After 4 years of cross country flights during college and 5 years of long distance relationship traveling, my husband and I long ago stopped checking luggage when traveling. For our trip to Japan, we meticulously calculated what we would need for two adults and one not-quite five year old and ended up with this:
18,000 miles, 11 days, 2 adults, 1 child, 0 checked bags. Pack light or stay home.
In addition to those three items of luggage, my husband and my son each had a personal item, a backpack. The grey bag pictured in front was my personal item for the flights and we also had a separate camera bag, which we carried along with us.
Although I was initially skeptical about not checking luggage when traveling with children, I have not only come around to it, but have concluded that it is the only way to travel when possible. Not only do you save yourself the extra hassle of juggling small, fussy children and the baggage claim wait time, but you also free up as much hand real estate as possible. When you only have two adults traveling, extra hands are key! When my oldest was a toddler, we frequently traveled only with enough diapers and wipes to get us to our destination and then purchased all disposable items and supplies on the other end. We co-slept and, when traveling for more than a few days, favored renting vacation homes through airbnb/homeaway/vrbo so that we would have easy access to laundry. But, I digress.
When planning our trip to Japan, we took into consideration the weather and the most versatile clothing we could pack. Luckily, since it was Spring, we knew that light layers and one medium weight coat/rain jacket would be sufficient. We also knew that good walking shoes were a definite must. For clothing, we each packed 3-4 outfits/changes of clothes and planned to do laundry as we traveled. We are both fans of what we affectionately call “high tech underwear” – a combination of polyester/nylon/spandex that is lightweight, packs small, and most importantly, dries quickly so clothing can be washed and dried by ourselves in the hotel. Examples include Rei Co-op Boxer Briefs and ExOfficio Women Briefs. To do our laundry in the hotel, we bring along single packs of Woolite detergent and we also travel with a travel clothesline so we can hang dry clothing in the hotel shower. We also each own actual clothing in a similar quick dry material and typically bring one “dressier” outfit for fine dining. If you know me, you also know that I do not travel anywhere without a pair of flip flops, so those are also always tucked into our luggage somewhere.
With our clothes and personal items tucked into our luggage, our walking shoes on our feet, and our lightweight jackets on our backs, we set off for the first leg of our flight to Munich.
Munich & Seoul:
We called a taxi for our flight to Munich out of Dulles airport. Although a car seat is not legally required in for-hire car rides in Virginia, this was the first time I ever had my son ride in a taxi without a car seat since we would not be using one during our time in Japan. To make myself feel slightly better about the situation, my husband and I rode with my son in between us in the backseat and we made sure to buckle him up securely. Luckily, we arrived at the airport without incident and, having already checked in online and with no bags to check, made our way to the Lufthansa business class lounge, where we filled up with snacks and champagne (for the adults) before boarding the first leg of our flight to Munich. This was my son’s first time flying business class, but being only four, he did not seem to notice that this was a much different “staging” area that any of our previous flights. He did enjoy the free wifi and abundant snackage, however.
Our flight to Munich was uneventful and upon clearing customs, we found our rental car company booth. Unlike in many airports in the US where you have to board a shuttle to get to your rental car lot, we were able to just walk across a courtyard from the main terminal to the rental car terminal, where we located Avis and checked out our car – a lovely Audi, equipped with our pre-reserved booster seat. As I waited with my son, however, we spotted numerous cigarette vending machines sprinkled throughout the airport – a quick and easy reminder that we weren’t in Kansas anymore!
From the airport, we quickly checked into our hotel, before heading to downtown Munich to explore. We found a convenient parking spot at a parking garage in the Munich City Center and then just wandered around for a few hours, taking in the sights, before stopping for a light snack at the Augistiner Beer Hall of – you guessed it, sausage and beer.
After our snack, we continued walking and overall, it was a nice, enjoyable way to kill a few hours and stretch our legs after a long flight. We came across a number of relatively deserted courtyards where my son could run around and, although there were tons of tourists and others walking around, at no time did I worry about losing my son in the crowd. The service at the Augistiner was perfectly fine, the weather was lovely, and we decided to head back to the hotel just as it was getting dark. On the way back, we decided to take the Autobahn and loved that the speed limit adjusted down as the weather started sprinkling and then went back up when the showers stopped.
Once back at the hotel, we decided to have dinner at the hotel restaurant, which offered up traditional German fare that was incredibly satisfying, as was the continental breakfast at the hotel the next morning, which we filled up on before heading to the airport for the next leg of our trip to Seoul. Overall, we enjoyed our time in Munich. It was a great spot to stretch our legs and break up the long trip to Japan. It is a great place to travel with children – clean, generally English speaking, easy to get around. Although the streets were crowded, using a stroller to maneuver around would not be a problem. If we had more time in Munich (and if my son was older), I would have liked to have visited Dachau, which is only 45 minutes or so from Munich. Given our short 24 hour layover and the fact that my son was not quite 5 at the time, we decided to save the visit for a future trip.
The flight from Munich to Seoul was approximately 11 hours but, being in business class, we enjoyed the comfort of having enough space to stretch out, recline to sleep, and, of course, the ice cream sundaes for dessert. My son was such a rockstar traveler by that age that I basically let him watch whatever age appropriate movie he wanted to watch and took a nap myself – dozing in and out of consciousness throughout the duration of the flight.
After deplaning in Seoul, we had a 3.5 hour layover to stretch our legs. Happily, we found an indoor play gym, which we took advantage of. I wish more airports had this type of space for families traveling with young children! I don’t believe I have ever seen a play structure in an airport, except for the Birmingham Airport, of all places. Hopefully, as airports continue to expand and modernize, play structures or kid zones will become a standard offering, along with breastfeeding rooms and family restrooms.
Prior to having children, I always picked flights with the shortest layovers possible, in an effort to minimize time lost in transit. Although debatable, I am now partial to longer layovers with small children – I once chose a four hour layover in Seattle over a 2 hour layover during a solo trip with my then-18 month old from DC to Alaska! I prefer the long layover because it gives us time to stretch our legs, eat, and in the case of my 18 month old in Seattle, to take a quick 90 minute nap in his stroller. Our 3.5 hour layover in Seoul was the perfect opportunity to stretch and grab a quick snack before boarding the last leg of our trip – a 2 hour flight to Osaka.
Continue to Part II: The First 24 Hours in Japan
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