A Year in Review: 2018

Another year has come and gone. Please tell me I am not the only one still writing the wrong year on paperwork. Holy moly. How do I sum up the year 2018? I saw some new places, I visited old favorites, and I became a mom. That means I survived traveling while pregnant and then traveling with a new baby. If you have any doubts or hesitations about booking a trip because of your bump, just book the trip and go. If you have a high-risk pregnancy, maybe check with your doctor first. But THEN book your trip and go. You deserve it. Despite how crummy you may feel during the duration of travel, the memories made will be so worth it. Your life will soon be consumed with feeding, diapering, drinking cold coffee, and intermittent naps, so just do something for yourself while you still can.

As I do with every year’s end, I take out my leather journal of all the killer places I was able to visit. If you’re just joining me on this blogging journey, I am a Gate Agent for a regional airline, which gives me access to flight benefits through multiple airlines with access to visit just about any place in the world. If you’re trying to get rich, being a Gate Agent may not be for you. But if you’re trying to get rich in experiences, this is definitely the job for you. I earn minimum wage as a Gate Agent, but anyone who works in the airline business will tell you exactly what I’m about to tell you: I’m not here for the paycheck. I’m here for the flights. At the end of this blog, I will detail my true hourly earnings for 2018 after calculating the retail cost of the flights I took for free flying standby as an employee.

1. January 14 – 15, 2018
Salt Lake City, Utah
FCA-SLC

This was Ian’s first experience with #nonrevlife and he was completely stoked to be hitching a free ride to Salt Lake. I was in the throes of morning sickness at the time (read: all day sickness), so my stoke level was dragging a little. We landed just before 8 A.M., bought our train tickets, and headed downtown. Although it was a Sunday and a lot of businesses were closed, we found ways to entertain ourselves. We visited Temple Square and got to hear the Tabernacle Choir sing, and we scored an incredible brunch buffet at a local eatery. As a pregnant woman at the time, I can attest that buffets were my love language. We ate the best nachos I have ever eaten in my life at Gracie’s (please go there if you’re ever in the area!) and saw Jumanji at Brewvies, a cinema pub. I obviously didn’t partake in the alcohol consumption, but my virgin Coke was delicious!

2. February 4, 2018
Salt Lake City, Utah
FCA-SLC

This trip was the giant reality check of the price we pay for free flights: sometimes you get stuck. Like, miserably stuck. I was trying to get to Chicago to be with one of my best friends to support her before her doctorate program interview the following day, but instead I was stuck at Salt Lake International Airport for 13 hours. Shrug. To avoid sleeping in the airport at the end of my first trimester, I took the last flight home to Kalispell. The upside is that the hotel I’d booked honored my airline discount, even though I wasn’t present. And my gal pal got in to the psych program. Woo! Go, Alese!

3. February 9 – 12, 2018
Orlando, Florida
FCA-MSP-MCO

The original trip was going to have a nice layover in Indianapolis with my parents so we could fly to Orlando together to visit my sister the next day, but I got stuck in Minneapolis trying to get to Indiana. I slept in the Minneapolis airport for the night and purchased a standby ticket on Spirit Airlines for $29 so I could capitalize on my time with family in Florida by taking their direct flight, therefore avoiding a crazy routing through Newark and Boston.

Once in Florida safe and sound, I was able to see my sister and her family, my parents, my aunt and uncle, and some cousins. We lounged in the sun and by the pool, and I indulged in some serious pregnancy cravings at Texas Roadhouse. Well worth the uncomfortable airport accommodations for that sweet cinnamon butter.

4. February 22 – 25, 2018
New Orleans, Louisiana
FCA-MSP-MSY

This trip was planned pre-pregnancy with Ian’s best friend from childhood and his wife. I couldn’t drink a drop of alcohol while in NOLA, which was a giant disappointment, but spending time with friends in such a lively place made up for my lack of inebriation. We took a swamp tour, saw wild pigs, ate beignets, and heard all the spooky New Orleans ghost stories. Ian would like to add details about the crawfish boil we (read: he) participated in, but I will spare you the gory details. I ate friend chicken and kept my eyes on my own plate that night.

5. February 25 – 27, 2018
Indianapolis, Indiana
MSY-DTW-IND

I figured since I was already out of FCA for the New Orleans trip, I should make the most of my access to other connection cities. I made a quick pitstop in Indiana to see my best friend and spend all my money at IKEA.

6. February 27, 2018 – March 3, 2018
Denver, Colorado
IND-DEN

Ian had a confirmed seat from FCA-DEN for a work conference, so I took the direct IND-DEN flight to meet him there and enjoy the sights of my old stomping grounds. On the day I landed in Denver, Ian met me plane-side with Denver International’s Assistant Airport Operations Manager, Desmond, for a tour of DIA. Like, I literally stepped off the plane and got into a vehicle on the tarmac to be whisked away for this magical tour. Pinch me. We geeked out together about aviation, drove on the largest commercial service runway in America (16R/34L, which is 16,000 feet long), and stepped inside an Atlas 747 cargo plane. Desmond was gracious enough to take our pregnancy announcement photographs too. And after that, my all-day-sickness returned and was unrelenting for the remainder of the week. I literally laid in bed all day long. Shrug.

7. March 3 – 6, 2018
Corpus Christi, Texas
DEN-IAH-CRP

I hitched a ride to visit Andrea in Texas, which was my first time seeing her since we had both made our big moves out of Colorado. We visited Padre Island National Seashore and Texas State Aquarium, both of which I highly recommend if you’re visiting the area. We ogled over the baby bump that we never thought I’d have, and spent an afternoon enjoying the sunshine on the beach.

8. April 9 – 11, 2018
Kona, Hawaii
FCA-SLC-LAX-KOA

After being in the industry for almost 18 months, I was dying to visit Hawaii. Lucky for me, one of my girlfriends who happens to be one of my awesome coworkers was also itching to experience island life. So we made it happen! Our flight to SLC was delayed over six hours, but we were still able to make a connection in LA to the Big Island. We rented a car suitable for dirt roads and found a hotel on the beach with an incredible airline employee discount. We spent two days on the island, experiencing the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, hiking over five miles roundtrip to the Papakolea Green Sands Beach, playing with sea turtles (from a safe distance, of course), hiking around Volcano National Park, and taking killer night shots of the active Kilauea Volcano. Fun fact: two weeks after our visit, the volcano erupted. A local couple we happened to meet at the lookout point said, “Wow, you guys are really lucky to see the volcano this active!”

9. April 19 – 22, 2018
Indianapolis, Indiana
FCA-MSP-IND

My time to travel as a pregnant person was ending soon and I needed to see my family one last time before that ban was put in place. And I also needed to indulge in Chili’s chips and salsa while I had the chance. Tiffany treated me to a mani/pedi, where we got pampered while listening to the Podcast, “Serial,” and then we ate allllllll the chips and salsa.

10. May 3 – 5, 2018
Detroit, Michigan
FCA-SLC-DTW

Ian had a long weekend and I told him he could pick any locale in the entire world to visit… aaaaand he picked Detroit, Michigan. Let’s be honest here, I scoffed and raised my eyebrows when he suggested Detroit. Why not London? Or Hawaii? But once we arrived and I met his friends that graciously shared their home with us, man, it was such a killer weekend. The weather cooperated and we got to go out on their boats multiple times, eat at boat clubs, and I got to take some long, luscious naps. On our way home, we purposefully gave ourselves a long layover so we could eat at In-n-Out Burger.

11. June 6 – 7, 2018
Colorado Springs, Colorado
FCA-SLC-COS

This is going to sound pretty “extra” of me, but I planned this trip so I could get my haircut and see the eye doctor. Yup. I fly out of state to get my hair done and see my eye doctor. Work perks! I got to catch up with my favorite Montanan-turned-Coloradan whose name happens to be Montana and I got to have a sleepover with my Colorado best friend, Jenn. AND I got to have some good ‘ol Dutch Bros. This trip was super nostalgic, seeing all the people and places that gave me my happy beginning in 2014.

12. June 7 – 8, 2018
Corpus Christi, Texas
COS-IAH-CRP

Andrea said she had a ton of baby stuff to give me, but it didn’t make sense to ship everything here for a pretty penny when I could just fly down there for free. So that’s what I did! I brought my 80L Osprey pack and Ian’s 80L Marmot duffle bag. You won’t believe how much stuff we jam-packed into those bags. Yup, that’s a Rock ‘n Play.

13. October 16 – 20, 2018
Indianapolis, Indiana
FCA-SLC-IND

Gavin’s first flight out of the womb! Woo! He slept most of the way and everyone commented how well he did flying. Music to my ears. I prayed long and hard that our baby would be a pleasant traveler. Anyway, Gavin got to meet my dad, his Great Grandma Marion, and most of his cousins, aunts, and uncles this trip. As if I needed another reminder that I have the best job ever, seeing my dad holding my baby boy got me right in the feels. I would never be able to afford tickets home as often as I am able to now, all because of my job. So. Blessed.

14. November 9 – 12, 2018
Minneapolis, Minnesota
FCA-MSP

I love the direct flight to Minneapolis, especially now that I have a baby to tote around with me. Layovers tend to be much more challenging. One of my supervisors from work was also on this flight and she graciously held Gavin for most of the flight. He loves her, and my arms loved the break! This was the first time flying with Gavin that required me to pickup our baggage and rental car completely solo – and I would pay to see the footage of me walking around the airport with a baby strapped to my front and a carseat backpack on my back, with a small suitcase rolling next to me. We were a sight to be seen! After picking up the rental car, we hit the road for New Ulm to visit my sister and her family. Her daughters had watched Gavin in his first days at the NICU via the hospital webcam over his crib (that sounds creepy, but I promise it wasn’t). They were so excited to meet him in real life and I was so excited to have a long, hot shower while my sister watched the babe. This was the first time since the summer that my skin got pruney in the shower and it was absolutely glorious. I even got to sip hot – yes, HOT – coffee in the mornings. I also learned a lot about being a mother through watching my sister with her little girls. Raising children is the hardest job in the universe, but she made it look so dang easy! Beyond the TLC and “schooling” I received, we also did some shopping and I bought the greatest invention known to breastfeeding mothers: a nursing hoodie.

15. November 12 – 16, 2018
Eugene, Oregon
MSP-SLC-EUG

My mom had planned a trip to visit her sister and mother in Oregon (yup, your parents get in on the flight bennies too), so in true form, I told her I would hitch a ride and meet her there. I love the airport in Eugene! My mom and aunt picked me up from baggage claim and it was so nice to have the extra hands with my bags. We spent these few days shopping, exploring downtown, enjoying my grandma’s homemade banana bread (to. die. for.), and lounging in the living room by the fire enjoying each other’s company. My mom and I were able to share a plane ride to Salt Lake City for our return trips home, which was really special. Plus it was nice for my arms to have a break in-flight!

16. December 21 – 24, 2018
Indianapolis, Indiana
FCA-DEN-ORD-IND

In hindsight, this was a really terrible day to try and fly. Christmas was on a Tuesday in 2018, which meant that just about every person in America who didn’t work in retail, restaurants, or tourism had a four day weekend. And me? I’m the idiot flying standby with a five month old on the busiest travel day of the 2018 season. Oops. We flew into Denver without a hitch (31 open seats and we were the only ones on standby), but then the day got hairy. The direct Indianapolis flight checked in and boarded full, with the next direct flight being eight hours away. I listed for Chicago, despite the loooong list of standbys and we made it on the very last open seat. A true Christmas miracle.

I didn’t tell my mom we were coming, so when I showed up at her front door she screamed and cried. Classic mom reaction. While I was home I got to watch Hallmark Christmas movies with my mom, have a baby-free lunch and shoe shopping date with my best friend, and spend an early Christmas dinner with all of my Indiana siblings and their husbands/wives and children. Flying back to Kalispell on Christmas Eve was a total breeze, aside from the fact that Gavin had his first blowout at 30,000 feet. Three outfits later, we were back home in Montana.

My True Earnings for 2018

I was pregnant for half of the year and my maternity leave suspended my travel benefits for three months, so I am surprised by how many places I was able to travel. I wasn’t able to get international in 2018 (thanks, Zika), but we have big goals in mind for our 2019 travels. The best part? Gavin is out of my belly and able to see everything for himself!

The math nerd in me always calculates my true hourly wage after taking into account the total retail cost of my flights for the year divided by my total hours worked for the year. I am a seasonal employee, so my hours for the year always fluctuate depending on operational need. If I would have paid retail for all of the flights we took in 2018, we would’ve spent $14,498.90. YIKES. With my maternity leave and furlough taken into account, I worked just shy of 400 hours last year for the airline. That means that in addition to my hourly wage, I earned an extra $37.59 per hour in 2018. Mind. Blown.

Myself included, the majority of airline folks are in the industry for the flight benefits and travel discounts. The bonus is that the work is challenging and fun, and every day is different. I also work alongside some of the best in the business; we really do feel like a family. I used to think only pilots and flight attendants got flight benefits, but I was so wrong (thank goodness because I have too many tattoos to be a stewardess). If you are willing to be flexible in your travel plans in exchange for free flights, this is definitely the job for you. If you have questions or want more information about my job, contact me and let’s talk about that #nonrevlife.

Cheers to 2019 and the many adventures on the horizon!

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