Friday, November 30, 2012

Baby's First Flight

We're headed to Maui again on Sunday (weather permitting), so for this week's Flashback Friday I thought it would be fun share the story of Baby's first trip there in May and his first time ever flying on the airplane. Traveling with kiddos- a topic you may have noticed I've been avoiding. It's a tricky subject and something people can get very opinionated about. Don't believe me? Check out one of the numerous threads on FlyerTalk or if you dare, start one of your own asking whether or not you should bring your newborn, infant, toddler, or even teenager along in a premium cabin on an aircraft...go ahead, I dare you! Don't like unsolicited parenting advice and being judged? Yeah, neither do I, but that's pretty much what you sign up for when you decide to travel with children, and EVERYONE has an opinion on the matter.

Anyway, here it goes...this is our story. I'm not going to tell you what you should and shouldn't do when it comes to traveling with baby and raising your kids, I'm simply sharing our experience and what's worked for us, so far. I offer my advice in an attempt to be helpful, nothing more, so take it or leave it. There are good parents out there, and there are bad ones, then there's the rest of us who are just trying to get by, having really no idea what we signed up for, but somehow, someway, figuring it all out as we go along.

Baby's First Flight SMF-SFO


Tickets and Seat Assignments
At the time my husband and I were both Premier Golds with United and we prefer to travel in First Class, especially on domestic flights when it is free. We bought our no-status infant his own seat, so upgrades were one of the many things he was dependent on us to provide for him in his early young life. Knowing how companion upgrades work (or don't) on United we split the itinerary to better our chances- Adult 1 and baby on one record and Adult 2 on their own. For whatever reason United's system does not like upgrading groups of 3. Back in May, merger issues were still being figured out and among those issues were companions being automatically split upon check in. That happened to us, so instead of 2 records, we ended up with 3. My husband and I got upgraded to First Class, and the baby was left to fend for himself in Economy Plus.

First on the list
Ok, so obviously that's not how we left things. On our first flight it was a non-issue as there was no First Class on the United Express EMB-120 Brasilia but another issue arose when our infant carrier/rear facing car seat didn't quite fit on the small plane. We made it fit! We did not however leave the baby in it. You know that moment as a parent when you start out all idealistic and opinionated about things and then "stuff" happens and then all of a sudden you're like "whatever"...well, this was one of those moments. As a trained pilot, a seasoned frequent flier, and buy-baby-a-seat advocate I really didn't want to "lap-child" our son, but we didn't really have a choice. The weird angle at which we had to shove the infant carrier between the seats was beyond design specifications, therefore defeating it's purpose, so baby CJ's first flight was in his dad's arms. Luckily it was a short (and smooth) 45-minute trip from Sacramento to San Francisco.

My baby's first flight from San Francisco to Maui was in First Class. I had to wait until I was a teenager to enjoy that privilege; He was only 3 months old. Lucky guy! We installed his infant carrier in Row 6 next to the window and I sat in the aisle seat next to him. Dad sat in coach until after takeoff. Once we were at cruise altitude he joined us up front for a free meal and a Mai Tai, he held the baby, and we put the car seat in the closet that was conveniently located right next to us. I love the United 767. When nap time came, it was my turn to sit in coach. I hadn't been in the back of the bus on a flight to Hawaii in years, but this strange and unfamiliar place known as E+ wasn't bad at all. I watched part of a movie, read a magazine, and slept- all luxuries for any new mom.

On the return trip our itineraries were still a three-part mess, but a sympathetic gate agent helped us upgrade the baby. Again we found ourselves in Row 6 on a 767- those same seats next to the closet that no one else wanted. It turns out those are the best seats on the plane, especially if you are a nursing mom. No one in First Class wanted to switch with us and with the lone seat being on the other side of the cabin and a couple rows ahead, all three of us hung out there in the back for most of the flight.

Baby's First Time in Fight Class

CJ's first trip to LA brought him his first VDB (Voluntary Denied Boarding) opportunity, and after warming up to the idea of lap-childing once we did it SMF-SFO, I jumped at the opportunity to earn an easy $200. We sold the baby's seat. We also later applied for and received a refund for the unused portion of his ticket. Luckily, it was only a short 1 hour flight home; Three people crammed into two regional jet seats is not the way to go and something I wouldn't look forward to doing again, at least not for less than $293 ;).

The Gear
Traveling with kids equals traveling with stuff, lots of stuff. Our above referenced infant carrier/car seat was part of a Graco Quattro Tour Sport travel system. I'm not sure if our exact model (pictured above) is still in production, but Graco as well as other manufacturers offer many similar designs. There is a base that gets installed in the car, the infant carrier snaps into that, snaps into the stroller, and can also be used on it's own as a car seat without the base. The carrier/seat comes with you on the airplane, the stroller gets gate-checked (get your tags from the gate agent prior to boarding to avoid being a nuisance to other passengers) and the whole set-up is quick, easy and truly the way to go until your child grows out of it (which happened to us at around 6 months). We still use the stroller portion because of its very generous storage capacity and it has held up surprisingly well after numerous trips to the beach and miles and miles of long neighborhood walks pre-jogging-stroller-investment.

Next there is the diaper bag stocked with plenty of diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, pacifiers (you can never have too many), special wipes for the pacifiers in case they get "compromised", any medications you use to comfort and/or sedate your child, a blanket, and perhaps a small toy. At this age our little guy was more into people and faces than he was his toys, but if your child has a special stuffed animal or comfort item, it would be appropriate to bring that along. It turns out that contrary to popular belief, really young children don't really need that much to stay entertained, they're usually happy just to be with you, so enjoy your pre-iPad, pre-gameboy, pre-kindle/nook/every-other-electronic-gadget-under-the-sun days and use the time for bonding.

Now for a little TMI. That other black bag in the family picture- a Medela Freestyle and included accessories. Highly recommend; a bit pricey but worth every cent!

TSA and Other Travel Related Issues
TSA was a non-issue for us despite traveling with ice packs and quantities of liquids over 3 ounces. I wasn't forced to drink my own breastmilk, no one touched my me or my baby, and I didn't even have to opt out of the nude-o-scan like a normally do; we got to go through the old-school metal detector. If your collapsed stroller doesn't fit through the x-ray they can hand inspect it and if you want to bring any liquids over 3 ounces just put them in a baby bottle. The screeners will put the sealed container in a special machine to make sure it isn't hazardous and you're good to go. The 3+ ounces in the baby bottle technique hasn't been tested with any clear varieties of adult beverages (I was nursing at the time), but the thought did cross my mind. It's probably not worth the risk though in case alcohol sets off their machine, but there is no reason you couldn't use a baby bottle to bring some extra water or even a non-alcoholic mixer of choice along for yourself. Hydration is important.

Breastfeeding. Being honest, it was the worst 6 months of my life. It's time consuming, messy, often painful, but it's what's best for baby and that's what we did, even while traveling. For CJ's dining pleasure we brought along plenty of milk from the freezer stash at home, but that sure didn't help me out very much. See when you're nursing, going for long stretches of time without "relief" hurts...bad. Luckily in SFO there is a special family "comfort" lounge next to the bathrooms in the central part of terminal 3 that my little black bag and I were able to visit. On the way home, there was a nursery in T5 at LAX (in the ladies room across from  the escalators serving the tunnel to/from T6). It's a long walk to there from the United gates, but we didn't even make it that far. You know those aforementioned moments as parents where you feel really strongly about something, but then "stuff" happens and you're like "ok whatever, f*** it"? Well another one of those moments came at 35,000 feet on the way home from Maui. The something I felt strongly about was breastfeeding in public and the "stuff" was the intense pain I experienced from being engorged. The pain won. My little black bag and I weren't about to visit a not-so-sterile airplane lavatory, so without anyone else noticing, I snuck the baby under a blanket and he got to enjoy a warm meal off of mommy in the privacy of row 6- those glorious 2 seats in the back of First Class next to the closet that no one else wanted (and probably still don't want after it's been revealed what goes on there). There were only two other times I breastfed my son in public and both were at LAX, the second worse airport in America for nursing moms. In case you were wondering, America's worst airport, not just for breastfeeding, but in general, is EWR.

"Don't bug me, I'm eating"
As for any crying, screaming, or other behavioral issues, so far we haven't had any. Maybe we're just lucky, but after 11 flights and almost 12,000 miles, I'm proud to say my little guy is yet to make a sound aside from a coo or a giggle while on board an aircraft. Our strategy is to offer a bottle or binky during takeoff and landing to help him equalize the pressure in his ears. Ear pain is a major reason why kids cry on airplanes, and after years of observation, it is amazing how many people don't know that. Our pediatrician gave us a prescription for some ear numbing drops; I'd never heard of them before, and while we've never had to use them (or any other drugs), they stay in the diaper bag just in case. Be sure to ask your doctor, and if your little once isn't such a great traveler and you are open to the idea, you may also want to consult with him/her about off-label usage of a certain popular antihistamine that encourages "sleepy" time. We try and stick to a schedule as much a possible while traveling and so far that approach has worked out well for us. Obviously travel disrupts the "routine" that babies seem to love so much, but we still try our best to offer meals around the same time we would at home and encourage naps whenever possible. While I wouldn't go as far to say "never, ever" wake a sleeping baby, it's usually best not to disrupt them, even for meals. If they're passed out, just leave them.

CJ's first time in the ocean at Baby Beach


All said and done, the hassle or slight inconvenience of traveling with children is well worth it in my opinion. The picture above is my son getting dunked in the water at the same beach where I learned how to swim. It is so special getting to share that. I made four trips to Hawaii before I was a year old and have been going back and forth ever since. Our trip on Sunday will be CJ's 3rd time to Maui and there's still time left before his first birthday if he wants to tie the record. I was lucky enough to grow up between two states, Hawaii being one of them, and I have fond childhood memories of swimming in the warm ocean, eating poke, drinking POG, playing in the sand, and long days spent at the beach while the rest of the country was covered in snow. I can't wait to share all those experiences and more with him as he continues to grow.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Enter to Win: 120,000 HawaiianMiles

Sorry I'm getting news of this one to you guys a little late, but Hawaiian Airlines is currently in the middle of running a 30-day long contest on facebook with a grand prize of 120,000 HawaiianMiles! They're celebrating the Van's Triple Crown of Surfing and between now and December 11th, you can enter daily to instantly win prizes from the following sponsors: Mauli Ola Foundation, Clif Bar, Skull Candy, Vitamin Water, Vans, and Wavejet. At the end of the contest there will be a grand prize drawing for 120,000 HawaiianMiles. That's more than enough miles for 2 people to visit Hawaii or even the South Pacific (Tahiti anyone?) and interisland awards start from just 7,500 miles (the complete award chart is here). Hawaiian also partners with ANA, Delta, Korean Air, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia if you'd rather use your miles on those airlines (for info on partner awards click here). Good luck and don't forget to enter daily!

Win 120,000 HawaiianMiles. Contest ends Dec. 11th


Enter to Win: 100,000 American Airlines AAdvantage Miles

Enter to win 100,000 American Airlines AAdvantage Miles here through facebook. AA has introduced a new iPad trivia app called "Know It All". All you need to provide is a first and last name, AAdvantage number and email. You can opt out of spamming your friends and you don't have to actually download the app in order to enter, although you can earn additional entries for earning the top score each week. Looks like fun. Good luck!


Friday, November 23, 2012

Black (Flashback) Friday: Kahului Walmart

When I was growing up our Thanksgiving tradition was to spend the holiday with our family over on Maui. My parents were cool and would take me out of school for the week (when I was growing up we didn't get the whole week off) and off to Hawaii we'd go.

It was probably 10 years ago when big box chain stores were still new to the islands. We'd heard of Black Friday before (the day after Thanksgiving), of course, but we didn't know what the big deal was...until we came across an add in the paper advertising that Walmart would be selling TV's for $29! Did we need a TV? Probably not. Did we have a place to put it? No. Did we absolutely have to have one, or two, or even ten? Of Course! We made our plans to get up early that Friday to make the store's 6am opening.

There weren't any crowds at the door or lines around the building when the Kahului store opened. In fact, I'm pretty sure we were the first ones there at about 5:50am. We easily made our way to the back of the store were the abundance of TV's were, and the disappointment that followed was one of the biggest letdowns of my young adult life. The TV they were selling was an absolute piece of crap. A 19", brand-X, made in China, CRT, piece of crap, to be more specific. We didn't buy one.

I don't know if it was because the entire Maui population were a bunch of Black Friday rookies, or because 6am Hawaiian time is so much earlier than in any part of the world, but the mob was casually late by about 15 minutes. By 6:30 you could barely move, let alone push a cart. There was a line for layaway, and the most popular item of choice among that group was, you guessed it, the $29 TV.

That was my first and last time getting up early for Black Friday. I'm blessed/cursed here in California to have every major big box retailer represented within a 5 mile radius of my house...and a major mall. Since living here, this has become one of my least favorite days of the year. In recent years, when we haven't been on Maui, we've escaped to Lake Tahoe. That's not to say I haven't been tempted, and I admit the deals have come a long way since the $29 TV you wouldn't want anyway, but most the stuff I want I can find online (see: How to Earn Miles and Points for Holiday Shopping), and I'm happy to write off that day from a decade ago as life experience that I don't care to repeat.

This year I completed my Black Friday shopping a little early on Wednesday when I headed to Staples to get in on their in-store only $15 rebate on $100 Visa and Mastercard gift cards. As I mentioned, I live in the middle of suburban shopping hell, so it took a little bit to lure me out of my house this week before Small Business Saturday. So this great deal is that when you buy a $100 gift card, Staples gives you a $15 Staples card via easy rebate, limit 10. The angle is that you earn $1,000 worth of miles/points by using your favorite miles/points earning credit card, you get $150 from Staples, then you find a way to cash out. A little easier said than done, but still worth the effort.

I've churned a few American Airlines credit cards in my day, but until very recently, I was completely naive when it comes to prepaids and reload cards. I might very well be the only person on FlyerTalk and milepoint to not have used a Chase Ink card to purchase Vanilla reloads, and I still haven't signed up for Bluebird. If you have no clue what I'm talking about, I'm not entirely sure I do either, but The Frequent Miler does a pretty good job explaining it all on his blog. I stayed up until about 1am a few nights ago reading and learning about all the tricks and tools when it comes to Bluebirds, Vanillas, Amex's, prepaid, reloads, etc. and went into this Staples deal as an expert on the subject and pretty confident that if I put $1,000 on my credit card, there was indeed a way to get it back in time to pay the bill.

So I went out to my local Staples and bought 5 $200 Visa gift cards for a total of $1034.75 using an otherwise unused Hilton HHonors Amex because I don't (yet) have a Chase Ink. The $34.74 being 5x the $6.95 fee that Visa charges for those $200 gift cards. According to expert advice, that was the best deal, because due to some ambiguous wording on Staples' part, even though it says the $15 rebate was for EACH gift card of $100 or more, people were still getting the full $150 for spending a $1,000 and buying 5x $200 gift cards at $6.95 saves $24.74 over buy them in $100 denominations at $5.95 each. Confused yet? I was a little too.

Next step go to Target and buy a prepaid Amex for Target card and cash that out at an ATM. Yeah, that didn't work. The cashier at Target wouldn't do it and the manager there had not very nice words for people like me who she believed were up to no good. "You can't use a prepaid to buy a prepaid". So on to Plan B, well actually plan C, because plan B was Amazon Payments, and I've already done that this month. So on to plan C, aka the backup plan to my backup plan- that Amex Serve account I signed up for like a year ago for to get a free $10 that I since forgot about and haven't used. Those $1,000 worth of Visa gift cards I bought say "debit" on them, so why not try and use them as a debit card and load my Serve account. I entered my first card number and it worked! OMG! ...and I got a mysterious $25 statment credit for it!?! It turns about American Express really likes to give away free money around this time of the year and there is a $25 promo for loading $25 or more until December 31st. That was a nice surprise! Next I tried card 2. So that didn't work. It also turns out there is a $200/day load limit, so it might take a little while longer to get all of my money back, but that's okay. As for that $150 Staples gift card (if that is indeed what I end up getting), all I have to do to cash out is wait for a Free After Rebate item, use the gift card to pay for it, and they'll send me a check. Yay!

So my free $150 (or rather $150-34.75+25= $140.25) turned out to be a little bit of work, but I'll gladly take that and the learning experience over being trampled to death at a local mall and the "life experience" provided by a more traditional Black Friday shopping excursion. After staying up late again to go through a 4-inch thick newspaper last night, I couldn't find a reason to leave the comfort, warmth, and security of my own home that $140.25 wouldn't more than make up for.

If you still want to get in on the Staples deal, it's good until tomorrow, which is when I plan to re-emerge for Small Business Saturday. Be sure to check out some of the experts' blogs for better guidance and more a detailed and thorough explanation. While the method I chose ended up working just fine, I wanted to share my experience more for moral support; If I can figure it out, anyone can. Happy Shopping!





Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hau'oli Lā Ho'omaika'i

Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Turkey Day! I just hope its great no matter what you call it! This year I am thankful for lots of things and wanted to share. First of all I'm thankful for my incredibly patient and loving husband who puts up with my miles and points obsession. I'm also thankful to have who I think is the best little boy in the world!

This year we're at home in California for baby's first Thanksgiving. The bird is in the oven, the football game is on tv, and I'm thankful I don't have to pass through any airports this week. Been there, done that. I'm thankful that my parents decided to stop by for dinner on their way to Wyoming. I'm also thankful to not be going with them.

I'm thankful for American Express Serve and Amazon Payments so that I have another way to offload $1,000 worth of Visa giftcards I bought at Staples yesterday after the cashier at Target wouldn't let me but one of their prepaid cards...more on that tomorrow.

http://instagram.com/hulagrrl210
Finally I'm thankful for beautiful sunsets like these, and thankful to be able to share them as often as I do with the people I love. I thankful for this truly awesome world we live in and all of the opportunities I've had to explore it. I hope that wherever you are and whoever you are with that you are enjoying your day! Thank you all so much for reading and following my blog. Aloha!

Monday, November 19, 2012

How to Earn Miles and Points for Holiday Shopping

It's that time of year again! Black Friday is this week, officially kicking off the holiday shopping season. Back in September I wrote about How to Make The Most of Your Labor Day Shopping, and provided a detailed example. I haven't really started my shopping yet, so I don't have any exploits to share yet, but I did want to pass along some tips and tricks to help you earn extra miles and points this holiday season. A lot of this stuff here isn't new, but I still wanted to offer a refresher course and share with any new readers how to maximize miles and points earning during this most festive time of year, so here's the holiday edition of helpful tips:
  • Shop Online- Don't put up with mall crowds and craziness. Shopping online is the best way to take advantage of valuable coupon codes and shopping portal bonuses.Worried about shipping costs? Don't be. Many retailers offer free shipping for minimum purchases or you may consider using a free trail or actually joining a subscription based service shipping service like shoprunner or amazon mom (which gives you 3 free months of amazon prime instead of 1).
  • Search for Coupon Codes- Do a quick Google search using the retailers name and "coupons" or "coupon codes" or try visiting a site like retailmenot.com.
  • Use a Shopping Portal- Many miles and points programs give you bonus miles for using their referral links (for example United's is mileageplusshopping.com) Don't know which program to choose. Try visiting evreward.com. There you can search by retailer and it will show a list of links to popular programs with how many miles and points they give. Also during the holidays portals offer valuable bonuses. Last year for example, MileagePlus Shopping gave out 8 miles/$ at Sephora instead of the usual 4. While evreward.com is a great tool, they aren't always up to date with holiday bonuses, so it's best to double check if you have a favorite program in mind.
United Mileage Plus Shopping is also giving bonuses to Mileage Plus Credit Card Holders
  • Use Your Favorite Miles and Points Earning Credit Cards- OK, so this might seem obvious, but get to know your cards a little better. Pay close attention to any category bonuses they may offer. For example my Chase Mileage Plus Select Visa offers double points for grocery and home improvement stores. Many small business credit cards (like Chase's Ink) often offer 5X category bonuses for office supply stores, which brings me to my next point...
  • Consider Shopping with Gift Cards- Gift cards just don't make good gifts; You can earn extra bonus miles and points for your own shopping. Buy your gift cards at places like Safeway, Office Depot, Lowes, etc. to take advantage of category bonuses and then use them to make your purchases elsewhere. Why settle for 1X points when you can get 2X-5X? I like Safeway's Gas Rewards Program. Typically $100 spend will get you a $.10 per gallon discount on gas, but right now they're giving a 4x bonus on gift card purchases, and typically do during major holidays. This means buying $25 gift card at Safeway will now get you that same $.10 per gallon gas reward. Save your rewards for up to $1 off/gallon ($2 in some states) at a time.
  • NEW- Don't Forget About Small Business Saturday- If you have an AMEX card, don't forget to register for Small Business Saturday and Shop Small at a participating business on November 24th. This isn't so much a miles and points earning opportunity as it is an outright freebie. AMEX will reimburse you up to $25 via a statement credit. Having multiple cards and authorized users count (as long as they have different numbers), meaning extra statement credits. My husband and I just registered all 9 of our AMEX cards yesterday. Our strategy is to buy a bunch $25 gift cards from our favorite local restaurant and use them enjoy free food throughout the rest of the year.
  • NEW- Pay Special Attention to Email Offers and Promos via Social Media- I don't know about you guys but my inbox is overflowing with junk mail right now, but it turns out a lot of it isn't junk. There are some good deals out there and retailers are all fighting for your attention, wanting to let you know about their deals. If you do plan on heading out the the mall check your inbox first; There may be a valuable coupon waiting for you. Also pay close attention to things posted on social media. Just today Amazon posted a $5 off $25 promo via Facebook for purchases over the next 3 days. Just remember that if you shop with them, Hawaiian Airlines eMarket is the only place where you can earn miles for purchases on amazon.com. Syncing your American Express card with social media is also a good way to find out about offers and deals. 
  • NEW- Earn Miles and Points for Eating Out- To busy to cook? Don't worry it happens to the best of us around this time of year. Rewardsnetwork.com lists all of their dining rewards programs (United, Alaska, PriorityClub, US Airways, American, Hilton, Southwest and more). Sign up for your favorite and start earning immediately. Most give you 1,000 miles for signing up after your first meal. Have multiple mileage accounts? Multiple credit cards? Multiple email addresses? You get the idea. Just write it all down so you don't forget. ;)
Do you have any tips or tricks that you think other readers may appreciate? Feel free to share them and any stories about your shopping exploits in the comments section below!

Just a note- the shoprunner link above is my referral/affiliate link from which I probably derive some sort of benefit (another free year of shoprunner I think? I'm not really sure) Anyway, I like to be up front about that kind of stuff and put it out there. Right now I don't offer any credit card affiliate links on this blog, but if you want my $.02 worth credit cards or would like a referral you can email me anytime! As always I appreciate the support and thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Enter to Win: 2 RT Tickets to Amsterdam on KLM

KLM wants you to know they care about the environment so they're giving away a chance to win 2 rountrip tickets to Amsterdam if you scroll through their How Blue Flies Green app on FaceBook. It takes less than a minute, it's kind of fun, and after you check out what they're doing for the environment, just give them your name, zip code, and email and you're entered to win- no spamming your friends required! You can also learn more by visiting klmtakescare.com. Good luck!

KLM How Blue Flies Green Enter to Win
My motivation for wanting to head to Amsterdam is maybe a little defferent- and no, I'm not talking about getting high. For me, getting the chance to Stand Up Paddleboard through the canals there is a definite bucket list item. I wonder how much extra it costs to check-in the surfboard. ;)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

American Express Small Business Saturday

This is just a reminder that registration for the AMEX's Small Business Saturday has started. It's time to round up all of your American Express cards and click here to sign up.

Don't Forget to Register November 18th and Shop Small November 24th.

Once you've registered just spend $25 or more at your favorite small business listed on the website on November 24th (the day after Black Friday) and American Express will give you a $25 statement credit. It's a great deal and there really is no catch, but they do limit how many people can participate, so register early. Last year I bought several gift cards with each of my AMEX's from one of our favorite local restaurants, Mikuni, and we were still using them there well into the summer. This is one of the best promotions of the year, and you're an American Express customer you don't want to miss out. They're basically giving away free money and free stuff! What's not to like?

Stuff You Should Know: Prepaids, Bluebirds and corporate cards are not eligible for the promotion. Last year we had no problem getting statement credits for both the authorized users as well as the main account holder- as long as the credit cards have different numbers on them, you should be good to go! Also last year you were able to participate in Small Business Saturday by syncing your cards to facebook, foursquare, and twitter then checking in on the day. No word yet on whether or not you'll be able to do that again this year, but keep that in mind in case for whatever reason you miss the sign up or the maximum number of participants is reached early. Good luck and don't forget to Shop Small next Saturday!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Change of Plans: DSM and Opening Day

I had already decided what I was going to write about for this week's Flashback Friday. With Opening Day scheduled for this Friday at two of the local ski resorts, Heavenly and Northstar, I was going to deviate from my usual travel related stories and pay homage to the best ski season on record: 2010/2011. The post was bound to have a slight aura of self-pity as I was scheduled to miss out on this years Opening Day. With my husband working, grandma out of town and with no babysitter, I was going to be kicking it with my kiddo while everyone else went to play in the abundance of not-so-great early-season man-made snow.

Heavenly Mountain
About three hours before I was going to leave for this week's mileage run to DSM, news came that Heavenly and Northstar were going to be opening early on Wednesday instead of Friday. That's not one of my husband's work days so there was hope...except for the fact I was heading to flat plains of Des Moines, Iowa instead of to the mountains. If you read my Dream On, Dreamliner post, you might have a better idea of what I messed up itinerary I had, and between hurricane Sandy, a trip overseas last week, and more and more of my time being spent chasing after an increasingly mobile and curious baby, I never got a chance to call United and fix it.

So I was supposed to get home at midnight (well, to the airport, not home-home) Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, then wake up early, drive 2 hours to Lake Tahoe, go skiing, turn around and drive 2 hours home all after 24 hours of mileage running...It sounded more and more like a punishment and not something I wanted to do for fun. Do I dare choose one of my interests over the other? After sitting out most of last year's season due to pregnancy and with plenty of miles to still make Platinum this year I was kind of leaning towards skipping this whole trip to Iowa and going skiing instead.

I am not a very spontaneous person. I am a planner. I always have been, or at least was back in the day before baby when I had the luxury of spare time to work out every last detail in my life. Instead of being excited about now having an opportunity to go ski, this change of plans kind of upset my day a little bit. Besides, Wednesday was already reserved for being tired and hung over from my mileage run. That, and a trip to Costco to buy formula and diapers. I'm not the type to just blow stuff off, so my frantic search for a way to make it all work commenced.

My first hope was that the first leg of my trip, the 12:30am flight between Sacramento and Houston, would be oversold (as it often is), and that I would accept a VDB voucher, essentially getting paid to go home and sleep. That is one change of plans that I would have liked. Of course, that didn't happen and naturally I felt obligated to continue. After a three and a half hour flight (and about that much sleep) I landed in Houston. Part of the reason for going to IAH in the first place was to get my husband a "Houston We Have A Problem" NASA t-shirt that he really wanted. That didn't happen either. The place that sells them was closed at 5:30am so my long walk from the C terminal to the shop near gate E-15 and back again was in vain. With things not going my way, and less than a full night's sleep, I was just maybe getting a little cranky at this point.

I continued on to Chicago in a lousy E- seat in the back on a Continental 767-200 instead of in the BusinessFirst seat I had once reserved on new Boeing 787. When news came of the aircraft swap, I returned the system-wide upgrade my dad had so generously lent me. So at least going in I was aware that I would no longer be flying on the new Dreamliner (trust me, it wouldn't have been pretty if that been a surprise), but beyond that I kind of neglected any and all details including seat assignments and layovers. When my perfect and precisely planned SMF-IAH-DEN-DSM-DEN mileage run originally was dismantled due to a schedule change and it became SMF-IAH-ORD-DSM-ORD-LAX-SMF, I jumped at the opportunity to fly on the 787 between Houston and Chicago, and didn't pay attention to much else. A four hour scheduled layover in Des Moines was the price I would be paying for that mistake!

Change of Plans: ORD. I wasn't even supposed to go to Chicago.

With a generous amount of time at ORD as well, I headed to customer service to see if there was anything they could do. Armed with my trusty smartphone and already knowing all the flights out of DSM and the answer to my own question, I decided to ask anyway. There was a not-quite-legal connecting flight out of Des Moines about half an hour after I was scheduled to arrive, and other than that, I was on the next earliest flight out of there. The agent in Chicago looked into my itinerary and my proposed amendment to it, and shut me down almost immediately. At least she was nice about it. They weren't particularly busy so we struck up a conversation and naturally she started asking questions about what I was doing. I was honest with her. I explained that I was on a mileage run to earn Platinum status. Not impressed. But then I also told her why. I told her how I was trying to make Million Miler so that I could earn and share lifetime Gold status with my family and how I recently used some of the miles to send my husband to India so he could visit his mom as she struggled through a difficult time during her battle with cancer. All true. I told her about my flight on the Island Hopper last week, and wanting to do it herself, she started asking me for tips. Her attitude went from "You're crazy" to "God Bless You"; she actually said that, and while she ultimately couldn't help me get an earlier flight out of Des Moines, she did get me better seat assignments.

The gate agent in Des Moines helped me with the earlier flight out of DSM. A not-quite-legal connection turns into not-a-big-deal when the plane you're arriving on is also the plane scheduled to turn around and go back. It didn't hurt that I was well-versed in the Premier same day standby policy and as luck had it I landed myself in the same seat going back to Chicago that I had sat in coming from Chicago. I only spent about 20 minutes in Des Moines. For a day that didn't start out that well, it was getting better and better, so from that point on I decided to make it a game out of it- to see how many of my boarding passes I could trade in for new ones on my way home. I was having fun. I liked being spontaneous. When I landed in ORD, I knew there was a flight through Denver that would get me home before 10. It was for fewer miles, but I was willing to accept it to get a full night's sleep before going skiing, which now I was stating to look forward to. What I didn't know was that there was also a flight through Houston, for even more miles, getting to Sacramento at 9:30, and that there was an agent willing to put me on it, if I was able to run.

When I got to Houston we arrived at gate C-31 which I think is the second farthest gate from the Houston-We-Have-A-Problem t-shirt shop...and you thought I forgot. In case you were wondering, the farthest gate from the Houston-We-Have-A-Problem t-shirt shop is gate C-30, which is where my flight to Sacramento was leaving from in less than an hour. More running.

Change of Plans: IAH.

Between my first trip the the Houston-We-Have-A-Problem t-shirt shop, a leisurely stroll through all of ORD's C terminal and the magic underground neon-lit tunnel, a run from one end of Chicago's B terminal to the other, followed by a speedwalk/jog from C-31 to E-15 to C-30 at IAH, I definitely got my exercise on Tuesday, which of course is never a bad thing. I also got a first class upgrade from IAH to SMF, something that never would have happened between ORD and LAX. I got a decent amount of sleep on each of my flights- 5 flights times about an hour catnap on each plus three and a half hours on the first. I took care of an essential Christmas list shopping in Houston, and I made it home early enough to sleep more. After using another one of my $200 e-certs I earned at least 6070 miles on a trip that I ended up paying nothing for. Not a bad day. I'm still waiting to see if one of the agents who helped me get an earlier flight screwed up and booked me in Y for extra miles. The end game was never to con United out of extra miles as revenge for the 787 aircraft swap, but I wouldn't feel entirely bad about it if things turned out that way.

So if you follow me on twitter (@hulagrrl210) you probably already know that I did in fact end up going skiing after EpicMix completely too over and spammed my feed yesterday. In case you were wondering, EpicMix is Vail's social media app that uses RFID technology to track our passes all over on the mountain so we can share with friends and earn pins for our accomplishments (like foursquare but for skiers and boarders). I'm usually more the tin-foil wallet type and I've actually purposely broken all the RFID chips in my credit cards, but when the technology enables me to brag about what a great day I had skiing yesterday, I'm all for it!

My EpicMix Opening Day Northstar Pin

My husband and baby ended up joining me yesterday for a little family day trip up to Tahoe. Getting anywhere with kids can be slow-going, but I really enjoyed their company and a chance to spend time together after being gone so much recently. It also turns out that the bottom of a stroller is also a great way to transport ski boots, so I didn't have to walk very far in them- something I definitely appreciated after my several miles of running through airports. Back in 2010/2011 I took skiing pretty seriously. According to EpicMix I skied over 350,000 vertical feet at Heavenly and spent 20 days on mountain (not including what I also skied at Northstar that year before they had EpicMix). I thought nothing of waking up at 5 or 6am, driving to Shore Shore, getting first tracks, skiing hard all day, then turning around and getting back in time to have a healthy and nutritious dinner ready and on the table before my husband came home from work. I didn't miss a powder day and enjoyed more than my share of bluebirds too (Bluebird being the skiing term for a perfect clear sunny day, and not just a type of pre-paid credit card).

Yesterday, I was on the mountain by about noon, and instead of skiing at my favorite resort Heavenly we opted for the shorter hour and a half drive to Northstar. I didn't make first chair and I only skied for a couple of hours. The early season conditions sucked, but I still had fun anyway. Since I got to have my fun, dad got his too; once we got back I dropped him off at a bar with his work friends while the baby and I went to Costco. After that we hit both Sonic and the In-N-Out drive thru for dinner. All of the above felt like major accomplishments after what it took to get there.

Opening Day 2012
In the end it everything worked out perfectly and I am grateful not only for my first day on the mountain this season, but appreciative of the life lessons on spontaneity and being more laid back about change that both having a kid and this last trip have provided me. So because plans change, I wanted to ask you guys what you'd think about Miles, Points and MaiTai's becoming a ski blog...no, I'm just kidding (but you can expect a few photos of secret stashes and panoramic views of the lake from the top of Sky chair). Anyway, because plans do change (and who knows what will happen when I'm stuck kicking it with my kiddo all day tomorrow), Flashback Friday is coming to you a day early this week (or a few hours at least). It's another video and I hope you enjoy it!

 

March 17th, 2011 was one of the best days of the season and I took my GoPro along to capture some of my favorite places at Heavenly: Skyline Trail, Milky Way Bowl, Gate 4 in Mott Canyon and some of the trees on the Nevada side (I'm not telling exactly where, because that's still my go-to secret powder stash). It's not exactly a Warren Miller film- there's some traversing and a little bit of me backing out of stuff, but in my defense some of those places are a lot steeper than they look on TV! Don't believe me? There are plenty of flights to both Reno and Sacramento leaving from an airport near you! I'd be glad to show you around in person any time.

During the next few weeks, if you don't see me on the plane, look for me on the chair lift. I'm pretty happy with making Platinum status after visiting all of United's domestic hubs this year. I've been flying every week now for two straight months now and to be honest I'm ready for a break and a little time off to spend with my family and on the slopes. I also hope to get time to post more on my blog and catch you guys up with stuff I've been meaning to share for a while now. We have one last family trip to Maui planned in early December then that's it for 2012. Be advised however if a crazy cheap fare comes up to somewhere far, far away, I might just go for it to make 1K. From now on, my plans are always subject to change.






Sunday, November 11, 2012

The United Island Hopper Video

I wanted to do something a little different this time so I came up with a video slideshow of all the rainbows, atolls, islands and lagoons from my most recent trip on the United Island Hopper. Hopefully it was worth the wait! Enjoy!


Also check out my Island Hopper photo trip report on milepoint and there will be updates coming soon to www.thirtysixthousand.com.

Additional viewing: BBC's Wild Pacific


Friday, November 9, 2012

Flashback Friday: Lost at HNL

Flashback Friday: insuring you get a new piece to read at least once a week...most of the time

As a frequent flier, getting lost in the the Honolulu International Airport was not my proudest moment. I typically fly over 50,000 miles per year (75,000 this year) and have been to HNL probably 20 times in my life. Even sharing the story of how I almost missed my flight there, as you can imagine, is just a little embarrassing. Anyway, I was flying United from the mainland and connecting on Island Air to Kahului, Maui. If you've ever transferred at Honolulu you probably already know its a pretty good distance from the Diamond Head Concourse to the Inter-Island terminal. There is a wiki-wiki shuttle (meaning quick in Hawaiian) but it is usually easier and sometimes faster to walk.

So having caught more than a few routine inter-island flights on both Hawaiian and Aloha over the years I knew which way to go, or so I thought. I had about 2 hours there, and after spending a leisurely hour at the Red Carpet Club, I slowly meandered my way in a westward direction, stopping along the way to check out a few Duty Free shops selling everything from Macadamia nuts to criminally overpriced toy airplanes (Seriously, $55 for a 1:500 die cast scale model of a Boeing 717, you've got to be kidding me). By the time I finally made it to the Inter-Island terminal, I still had a comfortable 30 minutes before I had to board my flight.

Since I'd last been there, Aloha had permanently vacated that part of the airport which was now entirely occupied by Hawaiian. So what about Island Air? With no mention of them, I began to get worried. I had a flight leaving out of gate 80 or 90 something, it didn't matter. It might as well have been 110 because according to official signage, the last gate at the airport I was in the low 70's, and even that was a challenge to find.

At the end of the airport and down some stairs is where I found the un-air-conditioned-Mexican-prison-style holding cell that still wasn't my gate. There were a few paper signs, none of them helpful. The gate agent was equally as informative. She didn't know her way around any better than I did, and all I was able to determine was that that plane there definitely wasn't going to Maui. I went outside through the unmarked door with a disabled alarm, through a construction area, out on the street and around the corner before finding the "other" inter-island "Commuter" Terminal- the one with the small planes...with propellers. Over the mountains and through the woods would have been more convenient. By this time they were paging me, I was freaking out a little, and I still had security to get through. Yes, the little shed on the tarmac out by cargo operations still has security. Somehow it looked vaguely familiar though. It was the building Aloha used to use back in the 80's, when I was still a kid. I'd even been there before...20+ years ago.

So I figured out I wasn't the only one who had trouble finding Island Air after my bags didn't show up at OGG. With over 2 hours and a bright red transfer tag, they still didn't end up where they needed to be. Instead of upsetting me, it actually made me feel about myself. Luckily Island Air was also nice enough to fly my bags to JHM (Kapalua West Maui) for pickup so I didn't have to drive back to Kahului from Lahaina. What this little experience taught me aside from maybe wanting to fly Hawaiian next time, was that no matter how seasoned of a traveler I think I am, there is still stuff to learn and someplace new to explore, even in places we think we know so well. Sometimes that can be a bit humbling, too.

This last week took me through the Honolulu Airport yet again as I returned from my trip on the Island Hopper/Guam and it made me think of this little story. Oh yeah, and this time I didn't get lost. I have to say though I have a love-hate relationship with that place. I've been to airports in third world countries that have better amenities, better signage and haven't been under construction for nearly as long. At the same time I like the funky vintage decor, the worn Koa ticket counters, and everything else that hasn't changed since I was a small child. Every visit is like a trip back in time and I can't help but think how many great memories have been made within those wave and tiki theme wood paneled walls. I love the open air, the fresh breeze, and that bright red Aloha sign on the control tower welcoming you back to the islands. There's no doubt about it, Honolulu, you're one of a kind.

Map courtesy United Hemispheres magazine. Last gate is 66.

Island Air Map. Note discrepancies in gate numbers from above.





Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Enter to Win: American Airlines Trip to Vail and Beaver Creek

American Airlines is offering you a chance to enter to win a trip to Vail and Beaver Creek in Colorado. As a part-time snow bunny and Heavenly (Tahoe Value) season pass holder, this definitely peaked my interest (pun intended), so I wanted to share. Here's what they are giving away:

  • (1) Grand Prize- 7 night vacation for 4 people including 200,000 American AAdvantage miles, lodging, lift tickets, ground transportation, and rentals
  • (3) First Prizes- 4 night vacation for 2 including 100,000 Aadvantage miles, lodging lift tickets, etc.
You may enter up to 5 times for FREE and earn one additional entry by purchasing airfare to either Denver or Vail/Eagle. Contest ends 11:59 CST on December 3rd, 2012. For more details check out the official rules.

To enter click here.

As a special promo, American Airlines is also offering a free one-day lift ticket for flying to Vail with them. Good luck and if you're headed to any of Vail's resorts this winter be sure to check out EpicMix to keep track of your stats and share with friends on the mountain.

Island Hopper Teaser

Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands
I just got back from my 4 day adventure on the United Island Hopper this morning. Its a trip I've wanted to do since first learning about it shortly after the United-Continental Merger. Traveling a route that was taken over from Continental Microsnia (aka Air Mike), United flight 154 goes from Honolulu to Guam with several stops in the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. I flew over to HNL a day early to enjoy a little stand up paddle surfing at Waikiki Beach and spent the night before embarking on my long voyage across the pacific. My journey took me all the way out to Manila, before turning around and coming back home. As some of my regular readers already know one of my favorite hobbies is taking inflight pictures for my photo blog: www.thirtysixthousand.com. Along the way I was able to photograph some amazing stuff: isolated atolls, lush tropical islands, neon blue lagoons, and even a few colorful rainbows! After flying almost 17,000 miles and spending the last 48 hours on planes and in airports (by far the most ambitious mileage run I've ever attempted), I am exhausted! Anyway, I still wanted to leave you guys with a little teaser and photo before I get more time to complete a more detailed trip report later this week. Stay tuned...it's here!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Flashback Friday: Babymoon 2011

Flashback Friday: Because sometimes having kids means your best traveling days are behind you-

It was October of last year, I was 6 months pregnant, and with doctor's blessings, we headed off to Hong Kong and Thailand for one last epic getaway before baby. I'd wanted to go to Thailand since I first saw the 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun. It was somewhat of a last minute trip and with a growing belly and due date approaching, I figured the only way we were going to afford this one was with miles.

Pregnant Bond Girl
SFO-HKG(Stopover)-HKT-BKK(Long Layover)-NRT-SFO was an absolute bargain at 65,000 miles per person (Star Alliance Saver Award). The itinerary I chose used 3 different airlines: Singapore, Thai and United, and priced out to over $9,000. United only allows one stopover (HKG) on award travel, so we tricked them into getting one night in Bangkok by making it a long layover- Fly in from Phuket mid-morning, and depart for the US slightly earlier the next day. All it took a few phone calls. The golden rule with United is that if you don't get what you want, hang up and call again. Eventually, I got what I wanted.

So the only problem with this dream itinerary was that it was in coach. Did I mention I was pregnant? Actually it turned out to not be that bad. The worst part SFO-HKG was about 14 hours on SQ1, but Singapore is a nice airline and I slept most of the way. My only complaint was that my back hurt a little...and after seeing the ginormous seats in Singapore's Business Class, I really, REALLY wanted to sit there. Unfortunately, trying to use United miles to fly transpacific in a Singapore premium cabin is as easy as going to the moon without a rocket ship. Flying in Singapore Coach is kind of like showing up at the rodeo without a horse- you just get to sit and watch the other people have all the fun. Anyway, I guess we have to save something to look forward to for next time (note to self, must save KrisFlyer miles), and you can bet on it, there will be a next time!

We got to Hong Kong early in the morning and checked into our room at the Intercontinental Hong Kong. With 80,000 Priority Club points from a credit card sign-up, our $400+ room was free for 2 nights.  We even got upgraded to Harbour View. Normally getting an upgrade on an award stay doesn't happen, especially at this hotel, but I guess they were extra nice because of my condition and the harbor side of the building is much quieter...and the view was spectacular!

Room with a View: Intercontinental Hong Kong
Our time in Hong Kong was mostly spent wandering around, eating, and shopping. We didn't do much sightseeing, as we'd been there before in 2005, but we did go to the top of Victoria Peak one night. Another highlight of the Hong Kong trip was discovering nanoblocks in a toy store there. I know it's probably not much to get excited about, but I'm like a kid at heart and they're like miniature legos- totally awesome! I bought a few boxes. Getting Dim Sum at Maxim Palace was a treat as was our meal at Din Tai Fung in Kowloon. If you're hungry (and pregnant) Hong Kong is a great place to be!

After 2 nights and almost 3 days, we flew HKG to HKT direct on Thai Airways. We had bulkhead seats on an Airbus A-330 and we were very comfortable there, just the two of us next to the window. A nice-looking Australian couple sitting across the plane from us had kids, so I casually observed to try and pick up a few tips. In a few short months I knew that would be me. I was then shocked and horrified as the young mom appeared to be nursing her toddler...in public, on an airplane! I vowed I would never do that. Little did I know. Fast forward 6 months. I let my little guy sneak a meal under a blanket in the privacy of row 6 on a 767 (you know, the seats in the back of first by the closet). Not my proudest moment; I'm kind of not the breastfeeding-in-public type (if you are, that's great), but you'll be amazed at the things that somehow become not that big of a deal once you are a parent.

We spent 3 days/nights in Phuket. Due to my husband's newfound love of racking up Priority Club points we chose the Holiday Inn Resort in Patong for about $100 a night. Because of his Platinum Ambassador status we were guaranteed an upgrade to the Busakorn wing, but they were out of standard rooms, so we got a villa instead. It was an oasis of 5-star resort quality bliss in the middle of a not-so-great neighborhood. Wait, who am I kidding? Patong is fun. If I wasn't pregnant I could totally party there!

James Bond Island, Phang Nga Bay
The best part of Thailand was the day trip we took to Phang Nga Bay. Being pregnant means speedboats are off-limits (turns out so is sushi and probably stand up paddleboarding), but it was a calm day and the people at Amazing Adventures took great care of me. We went canoeing inside of Hong Island and got our fix of cheesy pics taken in front of James Bond Island. We then stopped at a nice beach on the way back, and while I was sitting there in the sand, I saw my baby kick for the first time. I'd felt him before, but this was the first time I actually saw a foot! I definitely won't be forgetting that day!

Sightseeing in Bangkok
Next stop, Bangkok, and honestly we couldn't have picked a better time to go there. I know this probably sounds really bad, but with the whole country flooded and much of the city evacuated, traffic was a breeze, and we were able to get in a lot of sightseeing during our short stay there. We finished up our trip with a Hangovertini (and a bottled water) at Lebua and took in the panoramic view high above the city.

Our trip back to the states was on a United 747 in Economy Plus. Knowing that the plane was virtually empty, I booked a window and an aisle counting on the fact that no one would want that middle seat if others were available. It worked! The row was ours and I got to stretch out. We made friends with a one of the flight attendants and as soon she found out I was pregnant (She said I wasn't showing), she gave me a couple bottles of water to keep with me at my seat. It was really nice except I had to get up every half hour after that. I'm sure all you other moms and moms-to-be out there know exactly what I'm talking about.

Looking back I always think its funny what leaves an impression and what you remember about a trip. One of those things was the high tech magic beer-dispensing machine I encountered in the United Club at Narita airport. I takes your frozen glass, tilts it slightly, and gently fills it with ice cold Asahi beer. I definitely missed out on that during this trip, but watch out NRT, I'm sure we'll meet again...

NRT-SFO (c) thirtysixthousand.com

Trip Tab: 130,000 United Miles, 80,000 Priority Club points and less than $1000 spent on hotels, food, tours, and everything else (including nanoblocks).

Beast Meal: Blue Horizon in Patong, Thailand.

Travel Tip: Flying while pregnant? Make sure you stay hydrated and get up and walk as much as possible.  Also get a doctors note. Some airlines (Singapore) require it no matter for far along you are.

Another Tip: don't bother buying Duty Free Alcohol in BKK if you're flying on United. You'll have to go through security again at NRT...and we all know what that means- nothing over 3 oz.

Duty Free heaven at HKG! Did I mention I like toys? and airplanes? and toy airplanes?
Getting a "fishy" pedicure in Patong. Note sign on the window.
BYOB: Bring Your Own Boat at the Intercontinental in Bangkok

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Getting Unplugged: Why Technology Sometimes Sucks

One of my favorite things about flying is that I can't be reached. No emails, no phone calls, no harassment, or at least that's how it used to be. A trip on a plane used to provide me with some peace and quiet, and it forced me to find something else to do without being connected. I used to be perfectly content working on a Hemispheres magazine Sudoku puzzle or looking out of the airplane window. Now I find myself getting increasingly annoyed if my seat on the plane doesn't have a power outlet.

I'm not sure what happened but I think it started when I got an iPhone. I was a late adopter of the whole smart phone craze, as I didn't understand the perceived need for it; that is until I got my first 3GS. It was fun. I now had a source of endless entertainment in the palm of my hand. Before I knew it I was texting at the table just like everyone else and occasionally ignoring my kid to check emails. I've even taken my phone to the beach. Lame, I know.

I was actually proud of myself the first time I checked into foursquare via gogo and earned a special badge for it. Instead of using the 5 hour trans-con flight to catch up on sleep like I probably should have, I wasted almost $7 to see what someone I haven't talked to since high school posted on Facebook. I was so busy playing with my phone that I almost forgot to look out the window. When I finally did we were already over Nevada and it was dark out. I then watched as lightning from a distant thunderstorm lit up a cluster of cumulonimbus clouds probably a hundred miles away. There was a flash, then another one and more clouds joined the show until it seemed like the whole sky was illuminated. It was absolutely beautiful and I had almost missed it. Even then I still didn't get it.

Joining the Mile High Club
It wasn't until my latest trip (SMF-LAX-IAH-ABQ-IAH-LAX-SMF) that I had an epiphany of sorts and realized for the first time that maybe my priorities are a little messed up. I got so caught up making sure I had all the right chargers and cables for my cell phone, e-reader and other gadgets, that I forgot a memory card for my camera, so instead of looking out the window and taking pictures for thirtysixthousand.com, I ended up reading. Coincidentally, there was a very interesting series in this month's Conde Nast Traveler about getting off the grid. The first part was about people who spend lots and lots of money to go camping in the woods and stay at eco-lodges that don't have wifi or wireless data signals. At first I thought, "Who the hell would want to do that?", staring at the screen of my brand new kindle fire HD. I then read the article, Brain Drain: Why Being a Tech Junkie is Bad for Your Health. That one hit a little closer to home, especially the parts about memory loss and attention deficit, and I admit they kind of nailed me on some of the tech-enabled antisocial behavioral stuff. It was a good wake-up call. Luckily the series also included Rx for a Digital Detox with helpful tips like leaving your phone at home- advice to take seriously and something we all need to do more often.

I guess the first step towards any recovery is admitting there's a problem, and for the first time I feel that maybe there is. I want my old life back. I don't want to miss out on anymore. I want to spend more time with my baby and less time online. I don't want to suffer from anxiety if someone takes my phone away or get kicked off a flight for playing Words with Friends. I want to spend more time looking out the window, and less time being hypnotized by gadgets. While I'm not about to throw my phone away, give up my computer, or ditch my kindle in favor of 10 lbs. of paper magazines, I've come to better appreciate there is a time and place for all that stuff.

I think by now everyone knows that cell phones really don't make planes crash, but let's continue to pretend they do. It's only a matter of time before the FAA re-examines their ban on wireless communication and we all curse the day after getting stuck next to the loud cell phone talker for 4 hours. Let's learn to enjoy the time we have left, where 30,000 feet is still one place we can't be reached. As for wifi on the plane, I'm starting to think it's overrated. That gogo enabled p.s. flight I took back in September was one of the least relaxing I've ever had. For the first time I'm almost grateful that my airline of choice United is still blissfully stuck back in the 20th century when it comes to wiring up their aircraft. Anyway, I fly again this week. I'm off to Manila, via the Island Hopper (HNL-MAJ-KWA-PNI-TKK-GUM). Even if there was wifi on the plane it wouldn't work because where I'm headed truly is the middle of nowhere. I'm actually looking forward to clearing my mind, going off the grid for few days and you better believe that this time I won't be forgetting my camera!

Additional reading: Goodnight Ipad by Ann Droyd (the hardcover version)