POST “0” – October 7th 2018 – About the blog

Why (and how) I am doing this...

You need to start somewhere, and should not be afraid of the white page… That’s with this feeling that I am now typing my first draft of a post, actually seated on board a KLM flight between Amsterdam and Lyon, the city where I am originally from and where I will be spending this weekend to celebrate my little sister’s birthday. It will actually be the last time I will spend a weekend with my family before starting my trip in 2 weeks from now.

The planning of this 6-month adventure actually began more than 15 months from now, when I started to discuss with my « N+2 » about my wish to take some time off work to travel, as this was an intention I had in mind for quite some time already. While his first reaction in this tiny meeting room did not demonstrate the enthousiasm I was hoping for, it eventually got better with time, thanks to the support of him, my direct manager and my colleagues. Now that my extended vacation has been accepted, I need to figure out… where to go, and also… where to start !

You need to start somewhere, and should not be afraid of the white page… That’s with this feeling that I am now typing my first draft of a post, actually seated on board a KLM flight between Amsterdam and Lyon, the city where I am originally from and where I will be spending this weekend to celebrate my little sister’s birthday. It will actually be the last time I will spend a weekend with my family before starting my trip in 2 weeks from now.

The planning of this 6-month adventure actually began more than 15 months from now, when I started to discuss with my « N+2 » about my wish to take some time off work to travel, as this was an intention I had in mind for quite some time already. While his first reaction in this tiny meeting room did not demonstrate the enthousiasm I was hoping for, it eventually got better with time, thanks to the support of him, my direct manager and my colleagues. Now that my extended vacation has been accepted, I need to figure out… where to go, and also… where to start !

Round-the-world…

Think about it. In which direction would you start if you were me ?

I loved most of my previous trips to the US and Canada, same goes for the Asian countries I had the chance to visit in the past several years (Japan is my favourite !). I enjoyed my short time in Australia earlier this year and would like to go back there. New Zealand has always been on the top of my bucket list to visit and Africa is the only continent I never set a foot into, so far… (well, there is also Antartica, but to quote a good friend of mine « nobody should be going there ! »)

Some European destinations are also on my bucket list, but I consider those easy enough to reach during week-ends so I would not use this « limited » time for destinations which are nearby. With one exception though : Russia, since I would need a visa to get there, that could be a good opportunity to visit this country during this trip, given the preparation time I have

Typing on Google « what to see during around the world trip » gives you a gazillion on different answers. But there seems to be a consistency in the destinations most of the travellers are going to. Thailand, Japan, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, the Hawaiian islands all seem to be very popular during sabbatical trips. Add to this list the currently very trendy destinations of the moment such as Cape Town, Peru, Vietnam or Namibia and you end up with quite some possibilities…

Think « seasonality »

Planning such a trip requires quite some preparation, and research on when would be the best time of the year to visit each place. One might not want to visit south east asia during monsoon, the center of Australia in the middle of the summer, Russia or Patagonia during winter. Since my sabbatical was also planned in such a way that I would escape the « bad months » (weather-wise) of the Netherlands (i.e between October and April), I tried to plan this trip to fit all those considerations. The result, while not perfect, should allow me to visit most of the places in optimal conditions.

       I will be starting with Russia (Moscow and St Petersburg) in mid-october

       Then Dubai for a short time before going to the South of Africa (Johanesburg, Cape town, Namibia, Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe)

       Then come back to the emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi and visit Oman

       Head to South East Asia (Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, North Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, Penang in Malaysia and Java in Indonesia)

       And come back « home » for Christmas after a short stop in Sri Lanka

       Straight after new year, visit a friend in Hong Kong and head for a month to the South of Australia, followed by New Zealand.

       Go towards Latin America, via the scenic route : New Caledonia, French Polynesia and California…

       Visit Argentina and enjoy a 9-day cruise between Ushuaia and Easter Island…

       Go back to the continent to visit the north of Chile, and Peru

       Visit some friends in the USA and enjoy the Canadian rockies (end of March… brrrr…)

       Go back for a week in the center of Australia (more on that later…)

       Spend the last 15 days of this experience in Japan, Beijing and Jeju island in Korea.

 

Oh, and in case you haven’t noticed that yet, spending time in airports and planes is not really an issue for me J

To quote a colleague of mine : « How much ? »

As I said before, travelling (and therefore flying) is a passion for me. Such a passion that I know most of the tricks to get cheap(er) air tickets and hotels deals. Such a passion that over the years, I became millionaire in hotel points and frequent flyer miles, and I am consistently searching for the best ways to use those, especially to enjoy some unique experiences on board. This sabbatical leave is the best time to apply those tricks I learned in the past years. Some of the air tickets for instance will be paid in miles, while some others, because of sales, promotions or special tricks will be booked in cash (and those bookings will generate additional points and miles to enjoy some more reward flights later on…). While the destination clearly matters, I believe that the way to get there is also very important. And being an aviation enthusiast, I also have a bucket list of airlines, aircrafts and cabins I would like to experience. This vacation is a great opportunity to do so.

Frequent flyer miles can make you travel the world !
Air France first class on Boeing 777-300 (copyright: Air France)
Qatar Airways business class A350 (copyright the designair.net)

You : Nerd !

Yes. I am. At least when it comes to air travel. This trip will consist in trying some new airlines and business/first class cabins I don’t have the opportunity to usually fly on. Add to this the fact that sometimes the most « exotic » routings are allowed and I will be able to tick off some of the aircrafts and airlines from my bucket list !

Those will include :

       Air France « La Première » new First class on Boeing 777-300

       Cathay Pacific First class

–     Qatar Airways Business class on Airbus 350-900, and who knows, maybe their new Q-Suites…

       Kenya airways Business class on board their Boeing 787-800 dreamliner

       Japan Airlines Business class on-board their new Boeing 787-900

       AirBaltic Bombardier CS300 (Now also called Airbus A220-300)

       And many more…

The passport index

Every year, a few international organizations are rating the power of each passport, understand by this statement how many countries with each passport one can enter without a visa, or with just an electronic travel authorization or visa on arrival. I am lucky enough to hold a French passport, which is consistently ranked in the top 3 citizenships for visa-free travel. There are a few exceptions though. Russia and China are the two biggest ones, where I would need to deal with the cumbersome process of Visa request if I decide to visit those countries – which I do. The good thing with China is that they decided several years ago to allow citizens from most of the western countries to « extend their transit » through the main Chinese hubs such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, just to name a few, and allow those « transit » passengers to visit the city for a few days, without visa, as an incentive to develop local tourism and the Chinese airline industry. I did that back in 2015 and visited Shanghai coming from Europe for 48 hours before heading to Japan. This facility was extended now to up to 6 days and since I am just planning to visit Beijing for a couple days this time, I will not need to apply for a Chinese visa before hand and can get a transit visa upon arrival in Beijing airport.

For Russia, that’s a complete different story, and you will need to follow the full shabang before getting the magic sticker on your passport. Fortunately, it happens that I am sitting in the same office as a Russian colleague (who also appears to be a good friend btw) and as every Russian guy, he knows a guy… who knows a guy, who could help me with the Russian visa application. In that particular case, that guy is Mrs D., who works in a small travel agency counter of a Russian supermarket in Aachen, in neighbouring Germany. Bring your passport, your Russian friend and 150 Euros cash, and with the help of god (and maybe the signature of Vladimir in person), you will receive 4 to 5 weeks later a SMS with the two magic words « Visum OK » signifying that you now have a new sticker on your passport ! Case closed ! I can now officially start my Sabbatical trip with Russia, and at the same time, I can buy some Russian Cumcumbers from the supermarket J

I could visit Shanghai back in 2015 thanks to the Visa waiver program for transit passengers
Visum OK : Russian visa + Russian pickles !

What has been booked so far…

Let’s face it. There will be a lot of travelling during this trip. And while the planning of this journey started 12 months ago, I still have some bookings I still need to arrange. Here below is what my itinery should look like. In blue are the flights booked and confirmed, in red, what needs still to be booked (for some parts, I am ready to book anytime soon, for some others, i still need to work on finding good deals or award availability). And finally, in green are the other means of transportation already booked (trains, buses, boats, whatever…)

As of October 7th 2018 : In blue the air travel already booked, in red, what needs to be organized and in green the "alternative" means of transportation...

The great website gcmap.com calculates a total of 135143 miles (or 217492 kilometers) Let’s see what the final number will be…

 

Now – I need to start packing. And that’s already quite some adventure…

 

(Update 13OCT2018) : See below for the Episode “0” on my YouTube channel !

 

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