This past April, we embarked on a beautiful journey to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where my in-laws live, to attend a family wedding, as well as perform Umrah. Ridha was 2 years old and Rabab was 9 months, so not exactly a toddler yet. We have travelled with my eldest before to Karbala, Iraq as well as Saudi Arabia, but we have never done such a long journey with two little ones. Luckily, our California trip was just a month prior, and so we were able to get some practice. But then again, that was Cali and this is the Ka’aba. Here’s a closer look at this wonderful family trip to the holiest sites. Enjoy 🙂
Flying with the two little ones was not too bad, especially since we had some experience in the past. Booking a night flight is the way to go for us, the kids just sleep through most of the flight. We always try our best to get to the airport early so that we can request a baby bassinet seat, this time we got lucky both ways. Our airline was Saudi Airlines, which is my favorite because A. It’s non-stop to Jeddah, B. They have good food C. Most of the times we flew, we got plenty of empty seats and this time was no different. A good, comfortable flight is a great start to a long journey.
When packing for the trip, I always try to pack enough of what I’ll need without overpacking because carrying a heavy baby bag is a pain. We took one baby bag, our double stroller and a small carry-on bag with our stuff. I always keep soft blankets, one for each child because the airplane can get cool. And I try to keep extra milk/water for formula. [There was one incident when I had asked for milk on a domestic flight, and they didn’t have any.] What I wasn’t prepared for was the heavy checking in the international flight. Each time I was pulled aside to do a thorough check (with hand swipes) in Security, of my baby bag and stroller. This wasn’t a problem, I completely understand, it’s just that it took extra time, and I couldn’t hold my children so my husband had to take care of both while I was patted down.
Once the flight was out of the way, the fun began…
I find that before beginning a spiritual journey, it’s always a good idea to read up and refresh yourself, like in this case How to perform Umrah. The distance between Jeddah and Makkah is about 65 miles, so it takes an hour and few minutes to reach there. We completed our Niyyat (intention) and Ehram which is a state of cleanliness that one must enter into in order to perform Umrah (pilgrimage). We wear all white clothing, and men wrap two pieces of white towels, so that we may enter the Holy City in the most simple and humble state.
It only took us about 3 hours to complete the actions of Umrah, but depending on the crowd and prayer times, that could change. When planning out our trip, we weren’t sure of how to perform Umrah with the two kids, since strollers are not permitted inside the perimeters of the Holy Ka’aba. So we ended up not bringing our stroller to Makkah, luckily we had extra hands thanks to family members.
Now I’ll briefly explain just a little bit of how we were able to perform some of the actions of Umrah. Firstly, we walk seven times around the Holy Ka’aba, which took about one hour to do. We had the option of taking turns while one of us sits with the kids, but my husband and I wanted both children to be present, so we carried them each in our arms. Because you are continuously moving, it isn’t so bad. We would switch kids in between a couple of times, because Ridha was twice the weight of Rabab. Second, we performed Safa and Marwa, which marks two hills and we walk back and forth seven times, this also took about one hour. What we decided to do here was myself and my mother in law sat on wheelchairs, with one child each. There is a separate wheelchair aisle, and young men wheel you seven times for a fixed rate. This made performing Safa and Marwa so easy and fast. My daughter Ridha who was in my lap enjoyed the “wheelchair ride”.
It truly was a blessing to be able to take my daughters to these holy places, in the city of Makkah and Medina. When walking down the steps into the haram of the Ka’aba, and casting my eyes upon it, the feeling is indescribable. And the beauty of the green dome in Masjid al Nabawi (Prophet’s Mosque) is breathtaking. I could just sit there and stare up at the ceiling of the mosque, in awe.
I pray that every one of you is given the opportunity to visit these places.
Thanks for reading 🙂
Some tips for traveling to Saudi Arabia & Holy sites:
- The restroom situation at these holy sites is not exactly child-friendly. If you need to change diapers, make sure to pack plenty of wipes. Sometimes it can be a challenge to wash your child when they have soiled their diaper, because there might not be a separate washing area. Most of the faucets are used for Wudhu (ablution), and women prefer that you not wash your child there. Pack plastic bags to store clothes in case they become dirty. (This has all happened to me.)
- Strollers are not permitted inside the haram of the Holy Ka’aba or Masjid al Nabawi. It is a risk if you leave it outside where shoes are kept, you may return to find that it’s gone. Although I did see some women wheeling the strollers in the designated wheelchair section. But there was some heavy traffic in that area, with tons of wheelchairs.
- Take inexpensive shoes that you are willing to lose. You are not permitted to take shoes inside these mosques, so you must leave them in shoe racks outside of the entrances. Many people will pack all shoes in plastic bags and store them that way. But I have lost more than one pair of flats, until I learned my lesson.
- Always remember the entrance you came through and decide upon a specific door/entrance to meet your party at along with a time. There are just too many people and it’s very, very easy to get lost or separated.
- Keep your kids with you at all times. I cannot tell you how many lost children I saw, crying, in different languages. My advice is not to let them out of your sight, no matter what age. Better to be safe in such crowded and large areas.