The plane ride from Boston to Minneapolis was a quick glide with our son taking a nap in Dada’s arms. I hadn’t been to Minnesota in four years and the summer timing couldn’t have been better. It was lovely to spend a few weeks showing our son around my favorite lakes.
While we cherished our vacation, hanging over us was the realization it had to come to an end as we prepared to head to Los Angeles. The night before our flight, my mother spent time helping roll our clothes into the large space-saver luggage bags, which I highly recommend to anyone traveling with massive amounts of clothing for two different climates.
Our son and dog did great on the flight to Los Angeles. Once there, we stayed at the Sheraton Four Points LAX because they allowed pets. We had to book two nights because our dog had one last vet check up and then had to begin his quarantine. We wouldn’t see him until we were in New Zealand and they couldn’t guarantee to us that he’d be on the same flight as us. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to him. Our poor boy had no idea what was going on. My husband gave him a long walk to the transport clinic and the handlers were wonderful taking notes about his temperament for the quarantine staff. They gave him an ice block for the trip and we put in a worn shirt with my husband’s smell on it to hopefully cure any separation anxiety he may have.
Air New Zealand offers nighttime flights for the 12-to-15-hour trip. It was 10pm by the time we boarded and our son was up way past his bedtime but in good spirits. I tried my best to keep his sleep cues the same as if we were home; putting him into pajamas, a sleep sack, and giving him a bottle during take off. It worked great— he fell asleep while taxiing. I decided I probably should too, since I didn’t know how long he’d last. I missed out on the complimentary wine and dinner and I didn’t get to watch any shows or movies (this would be the norm for me when traveling with a sleepy child) but at least I was able to rest.
We booked a Sky Couch for the trip, which I also recommend. It gives you just a little bit more comfort if you can find the right position. Leg rests prop up and bedding is provided with a seatbelt to loop you to the main seatbelt while lying down. My husband is 6’4” so he had a harder time getting comfortable and had to sit up while I rested my legs on his lap. Our son was the only one who could really lie down but it was worth it for him to get sleep. He slept most of the way and we didn’t have any issues (traveling this distance a year later proved to be more difficult).
Arriving at the terminal in Auckland at 6am on 4 July (the 3rd in USA), my son and two little boys from the flight created their own version of a haka— running in circles, chasing each other and shouting for a good 15 minutes.
Customs went quickly thanks to an airport volunteer who witnessed our struggle at baggage claim and offered to help us find our way around. She put us in front of the line and moved us through security where a dog picked up a scent of leftover food I’d had in my bag in Los Angeles. The agents were incredibly friendly, even giving our son a special badge with a police dog on it.
On the shuttle to our hotel we were pleasantly surprised to sit next to a woman traveling alone from Vermont! Too bad we were too exhausted to really chat; I remember it felt like the longest drive… almost longer than the plane ride. It was worth it, though… the Langham in Auckland was like a little slice of heaven with black out drapes, a king size bed, a marble bathtub with posh robes… It was exactly what we needed. A splurge, no doubt, but after all that travel the desire for extra pampering was high, especially since we knew we’d be without furniture for the next few weeks in Wellington (more on that later). We took two-hour naps until our son woke us up and we ventured out to find food and switch our phone cards. We also received confirmation that our dog was on the same flight as us and had survived the trip! We couldn’t wait to see him in Wellington. I wasn’t keen on Auckland; could’ve been the jet lag, but it didn’t feel comfortable to me. I was grateful to move on to Wellington.
Two days later, we did. We had to get our entire luggage together again and haul it off to the train station. There was no way we’d get on another airplane again and we wanted to see some of the North Island. KiwiRail was the way to go. Our son didn’t nap but it didn’t matter. He was happy. We were happy.
I cried tears of joy and probably annoyed natives with my constant “oohs and ahhs” at the scenery. We tried taking photos along the route but it didn’t do it justice. I breathed in the hillsides and noticed my body relax.
Reflecting back on the past few months, I was finally able to appreciate what we’d done. We’d worked hard and made it happen. My dad was right. It was bittersweet. We didn’t leave America because we were mad at it. It wasn’t like I hear people talking today. I love America. It’s my roots. And I love Vermont. It’s where I learned to become an adult; where I healed, became educated, met my husband, and where my baby was born.
I wasn’t running away from anything or getting out while I could. Sure, the health insurance issue was the first deciding factor, but it became more than that. My husband and I craved something… an experience… a lifestyle that would feel uncluttered but still with value. It seems silly to write that now as I think of how much of a challenge it’s actually been but it’s a different sort of simple. And it’s given us an appreciation for life that for some reason, I lost in America. I didn’t know what I’d find or if I’d find the connection I desired in New Zealand, but on the train touring the North Island, winding us to Wellington through valleys and plains, along hillsides full of sheep and pukekos and crashing ocean waves…
…it all felt so very right.
Next up, the last of the series!
Part Six: HOME SWEET HOME