My 2015 Travels So Far

March 11, 2015

My goal is to fill up my passport pages before I have to renew in 2018. So far, I’ve been doing a pretty good job; there are only 2-3 completely empty pages, and I should be heading to Canada in a few weeks. Next on the international agenda, assuming I can find a good deal and get the time off, is Istanbul. Incidentally, if you’re looking to do the same, I recommend getting work visas, or tourist visas in advance: China’s takes up a full page, as does the E-2 in Korea and type-O visa in Thailand. The UAE’s stamps are pretty big, too.

I’ve been blogging pretty regularly since the beginning of the year, but I thought it would be good to make a summary for new readers, showing where I’ve traveling, how I got there, and why I went to particular countries.

Haiku Steps, Oahu

January started off with a long-awaited destination of mine: Hawaii. I never would have even considered it if I didn’t have family in Kailua willing to take me in for a week while I explore the island. My days were mainly spent running on the beach, drinking Lanikai Juice, and hiking the Haiku Steps, with a little WWII history mixed in. The first time around, I stayed ten days, traveling from the mainland using 25,000 United miles.

From January 15th, US Airways was doing a special that allowed roundtrip tickets to Europe for 35,000 points. Because I signed up for their MasterCard – FYI, they now offer a 50,000 sign up bonus – I had 30,000 points and the promise of a 5,000 bonus for my first redemption. $170 later and I’m set for London.

My intention in heading to Europe was to visit friends (and a certain flight attendant…) Although it was a bit appealing to go when there wouldn’t be as many tourists around, I’m no fool; I knew most of the continent would be cold, wet, and snowy, the perfect conditions to stay inside, drink hot chocolate, and catch up with those I had met on previous travels.

Well… not everything worked out. The woman with whom I wanted to stay in the UK broke up with her boyfriend and switched jobs, so relaxing was out of the question when I arrived. We were able to meet up briefly in Liverpool, but other than that, I was alone in London. I did use the opportunity to meet YouTuber Caffinejedi for lunch and cupcakes, but I don’t know if I’ll be back in Brighton anytime soon.

Paris was amazing, as reported, but my original plan included taking a train down to Lyon to catch up with a friend from Vimutti Buddhist Monastery in New Zealand. Like before, there were personal issues that came up, and I found myself changing plans yet again. Even Germany was looking unlikely, as a certain boyfriend had a jealous streak that included me staying with my female friend for a few days. If it hadn’t been for Paris, the amazing time I had with my lady and the subsequent upgrade at the Park Hyatt, I would have been a little despondent.

But, I trudged on. To Prague, where I would catsit for a Couchsurfer I met skydiving in California and hang with a Brazilian I showed around San Francisco. There are plenty of cheap flights around Europe on RyanAir and Wizz Air, but booking at the last minute, I found a decent deal with Transavia. The Czech Republic was a big turning point: London, Liverpool, and Paris were nice enough, but beyond cloudy and grey when it came down to it. Prague, on the other hand, had the sun shining on Charles Bridge for most of my stay and sausage vendors lining the streets. I was motivated to come for the kolaches, but I stayed for everything else.

Tired, I caught a train to Munich for my last few days, taking refuge with one of my better surfers in Austin. Here’s where my experience gets a little jaded, for after a month on the road in Europe in the cold, I just didn’t feel like exploring another new city. Carnival was going on, and of course I partook of as many German beers and bratwurst as I could stand, but my drive was really beaten down; I spent most of the time indoors surfing the Internet until my flight.

Returning to Hawaii was welcome after the frozen wasteland Germany had become. A few more days on the beach acclimating to the sunshine was just what I needed, which is why so many may find it surprising I traveled from Honolulu to the Philippines. Why? Well, it didn’t hurt that everything over there was a tenth the price of that in Hawaii. I certainly had the United miles to make it practical, but of course, it comes down to people.

Even in the Philippines, enough time on the beach can be boring. I may be a bit bronzer than when I left Texas in January, but there’s only so many times I can stand being asked if I want to book a dive tour or a massage. In the end, the vendors were laughing at me because I ignored them so pointedly; in the Philippines, men and women get right in your face about selling tour packages, sunglasses, hats, etc., and I would make a habit of walking right into them if they didn’t step out of the way. It sounds a bit callous, but to anyone who has spent a few days in the country will understand; it’s not worth your energy to dismiss everyone coming at you trying to get at your wallet. On Boracay, I was only slightly jaded – calmed by the beautiful island, I’m sure – but in Intermuros in Manila, it was pretty infuriating getting approached walking down the street every minute.

So, back to California for the time being. Hopefully everything will go well with my next job, as funds are running rather low and I’d like to save for more domestic trips. I’m writing this on a United flight from Beijing to San Francisco, and have a bit of advice to anyone considering an international transfer in Beijing: DON’T. I thought I had witnessed my share of incompetence at US airports, but Beijing takes the cake: understaffed, unnecessary and invasive security checks, and the need to get a transfer visa regardless of time spent within the airport. Couple that with a lack of decent restaurants and no wifi (only accessible if you have a working cell phone en route), and Beijing is a good contender for the worst stopover in Asia.

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