My Travel Philosophy

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine

Friday, March 22, 2013


I finally got my travel confirmation from smarTours for the trip to China in July.  I'm now struggling with how to book my flight to San Francisco.  Going out won't be a problem, obviously, since I'm planning to go out on Friday, spend the weekend, and then leave for China on Tuesday.  However, we're supposed to get back to San Francisco around 12:30 on the 25th and I'm not sure how to book my trip home from there.  I'm guessing that I'll have to go through customs and collect my luggage at SFO and I have no idea how long that will take.  I'm leaning toward booking a hotel near SFO for that night and flying home the next morning.

The flights are in the $500 range right now (flying from Appleton or Green Bay) and I'd like to see it come down a bit.  The mileage is around 3100 miles roundtrip, plus the 1000 miles earned from GB to MSP so the trade-off isn't quite right.  To even out, a $500 ticket should be earning more than 5000 miles to make it worthwhile.  So, I'll keep an eye on it for a while.  Jeff's ticket will be paid by Boldt because he's going to stay in California for business for a couple more days after we leave.

Then, there's the whole travel visa thing that needs to be accomplished.  This travel agent is recommending working through CIBT if I don't want to just drive down to Chicago and visit the Chinese Consulate myself.  There is a certain allure to the whole idea of trying to get the visa myself but I understand that it takes 4 days so I'd either have to stay in the city the whole time or go back a second time.  If I could link it to a festival or something in Chicago this summer.......

After doing some reading, it looks like I'll receive the information I need for the visa 50 days prior to leaving (around Memorial Day), so there's no rush I guess.  In the meantime, though, I'll need to have new passport photos taken and I can get those free through AAA.

************************* (time lapse)

So, I decided to check flight prices today as I hadn't looked in a few days.  Turns out that I could get a morning flight out of Appleton to SFO RT for $450 -- so I booked it.  I remember coming back from England and how tired I was so the idea of flying into Milwaukee and driving home just didn't appeal to me.  I'll stay in San Francisco Thursday night and fly home on Friday -- getting back around 5.  Seat assignments were ok and it prompted me to look at the trip information that I got from the tour company.  Turns out that Air China does not do advance seat assignments -- those are taken care of when you check in at the airport.  I'll probably end up with a middle seat for the entire 12 hour flight to China.

Friday, March 8, 2013

总有一天我会去中国。 Translation: I'd like to visit China one day.

So, this has already been a pretty big year for vacations for me.  In January, Jeff and I went on a week-long Caribbean cruise with friends - then 4 days home -- followed by a trip to Vegas for a week -- then 4 days home -- followed by 2 weeks of driving and visiting my Mom in Florida.

Hadn't been home a week (and already moaning that I had no travel planned), and my sister-in-law Debbie Schilleman sends me a message about a trip coming up in July to China!  She needed an answer right away as the deadline for signing up was approaching and there weren't very many spots left.  Took me no time at all to say "yes", so we'll be off to China in July.

Year of the Snake (Bellagio Conservatory)
China would not have been on my short list of places to visit, although there are an amazing number of beautiful and historical places to visit.  Because I generally travel alone, or maybe with my Mom, going to a country without English as its first language becomes a bit daunting.  However, not only is this a guided tour (where someone else is handling all of the arrangements and there is an English-speaking guide), one of Debbie's friends is Chinese.  She and her sister are going along so that will make all of the difference in being able to read menus, signs, etc.

Not that I have OCD or anything, but I immediately started doing a ton of research.  I realize that the tour company has already put the trip together, but I like to check things out.  There aren't a ton of details available yet but I did find out many things.  [Note:  I know that no one is interested in these details, but it's a good journal for me to keep track of my research.]
  • flying in and out of San Francisco via Air China
  • 2 more flights in-country (Beijing to Xi'an, Xi'an to Shanghai)
  • 3 nights in Beijing at the Pentahotel Beijing
  • 2 nights in Xi'an at the Grand Metropark Hotel
  • 3 nights in Shanghai at the Crowne Plaza Shanghai Fudan
Breakfast is included every morning, plus 2 lunches and 2 dinners during the time we're there.  (Bet we'll eat a lot of Chinese food -- which I love!)

Arranged tours:
Great Wall of China
  • Great Wall of China (incl lunch)
  • Ming Tombs
  • Terra Cotta Army in Xi'an (incl lunch)
  • Orientation tour of Shanghai
  • Yu Yuan Garden
Optional side tours:
  • Excursion to the Forbidden City plus Summer Palace (incl lunch)
  • 'Legend of Kung Fu' Show dinner banquet
  • Beijing's back alleys (Hutong) by rickshaw (incl lunch)
  • Tang Dynasty folklore show dinner banquet
  • Shanghai Museum / Jade Buddha Temple (incl lunch)
  • Acrobatic show dinner banquet
  • Suzhou / Grand Canal / Gardens
This is as far as I've gotten with my research.  I sent my deposit and a copy of my passport to the travel agent (smarTours, 501 Fifth Avenue #1402, NYC  10017), with the balance due May 1.  I'll need a tourist visa to enter China and the travel agent doesn't provide that.  I've found some online sites that (for a fee) will take care of it for you.  Turns out you have to apply for visas in person at the Chinese Consulate.  Having just watched 'Argo', I have a greater appreciation for this process.  I did do some checking at found that the visa isn't all that expensive, but hiring someone to do it for you plus mailing it to you brings the total up to the $250 range.  I found that there is a Chinese Consulate in Chicago and I'm toying with the idea of going to Chicago some day and trying to do it myself.  It wouldn't save any money by the time I drive down there (and maybe stay overnight to see a show or something), but it might be an interesting experience.

There is a website for the State Department where you can register as a U.S. Citizen and give them all of your information so they know you're leaving the country, where you're going, and where you're staying.  That way, if there are any problems on the trip, or someone needs to desperately locate you while you're gone, the government already has your data and, supposedly, will be there to help.  [Note:  in my handy little journal that I started this week, I've already put in some pretty important addresses:  the travel agent, the hotels, and the U.S. Embassies/Consulates in the cities in China that we'll be visiting.]

So much to do yet!  The date we leave is a Tuesday (in the afternoon), so I thought it would be fun to go to San Francisco for the weekend.  Mike & Debbie will come in from Utah and we'll fly out (Jeff will finagle some kind of 'work-related' trip so his flight will be covered).  We'll probably visit Napa and maybe do a Meir Woods/Sausalito day.  Looking forward to the whole thing!

Sticker Shock!

The price for this tour is $1,899 for the flights to and from China, the inter-country flights (2 of them), the tours including transportation, hotels for 8 nights, 12 meals, and whatever little miscellaneous other things are included.

I just went on the Air China website to see if I could find the times of our flights, etc.  The price for a round-trip ticket (for the dates we're going) is over $3,000.  This tour group either buys a ton of tickets in bulk or the prices have certainly gone up!