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What Traveling Solo With A Newborn Taught Me

What Traveling Solo With A Newborn Taught Me

One of the things I feared the most when deciding to have a baby was that I would lose my freedom, my own sense of self.  I mean, motherhood is exactly glamorized in the most positive way sometimes. I was scared of the “mom” label. Did that suddenly mean I would go to the supermarket in sweatpants, with a screaming baby who I would yell at all day.  Would it mean I was confined to my house, leaving behind my wanderlust and desire to see the world? Were my best years behind me?

When my first child Nathan was born, I was determined I wouldn’t be one of “those” moms.  I decided I would just carry on with life, with a baby in tow. I always knew I wanted to have kids, but I wasn’t one of those overly maternal people.  I never crumbled into ooohs and ahhhs when a young child was around and wasn’t one of those people who everyone said “aww you will be such a great mom one day.”  But I really had no idea how much you could love something so little and grow so selfless overnight. Literally overnight.

So rather than jump on my mission to naively prove that I could be my own person, and have a baby, it changed to taking him everywhere because I just loved him so much that I wanted to share him with everyone.

What Traveling Solo With A Newborn Taught Me

In New Zealand, we are lucky enough to get paid maternity leave.  When Nathan was born, it was 12 weeks of paid leave and now it is 22 weeks (going up to 26 weeks in 2020)  This bonding time is amazing to have, so I decided to use this time to visit my parents who lived in the USA.  So at 8 weeks old, I took my first trip with a newborn baby, solo, on 24 hours of travel. To be honest, people thought I was crazy.  But my husband was going to meet me there later on and come back on the plane with us, so I figured, “if it’s a nightmare on the way over, at least I’ll have help on the way back.”

So how is flying with an 8 week old baby on your own?  Totally doable. As a mother of 3, looking back, it was a piece of cake.  But at the time, it was still pretty good. My number one piece of advice is to have a baby carrier of some sort, so that you can have your hands free.  I have an Ergobaby soft shell carrier (which means no metal frames) and it can be used as a front pack and a backpack. He snuggled in there through all the security and customs in our connecting flights and loved the movement from walking between terminals.

As much as possible, I tried to keep him on schedule with feed times and sleep times, similar to at home and he was no more unsettled than he would usually be.  I got a bassinet on our 12 hour international flight from Auckland to San Francisco and it was awesome to have somewhere to put him and get an hour of sleep here and there.

Perhaps the first thing I learned on this trip, was how much empathy other people can have, and how easy it is to go the extra mile and make such a difference to someone.  Let me give you some context… New Zealand has a real “tall poppy” syndrome, meaning we hate when anyone thinks there are better than someone else. We think everyone is the same no matter what.  And naively before travel, I would have seen parents with small children, and barely have given them another look. Now though, I can’t help but look for ways to help them. Whether it is to pick up a bag, hold the door, give a kind word of support, I feel such empathy for these other parents who are basically juggling ticking time bombs and trying to hold everything together.  

I never expected extra treatment for traveling with a little baby, as I am just like everyone else, but it was just the little things that made a difference.  The family line through customs, the extra glass of water when you usually had a pay for a bottle (on a cheap airline), the priority boarding etc. They sound like little things, but they made so much of a difference.

While we were in the USA, we took a trip to New York City.  Another one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. It was just after New Years, it was 1F (-17C) in the middle of a blizzard, and we took our 8 week old on holiday.  I mean, what were we thinking? Well, we rugged up wee Nathan in winter gear, in a sleeping bag in the stroller, with a weatherproof cover so he was toasty and warm and we pushed him around the city sightseeing.

Again, people were so incredibly nice.  We were in a store on 5th Avenue and store clerks offered us space in the changing room if we wanted to feed him.  We went up the Rockefeller Centre Building to get a view across the city, and the lovely people there offered us to skip the queue since we had such a little one.  On the way down the lift, they offered an alternative exit that wouldn’t be so busy. I just had no idea that people could be so helpful. Perhaps it was always happening around me and I was too self-centered to noticed.  I mean I don’t think I was a narcissist by any means, but I never had any reason to wonder about the parents, nor any context on how to help them. Everyday people were going out of their way to help little old me, traveling around a foreign country, with a baby I was still figuring out how to program.

These beautiful acts of altruism have continued as our family has grown.  With three children, we hike around New Zealand and show them the beauty of our surroundings.  On a recent 7.5 hour hike up to Little Mt Peel,(where I took all three kids by myself), members of the local tramping club, held my kids hands as they traversed a ridgeline.  They slowed their own trek down through this narrow section, just to give us a hand.  

So here I was, trying to prove to the world (or myself) that I could travel with a baby and life could be amazing… but that actually wasn’t the lesson at all.  It was opening my eyes to the kindness and the love from other people. It was learning in practice how a little kindness can go a long way. It was understanding that, in the context of the tall poppy syndrome, that sometimes, other people are more important, and that’s okay.

Now when I travel, I look for opportunities to pay forward that kindness, because I just know how much it helped me.  I offer to hold or look after a child while their mum goes to the bathroom, we bring extra small toys and encourage our kids to share them while waiting, and we try to offer kind words of encouragement and support to those that really need it.   

As I stand in the sausage shaped queue with little chatterboxes littering the air with their thoughts, I don’t just ignore and carry on.  I think of the community I have joined, I understand how we are all one people and I bend down and look into their eyes and know its not about me, it’s about all of us.

Australia / New Zealand Journal

The Importance Of Taking A Breath While Traveling

A reminder from a chance conversation with a stranger that reminded me of the importance of taking a breath while traveling. 

You know the expression “You never get a second chance to make a first impression?” That was the last thing I was thinking about as I accidentally slammed my luggage into the hostel dorm door, cringing as the sound echoed down the empty hallway. It had been an eventful day in New Zealand, as I had just left the town I called home for two months, in search of the next adventure to unfold during my working holiday stint.

The battle with my key card waged and eventually won, I quite literally stumbled into the room after tripping over aforementioned bag and was greeted with a bemused “Are you okay?” exclamation.

Looking slightly frightening while huffing and puffing à la the Big Bad Wolf in The Three Little Pigs is not usually how I like to meet my hostel dorm mates, but such is the backpacker life, or so I convinced myself. Pleasantries exchanged, and names forgotten right after they were mentioned, my newfound acquaintance settled back into bed while I got myself organized, and a semi-awkward silence enveloped the room.

Here’s a tip for solo travelers: food will be your friend, and could potentially make you friends. As a serial (and occasionally cereal) snacker, I’ve learned that one of the best ways to break the ice when meeting new people is to simply offer to share my snack supply.

True enough, silence gave way to munchies, which led to conversation. Soon we were comparing notes on Queenstown’s must-do’s, and we deemed an excursion around town as necessary to see what we could find. We fulfilled our duties as tourists by stopping frequently to capture photographs of the scenery, and scurried out of the launch paths of people trying their hand at frisbee golf, eventually settling on a bench to watch the sunset.

I asked him what his story was, wanting to know where he had been, what brought him to New Zealand’s adventure capital, and where he was going after. In return, he listened intently as I monologued on about the sequence of events that had led me to quit my job and move abroad for awhile, and the slew of odd jobs that had occupied my time there.

“When was the last time you relaxed?” he asked.

“I left my job to travel, remember? I came here to take time off and relax,” I protested.

“But have you, really?”

His question came accompanied with a pointed look.

I mulled over his words. Did I? The truth was, my time in New Zealand, while mostly amazing, had been spent working, applying for jobs, stressing out over my next destination or worrying about what would happen once I had to return home. By that point, my trip was almost at its finishing leg, and unintentionally, so much of my time and energy had gone into thinking and agonizing over crossing the finish line, that I had forgotten about simply taking a breath while traveling and enjoying the present moment, or the run itself, if you will.

“I thought so,” he said. 

Well, I can tell you that the sunset in Queenstown was brilliant that day, with the warm hues splashed across the sky like a work of art. I have no photos to show you because I was doing exactly what he said — being there and savouring the moment, marveling over the fact that I was miles away from home in one of the most beautiful places I have visited, in the middle of the best and most eye-opening travel experience I have had, with someone who was a stranger to me a few hours prior.

I discovered some important things that day. Travel can be many things — exciting, wondrous, fun, life-changing, but also overwhelming at times. We all decide to book that plane, train or bus ticket for our own individual reasons, and for me, part of my experience was learning that taking a breath while traveling did not mean I was not making the most out of my time abroad.

I’ve heard a friend say that people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. One of the best parts of traveling is the people we meet, the connections forged and friendships fostered regardless of where we come from. If we are lucky, some friendships survive the test of distance and time.

Some encounters are not afforded that same luxury, but serves a purpose, teaching us something valuable and leaving us with a fond memory to revisit from time to time. In this case, he gave me a much needed reminder of the importance of taking a step back and being in the present, a lesson which I continued to carry with me as I finished the remainder of my time at the Home of Middle‑earth.

So, while I still need to work on making a good first impression and learning to manage my talent of stumbling over everything and nothing at all, I think the people and moments that leave lasting impressions are the most meaningful ones we could ask for.


Remember the importance of taking a breath while traveling. What are some of the most meaningful travel experiences you’ve had? 

Australia / New Zealand

Navigating New Zealand: A South Island Photo Diary

New Zealand’s South Island is known for its spellbinding views and awe-inspiring landscapes, featuring majestic mountains, glittering skies and crystal clear lakes. Let this South Island photo diary inspire your next trip to New Zealand. 

Aoraki/Mount Cook

The Hooker Valley Track is a popular day walk that ends at a glacier lake, with picturesque views of the mountains along the way.

 

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo, where the sky comes alive when the lights go out.

 

Queenstown

There is no shortage of activities for the adventurous traveller in Queenstown – you may choose to jump out of a plane, dive underwater in a mechanical shark, or simply take time out to enjoy nature on one of the scenic hikes there.

Queenstown is especially popular in the winter, as the magnificent slopes there draw skiers and snowboarders from all over the globe for the season.

 

Wanaka

Fun fact: These lupins are considered to be an invasive species in New Zealand, cementing the idea that everything really is beautiful in Middle-earth – even the weeds.

 

Milford Sound

One of the best ways to discover this spectacular fiord is up close and personal by kayak.

 

 

 

Airlines

Airlines We Love: Air New Zealand

Airlines We Love: Air New Zealand

I always do my best thinking when up in the air. Swallowed by sky and clouds and the spanning oceans and sprawling landscapes below, I feel most in-tune with myself. Maybe because the time I spend in an aircraft is a pause in the craze-filled frenzy traveling full time can be. It’s my moment to sit and just be. Any flight, whether it’s a hop, skip and a jump from island to island, or a luxury craft filled with hundreds and multi-tiers of explorers, is “home” for a tiny bit of our life. It’s a recluse, a pod, a little quiet place to be still. So when we find an airline like Air New Zealand, that makes the experience of flying more serene and luxurious, it makes me so grateful.

Airlines We Love: Air New Zealand Airlines We Love: Air New Zealand Airlines We Love: Air New Zealand Airlines We Love: Air New Zealand Airlines We Love: Air New Zealand

Sometimes knowing I’m in for a long flight can send my anxiety into epic new heights. Upon booking my nonstop flight from Los Angeles to London, I can’t tell you how daunting the 10 hour flight felt. But when I was greeted by the welcoming faces of Air New Zealand’s attendants and settled into my comfortable (and ridiculously spacious) Business Premier seat, I knew my original nerves were not welcomed here. I was in for a serious treat – a relaxing experience – words I would not typically choose for a long-haul flight.

I mean, when your seat can convert into a memory foam flat-laying bed, not relaxing would be a sin! Kudos to Air New Zealand on this gem. Seriously, why can’t all airlines have Skycouches? 

Airlines We Love: Air New Zealand Airlines We Love: Air New Zealand Airlines We Love: Air New Zealand

Nestling into my space was oh-so dreamy. In between writing in my journal, I was able to catch up on the television shows I’ve been missing out on while sipping on New Zealand wine and settle into the ultimate relaxation-mode. Air New Zealand leaves no stone unturned when it comes to providing a list of New Zealand’s best wines (curated by seven leading wine experts). Give this girl a glass of refreshing white wine, some cuddly blankets and some tv shows to binge, and I’m as happy as a clam.

And I should mention, I was able to settle into my ultimate relaxation state while also devouring Chef Peter Gordon (the godfather of fusion foods) and Michael Meredith cuisine (known for his award winning celebration of New Zealand’s culinary traditions). I also devoured their CrossTown donuts and other refreshments while on board! Happy stomach, happy state-of-mind. 

Airlines We Love: Air New Zealand Airlines We Love: Air New Zealand Airlines We Love: Air New Zealand

It’s in the air that I’m given the time and the setting to be still. It here in my long haul flight that I am able to dream, to set goals and intentions, to reflect on all the great experiences I’ve gathered and all that is yet to come. Thank you to Air New Zealand for setting off my trip to London on such a great note!

 

Trip sponsored by Air New Zealand.

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Journal

New Zealand: Starry Nights and Dreams

I stared at a paper map spread out across my thighs, as he drove on the left side of the road, on the other side of the world. I felt like a little girl again, before GPS navigation, but there had always been a bigger hand back then to point out the street and find the way. In New Zealand there was only Stephen, sighing as he circled another roundabout, but it wasn’t frustrating to me. It was freeing. We could go anywhere.

I ordered a vanilla latte at the first coffee shop we found. “Where are you from?” the barista asked. When I told him the States, he laughed.

“I knew that as soon as you ordered. No one here orders those. They drink flat whites.”

That’s the drink Stephen ordered after we failed our first Great Walk. I woke up the second day, after hiking with a heavy bag and a head cold, and couldn’t bring myself to turn over in my sleeping bag and look at him. We had nearly 13 km to hike ahead, and 8.5 km already behind us, stranding us at a campsite on the Tongariro track. It didn’t matter that the second day was said to be the most beautiful, or that we’d already paid for our next campsites, I knew one thing. I would not make it. I sat in a nearby carpark with our bags, feeling watched by the hikers passing by, as he had to trek all the way back to our rental.

Traveling together became an ebb and flow, and we swayed like docked boats floating in a harbor. I had to hope that the good moments would outweigh the bad, and keep us tethered. As we drove across the country’s winding roads, slowed down only by carsickness and a speeding ticket, the days slipped by. One night we were drinking wine in a hammock in Lake Tekapo, waiting for the sun to set so we could take night photos. “Whatever you do, don’t spill the wine,” Stephen said as we rocked, watching the sky’s changing colors reflect onto the water.

I awoke with a start, and looked down at my phone. 1 a.m. lit up the screen, next to my overturned wine glass on my lap. “Don’t be mad,” I said, as Stephen stirred beside me. But how could he be once he looked up? Once you have seen the Milky Way, undiluted from city lights, stretched out across the dark night sky, nothing else feels significant. We stayed up, in the cold night air, until 3 a.m., with our heads and cameras facing upwards.

Soon a month had passed, and we had one last activity on our itinerary before we were to fly out–the Routeburn Great Walk. We needed to be at the bus by 8 a.m., but when I got ready that morning, I found that my toothpaste had exploded all over my bag, slowing me down. As we rushed in the door after speed walking across Queenstown, the girl at the front desk looked up from her phone. Apparently, I had read the email wrong. The bus was picking us up a few streets over. By the time we arrived at the right place, out of breath, we were the last ones there.

“Where do we leave our bags?” I asked, only to be informed that the luggage storage was at the first location we went to that morning. Without time to walk them back, and unable to bring them on the 4-day hike with us, we had to leave our bags there, filled with expensive electronics, and hope the staff would move them to the luggage storage we had booked. I sat, hunched over, and hugged my legs the whole ride, worrying this Great Walk would be as unsuccessful as our first.

It started to drizzle as the bus dropped us off at the Routeburn shelter. Gathered underneath with the other passengers, we met a man who had gone to a rival Florida college. “I graduated in 1965,” he said with a laugh as he adjusted his pack. “I’ve hiked three weeks in New Zealand every year for the last fourteen years.” Stephen and I talked about him as the rain turned to a downpour while we made our way along the track. If he could do this at 70 years old, so could I. I hoped.

That’s the thought I kept coming back to, as I set up our tent in rain-soaked leggings, colder than I have ever been, or ate oatmeal the next morning while I scratched at my bug bites. It was that second day, as I hiked over 13 km uphill with a heavy bag, that I saw why he did it. The sun had emerged to a blue sky that left us with endless views of the mountains we walked over. I can do this, I thought again, as we kept going without an end in sight, or huddled in our tent on the third day while rationing our food supplies. “Should we eat the raisins tonight, or save them?” became a serious question. I can do this, I thought to myself again, as we hiked the last 12 km on our last day.

It was then, as we peered around every switchback in the trail with the hope it would be our last, that I felt why he did it. When we made it to the pavement of the bus stop, and I tore off my pack to sit down, I felt sore, tired and hungry. But I also felt that place deep inside where memories of starry nights and dreams are stored, where you fill yourself with the knowledge that you’re capable of climbing mountains.

 

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