It took a couple full days, a lot of playing around with our itineraries, all of the airline miles that we’ve been saving, and a couple of angry phone calls to Cheap Tickets, but we’re finally pretty much all set with the two month trip we’re taking before moving to Thailand, and all I have to say is that it’s going to be AWESOME.
I could never have imagined how difficult it would be to plan a trip like this. I guess a lot of RTW travelers kind of just fly by the seat of their pants and figure out how long they’re going to stay and what they’re going to do in a place once they’re already there, but not us. We have every day planned, and even though the planning process involved a lot of work and a lot of frustration, it’s all going to pay off in the end, because this is going to be the trip of a lifetime.
The first thing that we did was draw out a mock itinerary so we could begin looking into flights and tours to make sure that all of our timing would work out. Is it more expensive to fly on a Saturday or a Tuesday (obviously Saturday)? Can we start a Machu Picchu trek on a Wednesday? Can we climb to Everest Base Camp before the beginning of September? What flights can we use airline miles for? These are all questions that needed to be answered before we started booking anything. And, we quickly realized that once you book one flight or one tour, you pretty much have to book everything else so that you don’t lose out on any deals or get closed out of any tours that you were counting on.
So, the first thing that we booked were our three biggest flights, and also the ones that we were planning to use miles for. We made a list of all the miles that we had, figured out how many miles each of the flights would take, and then on two out of the three flights we actually had to pay to transfer miles from one of us to the other one (Dave had more United miles, so he had to give some to me, and I had more Delta miles, so I had to give some to Dave). In my opinion, it’s pretty stupid that you have to pay to give someone else miles, but with the free flights, it still made sense.
Our biggest and most expensive flight was from Buenos Aires to Delhi. We pretty much cleaned out all of our United Miles with that. Then, we booked our flights from Chicago to Portland (where we’ll be starting our trip) using miles from US Airways. Lastly, we were able to book one of our flights from Seattle to Lima using Delta miles. Not too shabby!
Another stupid thing about airline miles is that on most airlines (except SWA, which is the pretty much the best and if they flew internationally they would definitely be the best), it takes the same amount of miles to fly one way as it does for a round-trip flight. That really makes no sense to me at all. But, regardless, like I said, our three biggest flights were pretty much taken care of, so I’ll stop the complaining.
Like I said before, this whole booking thing is a domino effect. Once we booked those flights, we felt like we needed to lock down all the others. And this is where we ran into our first major dilemma. When we had originally looked into all the prices for our flights, we found a flight from Cuzco, Peru (the starting off point for Machu Picchu) to Manaus, Brazil (where we were planning to spend a few days in the Amazon) for $550. When we looked again, the price had more than doubled. We freaked out and spent hours reconfiguring our itinerary so that we could fly into Manaus on a different day with the cheaper price. Finally, we figured it out and went to book the flight through Cheap Tickets. When we clicked on the flight that we wanted (there were about 15 different options available), it wouldn’t let us get to the next step and kept telling us that these flights were no longer available (for any of the 15+ options). We freaked out again and called Cheap Tickets, who just confirmed what the website was saying. We were furious and now we needed a whole new plan.
A friend of ours had bought us the National Geographic book about the world’s best travel expeditions (thanks, Carly!), and luckily we had been skimming through that when we came across a page about Iquitos, Peru, which is the main jungle town in Peru. Turns out that it’s much cheaper to fly within each country than it is to fly from one country to another. So, after looking into this a bit, we decided that this was our best bet. We would be foregoing Manaus and going to Iquitos instead. But, of course, this decision was made after reconfiguring our itinerary every which way for another few hours to figure out what our best options were. At one point, we were going to the Galapagos Islands instead of Manaus, at one point we were skipping Brazil all together so we didn’t have to get the $160 Visa, etc, etc, etc.
After that was all set, we felt very relieved and were able to book the rest of our flights pretty easily. By the end of the weekend, all of our flights were set, and it was time to start looking into the tours. We needed a 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu tour, a 4-day Amazon Jungle tour and lodge, and finally, a 16-20 day Everest Base Camp Trek. These were all pretty easy to find and we booked them all over the next couple of days after some price comparison, research on Trip Advisor, and a ton of emails with questions to all of the different companies.
Now, it’s time to start looking into buses, visas, vaccinations, and travel insurance. Stay tuned for a sneak peak at our Pre-Thailand itinerary!