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Back in March I took my daughter on a trip to Disneyland. It was a great chance to explore Disneyland with a toddler while visiting with one of my best friends from high school. We have stayed in touch despite the many moves that both of us have made in the past 15 or so years. We also happen to have daughters that are just six months apart, so it kind of worked out perfectly. Travel tip: I highly recommend traveling with other families who have kids about the same age as yours!
My friend travels quite a bit, and did earn some miles along the way, but I had never been able to get her fully invested in miles and points…until now. Shortly after our joint Disney adventure she got hooked. And I mean hooked! So, I got her to share some of her traveling adventures with her young family (including one misadventure) as well as some information from the perspective of a newbie in the world of miles and points. This post was actually written a couple months ago, so some of her opinions may have changed slightly since then. I’ll have to check back in with her to find out!
Before we get into your traveling adventures, can you tell me a little bit about your family?
We are a military family (which means travel can happen a lot if you are adventurous and spontaneous…and if the kids are young enough and the wife has a flexible schedule). My husband flies the F/18E Super Hornet for the US Navy and we are currently stationed in California where he is working as a test pilot. We have a 24 month old daughter who loves to travel, so we have a lot to be thankful for!
Before having a child, and even getting married for that matter, I traveled a lot. I have traveled all over the world since I was a young girl. I even had the chance to live in London, Austria, and Belize, and have learned more than I ever thought possible through other cultures in my experiences. I love to travel: it is what makes me happy and excited. I love researching and planning. Once we got married we were not able to travel (fly) as much due to my husband’s work schedule that included 18 hour days, random detachments, security concerns, and long deployments. Despite those barriers, we made sure to use our weekends wisely.
Even if we could not fly, we would make sure to drive to closer destinations to experience our surroundings on the East Coast. We love to experience fun hotels and room service (we are room service gluttons!). To find a wonderful hotel with great location and amazing food was as much of a treat for us as the location to which we were traveling. Deployments, though, were a great way to see the world and we took advantage of this when we could. Whether it was just flying to meet my husband in port in the US, flying to a base in some random state while he was training, or flying somewhere like Peru for a port call. Using miles (we love United (“Continental” at the time)) helped us do lots of this in first class and make really nice hotel reservations for less.
What have your travel patterns been after having a child?
Funny enough, after having a child our traveling experiences have expanded greatly. My husband was deployed a lot. In fact because of this he had to miss much of our daughter’s first year of life.
I had to make a decision to either just go for it and experience life to the fullest with a baby in tow, or let fear take over and stay home without experiencing all I could. So I sucked it up and did things on my own. I flew home several times with my daughter, flew to Orlando and enjoyed a trip to Disney World, drove half-way across the country to visit friends, etc. It was great and it made me gain so much confidence about traveling with a baby. It is definitely not the hardest thing in the world if you plan accordingly, and make sure to know everything there is to know about airline restrictions and the areas you will be visiting.
By the time my husband got back from his deployment our daughter had six flights under her belt, including trips to Houston, Charleston, Hilton Head, Washington DC, Mobile, Birmingham, Highlands and Orlando.
Once Landon got back we continued to travel around the area and took our daughter on her first international flight to Turks and Caicos where we stayed at a beachfront condo for nine days! She did amazing!!
Since that time we have traveled across the country with her as we have moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. The road trip proved to be a memorable experience, and we were able to travel to places we would normally not make time to visit. And as we learned, most places (even small zoos in small states) have pet services so we were even able to have someone watch our dog while we made time to stretch our legs at zoos and aquariums.
Since moving to California a few months ago we made sure we were traveling every month doing something new. Our daughter is a great traveler and we are grateful for that since we don’t feel a lot of anxiety as we prepare to board a plane or travel through the desert in our SUV (but she is normal, so meltdowns will be a part of life every once in a while). We have recently flown to Texas to accomplish a half marathon, to San Diego to experience SeaWorld and the world renowned San Diego Zoo, we have met up with Mommy Points in Anaheim to go to Disneyland. We also have many more trips scheduled throughout the rest of this year and into next year.
Well….when our daughter was four months old, it was time for her first flight. I was going to fly home to Houston to see family while my husband was deployed on a carrier in Afghanistan. After checking bags, I put her in her BOB stroller and went through airport security in the least graceful way a mother can when she has a four month old. Picture winter coats, a huge BOB stroller, a pillow, a Baby Bjorn (in case of emergency this was Ruby’s “valium”) and a carry-on filled with formula and baby food.
Once I get to the gate I am sweating like a pig (despite that it is winter outside) and pretty anxious about this first flight. Will she cry the whole time, or will she sleep? What if I have to pee and she is dead asleep? Did I get an aisle seat or window (I forgot!)? What if she throws up….what if I THROW UP?? What if the dreaded dirty diaper rears its ugly head and there are no changing spots available? Everything races through your head.
I am sitting there at the gate that clearly reads: Continental Flight ____ to Houston. The flight is ready for boarding in a few minutes so I decide to address my fears beforehand. I go to the bathroom and take care of myself, then I change my daughter’s diaper. I put her back in the stroller and she is happy. We are ready to go. I head to the gate and the flight is boarding. The sign still reads Flight____to Houston International. I give them my ticket and they scan it. I get my BOB stroller with all my carry-on junk to the gate check area. If any of you have a BOB Stroller you know how great these things are, but how miserable it is to travel with one since it is big, bulky and has no real mechanism to close it except a bungee cord. So after what seems like an eternity (since I am holding a four month old), I get the stroller collapsed and handed off to the airport crew.At this point, it is 5PM, My daughter knows 5pm like we all know the back of our hands. Dinner time. If you don’t get a bottle in her mouth at 5PM on the dot, she will let you know you have done her wrong. So she starts howling. Wailing because it is now 5:02pm and apparently she is dying of starvation that quickly.
I get on, make my way to the seat in the back and sit down. I am actually the last person to board the plane. I breath a sigh of relief that I now have my hands free and start to make her bottle. As I am doing this, I hear this gem of an announcement:
“Welcome to Continental Flight blah blah blah blah, heading to Newark. Your travel time will be blah hours long. Thank you.”
My hand shoots up faster than I ever thought possible. People start looking at me, this screaming child, and what I assume is the most hilarious look on my face. The flight attendant stops in the middle of her announcement and looks at me. I politely look around and at her and say, “I am sorry but I am NOT going to Newark.” She gets a scared look on her face and says, “Oh god.” I am not laughing at this point. People are in shock around me. The doors have closed and this plane is about to start moving. How does this even happen??
As you might have guessed by now, it turns out when I went to the bathroom, they made an announcement that due to some problem they needed this gate for the passengers going to Newark. So those passengers came over from another gate and were the ones boarding the plane my daughter and I were now on. They only made one single announcement. They did not change the electric sign at the check in counter that stated the plane was going to Houston. So as I am walking back to my gate from the restroom my logical assumption was that they were boarding the correct flight since they made an announcement before I left for the restroom that they would be doing boarding for the Houston flight soon.
Then it got worse…as I am getting off the wrong plane and telling myself I am strong, I won’t cry, etc, I lift my daughter up to put her in her Baby Bjorn carrier (she is screaming and I have my hands full) I lift her up and accidentally bang her head against the top of the airplane. The whole plane could hear the thud. Every person on that flight was staring at me and I heard the collective gasps as it happened. I at that moment I just needed off the plane, so out of desperation I think I said something like “Yeah, I know, I am not getting the mother of the year award. Got it.” I was then escorted off the flight. Lovely memory of my first trip with my daughter.
Continental was full of the biggest apologies, but the damage was done. I wanted to curl up in a ball and pretend this wasn’t happening and I was not in this airport. I made it to Texas that day, but I canceled an upcoming trip I had planned and vowed not to travel alone with my daughter again. Of course, after a little time went on I did decide to travel again with my daughter and it has gone much more smoothly on subsequent trips.
What tips have you learned in your travels with an infant/toddler that might help other families?
A car seat has been our best friend. We hold her at times while on the flight, but otherwise having a car seat makes her feel safe. It gives her the head support she needs to fall asleep, and makes her feel secure. Our daughter also loves using the iPad when we travel. She enjoys the treat of watching movies when we fly. We also have really benefited from teaching her to drink on command so that she is drinking when the plane is ascending and descending due to the change in cabin pressure.
You have only very recently gotten into the world of miles and points. Tell me why you decided to jump in now and what you have done/learned so far that might be most helpful to others new to this “hobby”.
Oh man, I can’t even write enough on this so maybe I should try to not say much at all. I now can’t stand the thought of buying everyday items or traveling as much as we have/do and not getting some reward out of it other than the experience itself. There are too many ways to earn free nights, free points, free mileage, and I am angry that it took me this long to catch on to the points game. But I have the fever now! Maybe too much as I need to watch my credit card churning (my friend didn’t listen to a word I said about starting slow!)
If ever there were a time for my family to start and start in a big way it is now. We have perfect credit, no debt, and have only had one credit card the last four years. We won’t be needing to rent, buy another home, vehicle, or anything else major for at least two years, so now is a great time to start adding up some points and mileage through good deals on credit card applications. With all the traveling we have coming up it is a great way to educate myself quickly on the points process. How much you want it is demonstrated by how many hours of research you are willing to put into it. The more willing you are to devote time to research, the more you will get out of it in the end. I can’t wait to see over the next few months how much I learn, and how well I do in this points game!!!
I emailed my friend this week as I was preparing this post (she was at Disneyland again with her daughter while her husband was away for work), and she added this piece of advice after now having been in the points game a few months.
It is much better to to use points wisely, but cautiously, over time than throw away what you worked hard to earn just because you want something “free” immediately. Also, if you have the chance to use points or dollars to upgrade, get the bigger room, preferably a suite, so you can adhere to your child’s naptime/bedtime without feeling trapped and unable to stay up yourself.
Finally, no matter how much you are scared of traveling alone with your kiddo, trust that it is worth it for your child and you. Everything can go wrong, but it makes for an amazing story. Bonding time and adventure together.Amen to that.