Monday, April 27, 2009

International Travel with Baby and Toddler: Back to Seoul

We're back in the ROK! We made it and here's some travel advice based on the trip.

I traveled with Ian a lot during his first 2 years of life. I wrote a post about traveling with baby a long time ago. You can read the recommendations here.

Traveling with an infant is a lot easier than traveling with a toddler and much easier than traveling with an infant AND a toddler! But, if you are prepared, even though it is long, it won't be bad or traumatic, just long.

So, I am going to give the specifics of my situation and then give general advice. Hope it helps!

As most of you know, I went back to the US mid-December to spend Christmas with family and then prepare to have baby #2, due March 9. I was preparing to be in the US for 4-5 months, so I brought a lot of stuff, including, mailing a few boxes back. We were traveling with our dog (a 65 lbs boxer) as well and had to have two vans to drive us to the airport. I did not bring my stroller with me because we just didn't have the room and I figured that I wouldn't use it much in Erie, Pennsylvania during the winter. I brought my Ergo with me to carry Ian, if necessary. This turned out to be a mistake because, at 28 weeks pregnant, I could carry a 30 lbs toddler on my back for reasonable distances, but when we landed in Chicago, we had to walk miles to get through customs and it was not pretty. We checked Ian's carseat because he wouldn't have sat in it for such a long flight and we couldn't have managed dealing with it while switching flights. I arranged to borrow an infant carseat from a friend in Erie so I would not have to bring the infant carseat with us as well.

Now, onto the trip back.......

After Eva was born, we went to the State office to get a raised-seal birth certificate. Babies born in Pennsylvania have an official birth certificate sent in the mail for free, but the time-frame is within 6-8 weeks of the birth. You must have a birth certificate to apply for a passport, so we went to the office and paid for two copies. You also need a social security number to apply for a passport. The hospital usually handles this, but make sure they do it. Once we received the SSN in the mail, we sent her passport application in and paid to expedite it. Let, me emphasize that WE turned her passport application in, because both parents have to be present to submit it, or you need a notarized document from the absent spouse giving you permission or a court document demonstrating sole custody or a custody agreement, in order to get a child a passport. We received the passport back, 10 days after we sent it in.

We did not book her flight until we had the passport in hand. Not even a baby can fly internationally without a passport. Government bureaucracy is unpredictable and you cannot count on a quick turn around. It turns out that the free official birth certificate that was supposed to take 6-8 weeks, arrived in about 2.5 weeks, but you can't count on that. Also, it is a good idea to have multiple copies of the birth certificate anyway.

I mailed a few boxes to Korea from the US. We have a US government mailing address in Korea, so it wasn't that expensive. It wasn't cheap, but the value of the contents exceeded the cost of the postage so it was worth it. After the birth, Curt went back to Korea to work while we waited for the documents to come through. I also wanted Eva and I to have had our 6-week check ups before we went back. Curt flew to the US to bring us back because with all the luggage we had, I did not want to attempt that trip by myself. He brought Eva's carseat in one of his suitcases so we had it to bring with us and could return the borrowed seat. Also, while in the US, my mom bought me a MacLaren Volo for the times when I might need a stroller. This is an excellent stroller. It is the entry-level MacLaren and is very light, but has nice features and is definitely much better (as far as pushing/sun shade, etc.) than the $20 umbrella stroller you can buy.

We had 7 full suitcases (we were entitled to 8 since Eva had her own seat). We planned to check Ian's carseat, gate-check the MacLaren Volo and bring Eva's seat on the plane. We also had two small roller bags, my husband's laptop bag/briefcase, a diaper bag and another shoulder bag for carry on.

Our trip began at 3am when we left Erie to drive to the Cleveland airport (just under 2 hours away). My parents came with us so we needed both the van and the truck to get all the people and luggage to the airport. My parents stayed with us until we got checked in to make sure that our bags we not overweight and then we went through security. Both kids slept through the drive and the first flight to Washington, DC. We had a 5.5 hour layover in DC so we arranged to meet a friend (pictured above with her baby) at the airport to pass the time. Also, it didn't take long to realize that we had made a mistake by bringing Eva's carseat on so we checked it in, during our layover. Between our laptops, cameras and baby stuff, we had too much to carry-on to deal with the carseat.

The flight from DC to Tokyo took off on-time and was a surprisingly light flight. We had 4 seats together at the back of Economy Plus. Ian had fallen asleep in the stroller in the security line and slept for a few hours. Enough time for me to watch a movie and for Curt to get some rest. When he woke up, we used snacks, stickers, books, etc. to keep him entertained. Eva woke up periodically to eat. Neither one had ear trouble. Ian fell asleep about mid-flight and slept the rest of the way. He didn't even wake up when we got off the plane. The stroller was far away, so it was a pain, but my husband carried him and managed both roller bags and his briefcase by stacking the roller bags.

The flight from Tokyo to Seoul started boarding shortly after we got to the gate. It was probably the longest 2 hours of the trip. I watched a program, slept and there was still an hour to go. It was also very light so there were plenty of extra seats.

Curt's friend brought his van to pick us up. It was a tight fit, but we got everything in and finally we made it home about 9pm last night. All-in-all, it wasn't bad because the kids slept a lot, but it was very long!

Now for the general advice:


Whether your baby is born here or in your home country, you should find out the procedure and timeframe for getting all the documents your baby needs to travel and be a citizen. Even if you are married to a Korean and your baby will be a Korean citizen, you need to make sure that baby can travel so you can go back to your home country to visit your family. You don't need to have immediate travel plans to get these documents as soon as possible. You may not be able to accomplish much of anything beyond baby care for a few months, so if you don't make it a priority, time will pass and then you might forget and then have to scramble when you want to travel.

What to Pack/Carry On
Like all my advice, this section starts with,"It depends." As I wrote on my original blog piece, you can't travel light with a baby, so you have to try to travel smart. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you make smarter decisions:

Do we really need this during the trip?

To answer this question, ask yourself: Where are we going? How long will we be gone? Will I be traveling alone or will I have help? (You can request help from the airline, but you should still prepare to be able to handle things yourself) How old are my children? What do their personalities tell me about how they will react?

*Laptops, jewelry and other electronics need to be carried-on to prevent theft or damage. With all the baby stuff you will need to carry on, do you really need your electronics and jewelry? I had a big camera bag and my laptop. I was going to be in the US for months and there was no computer at my parents' house. They have work laptops, but nothing I could use whenever I wanted to use a computer. I determined that I needed my electronics and big camera (digital SLR).

*Clothing: If you have easy access to laundry (like at your parents' house), pack fewer clothes, especially for yourself. However, you need to bring layers to account for the temperature changes on the plane and you need to bring a change of clothes on the plane in case of an explosive diaper. For toddlers, I like the second outfit to be pajamas. You can put them on when it is time to go to bed to help them get in the mood to sleep and use them as a spare outfit if they have an accident.

*As for toys, don't bring a lot. If you are going home to see family, they will most likely give the children gifts. If you are going on a tour, there won't be a lot of time to play with toys. Bring light things like paperback books, two little cars, a note book and crayons, stickers, etc. for the plane ride and leave most everything else at home. If there is a special doll or stuffed animal or security blanket, bring it. Even for us, I mailed some of Ian's toys and brought some in the suitcase, but I really could have left everything because between what my mom had at her house leftover from my brothers and what Ian received as gifts, he didn't need anything, even for such a long stay. He did use the toys I sent/brought, but he didn't need them. Some people swear by dvd players. I don't have one, but if your toddler has favorites, you might want to bring one if you have room. If you are in Business Class and above, you'll have your own screen and will be able to choose movies, however, Economy Plus and Economy, it varies by flight and airline. Every time I fly, even on the same airline, it is different. Sometimes we have individual screens and sometimes we don't. Don't count on it.

*Carseat: This depends on the age and personality of your child and where you are going. In general, if your child can walk, you are better off checking the carseat on a long flight because the child won't sit in it and you'll appreciate the extra room. On a short flight with no transfers, you might be better off carrying it on to avoid it being handled by the airline (can get dirty or beat up). If you are going to see family and there is one you can borrow, then maybe leave yours at home and borrow one for the trip. For an infant, I still prefer to check it, but I hold my baby all the time anyway. I would rather have the room than be able to put her in a carseat.

*Strollers: Gate check your stroller. I like to carry my baby and push carry-ons on the stroller. Or now, with Ian being too heavy to carry for long distances and too young to be expected to walk quickly for long distances during a grueling trip, I like to push him in the stroller. In the future, I will bring my Volo (ultra lightweight umbrella stroller) to push Ian and I will just carry Eva. When I just had Ian, I brought my Inglesina Zippy so I could push the luggage or the infant carseat through the airport and then I gate-checked both. If you are bring a stroller, gate-checking is a good idea because it lessens the dirt and damage to your stroller.

*Snacks/Drinks: There are liquid restrictions, but I was able to get some juice boxes through security. Even prepared formula and pumped breastmilk have some restrictions on how they much be packaged to bring them on. Double check with the airline before you fly so you can comply. If you are going through the US, Europe, Japan, they are very strict. Other countries, like Egypt were not. I brought a few juice boxes and then an empty sippy bottle for Ian.

As for snacks, bring lots. Small bags of M&Ms will provide portion control, but go a long way in occupying a toddler. Don't worry about toddler nutrition when flying, bring things that they like and are snackable. We brought like bags of candy, cheddar bunny crackers, raisins and granola bars. Kids don't like to wait to eat. It is expensive to buy things at the airport. Snacks will keep them in the seating area.

*Diapers: Bring twice the maximum amount of diapers you could possibly need for the trip. They do not sell diapers at airports. Most likely, unless your baby gets diarrhea during the trip or you get stuck in an airport overnight due to weather delays or political uprising (like Thailand last year), you will have plenty of diapers leftover so that you can last until at least the next day before you have to go out and get more. Now, I do cloth diaper at home, but not on trips. The diapers take up too much room and who wants to spend vacation doing diapers? I did bring them to the US for this recent trip because I was there for so long, but if I had to do it over again, I would have left them at home. Washing them wasn't a problem because I had free laundry at my parents' house, but they take up a lot of room. I just hate to pay for diapers, but truthfully, it was easier for Ian's school to use dispoables when he was at there and then with all the side trips to Pittsburgh for appointments and other places to see other relatives, I ended up using a lot of disposables.

*Medicines: Carry on several days worth of daily prescription meds in case you get stuck in an airport due to weather, etc. and bring a few of whatever you are likely to need like a pain reliever and an antacid. Bring all medicines that baby could possibly need: baby tylenol for fevers/teething pain, anti-gas drops, ear analgesic for ear pain, teething tablets for teething pain, saline nose spray for stuffy noses, bulb syringe if baby needs to be suctioned regularly. I didn't need any of this stuff, but I was glad to have it. Again, liquids must be in a quart-sized ziplock bag to get through security.

*Blanket- the airlines have blankets, but they aren't the warmest or cleanest. Even in the summer, it can get cold on a plane. I like to bring a blanket that is big enough to cover me as well.

Optional items:
Diaper/wipes case click the link for the review
Go Go Kidz Travelmate: It turns any carseat into a wheelable item with a retractable handle. This is good for carseats that are bigger than the infant carrier models because they are too heavy to carry and don't fit in a stroller.
Cases for carseat/stroller: They protect the carseat/stroller from dirt and damage. The airline sometimes puts a plastic bag over them, but it is usually ripped when you get them back. The bags are definitely worth it for frequent travelers.
Back pack kid leash: Good for toddlers in the airport during layovers so you can kept track of them in a busy airport but let them explore. My son went limp and wouldn't hold my hand so this really helped to give him some freedom but keep him safe. ( I brought it on this trip, but he is 2.5 now and II didn't need it.) However, it doesn't work if you really have to go somewhere quickly. You are better off using a stroller. If you buy something like this, don't spend a lot of money because they are of limited use to most people.

That is all I can think of for now. If you have any other helpful travel products or travel advice, please comment!


Cher@Surviving Korea said...

i like this post a lot, i'm planning to go home for christmas....i definitely had good ideas from this post

tidepoolsjewelry said...

Thank you for all the tips. I will be traveling to Seoul from Hawaii with a 1-1/2 year old in October. I was not planning on bringing a car seat for her. Is it necessary to bring it, for riding on taxis/cars?
We will stay in the main city areas and plan to travel mostly by taxi/subway/bus.
Looking forward to hearing your advise. Thank you. Christie

Sarah Dai said...

Hi! I'm planning to go to Seoul with my 2 year old toddler this summer (he'll be around 26-27 months old). Any tips? How did you travel from the airport to Seoul? Did you take a bus or did you ride in a taxi? On the bus (from the airport to Seoul), did you use a convertible car seat? Will taxis allow you to have a toddler even without a car seat? Please respond if you can. Thank you!

Mama Seoul said...

Hi Sarah, I left Seoul almost 5 years ago so I don't remember about the public transport options from the airport, especially since I didn't use them (I had friends/colleagues pick me up). However, I can tell you Koreans do not care about care seats, especially in taxis. In fact, a lot of taxis have seat covers that block the seat belts in the back so you can't even install the carseat.I would bring the car seat with the GoGoBabyz Travelmate which makes it a wheeled like a stroller. This makes it easy to take through the airport and also transport it. Though it is more expensive than the straps you can get and add to a wheeled bag, it is much sturdier. You can't install the carseat on the bus because there are no seatbelts.

Olivia Princess said...

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sisiongo1 said...

Anybody can tell where to buy a simple light umbrella stroller in Seoul. Mokdong or heong dae area. I left mine at the taxi trunk.
Thank you