If you are like most people, when you travel you probably A) decide where you want to go, and B) buy a ticket to get there. And then there is me.
At the beginning of January, David and I sat down and set some goals. We’ve been doing pretty good on our weekly goals, putting in more hours on the elliptical and have been planning weekly menus which is going great. The list we made of random supplies in the pantry is noticeably smaller as we’ve been using every random bag and jar of stuff to make a meal. Coconut milk? Made coconut rice. Garbanzo beans? Made hummus. Mayonnaise? Well…haven’t gotten to that yet. I still can’t figure out why we even have an unopened container of mayo, since it sorta grosses us both out. But we’ll figure something out. Waste not, want not.
But we had given ourselves another goal for January: buy our first plane ticket abroad for our trip. And, as you’ve probably noticed the silence around here, we ran into some trouble.
After toying with a lot of ideas of destinations, we had finally settled on South East Asia as the region we most wanted to explore. The beaches, the food, the temperature – all too good to resist. I then sat down and started trying to figure out how to book a flight using frequent flier miles. Thanks to some travel hacking, we have miles in all the big carriers so wanted to find the best use of what we had. The first trick I learned is that when using miles from United, we could route our ticket to Asia across Europe (with a free stopover!) instead of just going straight over the Pacific. What? For free? Why wouldn’t we? We looked at the map, checked out a few things, and quickly realized it was no question, Jordan is where we would want to go. I mean, Petra! Floating in the Dead Sea! Scuba in the Red Sea! Camel Trekking with Bedoins! We were ready to book.
Unfortunately, we ran into a few problems.
1. The route we came up with was too complicated to book automatically through the United website (meaning it was over six segments), so I had to call in. I spent hours figuring out the route and finding availability on each segment along the way (for the curious: Vegas-Denver-Dulles-Zurich-Vienna-Amman (stopover)/Amman-Cairo-Bangkok-Bali (final destination)/(open jaw)Kuala Lampur-Taipei-LAX-Vegas). And because I hate long flying days, I broke up most of the flights with layovers of 20-23 hours, which is legal to do (and hey, 23 hours to explore Zurich!), but does freak out the agents as you are reading it off to them.
The guy I spoke with took down all the info, told me it seemed too complicated, and then after a few moments of typing into his computer hung up on me. I waited just in case he might call me back, but he didn’t.
The next day I called back and talked to a very friendly woman. When I told her I’d been “disconnected” the day before, she took down my number and promised to call me back if need be. I again fed her my itinerary, she again told me it seemed too complicated, and said she would need to put me on hold while she tried to get permission.
But after 45 minutes on hold, Hyde once again got mischievous. With nothing else to do I had started gazing at the map, and suddenly had a thought – why not include Nepal? I could open jaw there too probably and fly to Bali afterwards. I mean, why not? Just as that thought got running through my head as a real possibility, the nice agent hung up on me again. And despite her friendly assurances, she never called me back either.
2. For a moment I succumbed to boring old practicality, and I did manage to find a much more straightforward route to get to Asia, assuming I was willing to stick to the original plan. (OK, so maybe I should scare-quote “original”, but you know what I mean.) LAX-IST-AMM, AMM-CAI-BKK, BKK-LAX. I even got it to price out on the computer. But then I realized my mistake.
I had been planning a round-trip ticket. (Which you need to do in order to get the free stopover.) The system only allows you to book flights about 11 months into the future, so I figured I could book the ticket home for December, and then come December call in to have the dates changed farther into the future. But where date changes used to be free, they now come with a $75 change fee. Per ticket. And since I wouldn’t really know my return date by December, that meant I’d probably have to change the dates at least twice, resulting in $300 of fees. At least. Not cool.
As I was reading the rules, I realized I’d made yet another, more crucial mistake. To book a round trip ticket, I thought the flight home had to be within a year from departure. But instead it seems the return home has to be within a year of when you BOOK the ticket. Since we want to be traveling probably in the 6-9 month range, that isn’t gonna work for me, not on this trip. (Please correct me if I’m wrong on this! Most information out there is not geared towards people planning trips of nine months.)
3. But even more than the rule limitations, the psychological damage to that initial itinerary was done. After looking into Nepal, how could I not look at India? I even spent a day researching the island of Socotra, which is off the coast of Yemen, and has species of tree that grow nowhere else and look freaking amazing. Yes I want to do that!
At this point, I turned to my increasingly bewildered and frazzled husband and said “I don’t know what I want to do.” He tried valiantly not to show it, but I’m pretty sure he mentally rolled his eyes at me. He couldn’t, however, come up with a better plan either.
So our goal to have our ticket booked has not been completed. But in its place I think we have a new plan. A more expensive plan, probably, but one that I think will better suit us anyway.
We decided not to decide. The truth is, there isn’t really anywhere we don’t want to go. Other than places that have snow, or clowns. Or snow clowns. ::shudder:: So I think we are just going to wait until 6-8 weeks before we are ready to leave, and then see what kinds of things are available. Our choices may be more limited, (although last minute availability could also open up) but in the end I don’t think limited choices is going to be a bad thing. Something will be available. A flight to Athens. A cruise to Sydney. A cargo ship to Hong Kong. A submarine to Santiago. (Ok, probably not, but wouldn’t that be awesome?!?!)
We were always planning on going overland when possible, and we’ll use cheaper regional airlines when possible. (Asia Air is going to be my best friend, I can tell!) We also have some credits on some recently and strategically opened credit cards (I’m looking at you, Barclay Arrival) that will help us pay for a couple of the cheaper flights. We’ll just follow our noses, and our bliss, to have the best dang trip possible.
I really like this plan, not only because it lets me off the hook right now, but also because it lets us really be in the moment on our trip. We know from experience that no matter how educated you are when you plan your itinerary, once you get on the ground and start talking to people, you discover new routes and ideas and adventures you didn’t even know were possible before. How freeing to be able to follow the whispers of the universe at some of those junctures rather than being held hostage to a previously arranged plane ticket!
It does mean we will have to allocate more resources to the actual travel portion of our budget. And without a ticket home, we will have to figure out how to deal with those countries (and airlines) that require proof of onward travel. But I’m pretty sure the payoff will be worth the extra hassles.
I’m not able to start waxing poetic about our first destination quite yet, but there is still plenty more to talk about yet. In fact the next question is a big one – what are we going to do with all of our stuff?