In the best of times, PCSing is chaotic, exciting, busy and, let’s face it, exhausting. But this time you have an infant and you are moving overseas. That was me last summer. I gave birth to my son in the sweltering July heat in Boeblingen, Germany and three weeks later I herded my husband, baby, two cats and three carry-on items for other people on to a plane for an eight-hour flight. There were many things that I wish I had known before the move that would have made it easier, less daunting and even – dare I say it? – fun. So grab a refreshing beverage, prop up your (swollen?) feet, read these tips and prepare for your best PCS to date!
1. PACK OUT YOUR HOUSE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
One of the best decisions my husband and I made was to pack out our house two months early. We worked with the housing office to secure temporary quarters on base. Often there are vacancies in on-base housing and, so long as there is not a waitlist and the move is at no cost to the government, the housing office can approve short-term use of quarters. Once we had temporary quarters secured, we packed out our house which turned out to be very wise. First, by the time I was eight months pregnant, I was already pretty useless in monitoring the packers – and this would not have improved with time. Second, it is far easier to pack out without a newborn. Third, if you pack out early enough, your things should be at your destination by the time you arrive which will make settling in a breeze.
2. GET A DIRECT FLIGHT
Get a direct flight so that you only have to get settled on to one plane and, perhaps more importantly, you are not trying to wrangle your baby, carry-on bags, car seat, stroller and various other accoutrements through a busy airport as you rush to your next gate.
3. TIME YOUR FLIGHTS AROUND BABY’S NAPS
If your infant is old enough to have developed a nap schedule, plan your flights around baby’s nap. My son is a champion flier; at 11 months old he has already been on nine flights and everyone always comments on how great he is. My secret (well one of them) is a well-timed flight. I always choose a flight which takes off around the time my son would normally go down for a nap. This way, he falls asleep at the start of the flight. If your infant is too little to have developed a nap schedule, have no fear! Infants sleep so much that I guarantee your wee one will be lulled into dreamland by the abundant white noise.
4. GET THEM THEIR OWN SEAT
Yes, I know. Children under two can sit on the lap of their parents, but this is a reimbursable expense, so get them a seat. You are going to need to sleep on your long flight and the last thing you will want to do is sit up holding your baby in sheer terror that you will fall asleep and accidentally drop him on his head. Get him a seat so you can lay him down.
5. USE YOUR CAR SEAT ON THE PLANE
If you have purchased a seat for your baby, bring his car seat on to the plane. Some flights offer one seat in front where a bassinet can be snapped into the bulkhead. While this option does allow you to safely set baby down, I personally do not recommend using it because it is hard to shield baby from light and air in the bassinet. If you use your car seat though, you can use the sun shade to block some of the light and drape a nursing cover or a pashmina over the front to block the rest.
6. PACK A CHANGE OF CLOTHES
Pack a change of clothes for all travelers. Everyone thinks to pack an extra infant outfit or three. After all, babies go through a LOT of clothing in a day. But the often overlooked achievement is packing an extra T-shirt for each adult traveler in case baby uses your clothing as a spit-up rag or diaper (knowing nod).
7. GET A GOOD, ROLLING CARRY-ON BAG
A good, rolling carry-on bag will help contain all of the extra stuff you must now travel with. I like the ones with four wheels so I can move it easily while juggling the baby. Items to ensure you have in this bag include: diapers, wipes, a nursing cover or long pashmina, toys and snacks if your infant is old enough, a baby blanket, warm clothes, a bottle and a pacifier. Now, I know not everyone supports the use of bottles or pacis, but I find they are a must on flights. My son does breastfeed, but it was nearly impossible for him to get a good latch on those tiny airplane seats, particularly in his first six weeks of life. Bottles are much easier to use; just pop it or the paci in baby’s mouth as the plane takes off and lands to help him clear his ears.
8. BRING A SLING
A baby carrier allows you to safely hold your wee one while you maneuver on to the plane, stow your carry-ons and get everything you need arranged in your seat-back pocket. It also is quite handy when using the restroom onboard when you have no one else to watch your baby.
9. RELAX AND HAVE FUN
Yes! I said it. Relax and have fun! You CAN do this. With a little extra planning on your part, PCSing overseas with a baby can be your best, most exciting PCS yet.