Tuesday, July 16, 2013

наш календарь

Well, the Points Guy gave some great advice about booking tickets to Europe for half of the advertised amount of Avios points through BA's OneWorld Partners. It's my fault that I can't squeeze in a few more days. Initially, I booked a seventeen day trip figuring it was plenty of time, not long enough to cost too much money, in countries that should be inexpensive... but damn if I wouldn't mind a few days extra in Lithuania now that the plans lay in front of me.

I booked my miles ticket back in April, and the guy on the phone told me that it would cost $65 to change the dates. Then, when I realized I wanted a few more days I searched available economy seats on my flight using Expertflyer.com . All economy seats were gone. Like I said before, August is a busy time to travel. I eventually called a guy at British Airways Awards, and he told me to keep checking, that the airline might adjust its inventory of award seating based on demand. As time went by even the Business Class award seats were disappearing, and then I was close to the six week time frame of booking all my other tickets, so I had to make the choice to do the best with what I had already booked.

Of course, I could have really been gung-ho and flown straight from Dublin on August 2nd to Tallinn and met my friend Chris there. Chris lives in London, and there are just a few things about that city that give me travel boner. Such as doner kebabs from The Taza.... HOLY SHIT.... While skypeing with Chris about our plans, I flat out told him. "I get there on the 2nd but let's wait until the 5th to fly out. I gotta see the Oil Room at the Saatchi gallery. I want to do a mudlarking tour. And I need to get my fill on some kebabs from the place between the Bayswater and the Queensway tube stops.

He was laughing. "You've got to go into West London for a kebab?"

"Man, you don't know the half of it. This place will knock your dick in the dirt!"

"I love kebabs myself, but you've gotta go into West London for a special kebab?"

"Yeah, mate. Nothing else like it."

When I took the wife to Perfidious Albion (Hitler's name for London), I deliberately booked our hotel within two blocks of the Taza, just so I could get my fill. In thirty-six hours, I had three kebabs and a falafel. The hot sauce and the long yellow peppers they use are the best I've ever had. They are unmatched.

So as much as I would like to see more of the Baltics, a stop in London necessitates an extra two days. Most importantly is the jetlag after flying East as opposed to West. It kills me. No advice helps. Most people suggest you struggle through the day and go to bed early. No. Never happens. I deliberately find a hotel that will let me check-in around noon so that I can have about a five hour nap. I then walk the city at night and eat a big meal and get some drinks, and this way I can go to bed at my usual time of about 2 am, just like back home. No going to bed at 8 pm nonsense. It's vacation.

But as far as the other two things on my list, they are the only two things I can think of that I have not done in London that will fit my layover. Mudlarking is basically the act of scouring the shore of the Thames to see if you can find any artifacts from London's 10,000 years of inhabitancy. I found this blog by a woman who mudlarks and finds some amazing shit: disposable clay pipes, old bottles, pottery. Apparently, you can pick up and keep anything you find on the shore so long as it's sitting their in the open. You need a permit to turn over a rock or dig. I mainly want one of these old clay pipes from the 16th-19th century. While the Thames washes all sorts of new stuff to shore each day, pipes often wash up to the north end of the Millenium bridge. I wrote the lady and asked if the tide would be low enough on the day I plan to go, and she said it will be perfect. There are tours with an archeologist leading who can explain the finds, and I hope to take one of those tours in the future. But there are no tours in the time I'm visiting. So I'll be on my own. And I have to wear nitrile gloves and boots, because London has so many rats that their piss fills the river, and it can give you Weil's disease.

As far as the Saatchi gallery? Well, while national museums in London are free, the oil room is just that, a room filled with oil. Sounds like it smells and sounds like it's amazing.

To conclude, I've heard a number of people say, "I didn't really like London. It was expensive." I have a number of friends who deliberately seek the poorest countries as places as vacation. I mean, I'm doing that for part of this trip as well, going to cheap countries. I'm on a tight budget just to be on one. But to dismiss London because it's expensive or because you didn't do your homework and find things that interest you? That's stupid.

Friday, July 5, 2013

16 Days, 7 Flights, 5 Countries

*If you have stumbled across this blog article, please tell me what brought you here. This is the most popular article I've written. Let me know why in the comments!

Okay, all flights are booked. Follow along: Orlando--Boston--Dublin--London Gatwick--Tallinn--Kaunas--Dublin--Boston--Orlando.

Seven flights total. 10,887 miles by plane. 416 miles by bus.

It turns out that The Points Guy discovered that by searching British Airways’ One World Partner Airlines one could get two trips to Ireland, from Boston, for only $146 in fees as opposed to getting one trip to Europe on BA for over $600 in fees. So I knew that in order to get from America to Europe, I’d be saving over $1100 by cashing in 25,000 Avios points for a flight from Boston to Dublin. I had a three week break in August, and by searching about three months in advance I found a round-trip flight that gives me about seventeen days of travel. Not my longest trip by anymeans, but with this sort of discount from the get go any time away is worth it.

August is the worst month for going to Europe. It's when many Europeans go on vacation as well. Rates go up after May usually, and they don't fall until late September/early October. Hence, I'm heading to the Baltics, where rumor has it these countries are like Prague back in 2000--beer flowing by the half liter for fifty cents. Beaches in these countries should be packed, but with Russians, and since I want to practice my Russian I don't mind such a crowd if I find one. I doubt it's as cheap as Prague used to be, but a budget of $60 per day is what I'm hoping for. And, while Estonia and Latvia have had their features in the New York Times and other travel articles and magazines, it seems like many folks opt for Helsinki or St. Petersburg instead. I hope so. I hope the locals outnumber us. This wouldn't be the case if I were just going to London or Paris or anywhere in Western Europe this time of year.

Professors where I come from get a three week break in August, and by searching about three months in advance I found a round-trip flight that gives me about seventeen days of travel. Not my longest trip by any means, but with this sort of discount from the get go any time away is worth it. All other flights that get me to Boston and out of Dublin added up to a total of $1079. So far, through ebay sales, I'm only still in the red by $372. I hope that by the time I leave all flights will be technically "free." That way my total travel budget for 17 days at $60 is $1420. I won't be surprised if I spend $2000 or more, but the point of this blog is to prove I can do this all on a shoestring, just like when I was a young, naive little man waltzing around with a backpack and a skateboard.

Everyone swears by this or that travel website, but kayak has been the most reliable sight I've used for the last ten years. Their weekly deals page that they send you by e-mail has taken me to Australia for $875(to be continued) from SFO and to Ireland for 9 days(two people, one rental car, 7 nights in B&Bs) for just over $2000. It's still worth looking at Orbitz and the website your friends tell you about, and the Brits will insist on skyscanner. It's also interesting to see which airline has prominence on each site. Orbitz, for instance, had FinnAir flights offered at the cheapest rate while Kayak was beating them with Ryanair, Easy Jet and Wizz Air flights. In the end, all the airlines have rooms full of nerds comparing fares and tweaking the prices based on who is offering which fare and how many are selling. Travel agents these days do nothing but take a fee on top of what kayak and other sites will get you. Many of them use a system called SABRE, which gives the same rates as the travel sites but also gives you a choice of a seat and discounts for parties over nine people. Aside from that, however, they are useless unless you are the type of person who needs a bell hop.

So what did I pay for each flight? It helps to search prices a couple of months early and to keep track of all flight quotes to compare changes in rates. Here is an example of how I obsess over finding the cheapest fares: 

As you can see, I tweak the dates to see if rates go up or down, as well as the times. I was dreading the above flight from Vilnius, Lithuania to Dublin, Ireland because it takes off at 6:40 am. I don't know how cabs or buses work in Lithuania, and I hate getting up early. I ended up flying out of Kaunas, Lithuania, around noon, for about $30 more and non-stop. SAS was going to stop in Copenhagen or Warsaw, and while that is not a huge deal this will be the first of three flights home. Non-stop is preferred. I also found an option for Warsaw to Dublin, non-stop, for $140ish on Aer Lingus. But that would have taken an eight hour bus ride and an overnight stay in Poland. Never been to Warsaw, but with all the ground I'm covering as is it was just too convenient to pay the $320 from Kaunas.

It's best to buy all flights by whatever Tuesday falls six weeks before the day you need to fly. This is the day the airlines drop fare prices of the previous weekend, compare what other airlines are doing and adjust prices to what they deem as "cheap" until demand either makes them adjust the fair price up or down...usually up. 

MCO-BOS $105 (non-stop, one-way)
BOS-DUB $146 (non-stop, rountrip)
DUB-LGW $116 (Ryan Air, non-stop, one-way, includes bag fee)
LGW-TLL $200 (Easy-Jet, non-stop, one-way, includes bag fee)
KUN-DUB $320 (non-stop, one-way)
BOS-MCO $140 (layover, one way)

Total: $1027

Kayak quote for same cities I'm visiting bundled into one ticket: $2359

Kayak quote for exact flight path I'm taking: $3599

If you like to travel, it pays to learn how to count cards...

UPDATE: On my way home from Boston to MCO I had a layover in Atlanta. Delta had overbooked the flight and gave out $400 vouchers for anyone willing to stay the night in a hotel. I volunteered to stay until the next morning. After making over $800 on ebay sales to cover my flights, I was still $200 in the red. After I got the voucher, I ended up $200+ in the black. I booked a ticket to Norway with that voucher for $486. So I essentially am going to Norway for $86 in 2015.