There’s a certain array of wonder when you see a hot air balloon floating in the sky—it’s something out of the norm, even if you live in a place where they frequently lift off. But to actually be in one, lift off, and see the ground below you shrink as you float away in your very own hot air balloon ride?
Well, that’s even more enchanting.
I worked in partnership with Simply Social Media to share a look at visiting Albuquerque. I am excited to share this trip with you; every single opinion below is my own; they didn’t know we were here on “business.” #SimplySocialNMPartner.
If you’ve contemplated going on a hot air balloon ride, then consider this the push you need to actually make it happen. Book that once-in-a-lifetime bucket list adventure and enjoy the ride!
Our Hot Air Balloon Adventure
Even though I’ve flown in a hot air balloon before (only once when I was in my 20s), I was downright over the moon about going on one again. My last time was about a decade ago, but this time my husband would be by my side. We actually planned on going on a hot air balloon ride shortly after his deployment…but the pandemic and a move overseas halted that idea pretty quickly.
So when we knew we were going back to America, booking a hot air balloon ride was one of the very first things I did—I didn’t want to miss this chance again.
Low and behold, our first scheduled ride never lifted off; it was cancelled for bad weather (more on that below; the pictures above are from that morning…it was gorgeous outside, and we were so full of hope!). Rescheduling was slightly tricky (on our end), because we had to work around my husband’s school schedule, and find a place for the kids to spend the night a second time.
But thankfully, it all worked out.
Bonus: the balloon company we went with, Rainbow Ryders, doesn’t charge until after you complete your flight for instances like this where the balloon doesn’t lift off.
A few days before we had to leave Albuquerque, New Mexico, we took our first hot air balloon ride together, and it was simply delightful. The one and only downside is that there were wildfires in the area (as they often are during the summer), and our views were much hazier than the usual crisp morning air we typically see in the Rio Grande Valley.
Regardless, I still 100% recommend a hot air balloon ride if you ever have the chance.
The Ultimate Guide for Your First Hot Air Balloon Ride
Hopefully these tips will help if you’re about to embark on your first hot air balloon ride.
Find an Experienced Pilot and Crew
Did you know that in order to legally fly a balloon in America you have to be FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) certified with at least 500 hours of flying time? Safety is at the top of this list, because you want to make sure your pilot is top notch and the best of the best.
We went with Rainbow Ryders in Albuquerque, New Mexico, (they also have locations in Phoenix, Arizona, and Colorado Springs, Colorado), because their reputation and safety precautions far exceed my expectations.
If you don’t live in one of the cities mentioned above, just make sure you thoroughly check out the pilot/company you fly with before getting in the gondola with them.
I highly suggest booking your hot air balloon ride at the very beginning of your trip, just in case you have to reschedule. Ballooning is an art, and it works hand in hand with the weather. Basically you need perfect weather—not too windy, not too hot or cold.
The weather actually looked and felt perfect the day we were supposed to fly. It was stunning outside and if our excitement levels could’ve lifted us up, we would’ve flown that day.
Unfortunately, after the pilots did their helium balloon test to check how fast the wind speeds were above ground, and after they discussed the go/no-go plan, they all unanimously decided against flying that day.
We were bummed, of course, but I 100% would rather be safe than sorry. If you’re looking for a ballooning company, double check their standards for flying, and their cancellation policy. Thankfully, Rainbow Ryders charges after you fly, so we weren’t charged a single penny for that first no-go flight. And they called later that day to try to get us onto another balloon ride.
TIP: Rainbow Ryders offers a military discount (call them directly). We were so grateful for the generosity, especially when they honored the discount even after our date changed.
This goes back to having an experienced pilot. Our original pilot said he thought the weather was probably fine for flying, but if there was even a chance it isn’t, they don’t fly.
Then he said something that put things into perspective: “I’d rather be on the ground wishing I was up there, instead of up there wishing I was on the ground.”
We were completely bummed, of course, but also 100% on board with their decision.
“I’d rather be on the ground wishing I was up there, instead of up there wishing I was on the ground.”
Our second pilot, Kris (who we actually flew with), was constantly taking in the wind speed, direction we were going, altitude, and all sorts of stuff I didn’t keep up with. He was also in constant communication with the chase crew on the ground, and the other balloonists to see what the air was doing by them.
Kris had more than 3,300+ flying hours and actually had his daughter come along for the ride. I knew, without a doubt, that safety was at the forefront of his mind, and that eased any worry I might have had about our flight. His priority on our safety was greatly appreciated.
Dress in Layers and Comfort
I know the temptation to look cute for pictures, but trust me when I say: dress comfortable. Skip the dress, and don’t even think about wearing anything other than closed-toed shoes.
Not only do you have to get into the gondola (it’s higher than you think it is), but you have to get out, too. Let’s just put it out there that there’s no graceful way to do that.
Also, you never know where, or how, you’ll land. It’s best to be assume you’ll land in a a field of tumbleweeds (even if you land in plush green grass, dress for tumbleweeds).
PRO TIP: Don’t forget sunglasses. It’ll be dark when you drive to your balloon site in the morning; don’t forget to pack them the night before!
As for layers, the temperature doesn’t change too drastically in the air, but it can get fairly warm once the sun comes out and the burners overhead start heating up. I was thankful I could take off my sweater. Consider a beanie and gloves if you’re flying in later autumn.
Pay close attention to your pilot as they give instructions for landing.
You may luck out with a soft and easy landing, or it may jolt you and bounce or be a bumpy landing. There are important things to be aware of (including holding on to the handles and not standing straight up).
Keep Your Gear in Mind
Unless you pay extra for a private balloon flight, you’ll likely be sharing your adventure with up to 10+ new friends. The gondolas are large, but not that big, so keep in mind what you bring with you. Keep your big, bulky bags/backpacks locked in your trunk or at your hotel/home.
Cameras: If you have a fancy camera and you are not flying in a private gondola, I recommend only sticking with one lens so you don’t have to swap them up. There’s very limited room to move around (like, maybe you can do a slow, awkward spin), let alone crouch down to change a lens.
Phone: make sure you have something on your phone that you can hold onto. I have a PopSocket on my iPhone, and my husband has a strap for his android. Even with our little grippy thing I was petrified I’d drop my phone. 3,000 feet is a loooooooooong way down.
Same goes for any hats or sunglasses. If it’s not “tethered” to you somehow, just be extra super careful not to have it go over the edge!
Keep Your Eyes Open
Okay, let me preface this with saying that I grew up with balloons in our backyard, and accidents are extremely rare. But they do happen. There was actually an unfortunate fatal balloon accident one week before our hot air balloon ride (not associated with the company we went with). The balloon got tangled in some power lines.
Obviously, I was nervous about going in one after that, but that’s where the first few tips come in handy. Our pilots know what they’re doing, and there are precautions along the way.
One of those things is that the passengers need to keep their eyes out for any type of obstructions (trees, power lines, houses, animals, etc). The pilot only has two set of eyes, so help them out and keep your eyes open for any possible obstacles he/she may not see.
Ask if You Can Help
Watching the balloon inflate (and deflate once you land) is all part of the fun. And while they have their job down to an art, balloonists have always been extremely friendly if you want to lend a hand and help.
Don’t be shy: just ask someone before you start jumping in so you can have clear guidance on how to help.
Extra Tips for Your First Hot Air Balloon Ride
…Skip the flight if:
The company we went with accepts kids over the age of 6, HOWEVER…the gondola is quite tall. My oldest (8 years old) would have had a hard time seeing over it. So even though my middle and oldest kids could have technically flown with us, we decided to wait until they’re older (and by “older” I really mean “taller).
Also, skip the flight if you’re pregnant and have bad knees or a bad back. We were lucky we had a smooth landing, but I’ve personally seen extremely bumpy/rocky/bouncy landings before. Not to mention, there’s the whole getting in and getting out of the gondola.
…So you’re scared of heights?
I am 100% scared of heights. Like, going up a ladder makes my hands shake. Even something like a tram/cable car ride makes me queasy. But floating in a hot air balloon is a completely different sensation that’s hard to describe. All I know is that I wasn’t scared at all—not when we were at our peak of 3,000+ feet in the air, or as we were coming in for our landing.
If you’re scared of heights, I hope this encourages you to give a hot air balloon ride a try.
…Schedule in a nap.
Obviously this is just a fun little extra tip, but ballooning is tiring, even if you’re just standing in the basket looking out. There’s a lot of adrenaline that goes along with a hot air balloon ride, so keep your schedule in mind and maybe schedule in a quick nap!
…Time to celebrate!
At the end of our flight, as the crew put the balloon away, we celebrated with mimosas (or orange juice, or just champagne if that’s how you roll). It was fun to clink glasses with the fellow guests, and marvel at our certificate for completing the flight.
…Don’t forget to tip
I know you just paid a decent amount of money for your flight, but there will be an opportunity to tip at the end, so bring some cash with you. (I believe we tipped an extra $20 per person; our pilot was wonderful, and I appreciated his expertise.)
Tell me about YOUR hot air balloon ride!
I’d love to hear all about your experience, whether you’ve already gone up in a balloon, or if you’re about to, share your story in the comments!
I truly hope this post helps—I tried to include everything I wanted to know about flying in a balloon, and everything I wish I knew before hand.