Lessons Learned in Transit

My dear readers!  As I noted in my last entry, I have not forsaken you – I’ve just been traveling, recovering, and reestablishing my routine post-travel – which has taken about a full week to process.

That said, the travel in question was both far-flung and exotic – IMO, the best kind of travel.  My husband and I honeymooned in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai/Abu Dhabi).

Hey look! It’s the Maldives! Everyone always asks me where they are.

The first question I got when I told people this travel plan was where the hell are the Maldives?, followed by why the hell are you going to Sri Lanka?  Both are legitimate questions, I guess, but I think that any good trip has a good mix of leisure (i.e. the white sand beaches and water villas of the Maldives) and adventure (i.e. a leopard safari in Sri Lanka).  Too much of either is a recipe for either boredom or exhaustion…

…which brings me to today’s blog topic – lessons I learned while planning and executing a major trip like this.  There’s a lot we did right, but as with anything, a lot we could’ve done better.  I want to share my best advice with you guys so you can make your next trip stress-free and smooth sailing.

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Seaplane tickets – booked by the resort, ready upon arrival, and handed to us over a nice cool drink in the airport lounge. VIP!

Use a travel agent.  I know what you’re thinking – this isn’t 1998, and we have the internets now.  But when planning something complicated like a multiple-stop, multiple-destination flight itinerary, seaplanes, safari resorts, and a whole host of other variables, you want someone else doing the gruntwork.  Sure, you might pay a bit more, but premium service (like personalized pickup at the airport, “VIP” transit perks like expedited customs and private vehicles, and even a free honeymoon dinner at our resort) can be the difference between feeling relaxed and at ease versus confused and rushed.

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Coffee break on safari with our non-safari attire

Read your itinerary.  Carefully.  Both Nick and I overlooked the fact that we were going on an actual wildlife safari – when we skimmed the itinerary, we more or less looked at the cities we were visiting and the hotel names and that was it.  We didn’t realize we were going for a full-on, tents-and-Jeeps safari experience until, well, we were in it – without proper clothing, shoes, hats, or cameras.  I ended up wearing my workout clothes (which got basically destroyed) and borrowing Nick’s shirt; he was in warmup pants and a baseball hat.  It was definitely not ideal safari attire, but we hadn’t realized the ins and outs of the (vast and long) itinerary (which listed the day as a “visit to a park”) until it was too late.  Case in point: read every single detail, ask your travel agent if you have questions, and make sure you’re ready for anything.  Speaking of which…

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NOT a tropical paradise, but it WAS my view for 31 hours.

Be ready for anything.  Yep, even on your honeymoon, things can go awry – I was definitely not ready to walk off the side stairs of a plane into three feet of snow and sit around the Istanbul airport for 31 hours.  Nope – I was dressed to waltz off a plane into the balmy tropical Maldives weather – but we got stuck along the way, and all I had to soothe myself was a (dying) Kindle and some contact solution.  I never thought we could get stuck for that long and didn’t bring closed-toe shoes, a change of underpants, or chargers for my electronics.  It was a tough test of our mettle and a frustrating loss of money (since weather-related delays mean no refunds), but having clean, warm clothes would have made a world of difference.

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Our stomachs were fully “healed” by the time we had to eat this magnificent Lebanese feast

Approach every experience with gratitude.  Besides the aforementioned delay, we also got a (brief) stomach bug that resulted in a day of puking and a couple days of “limited” eating and cold sweats – but we didn’t let it get us down.  We were so grateful to be where we were (Asia), doing what we love (traveling) that we just laughed through it – and when we look back at pictures of our amazing honeymoon, the bad stuff just disappears.  When you think about the privilege of travel – seeing new things, meeting new people, tasting new food, experiencing new cultures – all the annoying stuff just pales in comparison to the opportunities that travel affords.  It is truly the thing that makes me feel most alive.

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One of the three fish I caught!

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Modesty, thy name is abaya

Try new things.  Related to the above, we did a lot of stuff we’d never tried before – night fishing in the Indian Ocean (loved it!), Ayurvedic massage (never again), glamping (absolutely life changing), and stand-up paddleboarding (ok, we’d done that before, but never in the wide open ocean).  Whenever our tour guide or travel agent suggested something we were unsure of, we quickly answered “yes!” rather than “well, we don’t know…” to make sure we had the fullest, richest travel experience possible – and we had an even more amazing trip because of it.  Dance with the local Maldivian band, put on your abaya and check out the local place of worship, eat the cheeks off the just-caught barracuda – just say YES!  Most of the time you won’t regret it, and if you do, it’s not likely that you’ll be forced to do/try it again, so just go with it.

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My amazing scarf atop the Dambulla rock temple, Sri Lanka

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Gazing out into the ocean blue, Maldives

Finally, let your budget fly (relatively) free.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not rich, I’ve never been rich, and I don’t foresee being rich in the near future.  I also try not to be spendthrift.  But that being said, I am definitely one who will save up – and spend money on – experiences.  I balked at the idea of spending $34 on a hand-spun Sri Lankan silk scarf, but then I realized that I may never be back to this region of the country, $34 wasn’t going to break me, it would help the women who actually made the scarf, and it was damn beautiful.  So I bought it.  We didn’t want to get a (wildly overpriced) massage in the Maldives, but once we settled into the heated, plush massage beds overlooking the ocean with the sound of gently lapping waves lulling us into a sense of utter freedom and relaxation, well, the “sting” of the cost suddenly melted away.  If you spend your entire trip worrying about money, you’re never really vacationing – you’re just stressing about your everyday life in a place that looks different.  Save up, spend the money that it takes to experience life in new ways, and know that you can always tighten up the budget when you get back home – and back to reality.

What are your favorite travel tips, readers?  Where’s your next vacation destination?

Tales From Beyond the Lounge

Oh hey there readers and friends (and pardon my lack of commas apostrophes and semicolons as this keyboard somehow does not have them).  I am writing you from inside one of the most beautifully designed rooms in which I have ever been…

The Turkish AIrlines Business Lounge.

Believe me, I am not brand new to the idea of an elite airline lounge…that is not to say that I frequent them but this is a whole new level.

From the completely insane exterior to the high design concept of the interior this is truly a sight to behold.  Dont believe me?  Check out some pics.

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Upper deck observation area

What you cannot see of course is the fact that as of this minute Nick and I have been IN this lounge for 14 hours (!) – and our flight does not take off for another 16 (!!).

We slept here last night huddled on the couches – we ate dinner here – we ate breakfast here – and as I write Nick is preparing to shower here so we can free ourselves from its (admittedly lovely) confines and try to find some local Istanbul flavor before we go.

You may be wondering at this point what one could possibly do to entertain herself during a 14-plus hour stay in an airport lounge.  Well let me enlighten you…

  • first thing we did was hit the free booze.  Hard.  It is literally a self-serve of anything you want from beer to wine to hard alcohol and all free mixers to boot.
  • next thing we did was go bananas on the Mediterranean food.  After taking several scout missions we found a mezze bar full of cheeses hummus and baba ghanoush followed by Turkish pizza and kofta kebab.  Desserts like baklava and chocolate cake washed it all down so nicely.
  • we sat and conversed by the player piano for a while which made us feel classy even in the context of the aforementioned overpouring of free booze – and we moved on from wine to scotch (for him) and Baileys (for me)
  • as we sat we saw a woman walk by with Massage Therapist printed on the back of her shirt and we nearly pounced on her like cats to a rodent.  Free 10-minute massages felt like luxurious one-hour rubdowns and we were grateful.
  • next up was finding somewhere decent to sleep.  We pushed a couple cushy chairs together joined with a cocktail table and laid across it like a (crappy) bed.  Neither of us is exactly short so this was no small feat but we managed to eke out a couple hours each.
  • the key word there is a couple of hours.  I couldn’t make myself sleep more than that so I began to wander – drinking two STRONG Turkish coffees to fuel my journey – and people-watch the two-thirty am lounge crowd.  I scanned for American accents and found one although I now think she was actually Canadian.
  • my wandering lasted so long that I actually made it through the overnight food service stoppage and into the breakfast service which included Turkish pastries flatbreads eggs and panini – all of which made their way onto my plate and into our stomachs
  • finally I retreated back to our makeshift bed zone to read from my Kindle (downloading a couple new books since the free WiFi is fast and readily available) and two (short-ish) books later brings us to now.

It doesnt seem like a lot really but let me tell you – with literal blizzard conditions outside and a flight to a tropical destination (and the REAL start to our honeymoon) just dangling in front of us like a carrot on a very long and sharp stick this is as productive a use of my time as I can determine right now.

Have you ever been stuck in an airport for over 24 hours?  What are your tips and tricks to stay sane?