Friday, June 29, 2012

Planning An International Trip

    So... as I have mentioned in a lot of these articles already, while some of my travels such as Colombia were planned with less than a week, others take a great deal of planning, I would say for every week traveling I planned at least 2 weeks of time cumulative, more so if it involved learning a foreign language for travel, so for the blog series, we are going to start looking behind the scenes at a trip from inception to when it finally comes here, I'm planning my trip to Russia for New Years Eve, this is how it all began...

Inception January to March or Brooklyn 2002: Growing up in Southwest Brooklyn there are a great deal of Russians, especially in the neighborhoods of Coney Island and Brighton Beach, this was where my interest in the culture first stemmed. I worked with several Russian guys as an EMT and dated several Russian girls as a single guy. This was years ago before my travels began, but I was bit by the culture, and as 2012 rolled around I sat around with my friends and said two things, where are we traveling to this year, and where will we spend New Years Eve, and look what was next on my list, Moscow. Talked with some friends and gathered interest, as always when a trip is 12 months out and no money is due, everyone is down to go, six of us were ready to see Russia!

Research March to June: Research begins as always online, youtube videos, trip advisor forums, facebook, etc. but I can only read so much on a computer screen, so then it becomes a few trips to Barnes and Noble or the library, after knocking back several coffee's at my favorite book store, eventually if interst is high enough, it becomes time to buy the book rather than just read it at B&N. I purchased these two books.

 The reading was slow and casual, the trip at this point was still over 9 months out (unlike China where I had 2 months to learn as much Mandarin as I could, phewww thanks again Lisa!). But in all my spare slow moments, I began reading books on Moscow and St. Petersburg, began deciding what will be the physical portion of this trip, museums and culture are great, but I always need some sweat and adrenaline, dog sled? Snow mobile? Ice swim? Russian power lifting gym? How about budget, is this going to be a dime trip, like Colombia and China? Or a bit more expensive like Australia? How much time in Moscow, how much in St. Petersburg, and of course, lets go off the beaten path at some point, a small city called Dmitrov is that target right now for a rural day trip. At this point, it is also decided that the trip is happening, not just brainstorming. So got out my old Russian CD's again to refresh on a language I haven't spoken since I dated Rachel in 2002 (thanks for making me pay $100 for your birthday club night when I was a broke student honey). I set up a totally separate savings account that I've been depositing into regularly. Hotel research also begins now, usually a later concern, but since we are going to be there on the new years holiday, I decide it's best to get something good in advance, after having some trouble finding a place that will take 3 guys (down from 5 now), we decide we will stay in an apartment rather than a hotel, and it's pretty cool because I make the phone call to Russia to book it, speak Russian for the 1st time in several years with a native speaker, not sure how well I spoke, but the apartment is booked! Budget is also set and decided that hotel and flight we should not break $2500, now that's for 2 weeks, 3 countries, remember we always do lay overs when we travel that far! Initial flight research shows that to do 3 countries flights alone would be $7,000. Of course we know from how to book a cheap flight we are going to find much better. Snow mobiling my top adrenaline choice is out of the question as I cannot find anywhere near Moscow or St Petersburg that does it, but have located a dog sledding place in Dmitrov that we will likely book & am communicating via email in English with the tour group.

Booking and further planning now... June 28th, 2012: So before everything was written in past times, the writings now will be current and I will update as updates come. Russia is in my sights in 6 months! I am listening to Pimsluer everyday in my car refreshing my Russian "Здравствуйте Прощай навсегда я люблю г. Москва!" I've been on flight alerts, monitoring the flights closely as an investor monitors stocks. And I know from experience that the prices are getting white hot to buy! At this point I tell my friend Eric who is coming that would be flying with me it's time to book, of course he drops out, we are down to 2 now, hoping my friend Joe in Florida doesn't bail. Now at some point in earlier flight research I discovered that the cheapest lay over is Stockholm, Sweden. I've never been to Stockholm, it wasn't on my list of places to visit, but guess what? For an extra $50, I'm going! I have a friend from South Africa I may see there, or it may be solo, but Stockholm will be the first place I see after Christmas in the states, I lose a day flying so will be there December 27th. Now it was long decided the majority of this trip would be in Russia, so over 10 days will be spent in the biggest country in the world, with new years eve in the biggest city in Europe. I've got my Moscow and St. Petersburg must do's down, and might do's, and do not do's. Apartment for Moscow booked, and hotel research for St. Petersburg doesn't concern me as plenty of hotels will be available in January!

     So now it was time to decide what European city I would see as a day trip on the way out. I tried hard for Switzerland to see friends there but prices in and out Zurich were way out of budget so early research pointed to Paris, and I planned two days there because it was only an extra $200. But last night, things got crazy in the online flight booking world... There were massive sales out of Dublin, and extreme discounts on Iceland air as I was preparing to book. For leaving St. Petersburg, these 3 cities kept coming up as cheap lay overs, Berlin, Dublin, and Paris. I called all my friends and family I could that traveled and asked for opinions and it was a strong split between Paris and Berlin. It was time to decide, I looked again at my work calender, the trip has been planned to be 14 days since inception... I googled images of Paris and Berlin... do this.... breath taking. Although most online research voted Berlin, there were too many mind blowing stories about Paris, I had to decide... I looked at my work calendar again... The hell with it, this holiday is getting extended, and I'm doing both. I checked the flight from St. Peterburg into Berlin, cheap. then Berlin to Paris, cheaper, $60!!!! Then I thought, hell we are budget travelers, I'll plane to Berlin, then maybe if I book I'll take the Eurorail to France. Then the real deciding moment came, as I kept extending the trip by a day the price kept getting cheaper! Finally extending the trip as much as I could due to work and education obligations, the last day orbitz had me flying out France into Iceland, then to NYC, and a 15 hour lay over in NYC where most of my family lives! Another unplanned lay over in my home town! I jumped on it!

For $1448 I booked this 19 day trip (originally flight budget max was $2,000!): 

Phoenix to Boston, 4 hours there, unsure if I will leave the airport, Boston to Sweden for a day
Sweden to Russia for a week and a half
St. Petersburg to Berlin for an unknown amount of time, if I like Berlin I'll stay there 5 days before Paris, If I'm feeling more French I'll leave earlier.
France to NYC for 1 day, hi Dad!
NYC to Phoenix

Tip: To get this price with shortest flight times I had to book all 4 flight separately. I used Orbitz for 3 and Expedia for 1. If you were to try to use one search engine to book this altogether the price as I write this comes out to: $5138 and that's on the very same engines I used to book individually, computers are not always smarter than we are.

Now it's time to think about Berlin and France, maybe I can find a place to snowmobile in Germany. Will update as updates come.

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