Do you plan to travel to Pakistan, India or the like? Do you have a small child? Are you crazy? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then Please! Join me! On the wonderful oddessy that is schlepping your children to a third world country.
Part One - Baby GOES to Pakistan!
First: the tickets. If you're American, you might be used to flying with your under-2-year-old toddler on your lap for FREE! Not so with an international flight. Even if you plan to hold onto your precious child in you own lap (for the entire 16 or more hours in flight!!) you still have to pay. For us, the fee was 20% of the adult fare. That's right - 20% for them to do nothing and for you to be miserable for many many hours. Oh, except with the infant airfare you also get one more tiny 20-pound luggage allowance, presumably for the baby's things, but we all know you're just going to pack more candy bars and shampoo bottles.
So you've got your ticket (i.e. the airline just made 20% for selling your lap.) Now you must actually take your kid to the airport. And get on an airplane. That's ultimate destination is Pakistan. And it will take your 24 hours to get there. I recommend putting the baby in pajamas.
Remember that since you're traveling with a kid, you can pack liquids in excess of the 3oz. rules. I packed so much food you can't even imagine. Like, 8 jars of baby food and 4 of pre-mixed formula, plus some cut-up fruit and raisins and even some yogurt. I didn't know what would be available and I could just imagine being stuck in a foreign airport with no baby food. Going through the security line, the TSA agent took one look at my two huge bags of liquids and said suspiciously, "Where is your destination?" and when I said "Karachi, Pakistan," he was like "Oh, okay then" and didn't bat another eye at me contravening the liquid guidelines so egregiously.
Also, get a porter. It's so worth the $10-$15 not to try to manage all the luggage and baby and stroller and diaper bag between the two of you (assuming it's a husband-wife traveling alone with their child(ren)) and if you think about what you paid for those tickets, really, what's $10-15 more? Also, stop overpacking your bags. There are weight limits and the airlines are going to enforce them. They'll either charge you more or they'll force you to take out the extra things and carry them with you in shopping bags. (Seriously, I saw a Virgin Atlantic check-in counter lady force some woman to take out two pairs of jeans and a sweater and give her a plastic shopping bag - that poor woman had to hand-carry all that crap with her through the American security & airport, on the plane, through Heathrow and who knows where else! Hassle!)
So I strictly enforce the weight limits as we're packing out bags. M always wants to fudge it a little. "What's two more pounds in each bag?" he asks, "everyone does it." Maybe they do, and maybe the airlines let 2 pounds slide, but there's already enough stress in traveling, I don't need any more, thanks. And what does it really matter if you take 15 Almond Joys or only 10?
We've flown both 3- and 2-leg flights to Karachi. The first was America to London, then Dubai, then Karachi; (about 8 hours, 8 hours, and 2 hours, respectively) and the second was America straight to Dubai, then to Karachi (14 hours, then 3 hours). Clearly with those long flights, you're going to have to feed your kid. If you breastfeed, remember that there are laws in almost every state that say you can do so even if you expose yourself. (Although you should try to avoid that, make sure you know your rights if some flight attendant suggests that your should stop or tries to throw you off the plane.) (<== Just print out & bring that article with you, then shove it in the face of any airline employee who gives you trouble.)
If you're bottle feeding, the flight attendants can get you water or milk, or even heat up bottles for you (they do it by floating the bottle in very hot water from the coffee maker - it works REALLY fast, so check it every 10-20 seconds or so.) Large international airlines even have diapers & baby food onboard they can give you! We got a couple of jars of Heinz baby food - some meat & pasta dish, a beef stew-ish thing, and fruits and puddings. You can even order a "baby meal" for your little 20% wallet-drainer. Ask your travel agent about it, or ask the crew as you're boarding.
About that crew though: not always very helpful. You might have to ask several crew members several times for certain things (changing seats, baby food, warming bottles.) Mommy and baby needs just don't seem to be their top priority all the time...)
There's also the aircraft baby bassinet. I honestly never even noticed this thing on airplanes before I had kids of my own. On the bulkhead rows, there are these flip-down tables. If it's not flipped down it just looks like some paneling on the wall, but a flight attendant comes over after you're in the air and flips it down and straps a tiny bassinet onto it. The bassinet is pretty tightly attached, and on the plane we were on (Emirates) the flight attendant lined it with blankets and a pillow, and the bassinet had a little zippered cover, so after takeoff we could just get him to sleep in that thing, zip him in, and ideally you also be able to sleep without a kid on your lap.
Unfortunately for us our 14 month old son didn't really fit in it anymore. We tried folding him up into it, laying him down sideways and tucking his legs up a little bit, but he wasn't able to move around much and he usually moves around a bit while he sleeps, so he didn't sleep for more than 1-2 hour stretches and need some cuddling & comfort in between. On the return flight, we had a bit or turbulence less than an hour after takeoff and they make us take him out of the bassinet and flip up the table because it's like the "seat back and tray tables in the upright position" things. The turbulence lasted for several hours, so we barely got our 20% worth.
During the layovers, we just tried to tire him out - airports are pretty interesting places and he was just starting to walk unassisted, so that meant a lot of exploration. A what a sight he was - a cute kid in alligator pajamas can draw a crowd in Qatar, let me tell you!
For the second leg of the flight, our kid got pretty tired of being on an airplane. We exhausted all of my special toys & treasures and he was even tired of watching cartoons on the in-flight TV. Walking around the plane was a nice diversion, and so was checking out the plane's bathroom. I let him play in the for 15 minutes and then slathered him in anti-bacterial sanitizer. Anything to distract him by that point. The last thing I thought of turned out to be one of my greatest traveling-with-kids tips - the air-sickness bag! It's fantastic. I give my son all sorts of little toys to play with on the plane, one by one as he tired of them. When he's finally tired of ALL of them, I give him the air sickness bag and he has fun putting all the little toys IN and then OUT of the bag, closing it, opening it, shaking it; seriously folks, this occupies him for a half an hour sometimes. I have to force myself not to grab the air sickness bag when he first starts clamoring for my attention, it's that good - save it for when you really need it! I use this on every flight we take now.
We did make one huge mistake in that we didn't take a stroller. We'd just recently purchased a baby backpack, and I don't know WHAT we were THINKing, but somehow we thought that would be a better option to travel with. Believe me - when you're stuck in an airport for 6 hours, you need somewhere to sit the baby down that is NOT YOUR OWN SHOULDERS. Also, a stroller can act as a highchair and even entertainment if you let them push it around themselves. TAKE the stroller!
After we landed, I wanted to change the baby into something more fitting for a "First Grandson's First Visit" - alligator pajamas just don't do it, y'know? But apparently, there is no such thing as a changing table in Pakistani public restrooms, so I ended up just changing him on the floor of the airport in a corner.
Also: immigration. M was, at that time, not even a green card holder so we had to go through two different immigration lines. (hello pain in the butt baby backpack - where the heck is my stroller?!?) My line finished quicker than his, so I asked the lady at the immigration counter if I could go stand with my husband and she said yes. I asked BEFORE I'd left the counter; another time I walked away and then tried to walk back and a security guard stopped me from re-entering.
We did a lot of talking with our son about the trip beforehand, too, and that seemed to help. We told him about what we were doing and why, what it would be like in the plane, how a lot of people would be at the airport when we arrived and they'd all be so happy to see him that they would want to hug him and pinch his cheeks. Really, even a 14 month old can understand more than you know - this preparation really did seem to help a lot with the transition and all the unfamiliar situations.
As for adjustment and jetlag, I think kids adjust MUCH more easily that we adults do. Our son only had one day & night of poor sleeping/eating and then he was on Pakistan time just fine. It gets harder with age and each time I go, but so far I think the trick is to just live your life as if you're on Pakistan time the minute you start traveling. If you sleep as much as you can in the plane, and then arrive at your destination at 5am, just stay awake as much as you can and nap for only an hour or two if you need to; that way, by nightfall you'll sleep really well and be rested and adjusted and ready for the next day.
Next up: Baby IN Pakistan!