Save Some Money, but Time Matters
Whenever I think about a trip and start the planning process, my first order of business is finding ways to save some money along the way. For those instances where I’m booking flights, that is where I start the saving. Before I booked my trip to Rio de Janeiro in August, I spent weeks glancing at different search engines for the cheapest flights to one of the world’s hottest destinations for 2016. That challenge did not spare my wallet, until I managed to find a more round-about way to get to Rio and not break the bank. That route may have saved me $200+ dollars, but cost me an additional 10+ hours of time in transit. From layovers in both Santiago and Sao Paolo, I finally made it Rio after leaving New York 24 hours beforehand. There is definitely a trade-off for this method, but I learned that it is important to weigh the cost of an extra layover and the savings associated with it. I would’ve much rather spent those 10 hours on the beaches of Ipanema.. not wandering around airports of South America.
It’s no secret that travel deals exist for even the most cost-conscious adventurer. But that mentality can also lead you into a few questionable situations. Looking back, I think of my experience arriving in Rio de Janeiro that brought me into a potentially dangerous situation. To recap: when I arrived in Rio, I was forced to walk through some of the more dangerous streets of Rio to get to my home-stay. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was not my brightest move. From not being able to find the apartment, wandering the streets for what felt like an eternity, and eventually missing the meeting time with my host, I was nearly stranded on the streets for the night. Without that occurring, I may not have met Paulo and his wife; whom made sure that I was well taken care of. Although they were strangers, I trusted their advice and guidance during a time when things could have gone from bad to worse. To read more about that escapade, check out my recent “Travel Troubles” article here!
Holiday Airfare Can Cost an Arm & a Leg
2016 was the first time that I did some traveling during the holiday season. I flew out to San Diego to ring in the new year in a new way with two friends. While this was arranged VERY last minute (think 10 days beforehand), that made the challenge of finding a reasonable flight price allthemore difficult. During the months of November and December, flights can double or triple in base price due to the influx of travelers heading home for the holidays and the need for airlines to hit budget expectations by year-end. My advice to future holiday travelers - book early enough in advance to avoid the holiday price hike. Normally 6-8 weeks in advance for international flights, and 5-6 weeks for domestic flights.
Small Problems Can Become Big Nightmares
2016 taught me much more about patience than any other year in the past. A perfect example occurred in October when my friend and I were returning to London from a quick visit to Switzerland. After our flight was already delayed by 2 hours, we finally made it to London, but not without another speed bump in the road. All of London’s airports are a ways outside of the main metropolitan area, so travelers heavily rely on trains to reach the city center. In our case, we came to find out that all trains leaving London Gatwick Airport were cancelled until further notice. Queue a mass scramble of people trying to get taxis, Ubers, Lyfts, etc. Taxi companies were charging upwards of £80 pounds ($98 USD) just to get to the city. Meanwhile, ride-share options were limited in supply because it was midnight on a Saturday night, so drivers were stationed in the city center instead of 40 minutes outside of it. Thanks to the help of my clever friend, we found a private express bus to bring us as close to Notting Hill as we could get. With hundreds of people fighting for transportation, I learned a lot about patience in that time of chaos.
After graduating in May, my friends and I took that quintessential three-week Eurotrip with stops in London, Paris, Pisa, Florence, Cinque Terre, Rome, and Barcelona. If that sounds like a lot to do in three weeks, then you’d be correct in thinking that. As indecisive as I can be, I wanted to see as much of Europe as I could in such a short period of time. Unfortunately, I learned that that will lead to utter exhaustion by the end of the second week. With early wake ups, day trips, and over 10+ hours of exploration every day, it was tiring for your average 22-year old. In that, I had the time of my life with some of my closest friends, but I also learned to take trips at a slower pace to ensure that I am embracing as much of the culture as I can, while taking time to rest along the way.
Rush Hour Travel is a Real Thing - Even Outside the U.S.
As a current commuter, I can attest to the idea that commuting is a pain. And as a commuter, any added congestion to the flow of traffic or a train car is incredibly frustrating. Nevertheless, my friends and I were caught in the worst commuting experience of my life when we arrived in Paris in June. We landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport around 4:00pm and opted to take the train into the heart of Paris. Well.. we were among the other thousands of people looking to do the same (many of which looked like they were heading to or from work). We braced ourselves for a more than cozy ride to the city center, bundled closely with Parisians and other travelers, alike. And if you are wondering, it is true that Parisians are not always the most cleanly of people.. So be mindful of rush hour times in your travels. Otherwise you may end up on an overcrowded train surrounded by many sweaty Parisians in the hottest month of the year.
Fresh Up On Your Foreign Language Skills
Remember those painful foreign language classes in high school? Well, some of it may be pretty useful if you’re going abroad. Before arriving in Paris, I had never been to a place where I knew none of the language. I frantically attempted to pick up some general French phrases with some mobile applications and videos, but it was far from adequate enough for Paris. Parisians in particular are very adamant about their culture. Many cultures are willing to speak English or Spanish as a substitute for their native tongue, but Parisians are not like that. They expect visitors to know enough French to get by. It was evident how bothered some Parisians were that we did not speak the language, but you live and you learn. On my next trip back, I’ll be sure to prep better, and I hope you do too.
Check out some additional tricks to know before you go here!
Adventures After Dark
They say that the ambiance of many cities are incredibly different between daytime and nighttime. I hadn’t tested that theory until I made stops in Paris, London, and Rio earlier this year. Paris, in particular, is entirely different after dark. With less tourists on the streets and many attractions lit up for the night owls, every visitor to Paris should try to explore the neighborhoods at night. I can say that I’ll never forget seeing Notre Dame illuminated without hoards of tourists in my face, as it was the perfect time to take pictures and marvel at the architecture in peace.
Volunteering for the Olympics was one of the best things that I’ve had the chance to do. I have not published as much as I’ve wanted to about the Olympics, but I can say that it was an amazing experience because I was able to meet athletes, locals, and fellow volunteers from all walks of life. However, there was a lot of downside associated with the Olympic Games, most notably from the organizing committee itself. As spectators, we see the front-end of the Olympics. Athletic specimens representing their home countries on the international stage. But from the back-end, a lot of corruption, economic calamity for the host country, and broken promises to the citizens most impacted by the Games. More to come on this topic, but the 2016 Games taught me the lengths at which organizations, such as the IOC, will go to only display the positive impacts of the Games, while suppressing countless negative outcomes from the rest of the world to see.
Wrong Rooms and Paint Fumes
Back in November, a friend and I went down to Texas for the weekend. After a late flight to Dallas-Fort Worth, we planned to stay the night in a hotel before driving south to Austin the next day. When we arrived at our hotel, which, admittedly, was a VERY “budget” hotel, we were greeted by the staff and given our key cards for the room. We walked to the room and swiped the key card, only to find out that there was a man sleeping in the room that we were told we’d be staying in. After talking to the front desk staff, and the poor man in the room thinking that we were going to rob him, we were reassured and given the keys to the proper room. As we went into the other room, we were overcome by the smell of paint fumes because the walls had just been painted and were still wet. Needless to say, we abandoned ship at that point and transferred hotels. Bottom line: NEVER stay in the Quality Inn and Suites in Dallas-Fort Worth; regardless of how cheap it can be.
Packing is always a mess for my trips - I try to organize all that I need, but always manage to forget something important. On my most recent trip to San Diego, I left my raincoat behind but did not think much of it until I was greeted by two days of unseasonal downpours in Southern California. While still wanting to explore with my friends, but unable to find any stores selling raincoats, I stuck with what I had and toughed it out. Lesson learned here: while packing, make an extensive list and ensure that you have all that you need; even if it is as unexpected as a raincoat for poor weather in Southern California.
You Can Miss a Flight - and It Can Be Your Fault
Prior to 2016, I’ve managed to make every flight that I had booked. I’ve had delays here and there, but never enough to miss a connection or lose a lot of time. Until I was on my way back to the States from Europe. To make a long story short, I was late arriving at Dublin International Airport to catch my connecting flight to New York. Dublin is a bit different than other airports because they have a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol processing for Americans returning to the States. The idea behind it is to better ease airport congestion upon arrival to the U.S. So in theory, it is a great option for someone short on time once they arrive in the U.S., but could be a problem for anyone short on time between connecting flights in Dublin (i.e. me). So after unsuccessfully obtaining my mobile boarding pass, I was forced to convince an Irish Border Patrol Agent to let me through the queue so I could print my boarding pass then head to my gate. (Must have been my Irish roots that convinced the Irish agent to let me proceed).
However, I also came to find out that I wouldn’t be able to return through security and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to make it to my gate in time. Unbeknownst to me, there were also no other available flights back to the U.S. until the next day. Thanks to a helpful United Airlines employee, we were able to change my flight to the first one back to the U.S. the next day. The silver lining to all of this was that I got a free 24-hour stay in Dublin, which I probably did not deserve, and eventually made it home without much damage done. Lesson learned: give yourself enough time at the airport AND between connecting flights. Otherwise you could be stranded with a hefty bill for a new flight (if your airline doesn’t honor missed connections).
2016 taught me a lot of lessons to better my travels in the future. Here’s to hoping for an even happier, healthier, and adventure-filled 2017 for all!