Friday, October 21, 2016

Full Year Recap: Accommodation

I’ve blogged about food and transport already, so accommodation is the obvious next installment.  Without further ado, this is all about the accommodation during my gap year.

Final Numbers:
- # of beds slept in:  134
- # of accommodations slept in:  146
- # of cities/places slept in:  122

The first two numbers do not include seats on planes or buses, but do include the train and the cargo ship because I had flat beds.  The third number (# of cities/places slept in) does not include any form of transport as I was going between two cities/places.  The number of distinct accommodations is higher than the number of beds because of my camping tours:  each campsite counts separately but my sleeping bag only counts as one.

Accommodation Types:
1.  Friends & family:  118 nights (29.3%)
  -  Friends:  77 nights (19.1%)
  -  Family:  41 nights (10.2%)
2.  Guesthouses:  68.5 nights (17.0%)
3.  Airbnb or similar:  57 nights (14.1%)
  -  Private:  38 nights (9.4%)
  -  Shared with host:  19 nights (4.7%)
4.  Hostels:  50.5 nights (12.5%)
5.  Camping:  38 nights (9.4%)
6.  Hotels:  37 nights (9.2%)
7.  In transit:  12 nights (3.0%)
  -  Airplane:  6 nights (1.5%)
  -  Bus:  2.5 nights (0.6%)
  -  Cargo ship:  2 nights (0.5%)
  -  Train:  1 night (0.2%)
  -  Airport:  0.5 nights (0.1%)
8.  Lodge/resort (terms used loosely):  11 nights (2.7%)
9.  Homestay (incl. casas particulares in Cuba):  10 nights (2.5%)
10.  Boat (not in transit):  1 night (0.2%)

- Private Bathroom: 283 nights (70.2%) – includes sharing a bathroom at a friend’s or family’s house
- Shared Bathroom:  99.5 nights (24.7%)
- Shared toilet w/ no shower:  16 nights (4.0%) – overnight trains and airplanes, Inca Trail, and the cargo ship
- No bathroom:  4.5 nights (1.1%) – overnight buses and some campsites

Longest Stays:
1.  Coral Springs, Florida, United States:  29 nights (my mother’s house)
2.  Santiago, Chile:  17 nights (I have a friend here)
3.  Tokyo, Japan:  14 nights (I have a friend here too)
4.  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:  9 nights (I was stuck here with food poisoning)
4.  London, England, United Kingdom:  9 nights (I have friends here)
4.  Bogota, Colombia:  9 nights (I was here for a wedding)

And now for some less listy lists. 

Best Campsite:
-  Drakensville ATKV (Drakensville, South Africa):  This made the top accommodation list for Q1 because of its clean bathrooms and massive indoor heated pool.  WIN.

Honourable mention:
-  Camping Tipanie Moana (Easter Island, Chile):  This “camping hostel” was a novel idea.  The staff were super helpful, the bathrooms were clean, the location was great, and the common areas were super social… even if I had terrible Spanish.

Best Hostel:
-  Mini Voyage Hostel (Hualien, Taiwan):  This place was super clean and fancy, and the staff were very nice and helpful.

Honourable mention:
-  Bob’s Bunk House (Johannesburg, South Africa):  The lady who runs the place is super sweet.  The place was clean, had a nice little pool, bottomless rooibos tea, and was conveniently located between the airport and the main tourist attractions.

Best Guesthouse:
-  Villa Mon Tresor (Rodrigues, Mauritius):  I think I’ve already raved about this place enough.  Marie Louise’s hospitality was unequalled anywhere along the way.  A++!

Honourable mentions:
-  Lina’s Tango Guesthouse (Buenos Aires, Argentina):  Great location, cute decor, and very helpful Colombian owner.
-  Golden Lotus (Luang Prabang, Laos):  The guy who runs the joint – “Bill” – was super attentive and totally adorable.  The breakfast was delicious and the location couldn’t be beat.
-  Hostal Monte Cristi (Managua, Nicaragua):  I wish I had booked a relax day at this cute little guesthouse in a nice gated neighbourhood of Managua right near the airport.

Best Other Accommodation Experiences:
-  Airbnb:  I used Airbnb in South Africa, Mauritius, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, Colombia, and the United States.  It has proven amazing.  I am quite particular with hosts and have always had absolutely amazing experiences.  I highly recommend Airbnb to anyone travelling!

Honourable mentions:
-  Tambopata Lodge (Puerto Maldonado, Peru):  This lodge was great – no air conditioning but the windows were just screens so a lovely breeze came into our room and we could hear the sounds of the rainforest.  Our guide there was also fantastic and there were a few discoveries just walking around the actual grounds!
-  MS Mauritius Trochetia:  This was the cargo ship that I took for 2 nights and 1 day from Mauritius to Rodrigues.  It wasn’t glamorous – it was about what I expected from a cargo ship.  The food was a bit meh, no other passengers spoke English, and I got seasick.  BUT – it was the same price as the quick flight, included two nights of accommodation and five meals, and everyone was really friendly even if they couldn’t talk to me.  The main reason this is on this list is because I took a frickin’ cargo ship.  How awesome is that?!?!

Worst Other Accommodation Experiences:
-  I won’t ever use Expedia (or an Expedia owned company) again.  I had problems on flight bookings and accommodation bookings and getting it fixed was a complete hassle.  Expedia overcharged me for one night of accommodation but blamed it on the guesthouse.  I took a game of ping pong to sort it out.  Also, the cargo ship schedule changed at the last minute so I had to fix my return flight.  It was just so much cheaper and easier to cancel the whole thing and start from scratch than it was to deal with Expedia and pay their fee to change it.  It didn’t make any sense.

Dishonourable mentions:
-  Silvermoon Beach & Jungle Resort (Koh Phangan, Thailand):  Here is an excerpt from my Tripadvisor and reviews:  The road down to the resort is terrifying - it's not car-worthy and it's steep and slippery even when it's dry and you're wearing hiking shoes - forget trying it in the rain. I slipped and slid/skid down the hill twice. The staff were a bit too nonchalant about this. They also didn't take out our trash at all or even check to ensure we had new toilet paper - we had to ask when we ran out.  The food from the restaurant was pretty mediocre and overpriced for the island (the exception being the family dinners).  They staff were nice, but they seemed to forget that they had paying customers - they were just a bit too relaxed.
-  La Posada del Tope (Liberia, Costa Rica):  Here is another excerpt from my online reviews:  The furniture looks like it came off the back of a garbage truck. There were holes in my sheets and in the mosquito net - I woke up with a bunch of bug bites. The staff didn't show me where the bathrooms were. When I found it, the toilet seat had a weird texture on it (maybe paint?) The walls were thin and didn't go all the way to the ceiling so I could hear everything coming from neighbouring rooms. The staff also gave me misinformation about the bus schedule for the next day.

Best Bathroom Experiences:
-  Japan and Taiwan:  many of the toilets here will wash your bum and some even will blow dry it for you.  Luxury.

Worst Bathroom Experiences:
Now, to be fair, all of the three campsites below were nice EXCEPT for the bathrooms.

- Aba Huab Camp (Twyfelfontein, Namibia):  I understand that I went camping, not glamping.  Some of the campsites didn’t have any bathrooms, which is totally fine – they were advertised that way and I could plan ahead with respect to my meals so that I wouldn’t need to dig myself a hole to do my business.  But if a campsite says they have bathrooms, I expect bathrooms – not windowless rooms with no working lights, and with walls all painted black to make it even darker.  I also expect an actual seat on the toilet.  Little things.
-  Sugarloaf St. Lucia (St. Lucia, South Africa):  Another bathroom culprit here.  Yes, there were big bathroom blocks, but they mostly didn’t have any running water.  Good luck with the flush.
-  Campo Duro Eco Lodge (Isabela Island, Galapagos, Ecuador):  The actual campsite was lovely, but the bathrooms, particularly the showers, were FILLED with giant spiders.  It was the quickest, most terrifying shower of my life.

Next time I’ll be talking about museums and other attractions from around the world.  There are only a few more blogs of the gap year left.  What will I blog about after that???  Maybe I’ll just post pictures of kittens.  Or ice cream.  Probably ice cream.

Here are two maps relating to accommodation.  Woo!  Map 1 is countries where I’ve used Airbnb.  Map 2 is countries where I’ve gone camping or used Couchsurfing.  Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Full Year Recap: Favourite Foods

I WANT TO EAT IT ALL!  And I did!  Ok, well, not everything, but a lot of things.  And all was good. Ok, well, some was good.  And there was much rejoicing!  Except for that time I got food poisoning from Nepal and it ruined Malaysia.  Thanks, Nepal.

Here are some lists of bests and favourites and honourable mentions and dishonourable mentions for all things food related.  Note that this entire blog excludes the USA because my time there was basically spent going to all of my old favourite joints so it gives them an unfair advantage.

I thought I’d just start off with a list of animals that I ate.  I’ve had a few questions on this so I’ll just get it out of the way.  There are the usual suspects and some unusual suspects.

- The basics:  cow, sheep (lamb), turkey, duck
- Chicken:  including hearts and hips (Japan).  They were good but I could see the arteries and it just didn’t look pleasant.
- Fish:  various species including swordfish/marlin (Mauritius)
- Ostrich:  in burger form (South Africa)
- Zebra:  a little bit of steak on a skewer (Namibia)
- Various antelope:  oryx, kudu, and springbok prepared various ways (Namibia, South Africa) and impala cooked as a stir-fry (Swaziland)
- Crocodile (Namibia, South Africa)
- Mopane worms:  dried, crunchy, and nutty (Zambia) and fried, greasy, and disgusting (Namibia)
- Red tree ants:  they only tasted like the soup they were in (Cambodia)
- Alpaca:  in various forms (Peru)
- Guinea pig:  I could see its little claws as I brought the leg up to my mouth (Peru)

I also had my first beef steak during my trip (I’m not a huge meat eater and only started eating beef, lamb, and fish in 2013).  I also had ice cream and a latte made using camel’s milk.  The ice cream was fine.  The latte tasted off.

Favourite Overall Cuisines:
1.  Mexican: if you know me or have read one of my past blogs, you know this is obviously my favourite.
2.  Thai: with noodles and curries and stir-frys and street food and mango sticky rice, Thai food provides great variety at affordable prices.
3.  Malaysian: combining local foods with influences from India, China, and beyond, Malaysian food is YUMMY!

Honourable mentions:
- Costa Rican:  the local cuisine was standard boring Latin American food, but Costa Rica’s variety and quality of cafes and other international restaurants was the best in Latin America.
- Japanese and Taiwanese:  I love aspects of both of these countries’ cuisines, but they also eat some weird shit…
- Indian:  Yes, Indian food is delicious, but it didn’t seem to have as much variety as some of the others.  Or maybe I just order the same damn curries all the time.

Dishonourable mentions:
- Cuban:  Being from near Miami, I do love a bit of Cuban food, and Cuban cuisine in Miami is delicious.  But Cuban cuisine in Cuba was terribly disappointing, mainly because they have limited access to most ingredients.  Even if I hadn’t had high expectations, Cuba would have failed miserably.

Favourite Restaurant Experiences:
1.  Cabrera 7 – Mexico City, Mexico:  Mexican food is my favourite cuisine, so it’s only fitting that my favourite restaurant would be in Mexico City.  Dreams are made of mole enchiladas.
2.  Hanamaru – Sapporo, Japan:  Delicious sushi, reasonable prices, mochi dessert on the conveyor belt, and an English menu.  What more could I ask for?
3.  Ba Fang Yun Ji Dumpling – Kaohsiung, Taiwan:  This little chain restaurant serves dumplings and noodles with black sesame sauce and I ate there several times across four cities in Taiwan.
4.  Madam Kwan’s – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:  Madam Kwan is a real person and I think she’s like the Jamie Oliver of Malaysia.  The menu is expansive and has every Malaysian dish ever.
5.  Makphet – Vientiane, Laos:  Part of the Friends International training restaurant network, my friend and I ordered way too much to share and it was all delicious.  We overate for charity.
6.  Sushiroll – Mexico City, Mexico:  This chain restaurant serves up a Mexican twist on sushi, including a manchego roll.  They also have sake sangria!
7.  Cocina Cartel – Phnom Penh, Cambodia:  This is the best Mexican food I’ve had outside of the United States and Mexico.  Who would have thunk?
8.  Crepes & Waffles – Bogota, Colombia:  This fast-growing empire fed me across four countries.  Excellent crepes.  Excellent waffles.  Excellent prices.  Happiness.
9.  Pier 21 – Bangkok, Thailand:  This is really a food court but it counts as a restaurant because there’s only one cashier.  Stir fry, mango sticky rice, and Thai iced tea for $3.  WIN.
10.  Chez Jeanette – Rodrigues, Mauritius:  Huge portions, great flavour, excellent attention, and a lovely setting really let the light shine on a cuisine that is delicious but rather unvaried.

Honourble mentions:
-  Villa Mon Tresor – Rodrigues, Mauritius:  It’s not a restaurant, but breakfast and dinner were included at this guesthouse and the proprietor, Marie Louise, is an extraordinary chef.
-  African cooking by Jess – Livingstone, Zambia to Cape Town, South Africa:  our trusty guide, Jess, somehow created delicious meals for us while camping even in the middle of the desert.
- Neighbourgoods Market (Cape Town, South Africa) and Borough Market (London, England):  these were the top 2 fancy market visits of my gap year.  Many options.  Much joy.

Favourite Cheap Eats:
1.  Taiwan’s night markets:  every Taiwanese city has a ton of night markets offering cheap eats of all sorts, including some western options and the ubiquitous soft-serve machines.
2.  Thailand’s fried noodle stands:  cheap pad see ew or other noodles are available from little stands all around the cities.  You can feast for 40 baht (under $2).
3.  Vietnam’s banh mi:  The best was hole-in-the-wall Banh My Phoung in Hoi An.  It serves glorious banh mi at CHEAP prices despite being made famous by Anthony Bourdain.
4.  Mauritius’ curry wraps:  faratas and dholl puri are two types meals consisting of Indian flatbread filled with vegetable curry and rolled up.  They cost about $1 each and are everywhere.
5.  Chile’s empanadas:  Originally from Chile but found all over Latin America, this fried or baked stuffed pastry fills you up like a full meal… for couch change.

Favourite Dessert Restaurant Experiences:
1.  Ice Monster – Taipei, Taiwan:  the most well-known Taiwanese shaved ice chain provides heaping portions (probably meant to be shared but I would never share dessert) in all flavours.
2.  Brunch – Salento, Colombia:  famous for their chocolate peanut butter brownie a la mode.  I don’t need to say anything more.
3.  Takano – Tokyo, Japan:  this “fruit parlour” serves up a long menu of desserts incorporating fruits. I normally go for chocolate or caramel, but my strawberry dessert was sinfully good.
4.  The 2nd Delicious Melonpan Ice Cream in the World! – Osaka, Japan:  I don’t know if this is the actual name, but it was so on the sign.  If this was 2nd, I’d surely like to taste the 1st!
5.  Granclement – Panama City, Panama:  On reflection, I think this was one of the best gelatos of my trip.  It’s not Gelato Messina in Sydney, but it hit the spot on a hot day.

Honourable mentions:
- Mango Sticky Rice – Thailand and Laos:  My love for mango sticky rice was cemented as soon as I entered Thailand.  I had it all across Thailand and Laos.  PUT IT IN MY MOUTH!
- Soft Serve – Taiwan and Japan:  wherever you turn, there’s an old Asian couple with a lucrative soft serve ice cream machine, always serving vanilla, matcha, and black sesame.  FEED ME!
- Churros – Latin America:  This isn’t a place, it’s just churros.  Street vendors sell them in Mexico and all over Latin America.  I LOVE THEM!
-  Crepes & Waffles – Colombia and beyond:  Obviously the above-mentioned place has desserts too and they even have ice cream shops in addition to their restaurants.  I went a lot.
- Emporio La Rosa and Heladeria Mo – Santiago, Chile:  I had a hard time choosing which of these two famous Santiago ice creameries was best so I ended up trying them a lot just to confirm…
- San Giorgio Trattoria – Bogota, Colombia:  This is more of a proper Italian restaurant, but they have a takeaway ice cream counter and their Limoncello gelato was unreal.

And that’s a wrap on food!  Months later and I’m still digesting… Here are some food-related maps.  I’ve eaten Mexican food in 35 countries… that’s exactly half the number of countries that I’ve been to.

And because sometimes we all get desperate, here’s a map of countries where I’ve eaten McDonald’s (13) and Burger King (only 1).  To justify this, I’ve had McDonald’s only twice in Australia – once when I was super hungover away from the city and once when I first arrived and was tipsy and just wanted to eat and go to bed.  In Morocco, the McDonald’s had just opened and it was the first and only restaurant in Fes to have air conditioning.  In Mexico, it was late and I hadn’t had dinner and I didn’t feel like walking too far at night on dodgy streets.  So sometimes it’s necessary or an appropriate spectacle.  For Burger King, I’ve only eaten there at the Saigon Airport because the food options were terrible and that’s all I could afford with my leftover dong.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Full Year Recap: Route Maps

The little route map at the bottom of my last blog wasn’t really zoomed in enough to give a clear view, so I decided to include a few more route maps here to paint a better picture of my path.  Click on any to enlarge.  Starting with…

Southern Africa:
Entered via Johannesburg, South Africa, then travelled to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and then continued counter clockwise through Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa (including stops in Lesotho and Swaziland) and ended up back in Johannesburg before flying to Mauritius.

Entered via the only airport on Mauritius, and then travelled around the entire island (but I’ve only put one dot because the island is tiny and they would look all jumbled together anyway).  I then travelled 600km east to Rodrigues by cargo ship and back by airplane before flying to Dubai.  I’m showing this map just to give an idea of where Mauritius (left dot) and Rodrigues (right dot) are located in relation to Africa.

Middle East & South Asia:
Entered via Dubai, United Arab Emirates, then travelled to Delhi, India, and then zig-zagged through India and Nepal before flying out of Kathmandu to Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia:
Entered via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then travelled north to Chiang Mai, Thailand, before travelling more-or-less clockwise through Laos and Vietnam, then skipping over Cambodia to go to Bangkok and Koh Phangan, Thailand, then back via Bangkok to Cambodia before flying out to Taiwan.  Notice the stop in Singapore at the very bottom.  This was earlier on my way from Australia to Africa.

Entered via Kaohsiung, then travelled north to Tainan before heading to Hualien and Taroko Gorge National Park on the east coast, and finishing in Taipei before flying to Japan.

Entered via Tokyo, then travelled all the way up to Sapporo and back, and then all the way down to Fukuoka and back, before flying to the UK.

Entered via London and took two side trips before flying to the USA.

Caribbean/Gulf Region:
Entered via Fort Lauderdale, United States, then did a side trip tour of Texas, followed by another side trip to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, before heading off to Mexico City and doing a clockwise loop of western Cuba starting and ending in Havana before flying to Central America.

Central America:
Entered via San Jose, Costa Rica, and then slowly headed north overland to Nicaragua.  After departing Central America for Ecuador (shown below), I later stopped in Panama City for a few days before flying to Colombia.

Entered via Cartagena, then travelled south to Medellin (and surroundings) before heading south to the coffee region, and finally east to Bogota (and surroundings) before flying to Argentina.

Southern South America:
Entered via Buenos Aires, Argentina, and immediately took side trips to Montevideo, Uruguay, and Asuncion, Paraguay, before spending a few more days in Bs As.  After that, I flew to Santiago (and surroundings), Chile, before taking two side trips to Punta Arenas and Easter Island, before flying to Peru.

Peru & Ecuador:
Entered Ecuador via Quito and then did a side trip to the Galapagos before flying to Panama.  Two months later, I entered Peru via Lima and travelled counter clockwise around the southern half of the country before flying to the USA.

Entered via Fort Lauderdale (again) and did two side tours:  one to Seattle, Denver, and Fort Worth, and the other to Washington, New York City, and Boston, before once again flying to London – this time to end my gap year.  Sad panda.

Those are the maps, ladies and gentlemen.  Next blog:  Food! FOOODDDDD!!!!!!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Full Year Recap: Air Travel Statistics

If you’re into airports and airplanes and random transport stuff, then brace yourself to be shocked at how much work I put into calculating these statistics that only like three people might actually appreciate.

Total # of flights:  58
-  56 commercial flights (22 domestic and 34 international)
-  2 scenic flights (note that I have only included these flights in the below statistics where possible)

Total # of take-offs and landings:  63
-  56 regular commercial flights
-  4 of my flights had scheduled stops en route but the flights had a single flight number and I did not disembark
-  1 of my flights had to land to refuel because India was acting like a petulant child
-  2 scenic flights

Estimated distance flown:  126,717.42 km (78,738.55 miles)
-  72.6% international vs 27.4% domestic
-  This is equal to 3.16x the length of the equator

Time spent in air:
-  Scheduled:  8:07:38 (d:hh:mm)
-  Estimated actual:  8:04:04

Longest journey:  Tokyo to London Heathrow via Abu Dhabi:  13,604 km / 1:00:40 incl. layover

Longest single flight by distance:  Singapore to Johannesburg:  8,655 km

Longest single flight by time:  Tokyo to Abu Dhabi:  11:43

Longest domestic flight:  Fort Lauderdale to Seattle:  4,367 km / 6:25

Shortest flight:  Armenia to Bogota:  182 km / 0:43

Shortest international flight:  Siem Reap to Saigon:  422 km / 1:00

Airports visited:  58 in 29 countries
-  53 on normal commercial flights:  Sydney, Singapore, Johannesburg, Victoria Falls, Mahebourg, Rodrigues, Dubai, Delhi, Kathmandu, Kuala Lumpur, Chiang Mai, Vientiane, Hanoi, Danang, Saigon, Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi), Koh Samui, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kaohsiung, Taipei (Taoyuan), Tokyo (Narita), Abu Dhabi, London (Heathrow), London (Gatwick), Fort Lauderdale, Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Santo Domingo, Mexico City, Havana, Panama City (Panama), San Jose (Costa Rica), Managua, Quito, Baltra (Galapagos), Cartagena, Medellin, Armenia, Bogota, Buenos Aires (Ezeiza), Buenos Aires (Aeroparque), Asuncion, Santiago, Punta Arenas, Easter Island, Lima, Cusco, Puerto Maldonado, Seattle, Denver, Washington (National), Boston
-  2 for sightseeing flights:  Maun, Nazca
-  3 additional airports where I did not disembark:  Kolkata, Guayaquil, Puerto Montt

Total # of airport visits:  107 + 5 where I didn’t disembark + 2 for scenic flights

Most visited airports:
1.  Fort Lauderdale:  12 visits
2.  Santiago:  6 visits
3.  Panama City:  4 visits
3.  Quito:  4 visits

This brings my lifetime airport count to 120.  My 100th airport was Mexico City.  And yes, I have a spreadsheet for this.

Total # of layovers:  5 (only 5!)
Airports where I had layovers:  Bangkok, Saigon, Abu Dhabi, Panama City (x2)

Abu Dhabi is the only airport where I had a layover that I didn’t fly into or out of on another visit.

Airlines flown:  28
Singapore Airlines, British Airways (operated by Comair), Kavango Air (scenic flight) Air Mauritius, Emirates, AirAsia X, AirAsia, Vietnam Airlines, VietJet, Bangkok Airways, Cambodia Angkor Air, Vanilla Air, Etihad, Norwegian, Southwest, American, Spirit, Volaris, Aeromexico, Copa, Avianca, Aerolineas Argentinas, Sky Airline, LATAM (formerly LAN), AeroNasca (scenic flight), JetBlue, Alaska, United

Most flown airlines:
By # of flights:
1.  Copa:  6 (10.7%)
1.  Avianca:  6 (10.7%)
3.  LATAM (formerly LAN):  4 (7.1%)

By distance:
1.  Singapore:  14,949 km (11.8%)
2.  Norwegian:  14,202 km (11.2%)
3.  Etihad:  13,604 km (10.7%)

By time:
1.  Etihad:  20:02 (10.2%)
2.  Singapore:  19:43 (10.1%)
3.  Norwegian:  18:16 (9.3%)

Etihad and Singapore were both transcontinental, long-haul, overnight flights.  Norwegian was two trans-Atlantic flights.  LATAM was 4th by both distance and time despite being only domestic flights from Santiago to Punta Arenas and Easter Island.

This brings my lifetime airline count to 51 (or 53 if you include the two scenic flights).

This is where shit is about to get super super nerdy!  I kept track of all of my planes along the way and sourced publicly available data regarding distance between airports and actual flight time for each flight.  I’ve obviously had some spare time while I look for work.

Aircraft makers flown:  4
1.  Airbus:  31 flights (55.4%) / 66,387 km (52.4%) / 4:12:28 (55.3%)
2.  Boeing:  24 flights (42.9%) / 59,733 km (47.1%) / 3:13:56 (0.9%)
3.  ATR:  1 flight (1.8%) / 598 km (0.5%) / 1:40 (43.8%)
4.  Cessna:  2 scenic flights

Aircraft models flown:  18 in 9 different series/families of aircraft
-  Airbus A319-100, A320-200, A321-200
-  Airbus A330-300
-  Airbus A340-300, A340-600
-  Airbus A380-800
-  ATR 72-500
-  Boeing 737-400, 737-700, 737-800, 737-900
-  Boeing 777-200ER, 777-300ER
-  Boeing 787-8, 787-9
-  Cessna U206G, 207A

Aircraft series/families flown the most (by # of flights, distance, and time):
1.  Airbus A320 series:  25 flights (44.6%) flown 33,439,05 km (26.4%) in 2:13:19 (31.3%)
2.  Boeing 737 series:  18 flights (32.1%) flown 27,187 km (21.5%) in 1:19:37 (22.2%)
3.  Boeing 787 series:  4 flights (7.1%) flown 21,706 km (17.1%) in 1:04:06 (14.3%)

Aircraft models flown the most:
1.  Airbus A320-200:  12 flights (21.4%) / 17,787 km (14.0%) / 1:08:40 (16.7%)
-  By # of flights, the Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A321-200 are #2 and #3, respectively.
-  By distance, the Airbus A380-800 and Boeing 737-800 are #2 and #3, respectively.
-  By time, the Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A380-800 are #2 and #3, respectively.

And now, for some less statistical lists…

As I went along, I didn’t make a list of best airports or best airlines, because it was hard to compare.  Sometimes I only arrived at an airport and promptly left.  For departures, sometimes I was hours early and sometimes I didn’t have much time to explore the airports at all.  Some flights were peak hour and sometimes I flew out in the middle of the night when the airport was a ghost town.  Some airports were huge (Tokyo Narita, London Heathrow, etc.) while others were tiny (Rodrigues, Easter Island, etc.), and some were located in wealthy countries and some were located in not-so-wealthy countries.  So it’s definitely hard to compare and make a proper list.  But, these are a few of the more memorable air travel experiences, both bad and good.

Best flight experiences:
1.  Santiago to Easter Island on LATAM (formerly LAN):  It was my second Boeing 787 Dreamliner and I had a window seat to take in the views of Easter Island on approach.  The only window seat when I checked in was the very last row which was disappointing at first, but worked out so well in the end.  There was actually no bathroom behind me, nobody sitting next to me, and the row was completely different than the other rows.  Instead of the 3-3-3 configuration, the last row has a 2-3-2 configuration, and the seats are the reserve seats for the crew to rest in.  I had double the leg room, a wider seat, two tray tables, a foot rest, extra recline pitch, and enough space between my seat and window to place my little backpack.  AMAZING.  I got the back row again on my return leg.
2.  Sydney to Singapore on Singapore Airlines:  It was the first flight of my gap year AND my first Airbus A380 ever!  I was also super stoked about my flight from London (Gatwick) to Fort Lauderdale on Norwegian as that one was my first Boeing 787 Dreamliner ever!
3.  Fort Lauderdale to Seattle on Alaska:  I used to make this trip twice a year when I lived in Seattle, but there was never a direct flight during my time there and I always had to stop and change planes somewhere.  I was super pleased that this non-stop route now exists and I even paid a little more just to take it.

Worst flight experiences:
1.  Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia X:  The turbulence was long and unbearable.  Unbeknownst to me, I was also just hours away from my massive food poisoning episode so my body wasn’t handling anything well.  At least I had my own row to lay down in and try to drown out the shaking.
2.  Saigon to Bangkok on VietJet:  The flight was fairly smooth for most of the journey, but the approach down through the clouds into Bangkok was super rough including a big drop that probably only lasted about a second and a half but caused about half of the passengers to scream.  Fun.
3.  Bogota to Buenos Aires (Ezeiza) on Aerolineas Argentinas:  The flight itself was ok, but my row had didn’t have functioning televisions, reading lights, or attendant call buttons.  It was an overnight flight and the business lady next to me wanted to read her documents and I wanted to watch a movie to try to fall asleep.  I know things break, but the flight attendant’s attitude toward the issue was the bigger problem.  He just didn’t seem to care at all and he was very dismissive when the lady next to me asked about it.  That being said, I had another flight on Aerolineas Argentinas the following week when the flight attendant gave me an extra alfajores because I declined the ham sandwich meal that is offered on all airlines based in Latin America.

Cheapest flight:  $22
-   Cartagena to Medellin on Avianca:  I don’t know why or how, but it was cheaper to fly the hour than to take a 14 hour bus on hellish roads.  BEST. DEAL. EVER.

Oddest flight experience:  being the only white person
-   Saigon to Kaohsiung on Vietnam Airlines:  I was literally the only white person on the plane.  The flight was also predominantly male – like, there may have only been 3 or 4 female passengers on the full flight.  I am also pretty sure that I was the only person the flight attendants could speak to as they all spoke a little English.  Everybody but me seemed to get a written menu from one little stack on the service cart.  I glanced at the one next to me.  It had no Vietnamese on it – only Chinese.  So basically they were ALL Chinese businessmen heading to Taiwan to do business.  This is what happens when you fly into a manufacturing hub like Kaohsiung which isn’t on the radar of most western tourists (but should be).

Longest delay:  roughly 4 hours (if I recall correctly)
-  Baltra (Galapagos) to Quito on Avianca:  This was by far my longest delay, but in all fairness, they don’t have spare planes sitting around in the Galapagos and if the incoming flight or airport has a problem, there’s pretty much nothing that can be done.  Most of the airport was closed for the duration of the delay because most of the flights come and go around the same time, but I was with our entire tour group so I had company.  This actually felt shorter than my 1-2 hour delay in Saigon, but that’s because I already had a 4 hour layover scheduled and my incoming flight was surprisingly early and there isn’t much to do at the Saigon airport.

If that was my longest delay and I had no cancelled flights or lost luggage, then I’ve been pretty damn lucky this year!

Best airline experiences:
1.  Singapore Airlines:  The staff were super friendly, the food was good, and everything went smoothly.
2.  LATAM (formerly LAN):  The staff knew I was an English-speaker but talked to me in clear, slow Spanish so I could practice.  The food was also good and everything went smoothly.
3.  Bangkok Airways:  The airline provided a free snack and drink station at the gate at the Koh Samui Airport.  How nice of them!

Honourable mentions:  I was surprisingly impressed with the two Mexican airlines I flew – Volaris and Aeromexico.  Southwest continues to be the best in the US.

Dishonourable mention:  I was surprisingly disappointed by the food on Etihad.  For a flagship carrier, I expected better, but my flight was actually really cheap so I’ll let it slide.

I’m not going to list the worst airlines.  I avoided notoriously bad ones when I could and the few discount carriers that I flew on met or exceeded my low expectations.

Best airport experiences:
It’s hard to rank the best airports as I mentioned above.  But I’ll give a few shout-outs.  These aren’t the best per se, but they deserve an honourable mention.
-  Danang was the most surprising by a long mile.  I was thinking it might be a shed, but Vietnam’s third largest city has a proper, big, modern, new airport – better than Hanoi or Saigon!
-  Buenos Aires (Ezeiza) and Santiago also both exceeded expectations with their modern looks, ease of navigation, and cute baristas at the airport Starbucks.
-  Easter Island has the breeziest airport with a lovely outdoor patio waiting area overlooking the taxiway.
-  Seattle continues to impress in the group of American airports.  A big food court right in the middle and nice shops always make it a pleasant airport experience.

Worst airport experiences:
1.  Delhi:  there is minimal signage for the immigration process and I only got in the right queue on the third try.  The duty free salespeople were also extremely aggressive… tragic foreshadowing of the trip to come.
2.  Havana:  Immigration was an ornery lady at what appeared to be a picnic table and the rest of the staff just seemed to be sitting around.  Luggage took about an hour to hit the conveyor belt.  What were they doing with it?  On a positive note, the staff wear tight little uniforms and some of the men were the epitome of hot Latin lovers.
3.  Victoria Falls:  They should really have more than two staff at the immigration counter when two flights come in.  I waited in line for ages.

There were other crappy airports just by pure aesthetics and facilities.  One example is Kathmandu.  I had almost no expectations for an airport in a place like Kathmandu, so I guess it met my expectations.  It was quite basic, fairly dirty, and many of the chairs seemed a bit damaged.  But overall, it was sufficient and didn’t shock me.  Though I am pretty sure I waited until I boarded the flight to use the bathroom.  Just in case.

Dishonourable mention:  I’ve always had a gripe with the food options at Sydney’s international terminal.  The two domestic terminals have good options, and the international terminal has good options outside of security, but once you go through immigration, the best thing is a McDonald’s. WTF? Sydney is full of amazing restaurants and cafes.  Why don’t they get one or two to open branches in the airport?!?

Congratulations:  you made it to the end!  You’ve earned your nerd badge and if you’re a decently attractive single gay man aged 26-38 and you actually enjoyed reading this then maybe you’re my soulmate and should get in touch with me ASAP.

Here’s a rough route map of my trip.  Click to enlarge if you’re not sick of this yet.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Full Year Recap: Initial Statistics

The gap year is over (Noooooo!) but the statistics are just beginning.  I’m still unemployed and homeless but I’m working on that.  In the meantime, the little gnomes that compute my statistics have been hard at work making all sorts of lists for your reading and nerdy pleasure.  There will be several parts to this, but if you have any requests for specific statistics or lists of favourites, then please let me know.  I’m open to suggestions!

Total time spent:  403.5 days and 403 nights
Start:  Morning of Sunday, July 12, 2015 at Sydney Airport
End:  Afternoon of Thursday, August 17 at London Gatwick Airport

Continents visited:  6
1.  Asia:  115.8 days (28.7%)
2.  North America:  114.1 days (28.3%)
3.  South America:  85.2 days (21.1%)
4.  Africa:  67.7 days (16.8%)
5.  Europe:  11.9 days (2.9%)
6.  Oceania:  4.0 days (1.0%)
In transit between continents:  4.7 days (1.2%)

I will get to Antarctica one day… maybe on the next gap year!

Regions visited:  13
1.  South America:  85.2 days (21.1%)
2.  North America:  76.9 days (19.1%)
3.  Southeast Asia:  58.9 days (14.6%)
4.  Southern Africa:  44.6 days (11.0%)
5.  East Asia:  37.8 days (9.4%)
6.  Mascarene Islands:  23.2 days (5.8%)
7.  Central America:  21.9 days (5.4%)
8.  Caribbean:  14.5 days (3.5%)
9.  South Asia:  13.8 days (3.4%)
10.  Northern Europe:  11.9 days (2.9%)
11.  Polynesia:  4.0 days (1.0%)
12.  Middle East:  1.0%
In transit between regions:  6.9 days (1.7%)

Countries visited:  34
1.  United States:  69.9 days (17.3%)
2.  Japan:  27.0 days (6.7%)
3.  Chile:  24.7 days (6.1%)
4.  Mauritius:  23.2 days (5.8%)
5.  South Africa:  22.6 days (5.6%)
6.  Peru:  22.2 days (5.5%)
7.  Colombia:  21.8 days (5.4%)
8.  Vietnam:  15.7 days (3.9%)
9.  United Kingdom:  11.9 days (2.9%)
10.  Thailand:  11.6 days (2.9%)
11.  Laos:  11.1 days (2.8%)
12.  Ecuador:  10.9 days (2.7%)
13.  Namibia:  10.8 days (2.7%)
14.  Taiwan:  10.6 days (2.6%)
15.  Cuba:  10.4 days (2.6%)
16.  Costa Rica:  10.0 days (2.5%)
17.  Malaysia:  8.6 days (2.1%)
18.  India:  8.1 days (2.0%)
19.  Cambodia:  7.9 days (2.0%)
20.  Nicaragua:  7.8 days (1.9%)
21.  Mexico:  6.8 days (1.7%)
22.  Nepal:  6.0 days (1.5%)
23.  Botswana:  5.0 days (1.2%)
24.  Panama:  4.1 days (1.0%)
25.  Argentina:  4.0 days (1.0%)
26.  United Arab Emirates:  4.0 days (1.0%)
27.  Dominican Republic:  3.9 days (1.0%)
28.  Singapore:  3.2 days (0.8%)
29.  Paraguay:  2.8 days (0.7%)
30.  Uruguay:  2.0 days (0.5%)
31.  Zambia:  1.9 days (0.5%)
32.  Lesotho:  1.8 days (0.4%)
33.  Swaziland:  1.0 days (0.2%
34.  Zimbabwe:  1.0 days (0.2%)
In transit between countries:  9.1 days (2.3%)

And just for fun – time spent in countries that drive on the:
1.  Right side of the road:  63.2%
2.  Left side of the road:  36.3%
In transit between countries driving on opposite sides:  0.5%

And just for more fun – time spent in the hemispheres:
1.  Northern Hemisphere:  65.9%
2.  Southern Hemisphere:  33.5%
In transit between the two hemispheres:  0.6%

Only country where I’ve been both north of, south of, and on the equator:  Ecuador!

3.  Western Hemisphere:  54.0%
4.  Eastern Hemisphere:  45.7%
In transit between the two hemispheres:  0.2%

This assumes the division between the hemispheres is at the Prime Meridian which places the parts of the UK that I visited totally within the Western Hemisphere.

I changed between the northern and southern hemispheres seven times not including jumping back and forth across the equator like a stupid tourist.  I changed between the eastern and western hemispheres only once.

Border crossings:  43
-  30 border crossings by air
-  10 border crossings on land (8 in vehicles and 2 on foot)
-  3 border crossings by ferry

Time zones:  33 (based on governments’ classifications)
- 15 different time zones based on times in relation to UTC
- 39 times I had to change the time on my iPhone

Biggest time zone changes:
-9 hours from Tokyo to London via Abu Dhabi
-6 hours from Singapore to Johannesburg
-5/+5 hours from London to Fort Lauderdale and back again

Smallest time zone change:
+15 minutes from India to Nepal

Landmasses stepped on:  39 (I think)
1. Singapore
2. Afro-Eurasia
3. Robben Island (South Africa)
4. Mauritius and Rodrigues + 6 small offshore islands
12. 2 artificial islands in Dubai
14. 1 small island in a lake in Vietnam
15. 3 islands in Halong Bay (Vietnam)
18. 2 terrible Thai islands
20. Taiwan + 1 offshore island
22. Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu + 2 small offshore islands (Japan)
27. Great Britain
28. America
29. Hispanola
30. Cuba + 1 small offshore island
32. Isla Ometepe (Lake Nicaragua)
33. 4 islands in the Galapagos
37. Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
38. Isla Taquile (Lake Titicaca, Peru)
39. Long Island (USA)

And now, for a few less statistical lists…

Top Overall Countries (in chronological order):
1.  Mauritius  (read more)
2.  Taiwan  (read more)
3.  Japan  (read more)
4.  Costa Rica  (read more)
5.  Chile  (read more)

I would elaborate on why each country was amazing, but I think my past blogs should sufficiently cover it.  Feel free to ask me in person if you want more details!  Also, note that I didn’t have a whole lot of time in some countries.  I had limited time, for example, in Argentina, and it definitely warrants a more robust visit in the future to better make a determination on its inclusion in a list like this.

Top Overall Cities (in chronological order):
1.  Cape Town  (read more)
2.  Taipei  (read more)
3.  Sapporo  (read more)
4.  Buenos Aires  (read more)
5.  Santiago  (read more)

Again, ask me about these in person if you want more details, but I think the previous blogs should paint a good enough picture of why I really loved these cities!

Best & Worst Passport Stamps:
-  Best:  Mauritius because it’s big, has a dodo bird on it, and perfectly filled in blank space at the front of the passport.
-  Honourable Mention:  Cuba for its super gay hot pink colour.
-  Worst:  Mexico.  Why would you stamp on page 50-something on my passport when every other country stamped in the first 20 or so pages?  Ugh.

That’s enough for now.  Stay tuned for my next installment when I get super nerdy with airplanes and airports and other sorts of travel.  Brace yourself for the nerdgasm to come!

For the stats blogs, I will switch to maps because you’re probably sick of all my selfies.  Here’s a map of my travels both before and during the gap year.  You can click to enlarge if you’re nerdy enough.