Journey to Auckland: Leaving the US is Harder Than It Should Be
Wednesday, November 1, 2023 7:41 pm

I began my travels to New Zealand today, with the start of Te Araroa just over a week away.

October 30, 2023

After one last game with my regular (since 2000!) D&D gaming group until I return home, I mostly finished packing. Since I’m going to New Zealand to visit CareFree, in addition to hiking the TA, I’m staying for the maximum length I can at a time with a visitor visa, six months. (The TA should take 5 months at the most to complete.) This means I’ll need to take more than just my hiking gear: at least some extra clothes, and my laptop. And, since I’m going to go through several pairs of boots on-trail, and I’m not willing to risk not being able to find replacements — changing models of shoe mid-trail can be problematic when you’re used to one style — I also needed to find somewhere to put the four (!) pairs of boots I expect to go through on the trail.

This led to the decision to stuff my pack into my large suitcase (with extra room for some of my extra clothes and one pair of boots), and the rest of my boots and extra clothes in a small carry-on suitcase. My laptop and my electronics bag went into the small backpack I always use when I’m traveling with my computer. Besides providing more space for stuff, packing my pack into a suitcase also lets me avoid wasting a ton of plastic wrap to secure my pack, sleeping pad, and trekking poles together, and keep the straps on my pack from dangling and risk getting caught in airport luggage machinery.

By the time I went to sleep, a bit after 1 am, the only thing that wasn’t packed was my small backpack with my laptop, and a few other odds-and-ends.

October 31

The morning was relatively uneventful, save for some last-minute scrambling to get a few things done before I left. My mom and I left for the airport a bit after noon, stopping at REI to cancel my order of a pair of rubber walking tips for my trekking poles. I’d ordered them on Sunday because I could only find one of my pole tips (they tend to gradually get lost over the course of a hike). On Monday, I found the missing one (it had fallen to a lower shelf on my gear shelving unit), and decided I didn’t need a second pair, so I tried to cancel the order, and couldn’t because the website didn’t have a way of cancelling orders. Which seemed pretty surprising, but I guess it was a glitch in the system, because the cashier wasn’t able to cancel the order either, and so they had to treat it as being picked up, and then returned for a refund.

The airport was not free of computer glitches either. When I went to check in to my flight, the clerk at the service desk had trouble issuing my tickets because they couldn’t find an NZeTA (New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority) record for me. Despite having a visitor visa valid until 2027, both the clerk and some support person they talked to on the phone insisted I needed an NZeTA to be allowed on the flight. (This is incorrect: NZ Immigration explicitly states that an NZeTA is not required if you hold a valid visa.) Rather than fight them on that, I convinced them to manually enter my (still valid) NZeTA from when I visited in January. That worked, and I got my tickets and my large suitcase checked. But it was a bit unnerving that I very nearly wasn’t allowed to fly because the airline had inaccurate and incomplete information.

I pretty much breezed through security. Due to my increasing amount of international travel, I’d opted to sign up for the US Global Entry program (to greatly expedite the customs process when returning from international travel), which also includes TSA PreCheck. Lines move much faster when they’re not held up by everyone having to take off their shoes and remove electronics from carry-on bags. The rest of the time at my home airport went well enough, and my flight to Dallas left on-time.

After an unfortunate experience in January when my checked suitcase did not get put on the plane with me, I bought an Apple AirTag to put in my suitcase to let me track it. It was really quite comforting to be able to see my luggage moving to where it was supposed to be.

Since it was Halloween, a few airport personnel (at both my home airport and at Dallas) were dressed in “costumes”. With the exception of someone dressed as a scarecrow as I first arrived at the terminal in Dallas, most of these costumes were low-effort, but I can’t really fault them for that, since they still needed to be recognizable as staff, and not passengers.

I had a several hour layover at Dallas, with a 10:55 pm flight out to Auckland. After taking a train to the other side of the airport to my flight’s terminal, I got dinner — a cheeseburger and surprisingly large beer — at a restaurant near the gate. I killed most of the rest of the time before my flight making some small updates to the app I use to write these posts (a software developer’s job is never done), and wandered around the terminal hoping that the exercise would tire me out enough to actually be able to sleep on the airplane.

About half an hour before the plane was scheduled to start boarding, the gate changed to another terminal on the other side of the airport. So I — and the whole rest of the flight — walked back to the train and looped back around the airport, getting to the new terminal five minutes before boarding was originally scheduled.

Boarding, however, was delayed. Apparently, there was a problem with the aircraft we were supposed to fly on. And the replacement plane. And the replacement for the replacement. So, now on airplane #4, it took a little while to get the crew there and ready. The new plane was apparently a little smaller, so they had to re-seat a bunch of people (myself included; my new seat was two rows forward, so a slight improvement), and some people apparently had to get bumped to the next flight. Surprisingly, with all this, the plane departed only 15 minutes late, heading west, towards the Pacific Ocean.

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