The crazy, wacky Ultimate Flight Marathon

Happy May everyone!

As I write this, I’m about to embark on an epic journey – a dream trip to New Caledonia. Where exactly is that, you may wonder… Well, it’s a French island, or actually an archipelago, located in the Pacific Ocean. Geographically, it’s about as far from France as possible. It’s also pretty darn far from our departure point of Guadeloupe and the Caribbean in general. But it’s only a couple of hours from Sydney, Australia, by plane.

The idea for this trip came from my French boyfriend. He visited New Caledonia 15 years ago and considers it the most beautiful place he has ever seen. We’ve wanted to take a trip there for a while already, and now it’s finally happening!

This is where the Ultimate Flight Marathon comes into the picture: to get from the Caribbean to New Caledonia’s capital of Noumea and back, we will be taking a total of 15 flights over the next 3.5 weeks. Yikes. This includes flights with 11 different airlines. The shortest flight is just 1.5 hours, and the longest one over 13 hours.

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This photo is from the beach of La Datcha in Guadeloupe – I’m having a hard time believing that New Caledonia can beat this view! But let’s see.

To make this gargantuan air journey a bit more exciting, I decided to review some of the flight segments and airlines on this blog as we move along. I will be commenting on things like on-time departure and arrival times, food served onboard, possible turbulence and other trouble, as well as my own state of mind after all that flying. This should help you decide if this type of an Ultimate Flight Marathon might also be your cup of tea. (Or it might encourage you to pay whatever is needed to get a direct flight to your destination instead!)

I’ll also make a note of the cost of each flight and tell you the airline miles earned and the airline programs I used. I may also talk about things we did during layovers, as well as the airport lounges on various airports (as I’m a happy owner of the Priority Pass lounge membership program due to my awesome Citi Prestige credit card).

Lounge

This is the Global Lounge in the airport of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It’s one of my favorite lounges as it’s so swanky and stylish! However, the food options are very basic, as is customary for American lounges.

In a way this project will be similar to Quality Hunters 2, a Finnair project I took part in back in 2011. During that project I had 13 flights over seven weeks – and I thought that was a lot! But now I’m setting off to break my own record with these 15 flights. Taking the duration of the trip into consideration, on average we will be taking one flight every two days between early May and June 2.

With so many different airlines being a part of my Ultimate Flight Marathon, the chances are high that you will find your favorite airline mentioned among those (or alternatively you may learn more about an obscure airline you didn’t even know existed). The blog entries for this Ultimate Flight Marathon can thus serve as a helpful reference point to anyone contemplating flying some of the same segments or airlines in the future.

Here’s the route on the outward trip:

Guadeloupe – Puerto Rico – New York- Tokyo – Bangkok – Singapore – Perth – Sydney – New Caledonia

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And here’s how we’ll be coming back:

New Caledonia – Auckland – Sydney – Bangkok – Tokyo – Chicago – Montreal – Guadeloupe

Now, I know what you must be thinking: There is no way this is the most direct way from the Caribbean to the Pacific! And you are right – it’s most certainly not. The most direct way would have been Guadeloupe – San Juan/Miami- Los Angeles – Sydney – New Caledonia. But that’s also a really expensive way – about $2,500-$4,000 roundtrip.

By transiting through Asia and Australia and by making use of some great flight deals and utilizing a bit of frequent flier miles, we were able to get the total cost of this dream trip down to less than $1,000 per person. This way we will also be able to visit some old favorite cities of mine in Asia and Australia during our respective one-day layovers. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how my Aussie home of Perth has changed since I lived there back in 2006! It will also be great to catch up with friends in various friends along the way.

(Note: You can even get to New Caledonia for a couple of hundred dollars, if you happen to have access to a stash of Air France miles. It costs just 60,000 miles and around $300 in taxes to fly to a roundtrip to Noumea from Los Angeles, and you’ll get to pass by Sydney too. However, award availability was scarce for our wanted dates, so we skipped this opportunity.)

Without further ado – welcome onboard the Ultimate Flight Marathon! Hope you stay tuned for updates on how the trip is progressing, and feel free to send any tips my way with regards to New Caledonia or any of the cities we’ll be visiting on the way!

 

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My Guadeloupe e-book is finally DONE!

It’s official! The Quick Gwada Guide e-book is finished! After six weeks of hard full-time work and a bucketload of joy and exhaustion … It’s finally done!! Yayyyyy. 🙂

If you are traveling to Guadeloupe with the new, cheap Norwegian flights from the US (or from elsewhere) and are interested in getting ideas for where to stay in Gwada, finding out the top 30 best things to see and do here, plus want to get answers to common traveler questions (What’s the seaweed situation like? Is it easy to find wifi? What should I bring with me? What if I don’t speak French?), this e-book is for you! It’s the first English-language guidebook about Guadeloupe written since the year 2000, so you literally cannot find more up-to-date information anywhere and in as concise of a format. (The e-book is 63 pages, but it’s easy to scroll to the sections that are most useful to you.)

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Here are some things that buyers have said about this e-book so far:

“I finished your book. It is absolutely excellent. This had to be a LOT of work for you, and I congratulate you on the result!” (Writer’s note: Yes, it was more work than I ever thought!)

“It is really, really good and I think it will be super helpful for first-time visitors! It would be really nice if Norwegian would put your guide in the seatbacks on all flights to Gwada!”

Very helpful book. I will take the time to offer some feedback after returning from Guadeloupe.”

“I just wanted to thank you for all your guidance and friendliness. It contributed to a wonderful maiden journey to Guadeloupe!”

“Mirva, thanks so much for the guide. You are like the Rick Steves of Guadeloupe. If you publish your guide on Amazon or anywhere else, I’d be glad to give you a positive review.

“Thank you so much! We got a lot of use out of your book.”

So yes, sounds like my guidebook has pretty much nailed it! And indeed, Amazon is the step I need to tackle next so that I can reach a bigger audience with this book. Another good contact could be the Guadeloupe tourist board and their new website. So much to do!

In the meantime, if you are interested in the Quick Gwada Guide, feel free to email me at gwadaguide@gmail.com to order a PDF copy. Based on reader reviews, it prints without any issues and can easily be read at least on the Amazon Kindle Fire.

The price of this e-book is $15 (thus a mere 23 cents per page!) and you will definitely save that money several times over if you invest in this guide. After all, I’m a budget traveler myself so I’ve included tons of tips for saving money while in Gwada, as well as a list of the top things to do here, many of them free or low-cost.

Payment is easiest done via Venmo or Paypal, using the email address of gwadaguide@gmail.com, but we can discuss other ways to pay if you aren’t familiar with those. Please leave your email address as a comment when you make the payment, so that I’ll know who to send the e-book to!

SEE YOU IN GUADELOUPE!

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Coming soon: My Guadeloupe guidebook!

Last month I woke up to the reality that there are no good and up-to-date English-language guidebooks on Guadeloupe, my home in the Caribbean. Yet there are tons of American tourists coming here currently with the new crazy-cheap flights from the East Coast of the USA. Fares start at $69 one-way! Most of the town a return trip will cost you around $300, but that’s still VERY cheap compared to the pre-Norwegian airline prices. Needless to say, I was super excited when they announced these flights back in the summer time.

And now I’m also extremely excited to announce that soon there will be an awesome new e-book available for people heading to Guadeloupe: The Quick Gwada Guide! Written by yours truly.

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I’m currently in the process of putting in the final finishing touches to the e-book (who knew that picking and choosing photos  and formatting text could be so time-consuming??) and will be selling it through this blog soon enough. The book will answer all the commonly asked questions, and include tons of tips for your stay in “tropical France.” The Quick Gwada Guide will also help you save money with its budget travel tips for this island that is one of the most expensive in the Caribbean.

Please stay tuned and feel free get in touch if you want to be among the first ones to receive an electronic copy!

A case study of Jamaica: Yeah man – it’s not for me

Last time I wrote about how some countries are a good match for you, for reasons you often cannot explain. You just feel some kind of a connection with the place and its people. Luckily it happens quite often for me. I’m currently in El Salvador and whoa, this place was love at first sight! The ever-present Latin music, the ubiquitous street food vendors (love the delicious pupusas!) , the beautiful beaches and waterfalls, the outgoing friendly people… what’s not to like??

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But this time I’m actually here to tell you what it’s like when the opposite is true and you cannot get into the swing of things at all. For me this has occurred in a couple of countries, but most strongly in Jamaica. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

You see, Jamaica is one of those places whose mystical name conjures up images of good times and paradise beaches. It’s a country that (it seems) almost everyone dreams of visiting at some point – everyone except for me.

playa I never had any particular interest in Jamaican culture, and I just might be the only non-Bob Marley fan left in the world.

stuffNot that I ever had anything in particular against Jamaica, it just wasn’t very high on my list of places to visit. Maybe somewhere below Angola, right above the Canary Islands (where I’ve actually already been as a kid and I think that was enough…).

And yet I found myself in this island nation famous for rastafaris and reggae a couple of years ago, after the Guyanese immigration forced me to buy an onward flight ticket at the Georgetown airport. During the five minutes that I had time to think about what to do, Jamaica seemed the most logical place to fly to, as I was on my way to Cuba. (My initial plan was to take a bus from Guyana to Brazil and go from there to Venezuela, from where I could have flown to Cuba for pretty cheaply. Thanks to Guyanese immigration insisting on seeing an onward a flight ticket, that was not an option…).

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Arriving at the Kingston airport in Jamaica, I was a little less than excited. Kingston doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being a friendly and safe city, quite the opposite. Before arriving in the country I happened to read an article about how armed robbers were constantly attacking the city’s hospital, in broad daylight. Police was begging for them to stop, as now the hospital staff was afraid to come to work out of fear of getting held at gunpoint. Nice. Nothing like this type of news to get you excited about arriving someplace new.

I wish I could say that I wandered around Kingston for a couple of days, and it turned out the rumors about it being dangerous were entirely wrong. But I didn’t actually stay there long enough to find out. Pretty soon after arriving I decided to head out to safer areas of the country, and only spent a couple of hours in Kingston, switching buses. From what I saw, the city definitely seemed interesting (I saw bustling markets and many street vendors) but it also seemed worthy of its bad reputation. (I spotted quite a few shady looking characters, and some guys who had clearly indulged in something stronger than the herbal essence that’s every rastafaris favorite past time. Kingston is also the first place where I actually resorted to hiding some cash in my shoes, in case I got robbed. Luckily I didn’t. That only happened later in my travels, once I got to West Africa).

As for my verdict for the rest of Jamaica – naah. Still not my favorite country. That might be because I ended up spending my week in the most touristy spots – Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Negril. They were just way too Americanized for my taste. I felt like I was in Florida but with more rastas around. At the same time I was afraid to venture too far out due to security concerns.

beach Granted, Jamaica did have beautiful beaches, with Negril’s white-sand beach with its turquoise water being my favorite. But I have traveled to enough countries where a nice playa just doesn’t cut it anymore (as much as I am a self-proclaimed beach-o-holic…). The place needs to have something more than that, some kind of character, culture or soul. And Jamaica just didn’t have it, or if it did, I simply couldn’t find it.

That might be because locals are often effectively banned from being on the same beaches with visitors. It also didn’t help that most of the Jamaicans I managed to meet in the touristy areas were “rent-a-rastas”, i.e. young dreadlock-donning guys looking for a Western sugar momma. Turning them down every five minutes got to be pretty boring after the first hour. Their aggressive responses were also not too uplifting (“Why, you don’t like black people?!”). All this made me feel like I just needed to get out.

But of course it’s not Jamaica’s fault that I got stuck in the touristy spots that hardly show the best side of any country. Had I allotted more time for sightseeing, I could have explored the mountainous region surrounding Kingston or gone volunteering on an ecofriendly farm run by real followers of the Rastafari religion, not rent-a-rastas, like one traveler I met. I probably would have had an entirely different experience then.

And naturally my week wasn’t terrible. I did eventually meet some nice,  chilled-out locals on the Negril beach and spent hours with their adorable puppy.
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I also cannot deny the beauty of the country, from mountains to rainforests to beaches. Even my Dunn’s River Falls waterfall experience improved tremendously after the tour group of about 200 Americans finally left the area. The sight of all of these folks holding hands and shouting “Yeah man!” together with their Jamaican guide just didn’t do justice to the waterfall that has been dubbed the world’s most beautiful. (In my opinion it was nice but didn’t even come close to Guyana’s Kaieuteur, and many others I have seen.) tourists

All this said, it would be okay to go back to Jamaica if I had some local friends or Couchsurfers to show me the ropes or if I simply wanted to lie on a pretty beach for a week. But it’s not the best place to travel to independently if you are looking to get to know the culture while staying relatively safe.

Either way, I can’t go back to Jamaica before I get my visit to Angola out of the way (which might take a while, considering how expensive that country is!)…

Have you ever visited a country that you didn’t care for much? Why was it that you felt this way? Would you be willing to give the place a second try?

It’s time to recharge those batteries!

Oopsie, it happened again. As I suspected, I got out of the habit of posting on a daily basis and the longer my writing break grew, the harder it was to get back to it. But no worries, I’m back! At least for now…

So what have I been up to lately? On the outside, it may look like I haven’t done much since the Quality Hunters project ended in the beginning of this month. After all, instead of zooming around the world I’ve now been staying put in Finland, only casually embarking on the two-hour journey between Helsinki (where most of friends live) and Turku (where my family lives). But as unexciting as that may sound, I have to say it’s been pretty nice staying in one time zone for the past three weeks! I’m finally over my two-month jet lag, yee-haw!

And yes it’s true, I definitely haven’t worked all that hard this month. About a week ago I finished writing two long-form articles for the upcoming issue of Expatrium (a magazine for Finnish expats that I regularly write for), but other than that I’ve deliberately been taking it easy this month. That’s because I suddenly realized I have worked non-stop since mid-May! That’s not healthy!

And yes, I realize that the photos above may already look like “a break” to some people, but that’s actually me in work-mode. The fact that I can work from anywhere (like from a Jamaican beach or a mountaintop in Guatemala) doesn’t mean that I never get stressed out or that I don’t work long hours. I definitely do. While I rarely count the actual work hours I put in per week, sometimes I think it must be twice what regular 9-to-5ers put in! Unlike most Monday-to-Friday folks, I am in work mode Monday to Sunday, from morning until the evening. Often times I’ll be walking down a street when a story idea hits me, or I’ll wake up in the morning with a draft of my next lede circling in my head. Sometimes I have to email editors at 4 a.m. just so I won’t forget to do it later. And this is in addition to spending hours per day doing research online and conducting interviews and writing pitches. And oh, writing articles, because they don’t write themselves!

And yes, my job is definitely super cool and fabulous, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I get to interview interesting people, eat awesome foods while doing food reviews, try out new hobbies and attend interesting travel fairs to scout for story ideas.

But despite how much fun my job is, I’ve decided to really take it easy for the month of December. It’s Christmas, people! Time to recharge those batteries and take care of stuff you have been neglecting all year (such as getting wisdom teeth removed! I’m currently in so much pain, ouch!).

And one such errand is obviously to get this blog up and running…please wish me luck with that! I’m hoping that Christmas laziness won’t entirely overtake me…

What about you guys, are you taking a break from work for Christmas (whether or not you celebrate it) or powering straight through to the new year? Either way, make sure to listen to your inner self and do what feels right to you! Merry Christmas!

Quality Hunters recap

Finnair just published this cool video yesterday thanking the Quality Hunters community for being so active online and for coming up witha whopping 288 ideas for how to improve air travel.

I was happy to spot myself in the video a couple of times too, and for once not looking totally ridiculous… 😛

Hope you enjoy the video and make sure to comment on the best ideas at http://www.qualityhunters2.com!

And the “best ideas” would obviously be mine…haha… such as the free magazine and book swap at Helsinki Airport.

And how about acknowledging milestone birthdays with a glass of bubbly or a box of chocolates?

And also, how about bringing a Hesburger to the airport, the all-around awesome Finnish hamburger chain? I’m tired of just having wine and caviar to choose from!

If you agree with me, don’t forget to hit “Like” on the ideas! Thanks guys! 🙂

(PS. Sanjoo‘s idea about “Meat-free Mondays” is not too shabby either, but it’s already winning anyway!)

A work in progress…

Hmm, I’m not really happy with how this blog looks so I’ll be making some changes pretty soon. Please don’t give up yet and do check in every now and then! I’ll hopefully be directing this link to a full blog instead of just a sidebar on my profile page. I’m currently on deadline for two articles, so this blog project will have to wait until next week. But please check back then and later too to keep up with my adventures! Thank you!