I had a dream last night that I was on a plane going down, down, down to the ground—then making an emergency landing last minute, saving the lives of all of us on board.
This dream wasn’t far from a reality I experienced years back. That’s a story for another post, but my dream and the reality of the emergency landing are relevant here too. When you fly as much as I do, I suppose those close calls will happen. But it scarred me for flying, and I now approach travel with a closely held trepidation that doesn’t let up until I touch down at my final destination.
So you can imagine how, this summer, spending 48 hours in airplanes and airports on a one-way trip wasn’t ideal for about 8,000 reasons.
Let me start the story with gratitude, because I’m about to detail some not-so-fun parts of our trip. I need to acknowledge the privilege of travel and how grateful I am to have had that trip back home. It was so needed after nearly four years away. I wouldn’t change a thing about our time there, and I’m so glad to have taken the month off to be with my family—and to have made the trip.
That said, the travel itself was . . . long. So let’s start the story where we began.
Leaving Boise, the city we love
Our trip started in my hometown of Boise, Idaho, where we’d spent the month of August enjoying the gorgeous Northwest summer and spending time with family and friends. We had a beautiful trip. And when it was time to leave, we said teary goodbyes to family and friends and boarded our first of four—yes, four—flights to Portugal.
The first leg took us to Seattle, where we had about an eight-hour layover. Fine enough. Unfortunately, because we had a connecting airline, we had to take all our bags out and recheck them, but they wouldn’t allow us to do so until four hours before our flight. So we camped outside of the USO lounge, where my kids struck up conversations with strangers, and we ate packaged food from the coffee shop downstairs. We hadn’t anticipated this detail and had expected to spend our time inside the airport, wandering around and in the lounge.
So we wandered the halls and talked and passed those four hours until it was time to fly. At the same time, flights were getting canceled left and right because of a storm on the East Coast. So we anxiously watched our flight, knowing that if that one got canceled, we’d have a heck of a time getting home.
Once we were able to check our bags, we were able to go to the lounge. If you travel at least once per year and don’t have a lounge pass, let me take a moment right now to change your life. We have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which includes access to both lounges and restaurants—without it, this entire experience would have been a different beast. I can’t recommend it highly enough for both solo travelers and families. I use mine multiple times per year.
Once safely into the Seattle airport, we still had another 3.5 hours before takeoff. We boarded the plane around 10:30 p.m. and headed to Cleveland, where local time was in the wee hours of the morning. There, we had a 14-hour layover. This was only flight two. We had two more flights to go at this point.
14 hours at the most exotic locale of all
Here’s the kicker to all of it: my youngest was sick. He was lethargic but generally in an OK mood, but all he—and all of us—wanted to do was sleep. We made our way into the lounge, found some big chairs toward the back near the window, and each of us parents took a kid in our laps. That’s where we slept for the next several hours while visitors took loud work calls and traveling companions laughed together and kids yelled and the cleaning crew cleared dishes. It was broken sleep, but it was sleep. My back was killing me from cradling my 10-year-old in my lap, half-sleeping upright and not being able to move for several hours.
After a few hours of broken rest, we ate. Here’s where the lounges saved us too: food. Not great food, but food. And coffee. Nourished, we went to explore the rich, exciting world of the Cleveland airport.
Kidding, of course. Cleveland is Cleveland. It was fine but not an ideal airport in which to spend 14 hours. Though the kids did make friends with a woman selling tech at a little shop—she ended up DJing Disney songs they requested on full blast—and with two women at the music shop who were way cooler than me on all levels and found my kids charming. When I saw their Little Golden Books collection of artists and asked for Taylor Swift, one of the women gave me a knowing smile. Of course I’d ask for Taylor Swift.
“Sold out,” she said. “It always goes right away. We can’t keep it in stock.”
We wandered, returned to the lounge, wandered some more. Finally, it was time to board our plane. Off to Dublin we went, travel weary but ready for the last two planes home. We had a seven-hour flight ahead of us. At least the layover wasn’t too bad in Dublin—just about three hours.
We were in a daze by the time we arrived in Dublin, and the kids, to their credit, were less of a mess than I’d expected. They did well on the flights—and my son, still sick, rested most of the time, either sleeping or staring silently at his screen. By comparison, the flight out had required a lot of active parenting to keep him happy—but this time, his illness proved a parenting companion. He didn’t seem seriously ill, just a normal kid bug, and I cuddled him as we flew.
Finally, we arrived in Dublin. I was delirious at this point, having slept in spurts and stops now for more than a day. We exited the plane and made our way to the terminal, and to the international lounge, which was comfortable and had the best food of all the lounges we’d been to, both to and from the United States. Not to be repetitive, but these lounges saved our sanity. We ate, rested, coffeed, and sat in comfortable chairs. The best part is that you don’t have to listen to the terrible overhead announcements for hours upon end. Heaven.
My son was still unwell at this point—and honestly, all of us were a wreck. My daughter wasn’t hungry—I think she was too mixed up from time zones. We had to force ourselves to eat.
Finally, it was time for our last flight. Portugal! We were thrilled to finally board our last flight. About three hours later, we were home. Home! We had a car waiting for us to take us the hour-long trip home.
Oooh-wee, the time zone change
But the trip didn’t end there. All of us—all four of us—got sick, one by one. I don’t know if we got what my son had or if it was jet lag or both, but I was o-u-t for a solid two days, then needed another couple of weeks to fully recover. I crashed the first night home, but the next night, I laid awake in bed for six straight hours, trying desperately to go to sleep. My sleep schedule was off for weeks. But as a mom, the universe said, “too bad, so sad,” because I had to go straight into back-to-school prep.
Did I mention we poorly timed our travel, and the kids started school one week after we got back? Lesson learned.
So we trudged through school supply shopping and uniform pickup and getting back into work after a month away. And we made it!
Would I do it again? The trip, absolutely. The time back home was precious, and we made core memories during our summer in America. But next time, maybe a few less flights.
Have you ever spent this long in airports? What’s a trip you won’t forget? Share with me in the comments—I read and reply to each comment and love hearing from you!