Jun 122015
 

It’s been nearly a month since I returned from Eritrea, Qatar, and Finland, and almost that long since I’ve updated here. Part of that is due to no travel in the meantime, which is largely a result of having rotator cuff surgery two weeks ago. I thought I might be away from here longer, but only two weeks in (and still in a sling) it’s surprisingly not too awful to type…and I can even use both hands but not all fingers…so this will be short ūüėČ

One good thing about the downtime away from work is it enabled lots of planning – both work and personal trips. I have the majority of my 2015 travel planned and booked now, pending more surprises especially on the work front. It’s shaping up to be:

Late June into July: 18 day trip to Chennai, India for work. Nothing fancy or special about this trip. It’s a Lufthansa business ticket, and the only “new” experience for me will be the two-class Lufthansa A340 – never been on one of their longhaul planes without first class. Supposedly it has the new lie-flat seats, so that’ll be nice. On the way back, I’m on a 747-400 from Frankfurt to Dulles, and got the “Captain’s Seat” 4D. Still need to find a way to talk myself into an old first class seat on the upper deck. Suggestions?

Early July: After getting back from Chennai I have a four day weekend with comp days from the missed holiday, so will be enjoying the pleasures of nonrev travel, likely to Minneapolis to visit family, with possibly a day in Detroit to visit a friend and go to Cedar Point. I was debating taking United down to Belize and getting country #179, but with the rotator cuff only six weeks post-surgery at that point going to Belize (which will mean wanting to scuba) probably isn’t wise. So, Minneapolis wins!

Mid July: Busy weekend. I redeemed Avios for a bargain flight on US/AA to Pittsburgh for a tattoo appointment (still too soon post-surgery for such a long drive), and then I’ll spend the night and party like a rockstar with my artist. It’ll be our “nearly done” session, and we’ve been wanting to go beer-ing for a while, so that’ll be fun! Then, Saturday, I fly to Hartford for a post-“we got married really quickly” reception for some good hockey friends, and for something called a “clambake.” Yay new cultural experiences! There’s also no easy way to get from Pittsburgh to Hartford on a Saturday morning. Ended up booking United via Newark with a one hour connection…and they offered me an upgrade on the first segment for $59, so hey, not too bad! Then, we’ll all fly back to DC together on Sunday on JetBlue…which will also be a new experience for me!

Early September: The next crazy country collecting trip with my friend Ian, who I went to Israel with last year. We’re flying into Cameroon, then on to Central African Republic, Chad, and finally Ethiopia. Details still very much TBD. From there he’ll head home, and I’ll head on to Dubai to meet my friend Daniel (who I met up with in Bali last year) and we’ll head to Turkmenistan for four days before I head home. Oh, I might be making a sidetrip from Dubai…but we’ll see. For now, shhhh ūüėČ This should get me to 182 countries, with 14 to go.

Mid November: Off to Spain, where I’ll make a side trip to Algeria for a couple nights. Any suggestions on 48 hour itineraries from Algiers? Then, I’ll board a Cubana Ilyushin-96 and fly Madrid to Havana for a few days in Cuba. Very excited! Then, it’s off to Nassau, Bahamas via Grand Cayman using a combo of Avios and paid tickets. First time on British Airways (Grand Cayman to Nassau) in business class on a 767 with less than 10,000 Avios. This should get me to 185 countries, with 11 to go!

December: To Minnesota to spend Christmas with the family, before heading off on my last epic New Years trip for a while. Plan is to do (in some undetermined order) Mali, Mauritania, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Those seven will bring me to 192, with only four to go. Tentative plans:

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So what’s left?

Belize diving trip, probably early winter 2016.

Tuvalu and Mongolia – to be done in June/July 2016 for the Naadam Festival in Mongolia. Hopefully this time I’ll get Tuvalu on the first try, but I’m leaving two weeks for it. If I finish early I can make side trips from Fiji to other places, maybe Melbourne or Wallis and Futuna.

Then, the grand finale, Iceland in September 2016…that’ll make all 196 countries!

I’m sure 2015 will contain a few added surprises, maybe work trips, maybe some fun trips to LA, Ottawa, Montreal, and Vancouver to make some long overdue trips to visit friends – but that’s all up in the air for now. Should be an exciting next six months!

Jan 162015
 

So now that I’ve done the real year in review, it’s time to explore what many people consider the best part of the United international experience. Given just how much below industry standards United’s food and drink generally are, people often wonder if it’s worth it. Lots of folks think the best part of the United international experience is the ice cream sundae cart.

Is it anything special? Absolutely not. But hey, who doesn’t like ice cream? So, I present, the 2014 United Airlines Ice Cream Year in Review!

January – Lisbon, Portugal to Newark. This was ice cream soup with a bit of caramel and a few drowning cherries. Really rather sad. The crew even stole all the stems from the cherries.

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February – Houston to Honolulu – this was an odd one. The ice cream was rock hard, but part of it was completely soupy. Caramel again.

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February – Honolulu to Washington Dulles – what’s that, caramel AGAIN? …and LOTS of caramel. Just three cherries again though (this must be the United standard) but perfectly lined up in a row:

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August – San Francisco to Honolulu – alert Jeff, we’re missing a cherry! Only two today, but for some reason I decided variety is the spice of life and switched to hot fudge instead.

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August – Honolulu to Washington Dulles. Whew. Back to three cherries and caramel. I was getting concerned.

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August – Washington Dulles to Paris – whoah, what’s this. Caramel AND chocolate…and only two cherries. Yet, much of the ice cream has no topping at all!

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August – Paris to San Francisco – swimming in a sea of caramel and chocolate is one lonely cherry. Apparently there’s a cherry shortage in¬†Paris.

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August – San Francisco to Honolulu¬†– just chocolate…and one cherry. The Shortage might be a San Francisco thing. Lots of chocolate, but very little ice cream.

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August – San Francisco to Honolulu¬†– same flight, but I decided to experiment. I’ve never had the strawberry topping, so decided ¬†to see what it was about. Apparently not about cherries, because there were none in sight.

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October – Tokyo to Singapore – whoah, what’s this ceramic thing? You can’t serve ice cream in that. Plus, what’s that white stuff…I don’t “do” whipped cream. Hmmm….pretty sure I still ate it ūüėČ

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November –¬†Frankfurt to Dulles – ice cream soup again…caramel and chocolate, but segregation was in full effect, plus the three neutered cherries.

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November – Newark to Tel Aviv – whoah, seriously? I struggle all year to get my three cherries I’m due on my sundaes and then you go all wild and give me 10? I mean come on…that’s a lot of caramel and cherries!

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December – Zurich to Newark – four cherries and caramel. I have a theory. It’s year-end. United bought too many cherries and is now desperately trying to get rid of them.

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December – Dulles to Amsterdam – well that was short-lived. Back to chocolate and only two cherries. So disappointing.

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December – Frankfurt to Dulles – if it’s December, it much be two cherries.

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2014 summary: I ate lots of ice cream. I got fat. It was anywhere from soupy to rock hard. I tend to switch from caramel to chocolate, but occasionally go wild and have some strawberries. What does it all mean? Who’s to say…there was the one-off intrusion of whipped cream, but fortunately the nuts stayed away. That would have been problems.

Asking for “cherries” yields three most often, and sometimes two. Once in a wild, they go nuts and throw the whole mess on there. It’s really hard to say.

Peace, love, and ice cream in 2015 to you…

Jan 112015
 

A year ago I had 42 countries to go, and that’s down to 25 now. I figured it was a good time to see how those plans did or did not come together, and what’s changed in the meantime. Down to just under 20 months until the target date of Iceland for Labour Day 2016 (early September.)

March: long weekend in Jamaica (155) – as planned! I think I had enough rum punch to last a lifetime!

late-April: week in Ecuador and Bolivia (156-157) – great trip, the Uyuni salt flats were stunning.

July: long dive weekend in St Kitts and Nevis (158) – fantastic diving trip

August: wasn’t planned at the start of the year, but I did a crazy milage run of DC to Andorra…via Hawaii in both directions! I’d planned to save Andorra for another time, but it was just too tempting! (159)

October: 8¬†south pacific countries (167) ¬†– fantastic trip, and going into it I knew something was bound to go wrong…and it did. Despite two attempts I couldn’t make it to Tuvalu. Did manage Timor Leste, Nauru, PNG, Kiribati, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Samoa, however.

November:¬†¬†wasn’t planned early in the year, and my Middle East plans at the beginning of the year were “Probably two trips, since I have Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. Who’s to say how I’ll get Syria.” Well, I had an amazing trip to Israel and Palestine over Thanksgiving then came back to DC for 48 hours before flying off to Beirut. Syria’s also out of the way, and that’s a story I’ll detail another time *wink* so that makes 171 down and 25 to go!

New Years 2014/2015: 6 countries of East Africa + Saudi, Eritrea, Yemen. Hope is to arrange a Saudi transit visa between Eritrea and Yemen (175) – unfortunately this didn’t happen. The good news it’s been re-planned now, and I should be at 179 with 17 to go in under a month.

For 2016, I’m planning to group those 17:

Belize: Dive trip planned with a buddy who returns from Afghanistan in Spring 2015.

Cuba: Havana Marathon in November.

Chad and Central African Republic: Planning to hit these around Labour Day with Ian. I guess we figure we didn’t get in enough trouble in Palestine so we’re going to have another crack at it!

Algeria/Mali/Mauritania: No plans on dates, but at some point in the year I’m sure I’ll get the itch to do this. Can probably be done in a week.

Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Sierra Leone, The Gambia: Ebola-permitting planning this next New Years. That’ll bring me into 2016 with just five countries to go! ¬†Three should be knocked off in an epic Tuvalu-Mongolia-Turkmenistan round-the-world coinciding with the Nadaam Festival in Mongolia, leaving just the Bahamas to go before Iceland in September!

So, other than country collecting, what did 2014 look like? A couple of trips to Hawaii and Chicago as usual. Vegas, Minnesota and North Carolina, but it was a very light year for domestic travel. Planning to do a bit more domestic in 2015 while I save up money (and leave time!) in order to plan the big assault on the remaining countries in late-2015/early-2016.

Last year I didn’t get around to doing a year in review until mid-March, so I’m already a bit ahead of last year!

In 2014, I logged a total of 142,377 miles in the air, which was my fifth highest total ever. In comparison:

2013: 171,863
2012: 139,197
2011: 134,823
2010: 106,046
2009: 136,612
2008: 147,092
2007: 153,691
2006: 161,596
2005: 128,713
2004: 105,301

When I wrote my 2013 year in review last March, I projected I’d end 2014 somewhere in the¬†130-140,000 range ¬†so I was actually pretty close. ¬†The year’s travel map:

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I also really like this view, which shows all the nonstop flights I took from DC:

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For those 142,377 miles I took 108 total flights for an average length of 1,328 miles. This is just one flight shy of 2013, but many miles short. My shortest flight was only 9 miles from Molokai, Hawaii to Kalaupapa, Hawaii (MKK-LUP) and back in a Piper PA-31 Chieftan where I got to ride in the co-pilot seat. It was also my shortest flight ever! The longest flight of the year goes to Washington Dulles to Tokyo at 6,753 miles in ANA first class. If you have to take a long flight might as well do it in style!

As far as aircraft go:

Airbus: 27 total – much less Airbus than 2013 when I flew 47 Airbus flights.
A319: 8
A320: 10
A321: 5
A330: 3
A340: 0
A380: 1

Boeing: 48 total  Рsimilar to 2013
737: 26
747: 2
757: 2
767: 10
777: 8
787: 0
MD90: 0

Canadair CRJ – 3 total

DeHavilland – 6 total
Dash-6: 2
Dash-8: 4

Embraer – 11 total
E145: 2
E170: 1
E175: 7
E190: 1

Something new this year was lots of smaller planes – 7 total flights:

Piper Chieftan: 3
Cessna: 2
Saab: 2

For these 108 flights, 43 were in economy – more than twice as many as the year before!, 44 were in domestic first/business, 5 were in international first, and 16 were in international business class. Quite a step down in premium travel this year!

For the true first class flights, two were on United, with one each on Asiana, ANA, and Emirates. No Lufthansa first this year…I need to work on changing that!

On the country front, I managed to visit 38 countries, of which 22 were new to me, bringing my total to 171 countries visited.

I also flew a total of 38 airlines in 2014 of which 18 were new:

Air New Zealand (NZ), Air North (TL), Air Solomons (IE), Amaszonas (Z8), Asiana (OZ), Avianca (AV), Fiji Airlines (FJ),  Makani Kai, Mokulele (MW), Nauru Airlines (ON), Polynesian (PH), Qantas (QF), RwandAir (WB), Seaborne (BB), Sriwijaya (SJ), TAAG Angola (DN), Vueling (VY)

2013 also saw visits to 66 unique airports Р34 of which were new to me:

APW (Apia, Samoa), BCN (Barcelona, Spain), BEY (Beirut, Lebanon), BNE (Brisbane, Australia), CAB (Cabinda, Angola), CNS (Cairns, Australia), CUN (Cancun, Mexico), DIL (Dili, East Timor), DPS (Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia), DRW (Darwin, Australia), FGI (Fagaleii, Samoa), HIR (Honiara, Solomon Islands), INU (Nauru), LAD (Luanda, Angola), LPB (La Paz, Bolivia), LUP (Kalaupapa, Hawaii), MBJ (Montego Bay, Jamaica), MDE (Medellin, Colombia), MEL (Melbourne, Australia), MKK (Molokai, Hawaii), NAN (Nadi, Fiji), OGG (Maui, Hawaii), POM (Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea), PPG (Pago Pago, American Samoa), RAI (Praia, Cape Verde), SKB (St Kitts), SON (Santo Pekoa, Vanuatu), SUV (Suva, Fiji), TBU (Tonga), TLV (Tel Aviv, Israel), TMS (Sao Tome e Principe), TRW (Tarawa, Kiribati), UIO (Quito, Ecuador), UYU (Uyuni, Bolivia)

So…how was your 2014?