My family and I were stationed in Sicily for two and a half years. Finally, it was time for us to come back to the states. We had my wife and me, my 5-year old son, our two year old twins (born in Italy), and two dogs. Daunting as it was, we made it, and so can you. Follow these steps.
1. Know what your plan is. If you’re under PCS (permanent change of station) orders, your itinerary should be laid out by SATO. Hopefully, you’ve lined this up weeks & months in advance, gotten the required visas, and have everyone’s passports are. If not, stop reading, contact NAVPTO & follow their directions to the letter. For everyone else travelling on leisure, know what your priorities are, and be flexible in the case you get bumped (traveling Space ‘A,’ you can get bumped a lot), and know what your options are, if you get stuck in Brunswick Maine & are trying to get to Maryland (this actually happened to us). One tip for layovers—make sure you have at least 2 hours between flights, and get to the airport at least 2 hours before departure.
2. Make sure you’re prepared. In addition to the above paperwork, it is good to have photo copies of all your documents, to include current orders, leave papers, ID cards, driver’s licenses, passports, visas, prescriptions, documentation of existing medical conditions, vet records or other items which you think may come up. Each situation is slightly different, but if you have a family member with asthma, you probably know that you need to bring asthma-related documentation, such as prescriptions, alert tags, etc. If you have these documents, carry them with you & make copies of everything that will go into your packed luggage. Also, if you bring pets, make sure you know about the traveling requirements & fees, and follow that guidance.
3. Bring a set of clothing in your carry-on. In fact, if possible, travel so that you don’t have to check any luggage. I had a friend tell me once that Alitalia translates into “Where’s my luggage?” I don’t doubt it. When I travel by myself, I always bring what I need in my carry-on. When I travel with my entourage (kids & dogs), I at least bring a change of clothes and some toiletries. Our trip from Italy to DC, we gave our son his on bag to carry. Then we proceeded to put everyone’s toys, his clothes, and the twins’ clothes in it. He thought it was cool.
4. In case you just need to bring everything (we had 14 pieces of checked luggage on our PCS move, including our dogs), you might encounter some resistance. But, you’d be surprised. If you’re the dad, play the sympathy card. When the Italian check-in clerk sees a stressed out mother yelling at her kids, and dad carrying 5 cases of luggage to be checked in, with a line of about 25 people behind them, she’ll cut some corners (and some slack) to get the “problem family” out of the way. Take advantage of this. (BTW, we paid nothing for everything we checked onboard, which included 3 child seats & 2 pieces of luggage for each person). We also carried about 8 items on the plane.
5. You’re on the plane. After bumping & jostling everyone, you’re finally in your seats. Except your seat is about 5 rows from your wife’s, who is about 3 rows from the kids. Don’t worry and adopt the “it takes a village approach.” Eventually, people will feel sorry for you (or get so tired of having to put up with your kids) that they’ll move and let you get acquainted. If not, they’ll be in for a long flight and you can relax (although your wife won’t).
6. Once you’re all together, hopefully you have toys, movies, and Benadryl. All for the kids. One family we traveled with had it down so pat that the mother lined her kids up (five, I believe) and issued them out to each person. She didn’t have a problem on that flight. It works.
7. Between gates, move to the destination gate as quickly & efficiently as possible. You might have to check-in again, especially if you’re changing airlines. Don’t take anything for granted until you have your new boarding pass. Repeat the above steps for every subsequent flight.
8. You’ve finally landed. Hopefully, you don’t have to get luggage. If you do, there are probably luggage handlers waiting to help you out. If you’re in New York or DC, take full advantage of them. If you’re in Nigeria, don’t. When in doubt, revisit the reason you brought so much stuff with you and figure out what you can least afford for someone to run off with. Allow them to help you with the least important stuff (clothes, mom’s hair dryer, makeup bag, etc.). Do not let them handle your carry on stuff, especially if that’s where you put your important documents & other things (laptop, DVD player, etc.). Or, you can circumvent that & have your family meet you there, but that’s a whole different can of worms. Get an airport shuttle (or hitch a ride with the in-laws), and enjoy the rest of your trip.
Hopefully, this will get you & your family through the tight spots of travelling internationally.