Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Baby Turns 1: Looking Back at a Year of Travel with the Little Guy

Last week we celebrated Baby CJ's first birthday. I know it's cliche and something every parent probably says, but I can't believe how fast the time has gone by! At first I thought having a baby would mean the end of our traveling days, but our experience has been quite the opposite. We made it a priority from the start to welcome the baby to our family by sharing our love of adventure with him. In his first year CJ visited 5 different states (not counting our home in CA) and flew 22,957 miles on 2 different airlines.
Every kid needs their own FlightMemory!

I used to do a feature on this blog every week called Flashback Friday where I'd dedicate a post to looking back at a past experience; you may or may not have noticed that stopped about 2 weeks ago. Due to the increasing demands of motherhood and having a little guy that naps less and wants to play more, being able to produce content on a reliable schedule has become nearly impossible. So in honor of CJ turning 1, the blog is getting an "enhancement" ...but it's one that I think you will like. Instead of limiting these sorts of posts to just one day or the week, they're fair game any time I have the hello Flashback Wednesday! Today- looking back at year one of traveling with baby.

CJ's First Overnight Trip

When CJ was 3 weeks old we took our first overnight trip to Lake Tahoe. Having missed out on the early part of the ski season due to being extremely pregnant and all, I couldn't wait to get back on the slopes. Anyone who has had a baby is probably well-aware that you're supposed to wait 6 weeks before you resume any physical activity. Yeah, that didn't happen. I was lucky to have a very healthy pregnancy and an uncomplicated labor and delivery; I felt up to it, so with or without doctor's blessing, I was going skiing.

It took almost half a day to pack the car for our short trip to Tahoe. As brand new parents we didn't quite have the routine down yet. Pack-n-play, diapers, clothes, bottles, bibs, the "little black bag" much stuff! I think we had enough packed for that first overnight trip to last us 3 weeks. Add that to skis, boots, poles, a helmet, goggles, etc. and there was just enough room for baby. By the time we made it up to the lake, checked in to our room at Harrah's, and unpacked all the stuff it was mid-afternoon. I was still nursing, so I had to get that out of the way, and finally I made it up on the hill by around 2. I needed a belly-band to hold up my ski pants, and it took me a little extra time to tote all my gear down to the gondola and back due to being a bit out of shape, but other than that is was just like old times...ok, not really. I skied for about an hour and a half then it was back to room and back to feed baby. I got 5 or 6 hours of sleep that night, then it was back on the hill for just a few hours again the next day.

Lake Tahoe
Looking back, it probably sounds like more hassle than it was worth, but a first trip anywhere with a baby is bound to be like that. The year before I had CJ, I skied 21 days in a season. I would wake up early, drive to Heavenly in time to get first tracks, ski all day, then drive home and have dinner on the table when my husband came home from work. This time it took the help of my husband, and parents to help get baby and I out of the house, and over a two day period, I think I got in the same amount of skiing that I used to do by 10am. Anyway, I was still extremely grateful for the trip. It was my first time breaking away from the little one for more than just an hour, and his first time really getting out into the world. We needed this trip just to prove to ourselves that we could do it, and after that things did get easier. We can pack the car in less than 30 minutes and going to Lake Tahoe overnight during this time of year is now routine. This first trip also brought baby's first snowfall, and shortly thereafter baby's first roadside diaper change in the middle of blizzard.

Baby CJ Goes to Maui

Our son CJ made 4 trips to Hawaii before he was a year old, tying my first-year-of-life record. While I was only a couple weeks old when I first went, He made his first trip to Maui at 3 months. I wanted to wait to get him on the plane until after his first round of shots. Then we got him ready by going on a 4 hour road trip to visit grandpa the week before. After that we were convinced he could handle the 5 hour flight to Hawaii. Traveling with a 3 month old was actually pretty easy, considering he slept for most of the journey. CJ's first trip to Maui, brought his first visit to Baby Beach. Getting to see my son play in the sand at the exact same place I did at his age, and teaching him to swim right there where I learned has been such a thrill.

Baby Beach
We went to Maui again at 5 months, which is when we had a mechanical delay on the way over, and a missed connection and an overnight stay on the way home. This was one of those trips where if something could go wrong, it did. Meanwhile, the baby was pretty calm about it. He did get a little fussy after spending 7 hours at LAX, but who wouldn't? On the way home when we got stuck at SFO, we didn't have any of our luggage, so baby CJ had to sleep in the hotel bed with us. That was a first since he had been on his own since the start. Surprisingly we all slept well together that night, and seeing how my calm and happy little guy adapted and adjusted when dad and I were getting extremely frustrated and starting to flip out a little, made me fall in love with the little guy all over again.
Playing with Dad in the Airport
At 10 and 11 months, we made 2 more trips back to Hawaii. CJ was still pretty good on the flights, but expecting him to sleep and/or sit still for the entire journey was out of the question. Our increasingly social and mobile little guy wanted to play, and the little whimpers of protest started when we'd try to put him back in his car seat. "I just want to be held. I just want to jump up and down on your lap and pull your hair and try and take off your glasses and put everything within reach in my mouth." That's life with a baby this age, I guess. Diaper changes in the airplane lavatory are a new challenge now that little CJ is strong enough to resist and sometimes wants to fight back. FML. Confined space + crying, squirming baby = no fun. To make up for it though, beach time over in Maui is a becoming a total hit. CJ loves to play in the water and now even likes to come along with me and sit on the front of my paddle board as we explore the calm, shallow water inside the reef at Baby Beach.

Wyoming and Back, Again

For our first trip to Wyoming over the summer, baby CJ, my husband, my dad, Shiloh the yellow lab, and I all drove together. When we went back a few weeks later, CJ and I decided to fly. Not that a road trip across 5 states with a dog and a baby isn't super-fun and everything...I just thought that driving to San Francisco, getting stuck in Bay Area traffic, and checking-in at the airport 30 minutes before our departure while traveling alone with baby would be even more fun! As bad as all that sounds, it actually wasn't and after surviving all it, I gained a lot of confidence. CJ's trips to Wyoming also came with visits to Nevada, Utah, and Idaho, his first rodeo, and first trips to a fireworks store, a truck stop, and a ghost town.

Alright, This Might Be My First Rodeo
Companion Upgrade Drama, VDB's, Compensation, and Finally a New Airline

You can read all the juicy details in my post Breaking Up with United (I'll spare you a rehash), but to make a long story short, we're now an Alaska Airlines family. CJ picked up his very own Volunteered Denied Boarding (VDB) voucher and quite a few Customer Relations e-certs but it wasn't enough to keep us from leaving United at the end of last year. I'm still planning on using the certs to continue my mileage running quest to become a Million Miler on United, but as a family we've moved on to a better place. Along with operating a direct flight from Sacramento to Maui, it turns out Alaska Airlines (and partners) are the perfect compliment to United and the Star Alliance. A ton of new destinations have opened up to us along with a whole new world or miles-and-points earning opportunities. Without the baby, I never would have been inspired to leave an airline I've been flying with my whole life, thanks CJ!

We love Alaska!
The Gear

Other parents are always curious and like to ask, so here's what we use (and what seems to work)-

First Time at SMF
When we first started traveling with the baby, we used a travel system. The infant carrier/car seat snaps into a permanent base in the car, is easily transferred in and out of the stroller, and also installs by itself without the base in the airplane and in other cars. Simply, gate-check the stroller and pick it up plane-side at your destination. It was the easiest and best thing ever...until he grew out of it.

We transitioned to a full-size Britax Marathon car seat at around 6 months. We then ordered a Go Go Kidz Travelmate to go along with it, but when it failed to show up in the mail before one of our trips to Maui, we had no other choice but to use our old gear. In case you were wondering...yes, you can still cram a 10 month old baby into an infant seat, but it isn't nice. At 22.5 pounds we were pushing it with the 23 pound weight-limit and a little guy like ours with wide shoulders and long legs isn't going to be happy with you for doing it. Luckily (for him I guess), he only sat there for take-off, landing, and the short drive to and from the airport. The rest of the time was spent crawling/jumping in our laps, standing in his seat, and looking out the window.
Are we there yet?
At 11 months, we finally got another chance to test out the new Britax/GoGo combo and it worked like a charm. Yes, it's bigger, heavier and more of a hassle, but then so's our kid. With the Travelmate, the car seat becomes like a roll-a-board, and gets installed on the aircraft. We then use the stroller as a luggage cart for our carry-ons, and gate-check it. CJ loves being rolled around the airport in his car seat! Sitting there on the airplane...well, that's another story and keeping his restrained is something we struggle with at times now.

This Is The Kid You Want to Sit Next to
Aside from that we got a rolling duffel bag big enough to hold the pack-n-play, and the rest of his stuff. Of course, a well-stocked diaper bag as a carry on is also must. For earlier trips it's basically going to just be diapers, wipes, and feeding items, maybe a change of clothes, then as your child gets older you're going to want to bring some toys and/or comfort items along as well. The entertainment needs of little ones seem to grow along with their age, so be prepared. You may need a bigger bag.

What's Next

Ready to go!
Of course there will be lots more trips to Hawaii as long as I have family and a job there. The baby and I are also headed to Anchorage at the end of the week, then all 3 of us are going to India to visit my husband's family and introduce them to the baby for the first time. Along the way we're stopping off in Singapore, Bali, and Hong Kong. It's a big trip, and to be honest, I am a little nervous about how CJ is going to handle to the long 14-hour flights between San Francisco and Hong Kong. We'd never attempt such a feat without this past year of experience. I tend to think of each trip we take with him as a training mission for something bigger and better in the future. We love to travel and looking back I'm glad we went through the extra little hassle to bring CJ along with us and get him used to our wandering ways at such an early age. Year two will bring 2 more states, 5 new countries, a whole bunch of miles, 2 new airlines...and that's just in the next month!

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