Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reflections on flying internationally with children

I would by no means call myself a seasoned international traveler.  Nor would I consider myself an expert on flying with children.  But having done it twice, I've learned somethings. 

1.  If at all possible, don't fly by yourself with kids.  When we moved to Brazil, I had to do it.  It was really hard, but I survived it.  One of the most vivid (and unpleasant) memories was trying to navigate  Guarulhos, the airport in São Paulo.  My memories from 2010 were that it was blazing hot, way too crowded, dirty, and had NO helpful signs for finding customs or baggage claim.  We had a 10 hour (ug) layover in São Paulo on the way to the States, and now I found Guarulhos to be spacious, somewhat easy to get around, and clean.  I really don't think anything was different; it was just that my perspective and comfort level had changed. 

But all that to say, that crazy trip to Brazil in 2010 was very difficult.  Flying to the states in December 2011 with my husband (and older children) was a piece of cake.  When you can, enlist help.

2.  Take the long flight at night.  We had a heck of a time looking online for flights that were at a somewhat decent hour.  We finally ended up going with a travel agent that was GREAT (email me if you want his info).  He found flights we couldn't find online.  We left São Paulo at about 10 pm, and arrived in Atlanta at about 6 am.  It's never easy to sleep on a plane, but it was much better for our children to spend the long flight attempting to sleep.  Or watching hours and hours of movies.

3.  Snacks.  I packed what I thought was WAY too much on the way to the states.  I essentially filled a mini roller suitcase and brought it on the plane.  I made cocoa krispy treats a few days before we left, and emptied our pantry before we left, packing raisins, craisins, any and all candy, apples, tangerines, nuts, granola bars, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, crackers, and so on.  This was a life saver.  We bought some lunch in São Paulo (3 pay by the kilo plates for about R$75.  holy expensive, batman!), but found the McDonalds ice cream cones to be great (R$2).  And sometimes you just don't have time to buy food between flights, or you have to wait FOREVER on the plane for food to be served.  So like the boy scouts say, be prepared. 

4.  Hit up the Duty Free stores to mask unpleasant body odors.  There's no way to avoid being stinky when traveling for 30 + hours.  Unfortunately both me and my hubby were smelling foul by the time we got to the airport in Belo Horizonte.  Don't be shy; spray away!

5.  Entertainment.  We hit up the Banco de Jornais (or dollar store in the states) and got stickers, activity books, magazines and gum.  I printed out some activities for the kids, got extra books on the Kindle, and on the way back my husband downloaded some aps for his iPad (Monopoly, Tetris, some silly Little Miss Spider game).  We tried to keep ourselves and the kids occupied.  And for the most part, it worked.

6.  Use jeito.  I don't want to go into all the nitty gritty details here, but there was some luggage that we really needed to get back to Brazil.  We should have paid some extra to make sure it wouldn't be a problem, but for various reasons we didn't do so.  In the past we were able to gate check this luggage.  But our flight from SEA to Atlanta was full, and the airline employee was a little cranky.  She was giving us a very hard time, but thankfully at the last moment they gate checked it (along with having to "fully" check the carry on luggage that had all our other important things, like the new Wii, the camera and some presents).   But thankfully when we got to Atlanta, we were reunited with the important stuff.  We got lucky in Atlanta, and a sympathetic Delta manager actually gave us an extra seat for our item.  Whoa.  My husband then suggested that we buy a seat on our flight from São Paulo to BH to avoid any other problems, and we decided that we would do so in São Paulo.  But our flight was a little late, it took a long time to get through customs, and the transfer gate for Gol was INSANE.  Crazy as in the attendants were calling out flights, "flight to Rio leaving in 10 minutes.  Please step to the front of the line."  So of course, we didn't get checked into our flight until 5 minutes before it was supposed to leave.  The woman there told us there was NO way we could get through security with our extra luggage, and it was too late to buy a ticket.  We schmoozed, we were patient, we did not give in.  Finally the lady let us go, but told us that we wouldn't even be able to get through security.  Of course, we made it thru security, and were the last ones to get on the flight.  The stewardess asked if we had a ticket for our item, we said no, but there was an extra seat (we got soooo lucky).  She just wanted to close the door for the airplane, so she just told us to sit down.  Like I said, we were lucky, and we used jeito.  But both my husband and I agreed that we wouldn't ever try that again. 

And a word on bringing things to Brazil.  Be careful.  We know of people that buy things in the States and then bring them back to sell.  Some make it through customs with no problems, others end up having to pay the import taxes.  We decided that it just wasn't worth it to us to take the risk, and even though having kids might make it "appear" easier, we didn't want to submit them to any additional waiting. 

7.  Try to enjoy yourself.  It's not really so fun to travel, but the fact that we get to travel means that we have the resources to do so.  There are many people that live away from family and from what they consider home, and have no way to return.  So in those crazy moments in the middle of the night when your 4 year old needs to poop, just try to remember what it's all about.  When you are sprinting through the airport with 80 pounds of luggage, remember that you have lots of great stuff in that luggage.  Laugh at the in-flight magazine.  Eat chocolate with your kids.  Make fun of the security videos.  You'll be to your destination soon.


  1. Shell, I knew "Never say never" & thought I taught you this, but as I well know "You have to experience it to understand!" the humor or the frustration or anger or the ...fill in the word. Keep writing!!!

  2. OOPS! Last comment, Shell, was suppose to follow your transportation dilemma for Sebastian! Oh well, love this blog about traveling back to Brazil in 2011...of course, I down right love all of your blog entrys!!!!