Guilt. I admit it; I have guilt. I’ve not written in a while. Most of it was for good reasons – working on the Drop Me Anywhere book, attending writers’ conferences, pitching agents, leading tours through U.S. national parks, leading more tours to Cuba, pitching articles to magazine editors, getting my taxes done (it’s about damn time) and trying to plan a Female Empowerment Mission Summit (stay tuned). Still, you know how some new brides don’t send thank-you notes because they never had time and then, after some, they want to but it’s now been way too long and they feel guilty about it. A few years later you hear they’re getting divorced and the tiniest part of you thinks, ‘well, maybe if they had sent a thank-you note. . .’ Yeh, that’s where I’ve been. Also, I feel guilty that I’ve not been able to put up a vote for you to tell me where to go. While that’s due to a shortage of both time and money, I hope to remedy that as soon as I sell my house. In the meantime, let’s talk about the journey I’m currently on, shall we?
I’m sitting in seat 18A on a small United Express flight to San Francisco. With no plans to leave my heart there, I’ll quickly move on to London to attend the World Travel Market conference. This is a gathering of everyone who’s anyone in the travel biz and, since I’m someone, I’m going. As always, my biggest challenge is money, so I’m doing this as inexpensively as possible. My itinerary is as follows: Phoenix to San Francisco, take 3 BART trains (San Francisco’s mass transit) to Oakland International Airport, then fly from Oakland at 7:00 tonight and arrive at London Gatwick at noon tomorrow. I’ll take a few trains and buses to get to the Airbnb near Canary Wharf which I’ll call home for four nights. Beginning Monday, I’ll attend the conference at the ExCel Center each day through Wednesday. On Thursday, I’ll fly from London Gatwick to Las Vegas where I’ll pick up my Alamo rental car and drive over to my childhood friend Bonnie’s house and visit with her and her parents for a night before traveling the mountain and desert highways to Phoenix where I’ll return my rental car.
Why the crazy itinerary? In a word – money. I’m flying Norwegian Air from Oakland to Gatwick after snagging a flight for $290 including luggage. After paying the extra $45 to check a bag, I realized that I’ll only be in London for 4 nights and probably could have gone with only carry-on, even with the twenty-two-pound carry-on weight limit. As the pre-paid fee is not refundable, I choose to bring a heavier carry-on bag to avoid the $25 United checked bag fee and save time and trouble when transferring between airports using public transportation. I also used some American Express Rewards Points to snag $45 off my Airbnb which then got me four days at a cost of $245. My return flight from Gatwick to Las Vegas on Norwegian Air cost $425 including checked bag, and my Alamo rental car cost $60 for a one-way rental including insurance (remember, I sold my car to sponsor Drop Me Anywhere and, while credit cards cover the main insurance, they don’t cover 3rd party so I usually buy that portion when I rent). As Phoenix is now approaching high season for tourism and Alamo needs to move some cars there, no drop-off fees apply. It’s always good to check on these possibilities as well as one-way drive companies such as Imoova.
As you can see by my itinerary, there’s a lot of room for irritation, messed up travel plans, interesting people connections, and other surprises, which is what prompted me to get over my guilt and share this journey with you, as I have a feeling it will take some effort to get through it with my humor intact, and you, my Virtual Travel Buddies, always help with that.
This morning was seamless (which scares the hell out of me) as my neighbor, Kevin, dropped me at the airport with no traffic delays. I’d checked in for my flight online and am flying carry-on (at least for this flight) so I breezed past the check-in counter and directly to security where I found absolutely no line and some TSA workers who were happy and full of humor. Though I had to take all electronics larger than a phone out of my bags (yup, iPad and, though I’d left my Kindle at home, that would have had to come out also) for their pilot program which, I’ve been informed, will be implemented at all U.S. Airports (you heard it here first), no alarms were triggered and I was through security and in line for coffee twenty-minutes after arriving at the airport.
So now, I sit on this small aircraft trying to tune out the very loud German ladies sitting behind me. In my travels, I’m often told that Americans are very loud. Well, I’ve got news for you Germany, our love for beer is not the only thing we have in common. I’m sure that when this hour-and-forty-minute flight is over, I will have a good working knowledge of the German language so I should probably thank the loud German ladies (LGL ).
An hour-and-forty-minutes later, I’ve landed in San Francisco and, sure enough, ich spreche Deutsch. Ok, that one sentence might be all the Deutsch I know as I’ve been busy chatting with my seat-mate, Jeff, who’s on his way to Shanghai. Once we landed and I turned on my phone, I’m greeted with an E-mail from a literary agent rejecting my proposal. I try not to be too disappointed with each rejection as I’ve been told I can expect eighty of these before securing representation but, though it may not be a dagger through the heart with each one I receive, at the very least it’s a paper cut and even those hear like hell.
I grab my bag and head to the airport tram which delivers me to the BART station for the yellow train. A few stops later I exit, take the escalator up a floor and ask the man in the information booth how to get to the blue train. I head back down the escalator with instructions to go to Track 2 and take the train to Pleasanton/Daly City. It seems easy enough until I get downstairs and find no track numbers and, after asking two people who look like locals about track two and being met with confused, unfriendly faces pointing me to the BART map (I know where I’m going and how to get there, I just need to know there the hell Track 2 is), I give up finding Track 2 (thinking it’s a bit like Track 9 1/2 in Harry Potter) and spot a sign next to a track displaying the Pleasanton/Daly sign. Before long, the train arrives and I settle in for the multi-stop ride where I sit across from a lovely Chinese woman who has chosen to air her feet out on the train.
An hour-and-twenty-minutes later, I arrive at the Oakland airport just as I receive an automated text from Norwegian Air telling me that check-in is available. I wait in line for all of five-minutes and, as I approach the agent, I’m greeted with a friendly, “Hello,” as she asks for my passport. I’ve chosen not to pay the extra $45 for a reserved seat and smile and tell the agent how beautiful she looks today, and ask if it’s possible to snag a window seat which will allow me to lean my head and sleep my way to London. After weighing my bag, she tells me with a smile that I have a window seat, and mentions that she’ll see me at the gate. This was probably one of the least painful check-ins I’ve had for a flight and Norwegian has impressed me so far.
I head through security and over to the bar where I order a beer and a Buffalo Chicken Salad. I quickly change my order to the 640 calorie Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad. I hate you California.
Tomorrow – This American flies a Norwegian to the UK.