Travelling light

First published in Little Bitz in 2005

I didn’t bring the bathtub on my first-ever international trip with a baby, but that was about all I left behind. It wasn’t so much my 40 kg suitcase that drew attention in the airport, as it was the heaping mound of carry-on luggage. In retrospect, it’s a miracle that I didn’t leave my son sitting in his capsule somewhere inLos Angeles airport during the lay-over, given all of the other things I was dragging along.

After all, I told myself while in hyper-mother-mode, it was about an 18-hour trip from Auckland, New Zealand to San Francisco so 12 nappies wouldn’t be excessive (diarrhoea could strike). I brought the 70-pack of Huggie’s wipes, 6 prepared bottles of formula (to top up his breast-feeding), 5 complete changes of clothes and more toys, books and rattles than you’d find at Toys ‘R Us. Then there was the medicine bag. It’s true that he had been unwell and required some medications; however, I was taking no chances on any other unexpected illnesses either. Panadol for ear infections, Nurofen in case of sudden fever, Bonjella for teething – he hadn’t started yet, but his first tooth might just have popped out somewhere over the Cook Islands. And my chemist had suggested a bottle of Efferalgan in case he was screaming and wouldn’t sleep. I also included an assortment of alternative medicines, skin creams and nappy rash lotions.

I was more restrained with what I brought in my carry-on, that is, for me. Just one complete change of clothes, plenty of reading material (highly unrealistic) and a sizeable portion of healthy snacks for the breast-feeding mother. Despite my husband’s best efforts, I was determined that every item was essential and might be just the thing to make this maiden solo voyage an enjoyable one for both mother and baby. In fact, when I checked in at the airport in New Zealand I was completely unrepentant about my baggage. AirNew Zealand was generous and didn’t charge me for an extra seat for my carry-on luggage. They must have realised that they were dealing with a slightly unhinged first-time travelling mother.

Several hours into the flight I was a wreck. Not only was I completely stressed about my baby, but keeping track of all of my belongings proved a nightmare. Stuffed toys and dummies disappeared down cracks between the seats, while socks and booties slipped off during middle-of-the-night aisle pacing. It seemed that every moment he was asleep (and there weren’t many) I spent on all fours searching for lost items. We limped off of the plane in San Francisco, into my parents’ arms, with bits of clothing, nappies and passports slipping out of every pocket.

On the return trip I sat next to another “solo mother” with a baby about the same age as mine. She carried him in a front pack with only one small backpack of (truly) essential items for the flight. I was in awe of her. Though I admit that deep down I hoped she would have an in-flight emergency and need to borrow a change of clothes or some wipes from me. Instead, she calmly helped me locate and re-pack all of my belongings before arriving in Los Angelesand laterAuckland. I began to question my definition of essential.

This first trip nearly put me off “child-bearing travel” for good. But unfortunately for us, our travel is done out of necessity, rather than pleasure: if we want to see our families (and want our kids to see them), we have to travel long distances. If it weren’t for that I think I’d be happy keeping my feet on terra firma until my youngest could carry his own suitcase, feed himself, go to the toilet alone and let me eat my dinner and drink my little glass of red wine without climbing over my tray. However, given that our families were not about to move around the world to live on our street, I realised that it was time to become a better traveller.

Now, nearly 8 years later, after several international moves and more than 20 challenging long-haul flights with one, two and then three children, I have discovered a strange phenomenon. With every additional child, I seem to shed another piece of luggage. The reason for this, I’ve decided, is that there is an inverse relationship between amount of baggage taken and enjoyment of travel. That is, the less baggage the more enjoyment. Sure, I’ve been stuck without items (like a change of clothes after baby #2 threw up bright orange carrot on me just after take-off from Paris), but I’ve coped. Because generally I’ve found that the most essential item to have on-board is a calm, relaxed attitude and there seems to be more space for that when there’s less other “stuff” to lose. I find it a lot easier to borrow a nappy than to attempt a de-stress session mid-flight.

Right now we’re starting to get organised for a round-the-world trip we’re taking as a family in a few months. With 7 flights, 5 countries, 40+ in-flight hours, 8 passports and not nearly enough little glasses of red wine, I think I’ll need to leave the luggage behind all-together on this trip. Given my theory, that should mean we’ll have a great time!