With any trip, there are unforeseen challenges that pop up. Our major challenge while moving from Japan to Germany was a mix-up with our visas that resulted in a long layover in the Istanbul airport. This post is the third in a four-part series in which I reflect on our recent move across the world.

In the first post, I explored the challenges we faced and the strategies we used leading up to our move. In the second post, I reviewed some tools we found useful while taking our long flight from Tokyo to Istanbul. In this post, I will dig into the time we spent in the Istanbul airport before finally making our way to Germany. This post is also available on Medium.

A Busy Airport

This was the most challenging part of our trip. Global travel with a toddler may include connecting flights. Our layover was only two hours, so it was supposed to be a pretty quick break before the second leg of our trip. However, a few things made this experience difficult.

First, due to COVID, we hadn’t been in any airports for a bit over a year. When we went through Haneda, it was in the evening, so it was pretty quiet. But, when we arrived at the Istanbul airport around 6am, it was anything but quiet. It was really uncomfortable being in such a bustling place.

Also, while most people were wearing masks, many people either had them under their noses or chins. After a year of being cooped up in our apartment to avoid crowds and COVID infection, I felt a mix of anger, frustration, and amazement that people were not complying with mask regulations in the airport.

Unfortunately, there was only one security gate open for transfers, so everyone was waiting to go through the queue. Lack of sleep, tons of people, mask shenanigans, and no social distancing. It was stressful.

Fortunately, we were able to get through with a little patience, and we found our gate for our next flight. The flight was a three-hour hop to Nuremberg. We grabbed a coffee and simit (highly recommend!) and made our way to the gate to board the flight.

Rejected

As we got ready to board the plane, the gate agents informed us that there was a mistake with our visa, so we wouldn’t be able to take the flight. The experience was sort of surreal, but we stood at the gate as they closed the doors and the plane took off.

Ok, so we’re in the Istanbul airport at 7 am with a sleepy toddler. We decided to reach out to our contacts in Germany to find a solution to the visa issue, and while my partner was off explaining the situation and trying to get some answers, I somehow managed to get our little travel companion to sleep. He got some much-needed rest while we mulled over what to do next.

During this time when we didn’t know what would happen next, it was really important to remind myself that we were okay. We were all together. We would just need to wait and try to figure out what to do next.

The Terminal Hotel

After running around the airport looking for answers, we learned that our visa issue wouldn’t be worked out until at least the next day or two. Instead of waiting at the gate, we got a room at the terminal hotel, Yotel (Airside).

I didn’t realize there were hotels in airport terminals past security, but I was very thankful to have the option of getting a room while we were waiting.

The hotel room was a very welcome respite from the busy airport terminal. We were able to relax and rest from our long flight while we waited for our visa issues to be worked out. In contrast to the hotel experience I described in the first post, we mostly stayed in the hotel room for the two days we were there.

The room was quiet and calm while the airport was bustling with people. It was challenging, but staying in the room most of the time seemed like the way to go since we were stuck inside the airport. Basically, because we didn’t have the necessary paperwork (visa and negative COVID test), we couldn’t leave the airport until we could take our flight to Germany. In pre-COVID times we could have explored Istanbul a bit, but that was not the case on this trip.

One saving grace was the Lego store. We decided to purchase a Lego set in the terminal, and it provided tons of fun while we were cooped up in the hotel room. There was also a channel for young children (Baby TV) in the hotel room, so we were able to put that on without worrying that our small travel companion would see anything inappropriate.

A toddler holds a Lego toy up to the camera.

Moving On

After two days in the airport hotel, it started to feel like we would be stuck there forever. My partner was able to connect with our contacts in Germany as well as the immigration officials there to work out the visa issue, and we left Istanbul (finally!) for Nuremberg.

When it comes down to it, the strategies we used while navigating this long layover experience were basically the same as the ones we had been using during other stressful times traveling with a toddler:

  • Be patient.
  • Be gentle.
  • Be kind.

This experience made me realize with glaring clarity how fortunate we are to be in a position to travel at all. And to be able to wait for our situation to be resolved in a hotel is really a blessing.

The stress of preparing to move, flying, and waiting for everything to work out comes in waves. Unexpected challenges will arise. By reminding yourself that whatever present situation in which you find yourself isn’t how things will be forever, you can hopefully take the experience one minute at a time until you’re moving on to the next exciting and stressful adventure.

Looking Ahead

In the last and final (for now) post in this series, I will review some considerations related to our arrival in Germany and living in a temporary apartment for about a month.

If you have experiences dealing with the stress of global travel with a toddler, I would love to connect here in the comments or on Instagram!