by Sarah Quezado, a WBGFN Member
After living couped up inside for two months with a toddler and a baby, my husband and I decided to travel to our home-country to be closer to family while braving the COVID-19 Pandemic. Although it made sense for us to make that trip at that point of the pandemic, it wasn’t an easy decision. For all planners out there, this pandemic has taught us some hard lessons on how to be more flexible and adaptable – and just like that song parents have exhaustively listened to, we’ve learned to ‘Let It Go’. We no longer had control over the simple things we were used to, and daily living seemed to be stuck at looping mode.
To make things somewhat less stressful for our children, since the international leg of our trip would leave from Miami, we decided to split our trip in two parts. We booked separate tickets from DC to Miami and then to Fortaleza (Brazil) and rented an Airbnb in Pompano Beach to spend a few days taking a break from the last months and all the packing, before taking the longer flight. Looking back, that break was one of the greatest things we could have done for our family. Spending time as a family in a new environment filled with sunshine and so close to the water was a wonderful bonding experience and a memory I shall treasure forever. It also allowed our girls to burn off some energy, play and explore a new place, after spending so long in the same environment, and before facing a new quarantine upon our arrival in Brazil.
In order to make our trip smoother and for this ‘split traveling’ to work, my husband and I tried to prepare as much as possible in advance. We packed in sections, with separate smaller suitcases for Florida, so we wouldn’t need to open any of the other bags before going abroad, and in our carryon bags we had everything for immediate necessities, including a few items to entertain the girls (details below). Moreover, since air travel wasn’t the most popular in the beginning of the pandemic, we took advantage of points and miles and booked a seat for each member of our family – yes, including the baby – in business class. We realized it would be less crowded, and therefore safer for (mini) people less prone to wear masks during the flight. Also, by having a seat for our baby, we also had the perk of bringing her car seat along in the airplane, allowing us all to safely sleep during our red-eye flight and not having to worry about renting or buying car seats once we arrived at our final destination.
We got everything ready and went to the airport. Now, parts of that travel seem a little foggy to me. It could be the exhaustion of being parents of two little girls – one of them still not sleeping through the night – combined with so much loss in the world, fear, apprehension and uncertainty. The heaviness of it all was being felt physically, mentally and emotionally. As I held on tight to my daughters in the plane, I watched my husband as he was doing all the heavy lifting. He was not only putting out carry-ons in the luggage compartment or installing the car seats on the chairs… I knew he was also carrying a lot of weight on his shoulders, probably reassessing our motives and questioning one more time if this was the “right decision to make”. Even so, every time our eyes met, he would nod and smile with his eyes, reassuring me.
Germophobic-Kit in hands, I sanitized everything we could possibly touch, everyone was in their seats, and it was time to take off! While feeding her a bottle, my littlest grasped my finger, I said a silent prayer as the airplane ascended. *We are going to be okay*.
It’s safe to say we had a smoother flight than expected. Funny how we try to prepare for the worst-case scenarios when dealing with children. But they taught us so much about resilience and adaptability during this trip! Even tired and bored as they waited in the airport before getting on the third (!!!) and last leg of our travel – our direct flight to Fortaleza got canceled and we had to make a connection in Sao Paulo – all they wanted was to be with us. As long as one of us were around, they seemed calmer, content even. In a way, we were also pursuing this calming feeling as we headed “home”. We knew we wouldn’t be able to see or hug any of our relatives when arriving in our country, but, somehow, knowing we were geographically closer to them brought us some peaceful feelings.
As we initiated the 4th chapter of our journey, already at home in Brazil, it was now time to establish a new schedule. It is common knowledge that children thrive when they can anticipate what is ahead. Repetition brings a sense of structure and predictability, helping them decompress when following a routine. And why not admit that even as an adult, I also thrive when everything follows an order? Agreeing on that, my husband and I tried our best to maintain our girls’ schedules similar to how they were back in DC and some items were used to bring familiarity to this new environment: stuffed animals, blanket, bath toy, white noise machine and so on. We believe this made their transition easier. Also, welcoming the upsides of being in a coastal city helped our toddler feel like we were going on an adventure, like everything was supposed to happen this way.
In the end, it was the right decision to make. What a relief! Besides being able to care for my mother after being hospitalized with a severe COVID-19 case and assist her in a long recovery, the change of air did us good. Our girls were exposed to so much of our culture and are now fluent in Portuguese. This chapter of our lives proved to be a lesson: to find the good amidst chaos.
Reassessing our exodus, I felt complied to share helpful tips with other parents who are looking to travel with children during summer, hoping it would make your trip smoother:
Documents in hand
For international travel, make sure your passports are valid and if you need to update any visas before leaving. Most countries require a Negative PCR-RT test taken up to 72 hours before embarking on the aircraft. You must show the negative test results regardless of being vaccinated. Also make sure you check if the country you are traveling to requires any other form.
Itinerant medicine cabinet
Life with children can be unpredictable and there are always bugs and viruses going around, besides our current nemesis. Making an appointment with your children’s pediatrician prior to your travels allows you to check if any extra shots may be necessary depending on your destination, as well as having an appropriate list of medication and dosages in case one of your littles get sick during the trip.
Besides extra sets of clothing, snacks, bottles, diapers and so on, we packed a few toys and activities to entertain our toddler during the flight: some aquabooks (the kind you color the pictures using a water filled pen), story books with flaps and “busy books”, a couple of her favorite stuffed animals and, since it was a long flight, an old iPad Mini with various music videos for children downloaded. Frozen breastmilk in a separate thermal bag kept me assured in case my supply went low – which might happen to a nursing mama when facing stress and change – and thankfully, we didn’t encounter any issues bringing that along in the cabin.