My Obligatory 2015 Summary

January 9, 2016

Concentration on writing grows increasingly difficult as the loudmouths across the aisle continue their inane talks on stock options and paid travel. I’m reminded of a story about a woman who yapped on her cell phone on an Amtrak quiet car: it took hours before anyone spoke up, opting instead for murderous glances and thoughts about throwing her off the car at full speed. Once one person finally addressed the fact that she was disrupting the silence and ruining the experience for those who paid for a relaxing ride, she acted surprised, even offended. I’ll never understand that level of ignorance.

Cue the murderous stares from my fellow Atlana-goers: the girl sitting in front of this talkative duo who clearly is unable to relax with their shrill voices penetrating her ears; the woman immediately to their right, who is positioning herself as far into the aisle as she can with her head tilted away to avoid the noise; a mother and daughter sitting next to me, unable to concentrate on their e-readers while the conversation persists. After an hour, when it’s safe to move about the cabin and clear no one else is going to be confrontational, I stand by and gently say: “Excuse me, could you not talk so loudly?”

That’s all. They reacted mildly surprised… Were we talking loudly?? In my mind, that’s the worst social crime of all: total ignorance of your surroundings. It wouldn’t have taken much to read the body language of those around you, whether it’s a woman you’re unsuccessfully hitting on in a bar, someone passive aggressively coughing as you light one up in a no-smoking area, or disobey one of the unspoken rules of mass transportation and air travel: STFU.

So… with the best transition possible, last year brought more travel than even I’m used to. If I had stuck with one airline, I might have finally qualified for elite status. Let me break it down by destination.

Oahu

I had been in Dallas over the holidays and unable to find a decent points redemption from DFW, so I cashed in 22,500 United miles to fly economy from Oklahoma City to Honolulu. My first time in Hawaii involved a lot of adventures, and fortunately my cousins were there with a room for me in Kailua. Running on the beach in the morning followed by tropical fruit shakes has proven to be a good way to start my day. I avoided guards hiking the Stairway to Heaven, finally saw the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, and nearly knocked a pregnant woman over as I lost my footing on Diamond Head.

IMG_0827

United Kingdom

From a tropical paradise to a land the sun has forgotten? I must have been out of my mind. Nearly all flights leaving Honolulu depart in the middle of the night. I took advantage of US Airways’ off-peak promotion to Europe: 35,000 miles roundtrip from anywhere in the US, including Alaska and Hawaii. Coupled with the fact it was my first redemption, I was able to take another 5,000 miles off. Honolulu to London for 30,000 miles and $170 in taxes. A better deal I have not seen. I did have two long stopovers in Phoenix and Philadelphia, but used my US Airways’ lounge pass to pass the time.

I have to admit, experiencing the bitter cold after days on the beach wasn’t exactly the highlight of the trip. But had I not gone, I would never have met some amazing Couchsurfers: Ban in London, who cooked some amazing dishes and managed to keep me awake for a night of cards and drinks; Vaiva and Beatrice, two Lithuanians who exude so much positivity. Even CaffineJedi made an appearance after a day trip to Brighton.

IMG_1114

Paris

I wish I could say Paris was better, so I will. I booked the first Eurostar train from King’s Cross to Gare du Nord for $69 to see my lady friend on stopover in the French capital; it must have been a sign of how much I liked her when I chose not to miss my train and visit Platform 9 3/4 instead. Although there was a complete downpour our first and only day to walk around, we still hit the major tourist attractions: Chinese food for lunch, as is tradition; Champs Elysées; a walk across Pont Alexandre III; gazing up at the sparkling Eiffel Tower; and, of course, wine and cheese in our hotel room as a Justin Bieber music video was on TV.

Duygu had to leave early the next morning, but I was free to explore Paris for another three days. One Couchsurfer later, I cashed in my Hyatt two free nights at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome. Not only did I stay for free in a five-star hotel, but they even upgraded me to a suite. Me, Turner Wright, lowly traveler and sweaty guy. There wasn’t much for me to do beyond walk around and visit museums; the Musee D’Orsay was my favorite with its Van Goghs and lack of crowds. The Louvre, on the other hand, had a line snaking all the way through the underground shopping mall.

IMG_1390
What does 1400 euros/night get you?

Czech Republic

If I could have had any more time in Europe, it would have been in Prague. Granted, it was even colder than Paris or London, but the sun was shining, the sausage was hot and spicy from street stalls, and I had a lot of friend time: a cool Couchsurfing gathering in the Puma Bar, where there is in fact a live puma walking around; my host, Tully, who let me petsit her cat while she and her boyfriend went to Austria; and my Brazilian friend Laura, who happened to be passing through. More than the time with other people, however, I appreciated the food. Amazing and cheap beer, awesome delicacies. Mulled wine. Kolaches!

Prague will see me again.

IMG_1680

Munich

After Prague, I hopped a bus over to Cesky Krumlov just to see if there were bears guarding the entrance, or if any of those supermodels from Hostel II were still around. Although I did have a fantastic short stay with a host in the area, it had been almost two weeks since I had seen my girlfriend and I was getting a little down. The grey skies and freezing air of Munich didn’t do much to help, and I ended up staying inside most of the time, catching up with a friend and writing.

Philippines

All the way back. From Munich to Philadelphia. Philly to Phoenix for a 14-hour stopover. Phoenix to Honolulu. Life came rushing back, as it often can with all that vacation mental conditioning: we’re taught to feel more relaxed in the presence of palm trees and sandy beaches, even though nothing else in our lives may be in order. So it was with me. I had been looking forward to an escape with Duygu to Manila for a week, then starting work in San Francisco. Everything was lined up, everything in place.

I used another 35,000 United miles to fly from Honolulu to Manila, with a brief stopover in Guam. There’s something invigorating about a city in SE Asia from the moment you first breathe in that combination of exhaust and salt water. European cities are so orderly, if busy. Beautiful in their own way, but controlled, clean. Asia is chaotic and vibrant with a beauty all its own. Manila reminded me of that as soon as I stepped onto my first Jeepney. Fortunately, I had Uber to take me to and from the airport.

Philippine Time

I had a week in Puerto Galera with Duygu, then a week in Boracay, just killing time with Jonah’s smoothies and beach runs until my flight to San Francisco. There were a few revelations during this time:

1. I was getting really sick of solo travel, if I couldn’t even enjoy time on a beautiful white sand beach by myself.
2. I was ready to get back to a 9-to-5 job. To test the waters, if nothing else.

White Beach, Boracay

San Francisco

40,000 United miles allowed me to travel between Manila and SFO and successfully depleted my MileagePlus account; although American and others have since increased the number of points for both domestic and international flights, I’m sticking with AA for a while.

San Francisco remains my favorite base of operations in the US. If it weren’t so insanely expensive, I’d love to stay long term. This is the city that has forced a few full time Google employees to live in vehicles to cut down on living expenses. Still, the only reason I came was to do some training in the North Bay before heading down to LA and eventually up to Seattle.

Toronto

Like I said, I had so many domestic flights this year. Duygu and I regularly met up in Toronto, as it was an easy international trip for her to get on her schedule, and she had a guaranteed two-day stopover. I paid for this flight out of pocket on American and racked up a few more miles.

Los Angeles

For two months, I was living in Long Beach, setting up a new regional office and enjoying the sun. My rent was subsidized by my company, and I was enjoying my income and life. Duygu came to visit for a few days. I met up with a high school friend a few times. My runs increased, my time at the gym lengthened.

Toronto

Around Memorial Day, I took a rather unusual route to Toronto, cashing in 10,000 of my Delta miles to visit a friend in Chattanooga, paying for the flight from Chattanooga to Toronto, then using 12,500 AA miles from Toronto back to LA. I’ve since become intimately familiar with this Canadian city, having seen it with friends and as one half of a sickeningly sweet couple.

Seattle

Road trip! After I flew back to LA, my boss gave me a few days off, which I parlayed into a leisurely drive from San Francisco to Seattle. This was the first time all year I really felt grounded. I rented an apartment. I bought furniture from IKEA. I cooked, I cleaned. I lost money at blackjack. If I had one regret from this time, it would be my lack of socializing. Honestly, I tried, but dating was sparse, and I didn’t have any luck meeting new friends.

Los Angeles

I left Seattle twice to see Duygu in LA. Once for a quick overnight visit in June, as I had work the day of and she was flying out the next day… $500 for a last-minute RT ticket on Alaska Airlines; I doubt I’ll do anything that stupid again, but it was worth it at the time just to see her. Again in July on Alaska for an awesome few days in Disneyworld.

Duygu_me

Bulgaria

At this point in our story the hero takes a blow. Duygu left me just before a trip we had planned together and I was left wondering if I should just swallow up the cost of the plane ticket and save my hotel reward redemptions for another trip; after all, there’s little reason for a single person to occupy a whole hotel room. The privacy seems like a waste if you’re not getting busy.

I did end up flying into Sofia without much of a plan, deciding to immediately catch a flight to Athens and live like a tourist for a few days before Turkey.

Greece

Acropolis, Athens

Two weeks in this part of the world; I had been leaving things up in the air so Duygu could come on her time, but since that was out of the picture, I just soaked in every tourist attraction. An early morning dash to the Acropolis to see the ruins before the tour buses arrived proved successful, and I met some Couchsurfers for beers and beach time. As for accommodation, I used my Hilton HHonors free nights to stay in a lovely part of the city facing the Acropolis; not only that, but I got upgraded to an executive room, which included a breakfast buffet and happy hour beverages and snacks.

Flight: Sofia to Athens on Aegean Air. Claimed miles on United.

Hilton, Athens

Turkey

Turkey was to be where I spent the bulk of my time on this trip. I had originally wanted to fly directly to Cappadocia and go hot air ballooning and sightseeing with my lady, but that’s definitely not something any traveler should do solo. Very romantic. Instead, I flew Aegean Air over to Izmir in the middle of the night where I had a very tolerant Couchsurfer waiting for me with wine and cheese. This was to be the first of many Turkish meals I would find delightful. Never again can I go back to living in ignorance of Turkish breakfasts, Turkish tea, Turkish delight, and kofte.

From Izmir, I took a short excursion to Pamukkale to see Hieropolis and the cistern formations. It’s quite a nice place to spend a day or even just an evening, drinking beers as the setting sun glows against the rock face, but more time than that and anyone would be bored. So, Pegasus Airlines for $20 to Istanbul for me, all the way to my room at the AC Hotel Macka courtesy of 60,000 Marriott points.

I didn’t do too much in Istanbul. Granted, I had the time, but I didn’t feel like rushing all over the city to cram in every single tourist attraction. Let’s just say the Hagia Sophia caught my eye, as did a river cruise at sunset. I finished up my stay just relaxing at the Grand Hyatt – using up my anniversary free night from my Hyatt Visa – and walking through Taksim all the way to Galata Tower.

Bulgaria

I don’t recommend overnight buses, but I understand the appeal. I was nearly trapped in Turkey when I realized it was the beginning of a religious holiday and most of the flights and buses out of the country were booked. However, Metro Tourizm had one seat available on the last bus of the day… all I had to do was kill twelve hours. I still haven’t perfected the art of waiting. Usually, if there’s something to do within walking distance, I just leave my bags at the hotel and set off. But I’m a little uncomfortable exercising and leaving everything I own at the mercy of a bag check. I also don’t appreciate being so dirty or sweaty before I board a bus or plane that I need a shower, so that rules out a lot of physical activities.

Jump ahead. I survived the ten-hour ride back to Sofia with little sleep. So I’m in Bulgaria at 8:00 in the morning with no language skills and needing something to eat. What do I do? Aim towards the nearest big chain hotel – Ramada – and just help myself to their breakfast buffet and wifi.

This was probably the longest period of inactivity I’ve ever endured: a full day in Istanbul just sitting or lightly walking; taking an overnight bus for ten hours; waiting in Sofia Airport for 2-3 hours before my flights to Warsaw; flying to Warsaw; waiting in that airport for another few hours; flying to Chicago; staying in Chicago overnight with my IHG points, too exhausted to do anything but order a pizza and crash; and finally one last flight to Seattle. I must have been out of my mind.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Seattle

Things winded down pretty quickly in Seattle. I made the decision over my vacation to quit my job without having anything lined up from January, on the basis that the income just wasn’t enough given the cost of living up there. My parents came in for Thanksgiving and I saw a high school classmate, Iliza Shlesinger, perform in Tacoma.

Dallas

I ended things this year in Dallas with family, not having much of a plan beyond surviving through the holidays and letting the chips fall where they may.

CONCLUSIONS FOR THIS YEAR

So, I’m unemployed and homeless. Nothing new. But I’m far from beaten into submission and lacking ambition. If anything, this year reminded me I was still capable of love, something I had believed gone ages ago. It also provided me some perspective on what I’d be willing to do with my life if the right people were a part of it. I remain hopeful, and not just because I purchased a few tickets for the $900 million Powerball tonight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to OAT



Created by Webfish.

Need Advice on Living Abroad?

Thinking of teaching English in Japan? Volunteering in Thailand? Backpacking around New Zealand? If you're looking for some insider tips on the places to go and the people to meet, check out my consulting services. If you just have a few questions, no worries: email me.