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Milky Cuddles: Moving internationally with a 1 year old – part 2, the logistics

Monday, 16 January 2017

Moving internationally with a 1 year old – part 2, the logistics

Moving internationally is about big decisions, chaotic packing days, sad goodbyes and navigating uncertainty (all of which you can read about here). But this move, our first with a toddler, involved new challenges and logistics. Here’s a practical guide to a few of these logistics – a summary of what we did and how we got from our small rental cottage in South Africa to my mum and dad’s house in Australia.

Let me start by saying that moving internationally with a one year old and while pregnant was much more hectic than moving with an 11 week old. Give me a newborn any day. They can’t unpack boxes faster than you can pack, or mess up a house faster than you can clean. You don’t have to chase them around airports. They are small and cute and light and sleepy.

The flights

Now, our daughter, who was 16 months old when we moved is a very active toddler. She never, ever sits still. She is not into snuggling on my lap and can’t even be distracted by watching cartoons. Whenever she does watch TV she does so in a very active way – running up and kissing the screen, copying the dances the characters do, literally bouncing on the couch or my legs with excitement. She is the type of child that you just can’t take to a restaurant or café. She immediately climbs on the table, runs into the kitchen or out the door, lies on the floor and cries if you stop her from climbing on the table. We adore her, she is our ray of sunshine, but she loves moving and space, and I was more than a little scared of keeping her entertained and sitting in one small space for 15 hours and three flights.

A few friends suggested we give her something to calm her and help her sleep on the flight. Now, I’m not one to medicate unnecessarily, but I knew this would be a once off and it definitely seemed worth it. The pharmacist suggested either an antihistamine or an antinausea medicine, both which had a known side effect of drowsiness. We were recommended to do a trial before the flight in case it made her hyperactive instead of calm. First we tried the antihistamine. I watched my daughter run and laugh and play. I tried to analyse whether she was hyperactive or just her normal, active self. It was hard to tell, but she certainly wasn’t sleepy! A few nights later we did a trial of the antinausea tablet and the same thing happened. So off we headed for our long journey with nothing to help if our daughter was unsettled or simply would not sleep.

But I shouldn't have worried. We got on the international flight and Nala fell asleep straight away and slept the entire trip. She was no trouble at all, an absolute angel. The flight was easy and we all slept well. We made it to Australia!

Airport scales are for toddlers too!

The hand luggage

I had put a lot of thought into packing for the plane. Honestly I am nostalgic for my days of travelling alone, when all I needed in my seat was a cardigan and a good book, and I’d settle in to a long flight with lots of time to sleep, read, watch movies and relax. So easy.

This time, travelling with a toddler we needed: 
  • Milk – we decided to take small, long life milks with us, each one the right size for one bottle. This meant we didn’t have to worry about refrigeration and keeping milk cold. I packed more than enough milk so that my daughter could have a bottle to suck on for each take off and landing whether she needed milk or not. Sucking helps stop little ears from hurting. Some websites recommend lollipops for kids to suck on. But there was no way I was going to start the journey with my daughter on a sugar high!
  • Food – toddlers can’t wait for food to be served on flights. They have small stomachs and can get hungry at any time. I didn’t know what the plane food would be or how messy it would be and I certainly wasn’t going to wake her up to eat. So I knew I needed to have food on hand for whenever we needed it. I really didn’t know what to pack for this. She normally eats what we eat, whole cooked meals and lots of fresh fruit and veggies. Not necessarily things that keep well for long flights. I aimed for low mess options. I bought baby food in squeeze packets that you can suck straight out of. I thought these would be good because they were convenient, nutritious, low mess and full meals. But my daughter, who went straight to family foods and never had purees, was not interested in them at all. I also packed dried fruit and biscuits. We snacked on these a few times, but really she mostly ate the plane food. She was asleep at most mealtimes (which was great because my husband and I could eat), so we just asked for her meal when she woke up. My advice here would be to pack snacks, but don’t try anything new, make sure they are foods your toddler already eats and loves.
  • Surprise bags – this idea came from a friend of mine. These were small bags of surprises to pull out when she needed a quick distraction. As I knew we would need to keep the surprise bags with us in the seat, where there is not much space, I challenged myself to make each surprise bag fit within a ziplock sandwich bag. I made four of them – one for each flight and one spare. Each contained a snack and some small toys my daughter hadn’t seen before. I went for pencils and a notebook, magnets, nesting cups (not a great idea these got dropped on the floor too easily), stickers (these were a hit), a calculator, a small book, a magnetic drawing board (also a hit) and a few other bits and pieces. I should have taken a photo of these for this blog. Instead you can enjoy some photos of similar surprise bags that people have posted on pinterest. Or these ones courtesy of Kids PlaySpace

Surprise travel bags (Kids Playspace)

  • Nappies, wipes, facecloths, bibs, spare outfits, change mat, spare outfit for me and my husband (as my daughter notoriously squashes food into our clothes. Being a mum is so glamorous sometimes), a jacket for each of us, toothbrushes and toiletries to freshen up, phone, laptop, chargers and a few other bits a pieces. Again – nostalgia for the simple days of travelling light, alone. I felt so weighed down by luggage, carry on, my big pregnant belly, and the thought of entertaining my one year old the whole way that I didn't even pack a book for me!
  • A pram, which we left with the airline staff at the entrance of each plane.
Once I had created a pile of hand luggage I had to work out how I would organise it all. I needed to make sure we had everything we needed within arms reach but that we also weren’t smothered with luggage in our small seats (did I mention we were already squeezing a one year old and a big pregnant belly into our two seats??). We went for:

  • a laptop bag for my husband with both our laptops, chargers etc
  • a small wheelie suitcase with all the extras and things we didn’t need to readily access (spare outfits, extra milk, extra nappies etc)
  • nappy bag with everything we needed to access. I then pulled out a few things to have in the seat with us – a surprise bag and the wipes. Everything else was overhead. I don’t like being too crowded on planes so this worked well.

The jet lag

Our biggest challenge, however, was not the journey itself, but the jet lag when we arrived. Jet lag has never been a big deal for me personally. It became a bigger deal when I got married because all of a sudden I was not only awake for a few hours while I couldn’t sleep, but also for the hours my husband couldn’t sleep. But I discovered it is 10,000 times worse with a one year old. My daughter was literally wide awake until 4 or 5am for weeks and weeks. I was very grateful that we were only travelling one way because I don’t think it would have been worth it for a short term holiday. Sleep is very precious in our house because it took 14 months for my daughter to learn to sleep through the night. She slept wonderfully for two months and then we uprooted her and moved her to a new time zone and her sleep became the worst it has ever been. Knowing how long it takes to form good sleep habits, and with a second baby not far off, I feared we had ruined her sleep.

There are lots of ways to beat jet lag – forcing yourself to get up according to the clock in your new location, spending time outdoors etc, but in the end you mostly just need to wait it out and let your body adjust. It’s just with a one year old you have to wait a lot longer. We’ve been back for six weeks now and while my daughter has adjusted to the new time zone, she is still waking up at night and is hard to put down for her day nap and in the evening. We’ve always taken the ‘wait it out’ approach to sleep rather than doing any sort of sleep training. It is only now that our next bub is so close that we feel we are on some sort of time frame to get her sleep sorted. But I do believe, like all her sleep stages so far, this will pass on its own.

As with all the challenging baby stages (clinginess, sleepless nights etc) when they pass, they are over and so quickly forgotten. A few weeks ago, in the middle of a long night, I said to my husband ‘I don’t think it’s worth it, people with young kids should just stay in one place’. But now it doesn’t seem like it was such a big deal. Though I’m not looking forward to the day I have to face jet lag as a family of four…

Settling in

So now we are here. Half way through the logistics of starting a new life. We’ve departed one place, but have not yet settled in the next. We arrived in early December, which was wonderful and fun. Everyone was on holidays, we had Christmas and New Year and friends to see. But this is a challenging time of year to arrive if you want to ‘settle in’. We couldn’t start the job search because businesses were closed and I haven’t been able to find my rhythm as a mum here, to join a playgroup, start swimming lessons for my daughter, set up our weekly routine. In some ways it has felt like we are on holidays. In some ways it has felt like life is on hold. And even when everything opens again I know establishing a new life takes time.

But, a few days ago I sat at a park with my husband and watched my daughter play. And words ran through my head, ‘don’t wish these days away Katie’. Soon enough we will have jobs and a mortgage and two kids and a house to look after and commitments and all the things that come with choosing a place and a life and investing in it. So, while part of me feels rushed to ‘settle’ I am also reminding myself to enjoy this season for what it is. New beginnings.



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