Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jerusalem Part 2: International Travel with an Infant

You may have noticed that pictures of Anna in Jerusalem exist (in abundance), but that I failed to post any pictures of Madelyn. That's because she wasn't there. We sort of figured looking at half a dozen archaeological digs and a couple dozen churches wouldn't quite be her thing. My oh-so-generous mother-in-law and my cousin and her twin daughters split time as Madelyn's playmates back in Utah while Dave and I went off without her. Part of me hurt that she was so trusting; I had explained that Mommy and Daddy and Anna were going away on an airplane, but that she would get to play with Grandma and Grandpa and her friend "Edgie," and that after a long time, we would come back (emphasis on that last bit). And it made her a little sad, but she trusted that we were going away for a good reason and that we would come back to her. She was old enough to understand that, but not old enough to realize that she was missing out on something, sweet thing. She was a really good sport the whole time we were gone and only had (as far as I was told) one melt-down when we skipped a day calling her. We missed her; she is usually such a big, precious presence in our lives.

Anna, on the other hand, is still nursing every three hours, so she got to come :) She'll always get to brag that the first time she ever went swimming was in the Sea of Galilee, though I imagine she'll also be quite bitter that she can't remember a bit of it or anything else she did in Israel. 

To be honest, the closer the trip came, the more nervous I became about bringing Anna. There was never any alternative (I wasn't about to stop nursing cold and I was even more not about to pump every three or four hours while I was away, yuck) but the logistics of travelling with a baby! All the stuff you have to bring! The ridiculously long airplane ride in confined seats! The nine-hour time difference! The crankiness and crying and keeping us up all night when we were already sleep deprived! She loves being on her back instead of carried! She has a hard time sleeping anywhere but her bed! She's nowhere near as adaptable as Madelyn was! I dreaded these things, and it was enough to make me a bit anxious. 

But actually, in the end, Anna was a gem. I never imagined she would be so good. She handled the jet-lag much better than Madelyn did when we took her to England at nine months (and here I tried to post a link to my blog post about that trip, only to realize I never wrote a blog post about that trip. Sad!), possibly because the flight to Tel Aviv happened from about 10:00 pm her time to 9:30 am her time. So she slept the entire plane ride and started the time in Israel awake instead of asleep (Madelyn slept the entire first day we were in England, which meant she was then up all night long). Anna was cheerful and pleasant for all but the last day of the tour. The last two days were spent exclusively in Jerusalem, so she didn't get to sleep during longer periods of bus rides like she had every other day. After very little sleep the day before, she was mostly overtired and cranky the last day. But then again, she slept the entire plane ride home beginning from the moment after I sat down in my seat. Definitely a blessing for mom.

If anyone out there is planning to do the same crazy thing I did and bring a baby with you while travelling internationally, I learned a few things I can now impart to you :):

1.  Bring a boppy on the airplane. It sounds crazy when you already have to bring so much extra stuff, but this was my lifesaver. My total flight time was roughly 16 1/2 hours one way, and I really didn't want to have my arms tied up that whole time. The boppy allowed me to A) keep my arms free and B) let Anna stretch out to sleep (a must for her anyway). The boppy is a little wider than the seat, so it's best if you're sitting at a window next to someone you know or (as happened to us from SLC to JFK) sitting next to an extremely nice Chinese woman who apparently adores babies and makes every exuberant nonverbal effort - because she doesn't speak any English - to show you it's ok that yours is gently kicking her leg over and over again. I also actually sat on the aisle a couple of times and I just pushed in the boppy when the drink carts were going by, though a couple of times when I forgot the flight attendants gently (and very kindly thank goodness) did it for me.

2.  Bag check almost everything. I've hauled too much through airports before and it's a miserable experience (through security, down long concourses, through narrow airplane aisles to your seat, when you're trying to collect everything getting off the airplane. Basically, all the way to your hotel). Thankfully, most airlines let you check one international bag per person for free. AND, even in America, they'll check a child's car seat for free. So, this time around, we checked the car seat, the bigger suitcases, and even the child carrier (see next point) so we wouldn't have to worry about them. We only took one small roller bag and one small backpack on the plane with us and carried Anna through the airport. If it had been just me without Dave I would have gone with just a small backpack and Anna.

3.  Consider using a backpack instead of a stroller. I knew Israel already and I knew that it wouldn't work to have a stroller there. In the Old City the streets are narrow, crowded, cobbled and stepped. Some of the archaeological sites we were visiting had only dirt or gravel paths. I also knew that we would be at some of those sites for hours at a time, so carrying Anna without support wasn't really a (good) option. 

A couple of months before we left, I started researching child carrier backpacks. I knew I wanted a heavy-duty one with a hip belt, space between the adult and the baby (because it was going to be the Middle East in summer and having a baby right up next to the body sounded extremely hot and sweaty), a kickstand, a sun shade, and lots of padding (since Anna would be living in it for a week and a bit). With a pretty good coupon, we bought this Kelty new for about $65.00 off list price. We think we'll be using it on hikes and other family trips throughout our parenting lives too, so we decided the investment would be worth it. It was perfect for our time in Israel - I don't know what we would have done without it.

4.  Don't bring a bed. I wouldn't have added a bed to my list anyway except that Anna started rolling a couple of weeks before we left. If she hadn't been rolling I would have just settled her down on a blanket on the floor every night. As it was, I thought I'd need to bring a porta-crib with me. Then an Israeli friend suggested that hotels in Israel are quite child friendly and would almost certainly have cribs for use there. Sure enough, every place we stayed had small but comfortable cribs that they would wheel in for Anna. I am ridiculously glad that we could leave at least one big bulky baby item at home!

5.  Bring a blanket so baby can roll around in the airport and when you're out and about. This might not be necessary for all babies but I knew it would be important for Anna, who isn't always thrilled about being held. Her need to be flat on her back and rolling and moving was actually one of the things that caused me the most anxiety before leaving. I was worried that she'd be constantly throwing fits on the plane, on the bus, in the backpack, where her movements would be more confined. I decided to bring a small but thick blanket in our one carry on and with us on the bus each day so that she could be on the ground at airport gates, in restaurants, and even at some of the sites where we would be sitting and listening to a tour guide. Those interludes were enough to keep Anna happy the rest of the time.

6.  If you can, travel with people who can support you and help. I was surrounded by people who helped us the whole way. My brothers, sister-in-law and dad all helped carry Anna in the backpack.

One of the biggest helps was my family's willingness to grab all our extra stuff for us, since we were hopping on and off the bus every day with a baby, a car seat, a boppy (which I decided to bring on the bus, since I had it after all), a blanket, and the carrier backpack, besides the usual camera bag and day pack. Our arms weren't quite enough to handle all that ourselves. They were also really good about taking Anna at breakfast so that I could finish getting ready in the mornings, or holding her on the bus so that I could enjoy some baby-free time and so that Anna could be entertained by someone new. 

Beyond my family, our tour guides and bus driver were amazing. We thought, for example, that we'd be able to take Anna through Hezekiah's Tunnel in her backpack. After climbing way down to get to the entrance (and after the bus had already left to meet us on the other side), we were told the backpack wasn't allowed because of low-ceilinged sections. We didn't feel comfortable about taking Anna through the tunnel with us, though, because you have to walk through water that reaches, at some points, to mid-thigh. Our two tour guides graciously offered to take Anna through the dry tunnel with them and meet us on the other side, which they did. A few times when Anna was sleeping, the bus driver watched Anna for us on the bus while we hopped off for a quick stop. (Obviously I can't generally advise trusting tour guides or bus drivers with your baby. In these cases, though, after time spent getting to know them and in situations in which we were still relatively in control, we personally felt it would be okay. And it was.)

7.  Don't be strict about your nursing schedule. Don't be afraid to nurse if the baby cries, regardless of when she last ate. Since you won't always have a chance to nurse right at the three hour mark (or whatever the usual interval is), squeeze nursing in when you have spare moments on a bus, when you're sitting to listen to a tour guide, during meal breaks, etc. I figured that Anna would probably need some extra fluids anyway, and if nursing helped her fall asleep faster during the few quiet moments we had, all the better.

8.  BE FLEXIBLE- This is the most important. The other things are tips - you can ignore them if you don't like the advice. But if you can't be flexible, I would say save the travel until you can go sans baby:

You have to be willing to nurse anywhere (buses, crowded restaurants, discreet corners of churchyards or museum grounds, etc.). 

You need to understand the baby can't go everywhere. The churches were good about allowing Anna in, but Yad Vashem - the Israeli Holocaust museum - was strict about their no baby policy, even when our tour guide argued our case. With only an hour to see the museum, there wasn't time for Dave and I to trade, so I let him go since he'd never been, which meant I wasn't able to go at all. It was disappointing, but you have to realize such things might happen and accept it for what it is.

Along those lines, understand that you might need to miss something in order to meet the baby's needs. There were times when Anna was sleeping and Dave or I stayed on the bus while everyone else got off to see something. There were times when I had to leave the group to feed her. In the evenings, instead of playing games with my family in another hotel room or wandering outside to watch the sunset, I had to get Anna down to sleep. Really, we were able to do so much with her that we weren't too concerned about the few things we missed, but you can't expect to do everything - baby still has to come first. 

There are a few other small tips I'd suggest
  • If baby takes a pacifier, tie it to a ribbon and safety pin the ribbon (sharp side out) to the front of her shirt every day. 
  • Bring your own bottle of infant Tylenol, since every country has its own unique medications and you definitely don't want to be searching for some kind of safe infant brand and dosage in the middle of the night in a foreign country if your baby gets sick. 
  • Be really careful not to lose things when you're out and about. When your primary concern is keeping track of the baby, it's easy to lose track of other things.
  • Know that your baby will be photographed by tourists from all over the world, especially if the baby is in a backpack. Anna will be in the scrapbooks of dozens of cooing tourists from China to the Arabian Peninsula. It was ok with me. I loved how much others loved my baby.  
In the end, we had a great time, and having Anna with us really was no problem. I think it's actually easier to take babies younger than six months or so, because their sleep is still so flexible and their needs are still pretty simple. On the airplane especially, Anna just nursed and slept, nursed and slept. 

So what do you think? Any international travelling tips that you have to add?

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