Posts Tagged With: Flights

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

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

China Southern Business Class

When we planned this trip, we knew we would be taking some very long flights. In fact, our very first flight from Los Angeles to Guangzhou, China was scheduled to be 14 and a half hours long. It is for this reason that we saved enough Delta Skymiles to book all our flights in the Business Class section of the aircraft when available. Even though it would require considerably more Skymiles, we knew things would be more comfortable for us, and now that we have completed our first flight across the ocean, we say that there is no other way to travel!

 

Brooke with her Golden TicketsWhen we checked into our flight using the SkyPriority line at the airport, we were greeted by the friendly China Southern desk agent who immediately started processing our tickets and filling out our VIP pass – an invitation to wait for our flight in the Skyteam Lounge. She also informed us that when we arrive in Guangzhou we should talk to the transfer agent and she will give us our boarding pass for the next flight as well as hotel accommodations. We were confused. Hotel accommodations? What was she talking about? She explained that we were leaving LA on July 30 and don’t leave Guangzhou until August 1 (yes, we have entirely lost the day July 31, 2012 from our lives because we crossed the international date line…how that happens, we have no idea). Because we have such a long layover and since they were unable to give us a more convenient connecting flight to Auckland, we are entitled to hotel accommodations for that time. We couldn’t believe it! What great news! But this was only the beginning!

So much room!After going through security, we arrived at the Skyteam lounge. I’ve never been to one of these lounges before and it was all I hoped it would be. There was a buffet of food–small snacks, but also some sandwiches and heartier items. There were sodas, water and freshly ground coffee. There was even a bar where you could make yourself a drink with liquor and mixers! And all for free? Now I know why some people head to the airport very early! Also in the lounge was a really nice bathroom with an area to freshen up. There are even showers available for those who need them and monitors with flight departure information so you can check on your plane. We took advantage of the free wi-fi to write a blog post and watched the American men compete in gymnastics at the Olympics. It was so great this far, could it possibly get better? Yes!

Nice!Once onboard the aircraft, it was a flurry of activity. There was a very plush pillow and heavy, large blanket waiting on our seat. In the seat back pocket in front of us were lots of goodies. First, we took off our shoes and placed them in the shoe bag provided complete with plastic shoe horn, and then we put on the cozy slippers they gave us. We couldn’t take the slippers out of their plastic covering before someone was whisking away the trash. At one point we counted how long it took for them to pick up trash we laid down–it was less than 10 seconds. There must have been 6 flight attendants solely dedicated to the 24 passengers traveling in business class. It was amazing.

Also in the seatback pocket was a pair of headphones and a goody bag. I just love goody bags. Whether it be at the hotel for a wedding or on an airplane, it is the little stuff that makes me so happy. The goody bag for the flight is a really nice little reusable zipper bag which holds an eye mask for sleeping, lotion, lip balm, a comb, toothbrush & toothpaste, and earplugs. What more could we need? Apparently more!

Our China Southern Alternative FootwearOnce we took off we were given a menu and asked to make dinner selections. We had already eaten, so we passed on dinner and ordered breakfast for later in the flight. They set up a lovely bar up in the front of the cabin with wine, alcohol, soda and juice. Phil ordered some white wine and it came with a little plate of mixed nuts. They even refilled the wine when he looked away for a brief minute. Amazing service.

At this point we were so tired, but didn’t want to close our eyes for fear we would miss something awesome. I’m so glad we stayed awake because the flight attendant came around offering personal entertainment systems–like a PSP which has games, movies, television, books–all kinds of things. This is in addition to the TV that is built into our seat, of course! We both took one and saw lots of great movies available (Phil finally got to watch Ides of March) and short informative videos about several destinations where China Southern flies.

A better breakfast than I get at homeAlas, we were exhausted. It was 12:30am LA time which means it felt more like 3:30am to us. So, we both pulled up our footrests, laid our chairs back and stretched out. Our chairs allow us to lay almost completely flat which was really great. It didn’t take long, cuddled under the warm blanket, head nestled into the pillow, to drift into a very comfortable sleep. We woke up to more snacks being placed out, a bottle of water by our side and even mouthwash in the lavatory. It’s an incredible way to travel – made a 14 hour flight fly right by- and we can’t believe that some people get to travel like this all the time.

Yeah, business class is definitely the way to go!

–Brooke

Categories: China, China Southern, Flights, LA, Transportation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 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

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

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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