Standing in an airport 10,000 miles from home, we hugged my husband’s family through tears, not knowing when we would see them the next time. Little did we know a worldwide pandemic would make traveling impossible over the next few years.
It was 2019, and we had just spent about a month in Indonesia with the family he hadn’t seen in years. His mom, sisters, and nieces and nephews who were babies or not even born when he left, were thrilled the day had finally come to see Edward. They got to meet his wife. We all celebrated our new marriage with a traditional Batak wedding. We flew to Bali for an official honeymoon, to Yogyakarta to see volcanoes and sunrises, and to Sumurata to visit his extended family. It was perfect; well, as perfect as international travel can be, and almost seemed magical.
In 2021, we welcomed our son and longed for the day my husband’s family could meet him. We watched him grow, knowing that they were missing more and more of his development with each passing day. They’d never see his little newborn face or his jet black Asian hair (for some reason, that didn’t last long). They didn’t get to see him crawl. As the world started to open up, we hoped we could travel for his first birthday, and those were dashed with the Delta wave. But as spring sprung in America, travel began to open, and Indonesia finally opened for American tourists visas on arrival. We booked our tickets as quickly as possible and made our way to Asia by the end of the month.
We boarded a small plane in Chattanooga and headed to Dallas, knowing everyone else on board had a shorter journey. We smiled through a slight delay because of the onboard toilets. We smiled and took this picture, posting online how the day had finally come for us to travel to Indonesia.
If I were playing a soundtrack to this post, there would be an abrupt change in tone as the music went from whimsical to mysterious from this moment on.
Nothing was quite the same. Remember the picture-perfect travels I mentioned in 2019? Nothing like that happened on this journey. It was long and hard and full of drama and peace, and the calm of traveling pre-parenthood had ended. To make a long story short, traveling post-Covid is full of restrictions and jumping through hoops, many of which are not clearly spelled out no matter how much research you do. I believe our journey would have scared off the novice travelers, but we pressed on, knowing the faces that waited for us 10,000 miles away.
We arrived in Japan for our connection, only to be sent back to America because our 15-month-old needed to be Covid tested. This wasn’t made clear in all my husband’s research, and wasn’t caught at either airport in America. I’m also six months pregnant, so the idea of traveling an extra 23 hours wasn’t at all something to be taken lightly. We attempted all forms of begging to change the plan, but the only option was to head back to Dallas. Thankfully, we had friends there who hosted us for a day and a half to wait out his Covid test and allow us to sleep somewhere normal.
Again, many tears were shed by us and his family in Indonesia.
We were determined not to let it stop us, so we journeyed on. Finally, five days after leaving Chattanooga, we arrived in Indonesia. Can I tell you just how awesome our toddler did? He was a real trooper and never once caused us an issue. The sweetest, most content little thing endured all that with minimal complaining. I was so proud. I know this may not always be the case, but it proved that travel with toddlers is possible and can even be enjoyable.
One of my greatest strengths, if I do say so myself, is being prepared. My husband would call it over-prepared, in a not-so-happy way, but as moms we know if you aren’t prepared, we often regret it. So to wrap up, let me share with you how I prepared for my son’s journey around the world and what worked and didn’t work for us.
There are great Facebook groups out there to help you as you plan, filled with parents and families who’ve done this before. I rummaged through those groups for weeks to help make a plan. I even took advantage of our local Chattanooga Moms Facebook group to borrow a handful of things I didn’t think I needed to buy but would be suitable for this trip. If you haven’t joined, you can find your local group here. I bought Elliot a few new toys and wrapped them like Christmas presents. I added to our travel bag a few of his favorites. I packed snacks he loved and a couple of new ones to try. All of this stuff went in a carry-on we had access to the whole time.
I took overnight diapers so each one would last longer, and his diaper bag had a couple of extra clothes, his pajamas and sleep sack. We packed shelf-stable milk and one bottle, one milk cup, and a water bottle for him. All in all, I have to agree with my husband. I overdid it; not because we didn’t need some of the things we brought, but mainly because he was entertained by an airplane full of new things to touch, and every few hours of flight, they brought us food. He’d open one of our new toys and it would keep his attention for a few minutes, and then he’d just want to climb and explore the plane. We did make great use of our snacks and giving him food was what kept him most entertained. We hadn’t bought him a seat but were able to have a seat between us during all our flights and requested bassinets that came in handy when we could use them. We also packed three different kinds of baby carriers because I figured if all else fails, wear the baby. This worked great, especially for sleeping. He slept more on us than in the bassinet. We took our stroller, which had to be gated checked, and although we did this no less than five times, I don’t regret bringing it. It was the only time we didn’t have to have our hands right on him during the five days of travel. It gave us all a little more freedom and helped to have him strapped in when dealing with all the chaos in Japan.