Monday, January 08, 2007

And Away We Go

I’ve started to focus on our next big trip, which begins on Feb. 2, less than four weeks from now. To be accurate I should say re-focus, since many months ago I put the logistics in place – where we’ll go, when, how we’ll get there, where we’ll stay. Being my own travel agent is both challenging and fun, and I have no doubt that I do a better job than those other travel agents who get paid for it.

I’m saying “I,” but I’m no fool. I make sure that I work out the basics with Ms Marsh in advance. While I may do the research and spend the hours online and even make decisions, I do it in partnership with Sandra. To do otherwise would be a recipe for, let’s say, a wee confrontation.

Planning for these trips begins well over a year in advance. First, we need to decide where we’re going. Then we need to make sure we can get flights using our United miles. We travel addicts know that reservations can be made 331 days in advance. So 331 days before our return flight home I’m on the phone. Since only a few seats are set aside for reward travel, it takes patience and creativity to work it out. But I always seem to manage.

This time we’re returning to Asia, to places we’ve not been before. Specifically, we’ll be in Vietnam, with stops in Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi; Luang Prabang and Vientiane in Laos; and Sarawak in Malaysia. Sarawak, while a Malaysian state, is a jungle area on the north coast of Borneo. We wanted to get to these places before they are overrun with tourists. We’re probably a little late for Vietnam, but I suspect in a few years 2007 will be thought of as on the early side. Laos and Sarawak are still very much off the beaten track.

The part of this trip that proved most challenging to organize was Laos. Even with the Internet it was tough. (In the old days, before websites and email, setting up travel to obscure areas like these was near impossible.) I knew that we needed to fly from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and back again, and I knew there were flights, but I had to struggle to get the details. Finally, I found a flight schedule; then I couldn’t find a way to buy tickets. Finally, after much googling, I located a travel outfit in Bangkok that was able to get tickets and had a way for me to pay for them. Finding hotels in Laos was tough but more manageable than the planes.

I’ve been anxious big time about our visas for Laos. I sent our passports to their Embassy in Washington in mid-December. On Dec. 26 I got a call from a Mr. Mone telling me I hadn’t sent enough money. I rushed to the bank to get the certified check and mailed it. Knowing that there was still plenty of time didn’t lessen my anxiety. This morning I called Mr. Mone to see what was happening. It took a while to find him, but I did. He said he’d check and call me back. So far he hasn’t called, but now it doesn’t matter. Our passports, with visas, were in the mail this afternoon. Whew!

At this point our job is to familiarize ourselves with details about where we’ll be going. Are there places outside the cities we should visit? Do we have time? What are the tradeoffs? How about in the cities themselves? How should we spend our time? We know, of course, that none of this will be written in stone. There’ll be plenty of opportunity for the unknown and the serendipitous.

We have a 4-hour rule that we try to adhere to. That is, we’re good for maybe four hours of sightseeing a day. Going morning till night trying to cram every last ‘must see’ into our schedule is lunacy. At least half the day should be leisurely. Wander around. Read. Just ‘be’ in the place. Since my life is an ongoing vacation, going on a long trip is the hardest work I do. I’m sure when we return I’ll be happy we did it. I’ll let you know.


Blogger Lys said...

I'm glad you've decided to do this regularly (the blog that is). I'm looking forward to your post(s) as you get ready for and return from your trip.
Love you,

2:14 PM  

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