our trip to Italy was hardly the first time Margot has been on an airplane. We are very fortunate and have been on a few trips as a family in Margot’s short life. First to Puerto Rico (where part of my family lives), then California, then Nepal. So, we are not even strangers to international travel. Still. I was kind of terrified. Because even though our flights to Italy were shorter than the ones to Nepal, this time I would be flying alone with my child. And, also, a whole year had passed since our last flight, and for a 3 year old, a year is a REALLY long time, so I wasn’t sure if her past experiences flying would even have any bearing on how she would react this time. So, I did what I always do, I read everything I could get my hands on (or, eyes on, really…) about flying with children. I found this post about flying alone with children and took a lot of it to heart. It made me feel better about my ability to handle my one, rather well-adjusted, child all on my own. But, it also reminded me that sometimes people throw up on airplanes! I traveled a lot as a child, also, and I definitely remember throwing up! How could I have forgotten!!
Anyhow, here’s how it went:
Two nights before leaving I took some much needed “Lexi Time.” Our trip to Italy meant not only that I would be flying alone with Margot, but also that I would essentially be single-parenting for two weeks straight. If I hadn’t taken that time to focus on myself before our trip, I would have been hanging on by a very thin rope from day one. This was an incredibly great idea.
The day before we left was my niece’s birthday party, which wasn’t really a part of my plan, but was a great way for GoGo to see a bunch of the people she was going to be missing for a good chunk of the day before leaving for Italy. It also helped to add to my “me time” bank since she was running around playing with her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins while I was lazying about.
I packed the night before we left. I knew that I wanted the day of our trip to be all about spending relaxed time with Daddy before getting on the airplane. I am so happy that we scheduled it this way. We had a really special, and mostly relaxed, day together at the Botanical Garden.
So, since we are on the subject of packing, here’s what I had in my carry on:
- Change of clothes for Margot, plus a few extra pairs of undies
- Socks for both of us
- Vegan snacks, and lots of em
- Crayons and paper
- Coloring pages I had printed out with pictures of airplanes and Italy
- Brand new finger puppets
- Where’s Waldo book and magnifying glass
- Play dough and play mats
- Snake’s and Ladders
- A magazine for myself (Ha! I still haven’t read it…)
- Headphones for both of us
The iPad was my safety blanket. I felt like as long as I had the iPad as an option I would be okay. I didn’t want to rely only on the in-flight movies for distraction because I didn’t love the idea of just plunking her in front of a tv for the entire journey. I also had no idea what content would be available and I am pretty selective with what media she watches. And, also, sometimes the tv doesn’t work, and I knew that some of our shorter flights wouldn’t even have tvs at the seats.
Now to the good part. The actual flight.
Well, actually, let me backtrack just a little bit…
Remember that birthday party we went to for my niece?? Ever the preparer, I had dosed Margot with elderberry syrup and all kinds of herbal remedies before the party. I didn’t want any of those grubby little kids giving her germs before our trip! Well, she woke up the next morning (the day of our flight) sniffling and coughing. So, turns out the germiest, grubbiest kid at the party was my own.
I freaked a little bit about her having a cold and we ran to the drugstore to find something I could give her on the plane if she was uncomfortable from being congested. I couldn’t find anything that was small enough to take on the plane, so we ended up with just some essential oils and a saline nose spray. I found out later that most medicines are exempt from the liquid limitations, but it all turned out to be fine because she didn’t complain at all about congestion on the flight.
The other mini medical emergency we had was as we were leaving the NYBG to head to the airport and Margot tumbled off a curb and immediately started crying and complaining that her leg was hurt. She insisted she couldn’t walk and when I forced her to she was obviously in pain and refused to put weight on her hurt leg. Cut to me freaking out again.
Todd and I decided that if her leg was broken (which we didn’t believe it was, but that was our worst case scenario) then she could get a cast on it when we reached Italy. Her leg was not swollen or bleeding, so we decided that missing our trip would be worse than me carrying her through four different airports with a possibly broken leg. Turns out, by the time we got to JFK, she was able to walk on it again. She did still complain about her leg for a few days into the trip, but we made the right choice when we chose the airport over the hospital.
So, now. I’m finally ready to talk about our flights!
We had two layovers, so we flew on three different airplanes to get to our final destination.
When we got to the airport the ticket agent said “Hmmm, did you cancel your flight?” I kind of looked down at my luggage and said “Well, no, I didn’t.” I do wonder how many people who have cancelled their flights still come to the airport with all their luggage, since they seemed to think it was a perfectly reasonable question.
It all worked out after only a tiny bit of hand-wringing from me, and Todd was still with us at this point, so I wasn’t too frazzled.
The worst part of our journey to Italy was saying goodbye to Daddy. There were a lot of tears. I had Margot wrapped up on my back because I was trying to keep her off of her hurt leg, and when I took her out, the back of my dress was soaking wet from her tears. She cried a lot. She wailed “I want Daddy to come with us!” I somehow was not planning for her to be this sad to leave him. But she was.
Once we were through security, I took her down and gave her big hugs and she was ready for an adventure.
The first flight was the long-haul and it was great. They had delicious vegan meals ready for us! Margot was fascinated by all of the cool stuff I had packed for her! There were clouds out of the windows! Everything was interesting and cool and we were DOING IT!! She played with all of the non-electronic stuff I had packed and then when I was ready for her to get a little nap, we turned on a movie and watched together. It was called Song of the Sea and it was really lovely and the perfect film to hold her attention but also nudge her gently to sleep.
Then, right when I needed her to, she woke up fresh as a daisy after only about 3 hrs of sleep and it was time for us to land and rush to our next flight. By the time we boarded our next plane it was daylight outside. The next two flights were only an hour each with about an hour between them, so she didn’t rest any more on our journey. This is when I busted out the iPad since those planes didn’t have tv screens and my bag of tricks was almost empty.
When we got to the airport to board our final plane we were told that we didn’t have seats on the flight and I totally kept my cool as we rushed around the airport trying to figure out what went wrong. I even kept my cool when seconds before finally getting on the plane, which was taking off any minute, Margot said “I have to pee.”
We literally ran across the tarmac to board a small 60 passenger airplane where we immediately (and speedily) made use of the bathroom. (Thankfully it had one!!)
And then… we landed in Italy. We got our luggage right away and followed the signs and walked right out of the airport! Without going through customs at all!
Not going through customs, of all things, was my biggest disappointment! I so wanted Margot’s passport to have an Italian stamp in it!
We left NY at 4pm and landed in Italy at 10am, Margot had slept for only 3 hours, but she powered through our first day and fell asleep at 5pm in Italy and slept straight through to the next morning. We completely avoided jet lag and of this I am very proud!!
So, There you have it! The very long and rambly story about how I took my child alone on an international flight and survived!
Next post will be 2000 words on our first day in Italy! (a joke!)