“Life doesn’t happen to us, but happens with us.”
(Shefali Tsabary, The Conscious Parent)
As the plane prepared to land in Dallas, I looked over at my husband and said, “this has been our easiest flight yet.” We had only been in the air for 30 minutes. It seemed too good to be true and it was certainly too early to celebrate. I sent a silent thank you to the travel gods and braced myself for the rest of the trip.
Our baby has traveled a good amount in his short life. By the time he was 6 months old, we had been to 8 cities from California to Ohio. Still, it seemed crazy to take him to the other side of the world.
When we were on the fence about the trip to Japan, our friends and family shared their support. They warned, “it will only get harder as he gets more mobile.” They asked, “you want to have another kid, right? You should take advantage while you have just one.” They encouraged, “you have traveled a lot. You should go!”
While all of that may be true, I questioned if I was up for the task.
Before we had the baby, I worked from home and was able to join my husband when he traveled for work. We appreciated the unique opportunity to see the world without having to take PTO. When I was pregnant we went to Australia and we tried to imagine what it would be like to travel as a family of 3.
We took pride in packing light and only brought carry-on bags, even when we were gone for weeks at a time. We knew that would change. We made it a point to enjoy both fancy restaurants and dive bars. We knew that would change too. Yet, we dreamed of being the kind of parents who didn’t let a little baby stop us from traveling. If I’m honest, I think that’s why we went ahead and booked the tickets.
From home to the hotel, our total travel time was 22 hours… and the first 20 were a breeze.
Baby O snoozed during our layover, which gave me the chance to savor an iced coffee, play on Instagram, and update my Facebook status one more time.
I worried the baby would tarnish my love for long haul flights. Before he came along, one of my favorite aspects of travel was getting places. We usually fly business class and I cherish the hours of uninterrupted luxury. It’s pretty amazing to have a glass of champagne or wine (or both!), disconnect from wifi and cell service, and wake up in a completely new place.
The thought of spending hours on a plane with a screaming baby was horrifying. I worried about everything, but mostly that I would get claustrophobic, overwhelmed, and unable to manage the situation if things went sideways.
Since our flight was during daytime back home, the baby only slept for 4 hours. When he was awake, he received a steady stream of attention from the crew. One flight attendant even asked if she could, “carry the baby.” I found myself handing him over to a complete stranger who spoke to him softly in Japanese and bounced him on her hip.
Time went by much quicker than I expected. Our seats went completely flat, so I was able to share mine with O by sitting him in the back (where you’d put your head when sleeping), turning around to face him, and using my stretched out legs as a baby barrier.
Food, drink and entertainment helped make the flight more enjoyable. The hubs and I snacked on vegetable curry, had a few drinks (wine for me & beer for him), and indulged in ice cream and chocolates. The baby was satisfied with several rounds of breastmilk and the occasional teething wafer.
We suspended our parental desires to limit screen time and embraced the inflight TVs. The baby is too young to care about what’s on, but Mickey Mouse Clubhouse was a clear winner. I also downloaded this mini music box app and it’s been helpful in a pinch. I watched a few episodes of Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce when he slept and the hubs prepped for his meetings.
All told, there were only a few times when the baby fussed. It was amazing and magical and so very lucky. We landed at 3:30pm local time, which felt like 12:30am for us. The baby was a trooper as we went through immigration, baggage claim, and customs, stopped by the ATM, and picked up our metro passes.
The Tokyo airport is outside the city, so we still had a 2 hour bus ride to the hotel. At first the babe cozied up and fell asleep, but then we hit rush hour. My sweet and quiet traveler turned into an exhausted, hysterical baby. I was wrecked myself and totally understood why he was melting down.
Our 22-hour journey was just about 2 hours too long, but we made it all the same. When we arrived, the hotel staff welcomed us and worked quickly to get us to our room. We were in bed by 8pm, up at 2am to unpack, back asleep at 3am and then up again at 5am… three bleary-eyed travelers, ready to take on our first day in Tokyo.