Monthly Archives: July 2012

Los Angeles

We know that when you think of a trip around the world, you don’t think of Los Angeles.  However, our good friends at the Delta Skyteam think differently.  So, in order to embark on our journey to Auckland, New Zealand, we have found ourselves spending the first day of our journey in LA.  And let me tell you, we have had such a great day.  We are fortunate enough to have some good friends who live here, so we were able to spend our last day in the U.S. with them.

Santa Monica Pier

We started out spending time with Paula, a friend of Phil’s from back in Atlanta.  She and her 3 year old daughter gave up their day and drove all over showing us some of the great things about the city.  We first went to the beach in Santa Monica, famous for its beautiful white sand, “muscle beach” workout area, and of course, The Pier.  We walked along, spying different people trying to one-up each other in all kinds of feats of strength.  Phil tried his hand at rope-climbing, but it just wasn’t the same as it was in 5th grade P.E. class.  Sadly, a 10 year old girl quickly put him to shame.  I certainly would not have done any better and give him credit for trying. 

A Smoggy View

After the beach, we journeyed to the other side of LA, through the notorious LA traffic, up into the Hollywood hills to the Griffith Observatory.  Situated in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, the observatory is a lovely spot to get an amazing view of the whole city.  True, much of it is blurred by smog, but it is still really beautiful and I can imagine it is a great place to go to get away from the crowds below.  It is surrounded by winding hiking trails of varying difficulty which look like they would be a lot of fun if we were here for more time.

After our time with Paula, we met up with Murph (Mike Murphy), our friend who works on the NBC sitcom Whitney.  Since they are not yet in production, he had the time to show us around the lot where they write and shoot the show, as well as many other shows.  This kind of thing is old hat for Murph, but Phil and I got a real kick out of seeing the studio where they shot Seinfeld, Christina Applegate’s parking spot and the outside walls of the Big Brother house.  We even got a little homesick walking down “New York Street,” the place on the lot they use for outside shots on shows which are set in New York.

Finally, we were joined by two more friends, Frank and Jaclyn, for a delicious sushi dinner at Katsuya–Murph and Frank’s favorite sushi restaurant. We spent our last few hours before heading to the airport with good food, good friends, and great conversation.  All in all, today has been the perfect start for our trip!

-Brooke

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Categories: Diversions, Driving, Friends, LA | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Day(ton) One

Our trip is underway as we wake up in Hawthorne, Los Angeles at a hotel near the airport! We left the Mid-west yesterday with all of our gear for the next four months by our side. We made a final farewell phone call to our parents before we disconnect our cell phone service from our respective carriers later today. Soon, our iphones become regular ole WiFi devices. Now, we are double checking that we didn’t forget anything and re-discovering where we’ve packed everything. To our delight, we have tons of room left to spare. And our travel clothes are amazingly comfortable. Plus, not to brag, but I think we look pretty sharp.

Welcome to Dayton

Dayton International Airport

First two flights down and we’re hoping everything can be this easy. We showed up at the Dayton airport yesterday, thanked Orville and Wilbur for their aviation contributions, and boarded two seamless, enjoyable Delta flights heading west. But this part is easy. This part is fun and familiar. This part is almost predictable. Brooke and I are quite adept at riding in planes across the country. We’ve had some practice. It’s all relatively simple travel when you have GPS guiding you to the hotel, signs that are clearly marked, friendly  counter agents that speak English and Good Morning America on in the background while you enjoy a continental breakfast. The real thrill begins when we land in Auckland, turn to look at each other and say, “Now what?” followed by “What the hell time is it?” (And then “Where can Phil go to get that haircut he’s been putting off for three weeks?”)

Four Months of Travels in two suitcases each

Four Months of Travels in two suitcases each

We woke up this morning in the first of many, many hotel rooms. Everything was comfortable enough but the shower only gets a B-. I’m sure we’ll have better as we go and I’m sure we’ll have worse. With money now only in spend mode moving forward, we’ve  started watching our budget: Grabbing some plastic spoons and bananas from breakfast for the road, getting shaving cream from the clerk and gulping down cheap, bad coffee. On our to do list for today: Enjoy a day in L.A.and then head to the airport around 8:00 PM for a 14 hour flight!

-Phil

Our plane from MSP to LAX

Our plane from MSP to LAX

Our first travel obstacle!
Our first travel obstacle!

Categories: Flights, LA, New Zealand, Packing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Away we go!

Last night, I enjoyed a delicious homemade dinner on a back patio with some of my family. In a way, it was the quintessential American home cooked meal: Pork Chops from the grill, chopped & sautéed summer veggies, succulent corn on the cob and more. About halfway through dinner, whilst picking corn out of my teeth, it dawned on me that this is the last homemade American-style dinner for quite a while. Starting tomorrow, I stop carrying keys or anything around in my pocket. I’ve stopped sleeping in my own, comfortable bed.Very soon, I will stop being able to speak the local language. And all my cash is going to be in funny colors. In short, tomorrow Brooke and I are going stop doing what we’re used to and start diving into the unknown.

After all this yapping, planning and anticipating about the trip, we’re less than 12 hours out from our first flight. Amazing. Intimidating. Daunting. And then exciting all over again. It’s here, baby. (Some last minute shopping aside…I still need to procure a second dang money belt.) I’m ready to expand my horizons a touch, enrich my life if I’m lucky and come back with a treasure chest of memories. Embarking on the trip of a lifetime is right around the corner.

There is so much that is just unknown about this trip and that, in part, is what makes this all so damn electrifying.  Where will we be sleeping in Scotland? What will we be feasting on in Zagreb, Croatia? How on earth does an ATM work in China? Even the stars above our heads are going to look different when we’re in the southern hemisphere. But I am ready.  It has been an astounding amount of fun planning this trip over the last few months and getting set for it all. Every morning I feel like waking up and shouting, “What’s next?” This massive doings that began as idle conversation a long time ago is now, suddenly, somehow, unlikely, here. We are going to be travelers on a journey around the world for the next few months. Exciting. Well, surreal and exciting. It’s going to be a whole new way to spend our days. And we hope you guys enjoy following our journey through this blog. For now, however, I think I’ll catch a couple of innings of Reds baseball while I can.

-Phil

Categories: Eating, Flights, Random Thoughts, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Map

We recently discovered a great online tool called the Great Circle Mapper that allows travelers to document their flights on any itinerary by creating custom maps. The site also has a bundle of other fun maps to view and play with. Just for shiggles, we plugged in all of our flight info on the mapping program. After entering LAX-CAN-AKL-AKL-CAN-NRT-SIN-CDG-CPH-VIE-OTP-STR-AMS-GLA-LHR-ATL-EZE-ATL (whew!) here is what we found:

Flight of our RTW Trip

Flight Map for Europe Part of our RTW Trip

We booked this itinerary months ago, yet it still makes our jaws drop a little: Fourteen different international flights on five airlines covering 48,500 miles. Many of these stops (Amsterdam, Paris, Vienna and twice in Guangzhou) are just brief layovers on the way to final destinations. And, to be fair, a good chunk of the path includes portions of the journey that we’re taking over land. For example, Bucharest to Stuttgart will all be via car/train/bus over a few weeks. But still… great gravy on a platter, that’s a lot of miles! This map has given us some perspective for the scale of this trip.

Here are our three longest flights:

Los Angeles to Guangzhou= 7231 Miles (coming up Monday night!)

Singapore to Paris = 6,667 Miles

Guangzhou to Auckland (and back!) = 5,769 Miles

Man, that’s a lot of inflight movies and packs of peanuts. Our relatives in Canada surprised us with another type of map. They presented us with this low-tech but incredibly thoughtful travel map when we visited Manitoulin Island earlier this week. Ah, the benefits of marrying of into a family of teachers.

Another Map

Finally, on our last few hours in the Eastern Time Zone, we found this pleasant surprise in our inbox this morning: Silver Medallion upgrades to first class on our Cross Country “Flight 0” out to LAX from MSP tomorrow night. Since this flight was not part of our International Ticket, this is a nice treat. The complimentary upgrades that we get from time to time on domestic flights are, hands down, the best perk of the annual-earned Silver Medallion status on Delta. We rock the upgrade about 40% of the time. Not a shabby way to start a trip.
-Phil

Living the good life. Another Baileys on the rocks, please!

Categories: Doccuments, Flights, Transportation, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The China and Russia Tourist Visas

The other day, I wrote about the process of securing tourist visas for all of the countries we’re visiting on our trip.  As I mentioned, there were only two visas that required a bit of effort: China and Russia.

We found that the process to secure a Chinese visa requires painstaking detail and precise planning. First off, it should be noted that the Chinese consulate might very well be the least convenient government type building in New York City. While most consulates and embassies are located in cozy brownstones on the Upper East Side or in nice offices adjacent to the United Nations, China has built an imposing fortress at 42nd Street and 12th Avenue. If you’re unfamiliar with Manhattan, that address is close to exactly nothing. And I made the trip out there three times.

Alas, that was just the first of a dozen small hassles that we encountered when applying for a China Tourist Visa. First, the hours of operation listed on the website are wrong. (That’s one wasted trip to the desolate west, west side). Second, it is not clear online exactly which form is needed. And the forms themselves are confusing. For the record, it is the four-page intense questionnaire called “V.2011A”. The forms are known to provide such perplexity that an enterprising team has set up a van just outside the consulate to assist/charge wayward potential visitors. Finally, building security will only let you enter after you show you have all the right documents in hand. We suggest you arrive early because the wait can be up to 90 minutes during busy times.

Once you wind your way to the DMV like window, the staff is curt but incredibly efficient. They expect all paperwork to be ready and they don’t seem to like questions. At one point, the official pointed out that I had not listed where I was staying in China. When I tried to explain that we haven’t scheduled a place to stay yet (“Figuring it out as we go! What fun! Right?”), I was told to come back when the form had an address where were staying. Thank Cupertino for the iPhone, because I was able to look up the address to the Guangzhou Hilton, make a reservation and keep my place in line (avoiding a fourth trip). After a five day processing period during which they kept our passports, our application was reviewed and accepted. Conveniently, you can drop off applications/pick up visas for several people if needed.

Each visa is good for 90 days and is valid for a year from the date of issue (so, in theory, we have till June 2013 to start our visit). Total cost? $140 per person. Ooof! It is all going to be worth it when we step off the plane in Guangzhou and into China! Again, living in New York worked to our advantage because we found if you can’t apply in person at a regional consulate, you must use a private service to secure the visa which comes with a significant additional charge.

The Russia visa was the one visa that just never ended up materializing. It turns out that, loosely translated, Visa means “Bureaucratic Red Tape” in Russian. We’ve learned that wrapping your fingers around a Russia Tourist Visa is trickier that a David Blaine illusion. You must have a sponsor in the form of an authorized hosting Russian traveling agency before you can even apply. And that’s apparently just the beginning of the needed paperwork.

If you’re booking a trip to Russia knowing where and when you’ll be staying (or if you’re part of a tour), this isn’t terribly overwhelming. But if you are flying by the ole seat of your pants, the visa process is enough to make you go cross-eyed. We’ve heard stories of corruption, bribes, and hassles. The more we learned about what we needed, the more complicated it seemed. Lucky for us, we’re visiting St. Petersburg as part of a Norwegian Cruise that offers a variety of Shore Excursions. We were a bit hesitant to book one since that’s not the preferred way we hope to explore new nations, but it appears to be our best and simplest bet for getting ashore.  The cruise line has a blanket visa that covers all passengers…but only for these tours. So, we’ll see a great chunk of St. Petersburg, but unfortunately we probably won’t have any adventurous exploring here.

Our one piece of advice based on our experience with the China, Russia or even Vietnam visa is to research, read and prepare well in advance of a trip to any country that you haven’t visited before. And don’t be afraid if the process seems a touch shady; every country seems to have their own way of doing things. A little knowledge and prep goes a long way to making sure you’re going to get into the countries you want to visit.

-Phil

Categories: Customs, Destinations, Doccuments, New Zealand, Packing, Permits, Transportation, Trip Prep, Visas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Choosing Destinations

One of the first questions people ask us when they find out we are traveling around the world is, “How did you ever decide where to go?”  This is a very good question, especially since we have so many options.  The process of choosing where to go involved a lot of research and discussion, but in the end it wasn’t as difficult as we had imagined.

First, you should know that when you buy an Around the World ticket with Delta SkyMiles, there are some limitations.  We are required to go in one contiguous direction with no backtracking.  Next, we can only make six stops.  It is important to note, we can fly into one country and out of another and it only counts as one stop, so it’s more like six “takeoffs and landings”.  Also, you can only stop on a continent twice and the whole trip has to be completed within a one-year time period.

The Chart

Click to enlarge to read the SkyTeam RTW Award Rules…

Now, some people may look at these guidelines as restrictions which prevent free choice and movement.  We found the opposite to be true.  Deciding destinations for an around the world trip is quite daunting and we found these guidelines very helpful in getting us started.  Rather than restricting us, they really helped provide direction and a place to start.

The first thing we had to do is choose which direction we wanted to go.  We decided to go West to East for a couple of reasons.  First, this would have our first stop be in an English speaking country—either Australia or New Zealand.  This would help us ease into our world travels without hitting a major language barrier right away.  Another reason is so we can tackle the Asian countries early on our journey.  We anticipate these countries will provide the most challenging travel experiences due to the vast cultural differences, and we want to explore them while we are still feeling fresh and aren’t so worn down from months of travel.

One of 16 planes we might end up on...

Once we chose a direction, we sat down with a world map and started choosing destinations that the SkyTeam would fly.  We wanted to get the most out of each stop, so not only did we look at the country we would be flying into, but also what other countries we could get to from there.  We knew our first stop would either be New Zealand or Australia—we couldn’t go to both because we only get six  stops.  After asking around, the general consensus was the experience of New Zealand wins over that of Australia any day of the week.

For our European leg, we decided to spend the bulk of our time in Eastern Europe and we are pretty much ignoring western countries like Spain, France and Italy.  The reasons for this are twofold:  the western countries will be fairly easy to get back to in the future and they are so “westernized” that they won’t be as much of a unique experience.  We look forward to trekking through the Balkan states and seeing small villages that seem like they are relics from years past.

Another question we often get is, “Are you going to Africa?”  We spoke to several friends who have traveled extensively and sometimes strangers at parties and they all said the same thing, “Don’t miss Africa.  Go on a safari!”  This is great advice, but you may have noticed Africa is not on our list of destinations.  Here’s why: Africa is far.  Look on the map—to go to Africa and continue in one direction, without missing huge chunks of Europe, would be difficult.  We view Africa and particularly a safari as its own trip.  In addition, we are trying to keep our expenses low and an African safari can be quite pricey.  This is definitely something we’d love to do, we just don’t think this trip is the time.

After going through this thought process together, we then spent about three hours on the phone with a lovely woman at the Delta Rewards Round the World Ticket Desk. (Yes, that actually exists).  We went through each destination, looked for available flights on the SkyTeam, and changed airports when needed.  Luckily, our times are incredibly flexible and so we were able to move things around pretty easily—after all, what do we care if we fly into Buenas Aires, Montevideo or Santiago—they all get us to South America and we can get around from there.

I know everyone has opinions about where we are going and the choices we’ve made, but here’s the thing—we really can’t go wrong.  We chose to avoid areas of the world that we thought might be too dangerous, but otherwise they will all be new and interesting experiences.  Will they all be great?  Probably not.  Will we broaden our understanding of the world and create amazing memories everywhere we go?  Absolutely!

–Brooke

Categories: Destinations, Flights, Transportation, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nerves

So, we are less than one week from the start of our RTW trip and I have a confession:  I’m nervous.  It is hard for me to pinpoint exactly why I’m nervous, but I am.  I’ve never traveled in this way before—we will be gone for almost four months and much of that time is unplanned.  Yes, we have hotels booked for each city we fly into, that way we have a place to go from the airport, but after that who knows what we’ll see and do?  That is awesome.  That is exactly how we want it to be.  However, I think that is also what is causing some trepidation.

I think it is inevitable that there will be days when we don’t know where we will be laying our head that night.  What happens when it is 9:00 PM and we still don’t have a place to stay?  Can I handle that lack of predictability?  Will I end up getting upset and will Phil and I end up fighting because of my discomfort with the situation?  I imagine when this happens we will end up having to stay in some real fleabag motels or we will end up shelling out too much money and staying in a far nicer place than we planned.  Ultimately none of this really matters—no matter what, everything will work out fine, and if it isn’t all smooth sailing, well it will make for a great memory.  Intellectually, I know this is true.  However, I think I won’t fully understand it until we actually begin our journey and have these types of experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, I am so excited for our trip.  We have been planning and talking about it for so long and it is finally here!  There is just so much that is unknown—I guess it is natural to be a little nervous.  Hopefully when I’m drinking my first Steinlager beer in New Zealand, I will take a deep breath, toast to my husband, and my nerves will melt away.

–Brooke

Categories: Budget, New Zealand, Random Thoughts, Reflections, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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