Let’s play Travel ABC’s

Hey fellow travel enthusiasts!

I’m currently doing a fun travel game over on my travel Instagram, @mirvaonthemove. (FYI: I also have an IG account just for Guadeloupe photos, which is @guadeloupeguide. So if you like palm tree photos, head over to that one!).

This Insta game that I invented is called the “Travel ABC’s” and the goal is to post a photo every day of a country/state/city you have been to, in an alphabetical order. I just started a few days ago together with a few other IG users, so it’s still easy to join.

If you want to take part, just use the hashtag #travelabcs and tag me @mirvaonthemove. You’d have to post four photos to catch up: places starting with an A, a B, a C and a D. It might be best if you could post a few photos per day so that you can quickly catch up with the rest of us. 🙂 Tomorrow is letter E.

Here’s what I’ve posted so far.

There are also a few more rules:

  1. When you post a photo, you should tell a little story of the place/country where the photo was taken. (Don’t forget to use the hashtag #travelabcs and tag me at @mirvaonthemove).
  2. You can post about a country, a state or a city that starts with that letter.
  3. If you can’t think of any place starting with a particular letter that you would have been to, you need to reach out to another IG user (maybe a friend of yours, or a new contact) and ask them to loan a photo to you from that place. Then post that photo to your IG. In the status you can say that while you haven’t been to a place starting with letter X, another IG user has in fact been there. And then tell what the IG user had to say about it. And make sure to tag them in the photo to give them credit! (PS. If you need a photo from someplace, feel free to ask me! I’ve been almost everywhere…haha!)

That’s it! See you on Instagram, over at #travelabcs!

Flight 5/15: Bangkok to Singapore

This post is part of the Ultimate Flight Marathon multi-part series, where I review each of the 15 flights I took during 3.5 weeks of intense traveling in the late spring of 2016.

Airline: Tigerair

Date: May 13, 2016

Type of plane: Airbus A320

Duration of the flight: 2 h and 25 mins

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General info: Tiger Airways, operating as Tigerair, is a no-frills airline and a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines. It operates flights to 40 destinations across Asia. Our flight was an evening flight from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport to Singapore’s Changi, a.k.a. the best airport in the world. Above other things, Changi has some fish ponds, three movie theaters, a sunflower garden and even a butterfly garden (that we sadly didn’t get to visit).

What was special about this plane: It was your standard Airbus A320, but the layout was a bit different than what legacy carriers have. There were 180 economy seats instead of the usual 150, and no business class at all. The plane was new and clean, with comfy blue leather seats.

Highlight: There were a couple of Buddhist monks boarding the flight with us! I was surprised to see them flying, as I thought monks had to live a more modest earthly existence… then again, flying with low-fares airlines is pretty much the most modest way to travel nowadays anyway, as it’s often even cheaper than taking the bus.

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Bangkok’s main airport has some nice decorations.

What I would do differently next time: Tigerair doesn’t provide any entertainment on board – not even big shared screens. So I would make sure that my laptop battery was well charged instead of practically empty…

Food served: None was given for free (not even water), as is typical 0f no-frills carriers. Luckily we were not hungry at all, as we had just visited the Louis’ Tavern CIP First Class Lounge at Bangkok airport’s Concourse A that served pasta, puff pastries and cookies.

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Thanks for yet another lounge visit, Priority Pass!

Turbulence: None. Yay! I’m not a fan…

Price: We bought a one-way ticket from Bangkok to Perth through the Tigerair website, which included a 12-hour layover in Singapore. The price of this entire ticket was around $180 per person so about $90 per flight. This whole ticket could have maybe been been cheaper since we had to pay $20 extra for checked-in luggage that we didn’t even have. For some reason Tigerair’s website didn’t allow me to book the flight without luggage – maybe because our second flight was with Scoot Airlines and not Tiger? Who knows…

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Some parts of the Singapore airport are so pretty!

Miles earned: None, though I could have earned some Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer miles from this flight: Tigerair awards KrisFlyer miles to people who buy their Flexicombo fare. However, I didn’t think it was worth paying an extra 50 Singapore dollars (around $37) just so I could earn a measly 60 miles. Even if you get the Flexicombo fare and the miles, these Tigerair flights won’t count towards elite qualification. This means you can’t get silver or gold status with Singapore Airlines by flying one of these low-fares subsidiaries. As is mentioned in the terms and conditions, “Only KrisFlyer Elite miles earned on Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, Star Alliance partner airlines, Virgin Australia*, and Virgin Atlantic^ will count towards KrisFlyer Elite Silver and KrisFlyer Elite Gold membership.”

Overall experience: OK.

 

Flight 1/15: Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe, to San Juan, Puerto Rico

As I promised, here starts my review series of the flights that make up the Ultimate Flight Marathon (i.e. my personal Amazing Race).

Airline: Seaborne Airlines

Date: May 7, 2016

Type of plane: Saab 340 TurboProp

Duration of the flight: 1.5 hours

Delays: We did leave about 10 minutes behind schedule, but it didn’t impact our arrival time. However, it was a bit nerve-wracking that boarding only started after we were supposed to have taken off already (as I knew I had a tight connection in San Juan).

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General info: Seaborne is a tiny Caribbean airline that partners with American Airlines and Jet Blue. Therefore your e-ticket may say American Airlines (as mine did) but rest assured – your aircraft will be much more exotic than “plane” ol’ American (pun intended). On the route from Guadeloupe to Puerto Rico, Seaborne operates a tiny 30-seater twin-engine propeller plane, Saab 340 TurboProp. It’s definitely not the most modern aircraft out there – Wikipedia tells me that the production of this plane type ended in 1998.

What was special about this plane: The overhead bins are so small that a regular carry-on suitcase won’t fit up there. Therefore the staff collected bigger carry-ons from people as they were stepping up to the aircraft, and stashed them in the plane’s luggage compartment. Folks got them back as soon as we landed in San Juan. Luckily my backpack was small enough to fit in the tiny space we were allotted. (Yay for packing light!)

Highlight: It was entertaining to watch the lone flight attendant, Julio, trying to play several roles simultaneously and to try not to hit his head onto the low roof.

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What I would do differently next time: The whole left side of the plane is made up of single seats, so everyone got a window seat – except for me! I managed to be assigned the only window seat onboard that didn’t have a window. Lame. So next time I’ll ask for a seat that is not 2A. I had to gawk over at my neighIMG_7446.jpgbor’s window to steal at least a small glimpse of the pretty islands of the Caribbean we flew over.

Food served: We got two bags of pretzels and a choice of mango/guava juice and water. Not shabby for such a short hop across the pond!

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Turbulence: In smaller planes you tend to feel every twist and turn. From that perspective the ride was exceptionally smooth. There was practically no shaking at all – just a tad at the landing time.

Price: This was the first flight of the two flights that made up my one-way ticket from Guadeloupe to NYC. The total price of this ticket would have been $220, but I paid it with the awesome Thank You points from Citibank. As long as you have the Citi Prestige credit card, these points offer great value if you are booking an American Airlines flight or a codeshare (which is what this one was). Yet another reason to love that card (getting access to airport lounges is another!). Of course I would have much rather taken one of the cheap and direct Norwegian Air flights from Gwada to NYC, but unfortunately those flights aren’t running again until November.

Miles earned: Not a whole lot – I earned just 331 miles, which I deposited into the American Airlines AAdvantage program.

Overall experience: Just OK.

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 my home base 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 my home 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 each flight segment and airline 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).

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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 11 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 for us 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!

 

Map of Guadeloupe

Are you wondering where each island is located in Guadeloupe?

Here’s a handy map of the “continent” of Gwada and all the outer islands that we drew for my e-book. As you see, Grande Terre and Basse Term form the wings of “the Butterfly Island.”

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If you are looking for a detailed offline map to download on your phone or tablet before your trip, check out the free maps at http://maps.me.

 

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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Christmas in Guadeloupe

Believe it nor, Christmas is just around the corner again (for those who celebrate it). For me that has traditionally meant one of two things: either I’m in my native Finland for Christmas, or I’m skipping the holiday altogether in favor of traveling.

Well, last year I assumed I would be skipping Christmas as I was spending the winter in the tropics, on my new adopted Caribbean home island of Guadeloupe. Being far from snow and Santa’s homeland (which is the Finnish Lapland of course), I figured there wouldn’t be a whole lot going on in terms of the festive season’s celebrations. But boy was I wrong! It turns out that Gwada folks love Christmas more than I ever could have imagined, and I ended up getting totally swept up by the celebrations, whether it was massive Chanté Nwel concerts or traditional Christmas markets. I loved it!

That said, here’s my article from the latest Blue Wings magazine on what to expect if you find yourself in the French Caribbean for Christmas (also available here in an online version when you scroll to pages 45-46):

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If you are interested in hearing what that “fast reggae-style” version of Silent Night sounds like, check out this video from a small Chanté Nwel concert in Guadeloupe. (The music starts after the 40-second a cappella part.) Catchy, eh?

What about you – have you ever gotten into the Christmas mood in an unlikely place? What’s your favorite Christmas destination?