Traveling from the States to Japan
I’m not going to sugarcoat this experience. This trip was nothing short of a walk through Hell. Personally, it’s just mean when people offer advice to make this trip easier, which ironically is what I’m about to do. But it doesn’t matter what preventative measures you take, your babies will cry, your pets will whine and you will smell like a science experiment before you finally arrive on the island. My 2-year old licked a flight attendant and I somehow got a piece of graham cracker lodged in my ear. It’s the nature of the beast. I mean, give me a few weeks when we’re settled, and I’ll laugh myself sick over these shenanigans. As for right now, I’ve been on the island less than 24 hours, and I’m starting to understand how Zeus felt when Athena was banging drums inside his skull.
We traveled from Greensboro, NC to Atlanta, Georgia to Seattle, Washington to two different airports in Japan before finally arriving in Okinawa. I have completely forgotten the two smaller airports we stopped at first, so I will have to come back later and add in the specific names. Basically, they were two small airports that we stopped at to let people off and re-fuel. We simply stayed in one large room for a few hours and tried to keep our toddler from dragging the cat bag around the terminal. Yes, in addition to our baby and toddler, we also ventured this journey with a mischievous little kitten. However, he was higher than a kite for most of the journey, so he actually probably enjoyed the flights better than we did. I mean, except for the security line, but I’ll get to that.
Don’t lose heart. The trip is trying, but it’s also fun in a way. I mean, just don’t lose perspective. You’re traveling to a whole new life. If your kids ever made you watch Disney movies on repeat, you’ll remember that Princess Jasmine and Aladdin sang several verses on the back of a magic carpet about the glories of a whole new world. Even though nothing will make these flights perfect, here are a couple things that I will do for next time.
1. Limit Your Carry On Baggage:
This feat is nothing short of impossible if you have kids. Every now and then, I fantasize about the days before I became a huge, walking napkin whose sole purpose was for sticky fingers to wipe crumbs. I used to take cheap Ryan Air flights and sleep on terminal floors wearing the same outfit for three days straight. Yeah, there is no way to romanticize that one. Basically, when I traveled, I assumed the identity of a tired, bag lady. Those wonderful days are long gone.
Once you get done with diapers, wipes, a few toys, an extra set of clothes for those inevitable blowouts, empty sippy cups and some emergency infant Tylenol, you already have 8 suitcases (to be checked), a diaper bag, book bag, cat carrier and car seats and you can’t frigging believe it. We didn’t pack more than we needed, but I still wish we’d been able to condense it even further. I saw some babies sleeping right on the seats, so I guess that could be an option. My chunky stick of baby butter rolls and climbs off anything unless he’s strapped down, so checking the car seat wasn’t feasible. Still, try to condense as much as you can, because when your toddler has a meltdown that sends you looks of sympathy…and let’s be honest, glee, from other parents who don’t have to deal with that crap from their older ones anymore, its hard to manage even a small amount of bags.
2. Brace yourself for the security lines.
On most days, I am a sweet and gentle mom that just wants to make it another day without peanut butter ending up clogging the keys on the laptop. However, nothing instills a sense of rage within you faster than a TSA agent demanding that you unstrap and release the little ones. And I’m not just talking about the kids. I’ll never forget the image of Matteo holding both hands in the air with a kitten gripped in one and a toddler in the other. The cat, who is named Bill, climbed and clawed his way down Matteo’s back and then peed down his leg. (Just stop and imagine a crowded airplane on a 20-hour trip with a man who smells like a litter box). Then Gus figured out how to manually set off the alarm and sent the agents into a frenzy. I was halfway tempted to let them pull him aside for interrogation because I really would like to know where the little imp hid our remote a few weeks earlier. On a positive note, our 8-month old, was strapped to my chest and he took it all in stride.
3. Dress warmly.
I’m not sure if the people in charge of the plane’s heating and cooling failed high school biology and confused human DNA with that of a polar bear’s, but for the love of God, wear warm clothes. Even dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, I was so cold, my feet were burning. The kids were dressed in warm jammies, but we still had to burrito them up. When I walked to the bathroom during the flight, it was amusing to see all of the young, single servicemen shed the bonds of propriety and huddle up against one another in an effort to keep from losing feeling in their extremities. Imagine a giant bear cave complete with snoring and the occasional grunt.
4. Keep in contact with your sponsor.
We had to fight to get in touch with our sponsor, but once we were assigned one, everything got a lot easier. He and his wife got our hotel room and even bought us a litter box for Bill and filled our fridge with milk and other breakfast items for the boys. Jet lag or not, Gus wakes up with a desire for milk that gets dangerous if not immediately abated. I will be forever grateful for the gallon waiting for us in the hotel room’s fridge.
5. Utilize the USO or get a hotel room.
This tip may not work for everyone, but we traveled from NC to WA before even leaving for Japan. Getting a hotel room was the smartest decision we ever made. The boys were able to rest, get a nice bath and play. In the morning, before we went through the security lines, we stopped at the USO and fed the boys a quick breakfast. Make sure you have some cash to contribute to the donations box. These volunteers are the best.
6. Check-In Early
Matteo left our hotel room early and stood in line around midnight. He’s an amazing man, especially since while he was doing so, the boys and I were able to get a few additional hours of sleep. The sooner you check in, the better your seats will be. If you’re able to do so, wait in line. It’s worth it.
Your trip will have its ups and downs, no matter how hard you try to prevent them. I could have offered Gus a dancing unicorn, but he still would have eaten a random piece of a chewed gum off the floor and had a complete meltdown over the color of his seat. Or maybe it was because the windows were round. He has so many tantrums; it’s hard to tell anymore. Regardless, everything will work out in the end. Even if you do need to take a few private moments to fantasize about wine and…wine. Good luck!