Trip Prep

The Things We Carry

Main Serbian Train Depot

Historic Belgrade Train Station

Salutations from Budapest! As our travels enter October, Brooke and I are onto a new month and another new country. We landed in Hungary yesterday via an uneventful seven hour train ride from Belgrade to Budpaest. The easy going ride on the mostly-empty, mostly-modern train gave us time to visit the dining car and enjoy the passing scenery from giant windows (rural Hungary looks a lot like rural Indiana) during a comfortable ride. And at only 15 Euros a piece, riding the rails made for an inexpensive way to get north to Budapest. Speaking of the Euro, we find ourselves in yet another European country that is not using the Euro for its currency. How is this possible? Denmark, Finland, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and now Hungary – all of them Non-Euro. With 17 countries using the Euro, we must be defying some serious odds here. Ah well, the Hungarian Forint will be just another conversion rate to learn and another set of colorful bills with faces of unknown politicians and local heroes to master. I counted whilst on the train; this is our 11th different currency (not counting any stops from our Baltic Seas Cruise) since we began our trip in New Zealand. Fun financial fact: three of those nations (Singapore, Hong Kong, and New Zealand) also call their monetary standard the dollar.

Each time Brooke and I move from country to county, we attempt to inventory, pack and repack. As we’ve covered on the blog before, trying to determine exactly what and how much to pack was one of our most daunting challenges during our trip prep. We repeatedly heard the motto “pack half as much stuff as you think you’ll need and twice as much money as you think you’ll need.” Sure, this is easy enough if your grandfather’s name is JP Morgan. But all in all, we feel very good about what we are (and, just importantly, what we are not) lugging around the world with us. Although, early on, we realized that we probably did pack a few superfluous extras. Our deck of playing cards has seen the light of day twice so far. I brought along juggling balls because….sigh…I planned to learn how to juggle. Our days have been packed with exploring and learning, so I could probably have left those ridiculous multi-colored balls at home. But there are two handy, electronic gadgets that we use every day and have been essential in our travels: our iPhones and our digital camera. At this point in the trip, I couldn’t imagine getting by without both of them.

Everything we need for the trip in four bags…

First things first regarding the iPhone: we do not have any type of cell phone service or plan. Verizon and AT&T were understanding enough to put both of our plans on hold until we get back to the United States. We’re using the phones as WiFi devices only. The phone calls that we do make are through an exceptional app called Local Phone which connects over WiFi. Local Phone allows us to dial just about anywhere for mere cents per minute. It’s odd, but I haven’t sent a text message since late July (and hopefully no one has tried to send me one). But even just on WiFi, our little Apple gizmos have been a valuable part of our traveling arsenal. We usually have little trouble getting online and the phones have allowed us to book rooms through the Hotels.com and the Air B’nB app, read reviews, map our route, set an alarm, research next steps and check e-mails while just waiting at the bus station or relaxing at an outdoor cafe.

Needed surgery for the iPhoneThe iPhone has been particularly handy when things go slightly awry, like a cancelled hotel reservation, and we both can scramble to get things set right. Brooke tracks our budget at every turn using the notepad and I play Penguin Airborne. Plus, the iPhone makes a wonderful back up camera along with a couple hundred of our favorite songs. I did run into a mini-disaster that left me in a state of panic and dismay last week. When the new iPhone operating system was put out there to correspond with the release of the famed iPhone 5, I attempted to upgrade my phone. Along the way, my iPhone went kaput and I was in the dark for three days. Luckily, a helpful, patient clerk at the “iStyle” store in Sofia allowed us to connect to a Mac and helped me reinstall the new software. Thanks to the Cloud, I didn’t lose a thing. Huzzah for the Cloud! Huzzah!

Our digital camera has been the other key piece of equipment. A once in a life time trip justifies buying a new camera. The camera is incredibly important because it is the best thing we have to really document this trip. While browsing models at the always amazing B&H in NYC, we had to make the decision between a fancy, high-tech SLR camera and a point & shoot. In the end, we chose to go with a high-end, well reviewed point and shoot: The Cannon Power Shoot S100. I’ve already taken more photos than I can count and have only managed to drop it twice. While I would really dig a big,fancy camera with a collection of lenses, the truth is that I don’t know an F-Stop from the F-train. I would look impressive with my camera, but it would have been for naught. The pocket size of the Canon means that I almost always have it on me. Someone once told us the best camera for the shot is the one that you have on you at the time.

One of the best photos we’ve taken on this trip. In Japan using the low light setting.

The camera works exceptionally well, shoots outstanding digital video and has some nifty settings like Handheld Nightscene, Slow motion film, vivid setting and more. I do wish that I was a master of some of the more advanced functions on the manual settings so I could really get the most out of some photo opportunities. Like creating a silhouette of Brooke in front of a Japanese garden. or catching the low-light moon rise over the Bucharest train station. But, in any case, I’ve gotten some amazing photos out of it so far

Another small piece of technology that Brooke said I should add this to this list is a simple but important one: Our ATM card. Being able to withdrawal the local currency day and night has been a huge assist. Even in remote places, we haven’t had any trouble finding cash machines and, not surprisingly, ATMs are kind of the same the world over. It’s meant not worrying about banks, travelers checks and visits to exchange windows only when dealing in left over cash. It’s these small pieces of technology that makes taking this kind of trip in 2012 certainly a lot easier than taking it in 1962. And of course, we also have the last essential component: a large bag full of chargers and world-wide plug adapters! Certainly this trip would be possible without any gadgets or gizmos, but for the sake of ease and sanity, they are a “must-have” for us.

-Phil

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Categories: Cell Phones, Communication, Eastern Europe, Iphone Apps, Packing, Rail, Trains, Trip Prep, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Missed the bus by two minutes

Today we missed the bus from Bucharest to Sofia by about two minutes.

I’m not exaggerating. The long-haul luxury bus left two minutes before we arrived at the station. And, yup, this 4:00 PM bus was the only bus making the seven hour run to Bulgaria’s capital today.

Old train station turned bus station- legendary spot where missed our bus

I kinda knew that something like this would happen eventually on the trip. It is the nature of travel. However, I take pride in being that guy who never misses a flight, is never late for a train, and is never frantically chasing down a bus. I would like to blame the lackadaisical, cell-phone-chatting driver of our “Maxi Taxi” transport from Brasov to Bucharest earlier today. The minibus/oversized van certainly was in no hurry and the driver taking a self-declared five minute break at a roadside stand to buy a soda and a new fishing lure (!) didn’t help matters. But, honestly, it can’t be blamed on a single thing. It’s a life lesson I keep learning: you can do everything right and still come up short. Two minutes! I would have preferred to miss the coach by three hours instead of our heartbreaking sprint and frantic taxi ride just to see the tail lights fade into the distance.

Bucharest Metro GrafittiSo, we shake it off and we suck it up. It is not a big deal because we do have other options to get to Sofia. Our new plans involve booking passage on the night train. It costs a bit more and takes a bit longer, but it should be a cool ride. Plus we’re still on this sensational Round The World trip, so we’ve got that going for us.  Soon after our minor bus debacle, we found ourselves back in Bucharest’s Old Town feasting on some solid Greek Food, sipping a couple of Staropramon and sampling some gelato all of which helped to put everything right back on track. Plus, with some time on our hands, we were able to venture onto yet another city’s subway system. The Bucharest Metro was simple enough to navigate and a mere $1.25 allowed both us to ride. We weren’t exactly shocked to see that some subway cars were just caked in graffiti from bow to stern, inside and out, while some newer cars were clean and untouched. That dichotomy of grime and shine is just about par for the Romanian course. The subway fulfilled its purpose but was largely forgettable; I think I’m still drooling a bit over those incredible stations in the St. Petersburg system.

As seen in Romanian Grocery Store: 2.5 Liter of Beer for Sale in large plastic bottle just like soda. Price? About $2.50

As we waited at Gara De Nord for our 11:00 PM train, Brooke and I rounded up some final impressions from our time in Romania. We’ve concluded that Romanian food borrows much of its menu from nearby nations and, with a couple of noteworthy exceptions, the majority of our meals qualify as nothing special. Slow meals are the order of things so if you’re in any sort of a hurry, restaurant dining is not your best bet. Menus almost exclusively feature lots of chicken, lots of pork and a lot of bread. Man, we’re talking baked bread, pastries, pretzels and more. And while the cuisine may not be unique, those fresh-baked, giant, inexpensive pastries are a sensational way to start the day. Although they are not helpful when you’re trying to avoid ending a RTW voyage as large as a double wide. Also on the plus column, we’ve found that the local tomatoes, heavily used in most dishes, are pretty incredible. We think it must be the right time of year.  As for adult beverages, we prefer Ursus of all the local beers and marveled that we haven’t spied a single American beer- bottle or draughts since we landed in Eastern Europe.

Slightly more questionable than the quality of the Romanian food was the quality of the Romanian taste in popular music. Namely the endless amount of Europop we keep hearing. That repetitive, decidedly poor club music is everywhere. And a confoundingly high percentage of it features an accordion. I have no answers, my friends. Only observations. On the upside, the sights certainly outweighed the food and the music. Visiting Bran Castle yesterday, sometime summer home of the Romanian Royal, made me want to go looking for ceremonial scepter in my family! THAT was a cool castle. In fact, our visit generated a genius money-making idea for kitchen ware: Vlad The Impalers Skewers! For all your shish-ka-bob needs. It’s a Macabre Kebab! In stores by Halloween!

Our faux submission for a photo project. We call it “Old Romanian Guy Waiting on Bus.” Artsy!

However, the most important reflection from this trip is that every day- from little things to big things- I’ve managed to see something new, interesting and novel. Every day. As Brooke and I we’re writing some post cards home earlier tonight, I was greeted with the images on the front of all the places we’ve visited and seen first hand. And just over the last three weeks. Seeing those memories collected and laid out like that really hit me. It felt like an accomplishment. Of course, having an exceptional travel partner goes a long way.

Gara De Nord – Bucharest Train Station – at Night

As we boarded the train just a bit earlier this evening, we found a Romanian conductor who spoke broken English. We then managed to talk our way (along with 50 Euros…totally worth it) into a berth on one of the sleeper cars on the Russian section of the train.  Apparently, since this is a long haul train originating out of Russia, there is a separate Russian run section of the train. We’re pretty sure that the Romanian Conductor and Russian Conductor split and pocketed the money we gave ’em for the room, but who are we to judge. Is this the nicest train I’ve ever been on? Not even close. But it is all kinds of awesome. The room itself feels very 1960’s. Instantly our ten hour journey in coach evolved into a nice, and roomy private cabin where we can spread out. A little privacy goes a long way.

Missed bus be damned, we end the day with a hell yeah and two comfy sleeping berths to speed us on our way to Sofia.

-Phil

 

 

 

Categories: Beer, castles, City Visits, Differences, Eating, Europe, Rail, Reflections, Romania, Transportation, Trip Prep, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

One day in Guangzhou

Note: Apologies for the delay in getting this post live, but it seems that China blocks access to the wordpress site. Interesting, no? We’ve landed in New Zealand and we’re catching up on a few posts now.

In the weeks leading up to this trip, we knew that we would run into our share of surprises along the way. All part of the travel experience. Still, we didn’t expect to fall into the very cool and astounding turn of events that we found ourselves in on our very first day overseas.

Where we waited for our roomWe had been debating and struggling with how to spend our 18 hour layover in Guangzhou (pronounced Guang-JO, not Guang-ZOW. It took me way too long to get this right). Lo and behold, it tuns out that a standard best practice among airlines (at least for China Southern) is that for flight itineraries that include layovers of 14+ hours, the airline will put passengers in a hotel room on their dime during the layover. In all the research we did and of all the people we talked to, this never came up. So, that came as incredibly pleasant shock at 6:30 AM this morning! particularly after arriving in steamy Guangzhou from a cross-Pacific flight when all we wanted was a shower and change of clothes. Turns out that instead of slogging around the international terminal, the day was filled with relaxation, a big lunch, naps and showers. Not exactly a back-breaking, rough layover.

Our first long-haul flight arrived with ease and triumph this morning. As Brooke wrote, riding in Business Class made for some sensational travel. The time on the plane qualifies as “super comfortable” and was even easier than anticipated. Sleeping soundly for seven hours doesn’t hurt. And the flight attendants were always brining you SOMETHING. A towel, a mint, coffee, etc. Now we have a solid base in which to compare our other long haul business class flights from other airlines. The bar has been set pretty high. Also made me realize that I would dig doing more/some/any! international business travel in my next job. We disembarked from this insane luxury and began our first of three visits over the next eight weeks to the Guangzhou (CAN) airport.

Pullman Guangzhou Hotel LobbyAfter walking to the China Southern Transfer Counter, the agent confirmed what we had been told in Los Angeles – since our next flight was so much later in the day, the airline would be happy to book a hotel for us. We asked them to confirm this like five times – partially because the langauge barrier made things a little murky and partially because we were incredulous and filled with glee-inspired amazement. We made a quick pass through immigration and customs where our near virgin passports received their first passport stamp of the trip. We swapped travel stories and made some affable new Australian and New Zealand travel friends as the airlines rounded up a few other business class travelers. Although the hotel option is available for all travelers, an agent eventually walked us across the street to the sensational Pullman airport hotel. The fine folks at Trip Advisor indicated that it is the 13th best rated hotel out of 1,800 in the city (!) and the rooms run about $125. It was one last, heretofore unknown perk of the business class ticket.

Our awesome free hotel room for 18 hoursSo, on day one in Asia, we stayed in what will likely be the nicest hotel that we’ll see for weeks. Brooke and I spent a fair amount of the day in awe. Walking around and checking out the giant lobby, oversized pool tables and snooker table (confession: I thought I knew what snooker is, but apparently I only have a vague notion), the self-playing piano and more. The hotel room was nice with a capital Niiiiiice. Complete with comfy robes, slippers, comfy beds with giant, head-melt-right-in pillows the size of Smart Cars. There was even a yoga mat in the closet. One of the nicer touches is that the bathroom opened up to the main room via a giant glass window that could be closed off by a giant mechanical shade. Handy for the two showers that we each took. Given the undeniably hot climate, Brooke was particularly appreciative of the ice-cold AC. The bottom line is that it this was a really nice hotel which we didn’t expect. We probably should mention that we almost blew every fuse in the hotel when Brooke plugged in her hair dryer, but that was an almost predictable debacle and it all worked out with electronics in tact.

Phil making great use of the free Yoga mat!We even managed to have a bit of an indulgent lunch at the Vegas-style hotel buffet between giant nap #1 and super-sized nap #2. We slept incredibly well on those lay-flat beds on the flight last night, but the jetlag is really starting to kick in. When dawn broke this morning, I had no idea what time is was back home and wasn’t even completely sure that it was (apparently, it was Wednesday). Time guru Brooke predicted and then confirmed that we were exactly 12 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time. In fact, from this point forward for the rest of the trip, we’ll be anywhere between one and fourteen hours ahead of East Coast US Time – getting closer and closer in sync as we continue to travel east.

Have I mentioned that this is all amazing? This is amazing. It just keeps getting better. It really does. Only a couple of days in and I’m getting a kick out of being on this incredible journey spanning some significant distances.

-Phil

check out the closing curtain from the bathroom

Categories: China, China Southern, Flights, Hotels, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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

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