In case you missed it, we’re spending almost 7 weeks traveling New Zealand in a motorhome. For all of the posts from the trip in order, look here.
The flight from LAX to Auckland was going to take about 13 hours, making it by far Xander’s longest flight to date. It was scheduled to leave at 9:30 pm and arrive at 5 am local time, so I had high hopes that he would sleep most of the time and not be too jet lagged. We hadn’t had any issues with the half-dozen or so flights we had flown with him already, so I wasn’t particularly stressed going into our first long haul.
Packing for a 7 week trip on another continent where it’s winter during your summer is a tall task, but when you’re taking a baby along, it feels a little overwhelming. Add to that the fact that we were going to be living out of a motorhome for 6 of those weeks and suddenly space was a limiting factor as well. We started planning weeks in advance and covered most of the house in stuff to pack about a week before our departure to make sure we had everything. I’ve never packed that strategically before, but it paid off. We felt creepily relaxed and well prepared as we left for the airport on time (carrying way more shit than we’ve ever taken on a trip before!). We joked to one another that something was definitely going to go wrong because so far it felt way too easy.
It didn’t take long for our prediction to come true. We got to the check-in desk for Air New Zealand and were informed that although Xander was included in our reservation, he hadn’t been issued an Air New Zealand ticket number, so we couldn’t do anything until we purchased him a ticket. I attempted to no avail to explain that we had booked through United and that he was definitely included in the reservation, but somehow United had screwed it up and hadn’t issued him a ticket despite sending us a confirmation that included him on it.
Thankfully, we were early, but after spending almost an hour on the phone with United, we were starting to get stressed. It took so long to work through that I had to breastfeed Xander while standing at the ticket counter. I’m really glad feeding him in public doesn’t intimidate me anymore. It helps when your 6’ 5” bearded husband is standing next to you preventing anyone from so much as looking at you judgmentally. United told me they were going to have to put us on a different flight because they didn’t have time to fix it (which would have meant losing the bulkhead seats I had secured months before), so we told them to piss off, and Kris found a work around on the phone with Air New Zealand. We checked our bags, made it through security, and got to the gate just in time to change a poopy diaper before boarding.
We knew we had the bulkhead row, but were delighted to discover that the check in desk agent had taken pity on us after witnessing our struggles with United, and had called ahead to have them leave the other seat in our row open. We had the row to ourselves with an empty seat between us. I was less pleased that the family next to us all seemed to be carrying the fucking plague. Typhoid Mary and her husband, Bubonic Bill, had brought their three germ infested children aboard the flight, and all five of them coughed the entire fucking time. Sick adults on a flight are terrible, but sick kids and babies are worse because they don’t cover their mouths when they cough. I was twitching within minutes, but there wasn’t really anything we could do except hope for the best.
Besides that, the flight was fantastic. Xander stayed awake for the first few hours, which let us take turns eating our dinner. Then he fell asleep on my lap (brought the nursing pillow along) and slept for most of the rest of the flight. The people behind us woke him up a few times, so he cried indignantly for a minute or so before settling again, but aside from that was pretty easy.
I’ve decided a long haul flight with a baby really isn’t that bad. Pick thirteen hours that you’re at home with your baby, and now pretend that you’re confined to a semi comfortable chair in your house except when you need to go to the bathroom. Doesn’t sound like a party, but doable, right? If you’re a breastfeeding mama, it probably sounds a bit like how you spent those first few months. Here’s the bonus: people bring you meals and beverages, and you don’t have to walk the dogs or do housework! Seriously, aside from being peopley (plague!), flying with a baby isn’t bad (I may revise this feeling about flying with a toddler). If anything, the flight felt shorter because I was focused on Xander instead of binge watching an entire season of a TV show. I didn’t sleep much, but when I did, I was lucky enough that my husband was awake to take this charming picture…
Kris got some decent sleep and I managed an hour or so. Again, to pre baby me, getting through a full travel day on an hour of sleep would sound like hell, but I’m a new parent…I’ve been training for this shit for 9 months!
I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to comment on the exceptional staff at Air New Zealand. We’ve flown a lot, and the bar for best flight crew had been set extremely high on a long haul flight to Dubai a few years ago. The service was different this time (less professional, more personable) from Emirates, but I think it may have been the best I’ve experienced. Every member of the flight crew was genuinely kind and helpful. One of them, a new mama herself, took Xander and walked him around to see all of the buttons in the galley to give us a break. They served us our meals at different times so one of us could eat while the other entertained the baby. Hell, they even offered us wine with breakfast. They were outstanding.
The exceptional service continued off the plane. We grabbed our bags and made it through passport control efficiently. At 9 months old, Xander got his first stamp in his passport!
Customs was a breeze. A kind employee directed us to the expedited line when Xander smiled at her, so we got to skip the hour or so standard line and keep moving. We decided to declare the fruit bars we had brought for Xander instead of tossing them (New Zealand has strict laws about bringing food or animal products into the country), but they let us keep them. We got in a long line to recheck our bags for our domestic connection to Christchurch, but another kind employee saw that we were checking a car seat and walked us across the terminal to a special bag check for fragile items which had no line.
It took about a 10 minute walk outside to get from the international terminal to the domestic terminal. We could have taken a bus, but were excited to stretch our legs and get our first feel of the crisp winter air. The sun was just beginning to rise. It felt like a promising beginning to the trip.
We had a long enough layover that we had time to get a local sim card (make sure your phone is unlocked before you leave if you want to do this), call our banks to let them know we were abroad (rookie mistake not to do it before we left—I blame the baby!), eat some breakfast, get back through security in the domestic terminal, and hop on our next plane.
We didn’t have the row to ourselves this time, but were seated next to a lovely ER doctor from Christchurch who reminded me a great deal of my godmother, Sue. She initially asked to change to an empty seat in a different row (I suspect to escape being next to a baby), but Xander charmed her, and we started chatting, so she chose to stay. She gave us some great tips as a local and offered to let us have an old stroller of hers, shower at her house, or borrow a pair of bikes if we wanted. We weren’t going to be in Christchurch long, so we declined her generous offers, but were happy to have her cell phone number. An ER doc seems like a good local number to have when traveling with a baby.
We landed in Chch after a quick flight, and made our way to baggage claim. Kris collected our bags one at a time from the conveyor until we had everything except my backback—you know, the one with all of my clothes and Xander’s clothes in it. We waited and waited until it became obvious it wasn’t coming out. The dreaded lost bag! I should’ve known it was coming. I was overdue for a lost bag. The last time it happened, I was backpacking in Europe with Sarah, and we arrived in Venice from Athens to discover our bags hadn’t made it on the plane. Our bags didn’t catch up with us until we got to Rome, and by then we had been wearing the same clothes for about 4 days with no deodorant because we were broke college students. I learned an important lesson on that trip…don’t let your missing bag spoil any of your time. The bag will almost certainly catch up with you, but time wasted worrying about it can’t be recovered. They ended up dropping it off at our campsite that evening after we had gone to bed, so I had it the next morning.
We left the airport and picked up our motorhome from Maui. It was more spacious inside than I expected it to be, even filled with our traveling circus of bags that we hadn’t had time to unpack yet. We spent the night in Christchurch, and the next morning headed to Lake Tekapo. My post about that part of the adventure can be found here: Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki