Traveling with an infant is... not easy. Travel really makes me rethink the whole "big family" deal I'm pushing for. Not seriously, but man, travel with an infant is expensive and stressful!
First step: plan. Second step: plan. Third step: plan. Fourth step: initiate. To put it briefly.
What I did? I made a list of all the arrangements that needed to be made and a second list of all the things I needed to pack... which led to a third list of all the things I needed to buy. Not only does this help my sanity, but it helped me ensure that nothing was forgotten.
So I began making calls about a month out from graduation. You are told to wait to make travel plans in case your soldier-in-training doesn't qualify for graduation. Typically about 20% of the class doesn't graduate. Our situation was that Matt's BCT graduation date was after his scheduled start date for OCS. Rut roh! So I didn't want to make flights arrangements until we were 210% sure that Matt was, in fact, graduating the week before Thanksgiving and not the week of Thanksgiving.
With the airlines, it really depends on the representative you work with on what kind of service you will receive. I was told that military rates were not available with one airline. I was also told that change fees if a flight needed to be changed would still apply, even for military scheduling; but this was with a different airline. In both of the above situations, I spoke with different representatives and was offered a discount with the first airline and my account was flagged to waive any and all change fees that may occur with the other. Why are some representatives more helpful than others? Especially when it involves military personnel? So my advice, just keep calling and maybe you'll receive one of the more helpful representatives for assistance.
So once I received confirmation that Matthew would, in fact, be graduating, I began making the phone calls. Booked my flights, booked a standby hotel, reserved a rental car. The idea of traveling with an infant is stressful... watching those reservations hit the credit card? Also stressful. We thought we would be saving money while Matthew was in BCT. Yeah, maybe we'll save money during OCS. Traveling semi-last minute around holiday season is not cheap. But seeing our soldier graduate? Priceless.
As we were planning on driving our soldier to OCS (you are permitted to drive your soldier to AIT/OCS if it is located east of the Mississippi) and as Thanksgiving was the next week, we didn't make return flight reservations. Yes, we planned on a rather high expense for that one. Sigh. I didn't even bother researching return flights as the availability and prices would change. That is another tip I suggest, don't look too much until you're ready to buy. When you are shopping for a plane ticket there will always be availability of some sort... but finding a great deal and not being able to jump on it isn't going to help when you end up paying more later. Another suggestion, utilize comparison webpages. My favorite, kayak.com.
So all the initial plans were made. Ten days prior to my arrival date I called the on post lodging office to see if there was availability. We reserved two rooms on post in addition to our rooms off post. We kept the off post hotel until the day of arrival as we had until 4 pm to cancel those rooms. You just never know when on post lodging will fill up! Fort Jackson had several lodging options and it was so nice being on post. It made for short trips for Family Day and Graduation, plus we were able to hang out in the hotel room for Family Day when our soldier had an on post pass. More on that later though. The flight was purchased, the hotel reservations and back up reservations made, the rental car reserved for the longest possible dates we would stay as we could always return it early, all the phone numbers for these reservations were saved to my contacts and the confirmation emails saved in my iphone inbox.
Made sure my flight has Jack as an infant-in-arms, made sure to have a copy of his birth certificate just in case it was needed (you never know with increased security measures nowadays), double and triple checked the dates on my reservations to make sure I didn't make any mistakes.
Then it was all about packing our bags to be as efficient as possible. Airlines are required to allow you to check a child's car seat. I bought a bag to protect the car seat during travel. I put some of Jack's blankets in that bag to save space. I had some goodies to take the Matthew (some snacks and items for him to take to OCS) so I had to make sure to make the most of my outfit choices. I laid out the items I definitely wanted to take and paired them with items that could be styled a couple different ways. In the event we stayed through the holiday that would be 13 days of travel. So I needed to pack for the possibility of 4-13 days. Real creative with the outfit planning. Stuffing items into shoes and putting underwear and undershirts between other clothes also saves space.
Unfortunately, I needed to take the diaper bag and a full carry on through the airport with baby and I. We are allowed a stroller to check at the gate. My diaper bag has backpack straps and a shoulder strap so I wore it as a backpack through the airport. I packed a shoulder bag with all the diapers for the trip (light weight) and extra clothes for Jack and I. I also packed the Moby Wrap in case Jack wanted to be carried as opposed to sitting in the stroller (let me tell you, it was a good thing I packed this!). I was able to sit Jack in the stroller and put the shoulder bag over the handles. If I carried Jack I could put the shoulder bag in the seat of the stroller. Generally people or attendants are willing to assist if it looks like a mother needs an extra set of hands. But packing with a plan is always helpful.
Now, traveling with an infant. Must haves: disposable diapers, disposable bibs, boogie wipes, hand sanitizer, nursing cover, and baby food pouches. Normally we use cloth diapers, but I didn't know if I would have access to a laundry machine or have the time for them to dry between washing. So, I bought some Pampers Swaddlers and Cruisers. I also bought a set (comes with 3) of plastic training pants to put over the diapers. I don't trust disposables too much- no elastic along the top to hold in the poopy! Disposable bibs. At first I packed some regular bibs, but figured there had to be disposable ones now. Sure enough, there they were... and they covered his whole front and had a fold over in the front to catch drips. Score. Boogie wipes- keeps his baby nose nice and clean and can be used to wipe his entire face. Nice for when there's no time for a bath, and gentler than a normal baby wipe. Hand sanitizer, always keep it on hand anyways. Nursing cover- I never got one because I used a swaddling blanket. But, not Jack likes to play with whatever is covering him. So something a little more sturdy was needed. Definitely wish I had purchased one when Jack was first born. Must have for public nursing. Baby food pouches. Whoever invented them are genius. Throw it away when you're done. Little mess. You can buy attachable spoons (which helps teach Jack manners, haha). Bonus: they are so yummy! I try everything I give to Jack and these are by far the best. I recommend Plum Organics.
So there we were. Ready to go. Waiting.