This is the story about how I know that scheduling five flights for one day are too many. When I say “one day”, I mean a very looooong day. A day with about 40 hours.
One year, Mr. Excitement (a medical researcher) asked me what I thought about him doing a three month sabbatical at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center — from February to May. After exactly half a nano-second, I enthusiastically endorsed the idea.
As is our usual pattern, Mr. Excitment told me on what date he needed to show up in Honolulu and left me to figure out the rest of the trip. I looked at a map of the world and figured we could miss even more of the winter by visiting southeast Asia for a month on our way to Hawaii. (Note: I realize that southeast Asia is not on the way to Hawaii from Philadelphia, but the Pacific Ocean is involved in getting to both places — close enough).
I decided we should start our trip in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. It did not occur to me that scheduling five flights for one day are too many. So, I went with: Philadelphia to San Francisco; San Francisco to what I thought was Guam (see #10 below); Guam to Manila; Manila to Bangkok; and Bangkok to Chiang Mai. This is what I learned:
1) Trip planning is labor and time intensive, but if you fancy yourself a travel blogger, whining about the process will only trigger derisive comments from your true love along the lines of, “And you call yourself a travel blogger?”
2) Notifying your credit card company in detail about your international travel plans does not mean your credit card won’t be suspended by a fraud alert at 2:00 a.m. when you are in the middle of trying to book flights #9 and #10 of your itinerary.
3) Just because you can squeeze fit it into your suitcase, doesn’t mean you should.
4) Reserving aisle and window seats in hopes that no one will be seated between you constitutes magical thinking. Doing so means you probably deserve to have a slightly odoriferous Canadian sitting between you. (BTW, some of my best friends are Canadian! Eh.) In his defense (or defence, if you’re Canadian), the odor might have been caused by his having had to sprint to make his connection at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). He explained that his flight from Toronto left late because someone forgot to fuel the plane. Reportedly, the pilot was not amused.
5) Asking for hot tea when you’re flying over the Rocky Mountains against the jet stream is not smart.
5a) Asking for hot tea when you’re flying over the Rocky Mountains against the jet stream and you have your laptop computer open on your tray table is a guaranteed “what was I thinking?” moment.
6) Pulling an “all nighter” before leaving on your trip does not mean you will be able to sleep during your six hour flight to San Francisco.
7) San Francisco International Airport (SFO) does not have helpful signage for international travelers and public address announcements are mostly inaudible.
8) The food in the pre-security International Terminal at SFO is largely inedible — except for white rice. The white rice is fine.
9) When Philippine Airlines puts up a sign that check in for your 9:25 p.m. flight will start at 5:00 p.m., they mean you can line up at 5:00 p.m., but flight check in will start at 5:30 p.m.
10) When Philippine Airlines sends you an itinerary showing that your flight from San Francisco to Manila will stop in Guam and you will change planes from a Boeing 747 to an Airbus 340, what they mean is your plane will stop in Honolulu and you will stay on the plane for an hour while it is refueled.
11) When the itinerary says that your trip time from San Francisco to Bangkok is 23 hours and 10 minutes, you will wonder what possessed you to add a flight from Philly to San Francisco and from Bangkok to Chang Mai as part of the same “travel day(s)”—daze(?).
12) The Pacific Ocean is really big. Seriously, it makes flying across the Atlantic seem like a puddle jump.
13) Lots of things break on an aging Philippine Airlines 747 which, judging from the signs in Arabic in the lavatory, enjoyed a prior life in the employ of a Middle Eastern airline (or sheikh).
14) After an all nighter, followed by an all dayer, you will be able to sleep for 10 hours in a trans-Pacific 747 business class seat, even if it’s not one of those wonderful lay completely flat seats. Being able to sleep for 10 hours is vital on a 16 hour flight where the aircraft’s advertised personal entertainment systems are not functioning, seriously stressing out the lovely lead flight attendant (purser). (This poor lady was having a truly bad trip, having spent the trip in bound from Manila to SFO “talking down” a passenger who decided that he wanted to commit “suicide by airplane” — by opening a door and jumping out).
15) The International Date Line is a freaky thing and especially discombobulating when you cross it during a ten hour flight in the middle of the night – or is it day? – or is it tomorrow?
16) The business class Philippines Airlines lounge in Manila does not have reliable wifi, so you will not be checking your work email. (What part of v-a-c-a-t-i-o-n doesn’t Mr. Excitement understand? As for your vital travel blogger social media responsibilities — Girl, when are you going to learn how to pre-schedule your tweets and Facebook posts?)
17) Lunch on your Philippines Airlines flight from Manila to Bangkok was really good. Your personal entertainment system — not so much.
18) It’s best to have some paper reading material when all electronic devices must be turned off and you are on a flight with Mr. Excitement who is engrossed in a heavy tome he has been lugging across continents and oceans (the fifth volume of Game of Thrones) or you will have the following conversation:
Mrs. Excitement: I can’t read now. We’ll just have to converse.
Mr. Excitement: Then I guess you’re in trouble.
19) Bangkok International Airport is ENORMOUS and in January is full of Russians coming or going to Thai beach resorts. They wear heavy gold jewelry and cut in line. Speaking of lines, the one for Thai passport control was about 45 minutes long, but they stamp a 30 day visa in your passport for free — contrary to everything you’ve heard and read.
20) In Bangkok International Airport, Ronald MacDonald appears to be a Buddhist.
21) On a 55 minute flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai on Thai International Airlines — they give you a snack box and a hot and cold beverage — for “free” and your Thai pilot speaks better English than you do.
22) Going on a month long trip to Southeast Asia followed by 3 months living in Hawaii, during the coldest winter in decades in your home town is a good thing, but it doesn’t mean you won’t worry about your 90 year old mother and miss your dog.