Feb 112017
 

Well, yes, but before we start, I have to acknowledge some things. Work was crazy the last week, and I was putting in 16 hour days to have any chance of pulling this trip off. At the last minute, thanks to supportive management and coworkers, I was in a place to actually consider this trip as long as I could put in a few hours each day remotely. But then, I started thinking…a trip like this isn’t easy. It’s a lot of time on planes (even in first) and it’s stressful on the body. Plus, didn’t I say I would travel less after I hit every country?

This is when I was reminded I have amazing friends. I leaned on a handful of friends pretty hard to talk through it, and ironically they all ended with the same advice: whichever decision you make, to stay or go, you won’t regret it. Just do what feels right. So, when a decision is 50-50, there’s only one way to decide… Sacajawea I stay, Tails I fly I away…

With that, I flipped it across the room at 3:30 am… (yes, I’d been torn on this decision up until the very last moment)

Tails. I go. Better hurry up and pack and get to the airport. No sleep for me tonight!

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Got to DCA about 45 minutes before the flight, no wait for security, so time for a quick “breakfast” in the United Club. Check out the napkin, guess they know where I’m going:

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Time to board!

United Express flight 3637, operated by Republic
Washington DC National (DCA) to Chicago, O’Hare (ORD)
Depart 6:00, Arrive 7:20, Flight Time: 2:20
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration N731YX, Manufactured 2015, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 612
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,365,013

Pre-departure beverage. Anything was on offer, water was all I wanted. Gotta pace myself.

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In flight snack basket. Diet Coke and Caramello Latte biscotti – not complainign, I’m addicted to these things.

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Landed O’Hare a few minutes early, and having been up all night needed more caffeine. Of course, they got my name wrong again.

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Made it to the United Polaris Lounge, and they now have a cooked to order menu. Veuve Cliquot and eggs benny. Life is good.

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Because once you start you can’t stop, the Latin American Paper Plane cocktail. Talked to the lounge manager, and the mini paper planes that usually get clipped to the rim he orders from some lady on pinterest, and apparently she can’t make them as fast as he needs them.

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Veuve and ambiance.

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Hallway to the showers and washrooms – I like the “stars” on the ceiling.

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Then, it was time for today’s main show. First of many, many flights in first this trip.

ANA All Nippon flight 11
Chicago, O’Hare (ORD) to Tokyo, Narita (NRT)
Depart 10:45, Arrive 15:10 next day, Flight Time: 13:25
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration JA731A, Manufactured 2004, Seat 2K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 6,886
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,371,287

My suite for the 12+ hours to Tokyo. The only downside is that it blocks the windows, making it a little hard to look out if you’re not super tall:

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Long trip, trying to minimize luggage and washing clothes, so looking excited in my ANA PJs. Super comfy!

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The post-takeoff Krug has arrived

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Amuse bouche of smoked salmon and scallop tartar in bouchée pie, pumpkin gnocchi with cheese sauce, risotto wrapped in roast beer, and cheese pepper bar. The roast beef was especially tasty.

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Mushroom bavarois with caviar and cauliflower soup. Sad to see they cut back on on the caviar.

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Beautiful presentation, however.

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Salad with bacon and more Krug? Don’t mind if I do!

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Fillet of beef with shallot cream, escargot sauce. Yup, I risked the beef.

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A perfect medium to medium-rare. Best cooked steak I’ve ever had on a plane.

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Cheese! Gorgonzola, camebert, piave vecchio with a glass of Petaluma Shiraz.

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Warm hazelnut bread pudding with vanilla ice cream. It was delicious.

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Post-dinner chocolates and a glass of Hibiki 21 Japanese whiskey. It was amazing….

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Eventually, staying up all night the night before caught up with me, and I passed out. For eight solid hours. It was glorious.

Not five minutes later, there was hot tea waiting for me.

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Snack time! But first…more Krug!

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Japanese set snack. Kobachi (deep-friend scallop with grated daikon radish sauce), Shusai (Saikyo miso-grilled Spanish mackerel), steamed rice, miso soup, and Japanese pickles. She offered me Natto (fermented soybeans) and I wasn’t going to play the weak westerner so I went for it. Taste was just ok, but they were sticky and gluey, and really hard to eat!

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“This is special shellfish for help digest the alcohol.” What are you saying here…

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More cheese was found to finish it off….along with a glass of shiraz.

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The perfect ending – vanilla and caramel ice cream and a few glasses of the Hibiki whiskey. It was amazing.

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Facebook filters show just how enjoyable the Hibiki was…

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Landed 10 minutes early after a suburb flight. Our gate was right next to transfer security, and right next to the ANA Suites lounges. Can’t get much better than that, after my 1000 meter dash across the same airport in December. View from the lounge:

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After a shower I felt amazing, and it was time to continue the trip. ANA hit a home run in all areas pretty much, and can’t wait for the chance to fly them again. At the end of the trip, I’ll post a side-by-side comparison of all the first products.

Feb 022017
 

First, before I start, I need to thank the best friends a guy could have. I was super torn when I started booking this trip, because as I’ve posted before I was really excited to have a few months at home with no travel to work on some things I’ve neglected these past few years of traveling. But the more I worked on the trip, the more awesome award flights I found, to the point that today it turned into the perfect trip. If I had more time (instead of 17 days) I could probably make it more epic, but as it stands I can’t think of a more amazing 17 day trip.

Thanks to all my friends who hammered it out with me, including my waffling if it was worth putting my fitness/etc goals on hold another 17 days. Conclusion reached tonight: IT IS!

So why is this trip so epic? By the numbers:

13 hours in All Nippon first class
10 hours in Thai first class, including 6+ in the A380
7 hours in Singapore Suites class, plus another 3 in Singapore first
13+ hours in Qatar first class on the A380, plus another 3 in regional first
15 hours in Emirates first class on the A380, plus another 6 in regional first
9 hours in Lufthansa first class

All told, that’s 80 hours in international first…and probably 10+ bottles of Dom/Krug/other super fancy champagne consumed.

That doesn’t even count the lounges:

ANA Suites lounge at Tokyo (nothing too fancy)
Thai First lounge at Bangkok (details on booking the spa? I’ve never had time before)
Singapore First lounge in Hong Kong (details? from what I remember it’s nothing special)
Singapore Private Room in Singapore (12 hour connection – I’ll probably go into the city for 6 of it)
Qantas First lounge in Sydney (first time – advice?)
Qatar First lounge in Doha (recommendations? what are the current bubbles on offer?)
Emirates First lounge in Dubai (first time – advice?)
Lufthansa First lounge in Munich (brand new – looking forward to checking it out)

Oh, and if that’s not enough, time in my favourite cities:

Bangkok: 24 hours overnight – was just there 7 weeks ago, so that’s enough
Hong Kong: 48 hours – tempted to go to Macao for a night, hear it’s changed a ton in the last 12 yrs
Sydney: 72 hours – one of my favourite cities in the world. I plan to just relax, drink lots of coffee, and chill
Johannesburg: 2×24 hrs – just lots of hanging out – try and meet up with some friends
Cape Town: 48 hrs – coffee, hike Table Mountain, lots of walking
Dubai: 24 hrs, hoping to see friends
Paris: 24 hrs: if I don’t walk 20+ miles it’ll be surprising.

So yeah, it’s insane, it’s epic, and I absolutely cannot wait! Over 44,000 miles, with nearly 40,000 of them in “real” international First. None of this United or American, or Saudia stuff. Please…I’ve been to all these places before, but definitely not all the lounges. I’d love to hear your recommendations!

Buckle your seatbelts, it’s hardly a week away!

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Oct 242014
 

So, finally the big day was here. Rainy day in Washington, and grabbed the new-ish Silver Line metro out to Dulles. Check-in was smooth, with 14 agents (I counted) and no lines yet. Agents had a bit of trouble figuring out how to tag my bag all the way to Bali (since it was different tickets) but soon had it sorted and I was on my way to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.

I decided to do a few laps of the A and B terminal first to get a little bit of walking in, but was soon seated with a glass of bubbly and a little breakfast:

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Aug 052014
 

This is, without a doubt, the most complicated trip I’ve ever planned.

First, I thought Iran was bad…because it took me two tries to get to Kish Island, and showing up at a local office in Dubai with a wad of cash to buy tickets for the next day.  There was no info on Kish Air anywhere on the internet, and it wasn’t even all that clear if they really operate the flight that often…but once we’d bought the tickets the plane showed up more or less on time, got us there and back, and was relatively drama free.

Then, there was Somalia.  Of course, I made this one harder, entering from Kenya and going out to Djibouti.  Daallo Airlines from Somalia to Djibouti actually took my reservation at a call centre in the US, and made the booking, and after faxing back and forth about 20 times with copies of credit cards, etc, it was all taken care of.  Now, getting there on African Airways Express from Nairobi was more interesting…they assured me via e-mail that they had an office at the airport, and I could just show up with a few hundred US$ in new notes, and they would take me.  Eventually, right after landing in Nairobi, found the office where I sat and had tea with a guy as he hand-wrote the tickets in carbon copy.

This was all a piece of cake compared to the south pacific…and I haven’t even started this trip yet, where I’m sure a million things will go wrong.  Why is it complicated?  Tuvalu, for example, has two flights a week…and they often are canceled, or don’t show up, or have twice as many people booked as they can carry.  So, fitting all the flights between these countries was a giant complex jigsaw puzzle on its own that took months to plan.  Just when I had it planned, one of them would change their flights.  For example, Nauru has one airline, appropriately called “Our Airline.”  Well, it was until yesterday, it’s now called Nauru Airlines.  I’ve been in touch with a very friendly lady in Brisbane, Australia who is their “reservations supervisor” and she’s been answering a million questions.

You see, Nauru has all of 6,000 people.  In the entire country.  The airline has one plane.  So it’s unclear if I’ll really get there when I expect to or not, but at least I finally have tickets.

Last reason this trip has been crazy difficult – it’s expensive.  Extremely expensive.  See, when you only have two flights a week you can get away with charging $1,000 as a discount fare for a 2 hour flight months in advance.  Ugh.  I’m also trying to do nine new countries this trip, to finish up those I have left in the Pacific.  I’ll be using Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji as hubs, since that’s pretty much the only way to get to many of these countries.

If all goes well, I will be visiting the following new countries:

Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, and Tuvalu

I’ll also be visiting one new territory:  American Samoa, with the cool city name of Pago Pago.

Speaking of fun names, I’m kind of excited for Tuvalu, because not only does its capital have a cool name of Funafuti (almost as cool as Ouagadougu, Burkina Faso), but it has the great airport code of FUN!

I’ll also be spending nights in Singapore, Bali, Darwin, Brisbane, Auckland, Tokyo, Seoul, and Frankfurt.

Tired yet?  This will all take place in the span of 32 days.  I’m sure things will get moved around.  I’m sure I’ll end up likely paying several hundred dollars in change fees, but this promises to be a grand adventure.

What’s there to do in most of these island countries?  From what I understand, not much.  If all goes well, I plan to Scuba in Timor Leste, Solomon Islands (home of amazing World War II wreck dives), Tonga, and Samoa.  Maybe Brisbane as well, but I’m thinking it might be a bit cold in late October.  We will see.  Other than that, at least off the islands, I’ll have plenty of time to have fun and relax in Brisbane and Auckland, and who really can complain about a forced overnight in Bali?  Not me.

So, other than the new countries, this trip was prompted by the desire to use and maximize United miles before they were devalued.  On the outbound, I managed to get Washington to Tokyo on ANA in first class, followed by Tokyo to Singapore on United in First.  Not bad, and super excited to try ANA first!

Returning, I fly Auckland to Tokyo on Air New Zealand in business class on the 787, overnight in Tokyo, continue to Seoul on an Asiana 747 in business class, overnight, Seoul to Frankfurt on Asiana in first class, overnight in Frankfurt, and finally Frankfurt to DC in United first, which if I’m lucky I might get to change to Lufthansa first closer in.  Quite a great value for the miles, and excited for the overnights in Tokyo, Seoul, and Frankfurt!

All total, this should take 29 flights and over 46,000 miles:

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It’s finally all booked, about 11 weeks before I leave, so let’s pray there’s not too many schedule changes!  One of the most amazing parts is that I only need one visa for this trip – for Nauru – and it’s visa upon arrival so I’m set there as well!

Oh, and for a final bit of insanity…I return on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to Washington and Wednesday night three days later?  I’m off to Israel and Palestine for five days…assuming the stop firing rockets and such at each other before then.   So in reality, the map should be:

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Yes, over 58,000 miles in just over 5 weeks.  I might be insane.  But by the time this is over, I will have hit country #159 (Andorra) in late August, 9 countries of the South Pacific (#160-#168) in early November, and Israel and Palestine late-November bringing me to 170 countries with 26 to go!