This is probably going to be a more detailed post than most people really care to read, but if you’re interested in hearing about how we made it through two large airports with four children and tons of stuff, read on. If not, I’ll write about something more exciting soon. 🙂
We packed as lightly as we reasonably thought we could, knowing that we needed to live with only what we had in our bags for probably four to six weeks. But we still ended up with 23 pieces of luggage that needed to be handled. There are six of us, after all. And truth be told, not one of us is good at going without.
Some bags were small — my purse, the kids’ backpacks, Matt’s laptop bag — but some were HUGE. We had six large LL Bean rolling duffle bags, in addition to two old rolling suitcases and a large garment bag. Plus everyone had a carry-on bag. And we had two booster car seats that Owen and Quinn still need. That’s a lot of luggage to manage.
Want to hear how we did it and only lost two children for a very brief time in the process (for real)? Read on…
Matt’s parents kindly drove us to the airport and helped us get our giant bags onto carts so we could wheel them to the counter and check in. It was actually necessary for us to take two cars, simply because it wasn’t possible to fit all our luggage AND people in a single vehicle.
Once we had checked the bags, the rest of the night was easy. The kids were amazing in the airport — everyone had their backpacks on and pulled their small carry-ons without a single complaint or issue. Excitement bobbed along in their wakes; the adventure began.
We got to the airport fairly early, so we had about an hour and a half wait at the gate. Each child had a charged device to play with while we waited for the plane, since there really wasn’t anything else to see or do. Periodically, one of us would looked around and squeak or giggle with the realization that we were really, truly on our way. We also made what seemed like a million trips to the bathroom, in the hopes that no one would need to go as soon as we got on the plane. (No such luck, of course: Q had to go before we even got in our seats on the plane, but c’est la vie when traveling with kids.)
The flight was just over six hours long and we took an overnight trip, leaving DC at 10:30PM. With the time difference between the East Coast of the US and London, we arrived twelve hours after we left. I had high hopes for sleeping on the plane — all the kids were tired since the flight left well after their normal bedtimes, and they all had neck pillows, blankets, and were required to turn in their electronics to me before we boarded. But the plane was really, truly not comfortable.
I sat between Owen and Bridget in one row, and Matt sat a row in front of us with Gabe and Quinn. Matt’s seatmates slept better than mine–neither of them woke up for the meal which came around at close to midnight. Both my kids did, though they didn’t eat much of the food. I’d say we got around 3.5 hours of uncomfortable sleep on the flight.
In hindsight, I don’t know if I’d choose an overnight flight again. It seemed like a good idea in theory, but in practice it didn’t go quite as I’d imagined it. The kids wanted to play with the in-flight entertainment screens right in front of them. It wasn’t easy to sleep because the arm rests in between our chairs didn’t fully fold up, so I couldn’t even let the kids stretch out across my lap.
When we arrived in London, we waited until all the rest of the passengers disembarked before we got off. With four tired children and lots of bags, it made sense to just wait instead of struggling to get the kids to move with the pace of the crowd.
We made our way to customs, which was fine, except that on the plane they told us that as long as all the passengers in your party had the same last name, you only had to fill out one customs form. In the line at customs we were informed that we needed one for EACH MEMBER of our party, no exceptions. So we had to step out of line and fill out five more forms. My advice is to just fill out one form for each person when they hand them out on the plane — having extra is way better than trying to do it all while standing in line and managing carry-on bags and four tired kids.
We made our way to baggage claim with no further incident, but then came the complicated part: maneuvering through the busy airport with four excited children and a total of 23 pieces of luggage.
We got three of the push carts and piled the really big pieces on those. Each of the kids carried their own backpack, and Owen, Quinn, and Bridget pulled their carry-on bags. Bridget helped herd the two younger boys. Gabe pushed the third cart. Matt and I obviously each had a cart as well.
We arranged in advance to have a car service pick us up at the airport and take us to our hotel. With so many bags, taking the train was impossible, and getting cabs that fit us and all our stuff would have been a huge hassle. We met the driver just past customs.
When we got to the elevator that would take us to the parking garage where our van was located, we realized that we couldn’t fit all of us in one elevator — we just had too much stuff. So Matt and the two younger boys got on the elevator with the driver and one push cart, and the older kids and I said we’d meet them on the third floor.
When our elevator door opened onto the third floor and we stepped out, Matt was in a state of anger and panic I’ve not really seen from him before. Apparently, the driver was mixed up as to which floor they actually needed to get off at and started to get off, then changed his mind, then actually got off the elevator. There was some confusion and somehow the driver, Matt, and Gabe got off the elevator, and before Owen and Quinn could follow, the elevator doors closed and the little boys were gone.
Bridget, Gabe, and I stepped off the elevators just a moment after Owen and Quinn disappeared, and I thought that Matt may actually kill the driver, who seemed really unconcerned that my seven- and five-year old sons were alone in the elevator bay in a parking garage at a major international airport in a foreign country. We hoped that Owen and Quinn would just stay on the elevator and when the doors to that lift opened, they’d be standing there.
No such luck. They had gotten off on another floor and we didn’t know which one.
Matt got back on the elevator with the two older kids, and I stayed in the elevator bank with all the bags. As each of the three elevator doors in the bank opened, I checked to see if O and Q were on it. I was trying not to panic, but nightmare scenarios were already playing in my mind and I was holding back tears. People getting off realized what was happening and offered to check other floors. The man running the elevator system was helping me. Our driver was not. He had disappeared and come back with the van, which he parked by the elevator bank, and then told me that he was blocking traffic in the garage so we’d have to hurry up. Then I almost murdered him. I angrily informed him that he could move the (swear word) van if he needed to, but I was not going (swear word) anywhere until I found my missing (swear word) children. He left me alone after that.
A minute or two later Matt got off the elevator with all four kids and my heart exploded with relief. Apparently, the boys had gotten off one or two floors above us, then weren’t sure if they should wait there or get back on and try to find us. Owen kept Quinn with him — they held hands — and although they both looked a little shaken up, they handled it really well. Once we got in the van, we talked about what to do if we ever had that situation come up again –STAY IN THE ELEVATOR. But we told them both we were very proud of them for not panicking, for staying together, and for not losing their bags either. After that, the ride to the hotel with the (swear word) driver was kind of a blur.
But we made it, we checked in, and after only 3 hours of sleep, we all collapsed into beds for a few hours of sleep. I know they say that only extends jet lag, but with kids, you do what you have to do. We woke up around 3PM feeling much better, showered, and went out for a really fun evening.
Tips for travelers with kids:
- Make sure they kids have bags they can carry on their own.
- Charge all electronics before you leave for the airport (the charging stations in the airport were all filled up!).
- Fill out customs forms for everyone while you’re sitting on the plane with nothing else to do, even if they tell you you only need one.
- Talk to the kids about airport safety beforehand and address worst-case scenarios: elevators, escalators, crowded places, restrooms, etc. We should have done more of this before we traveled and it’s better to scare them a little in advance than have them panic if something goes wrong.
- Expect the whole process to take longer, and factor that time in when planning your arrrival and pick-up times.