Juggling!! or How to Plan Trips for the First Half of the Year

I've been mostly quiet for a while. There was a reason. I didn't have anything to say. Well, I probably had things to say, but I didn't have time to say them. Nah...I didn't have things to say and I didn't have time to say them. Sure, there was the Ireland trip. Then, the foot surgery. Then healing from the surgery. Then the crazy times at work. Then the holidays (which I ignored due to the crazy times at work). The last four months have gone by in a haze. I also wanted the blog to be mostly about trips and food and fun stuff. No wallowing. And quite frankly, my regular daily life is highly boring. And I'm perfectly happy with that.

It's a new year. And a new year means many, many new trips are in the works. The fun part is always in the planning. The even more fun part is juggling multiple trip plans at once. So we begin at the beginning of the year. What's first...

Rome and Paris

Rome was always planned for this year. A year ago, I got the paperwork. We had a choice to go to London, Paris or Rome. London was automatically out. Adele and I had both been to London. And as cool as it was and as long ago as I went, I figured it wasn't time to go back yet. Paris would be wonderful. Who doesn't want to go to Paris?? I thought I was going to Paris two years ago and was beyond excited. But it didn't happen. It would be fantastic though. Put it on the list!! Then there was Rome. Rome was never really on the radar before. But when I saw it on the sheet of paper, "London, Paris or Rome" it was the instant answer. Rome. We're going to Rome.

We spent all of 2011 knowing Rome was going to happen. The trip was covered for four nights and five days in Rome. And as it always happens, the trip became bigger and bigger the more we talked about it. Questions were asked, "How far is it to Pompeii from Rome??" Comments were made, "As long as we're in Rome, we may as well hang out in Naples or Sorrento." The days kept adding on. But there was one caveat...the trip couldn't be as long as South America. We both agreed to this part. It's not that we couldn't entertain ourselves for 16 days in Italy. It's that we wanted to take more trips in 2012. So Italy could happen in chunks. We start with Rome and Naples this time, next is...whatever we want it to be.

This was the first time in possibly forever that we used a travel agent. It's no secret Adele and I have both thrown out the idea of going to Travel Agent School (I still maintain I could be a Part-Time Freelance Travel Agent...especially planning Disney World Vacations). But this is the first time we've used a travel agent for a while. It's probably the last time we'll be using the agent route. It's not that the agent wasn't helpful. She was. Kind of. But she was also dealing with travelers who know what they're doing. We were researched and ready to go.

We had the plan. Late night flight to Rome. Four nights in Rome, then a train to Naples or Sorrento. Four nights in Naples, then a train back to Rome and an early flight back to Chicago. That's where we started hitting snags. Because of the vacation package we were using, we had to follow certain rules. Apparently, we had to book a flight for each segment of the trip. So we'd have to fly from Rome to Naples with a stop in Munich. Munich?? Seriously?? Um...this one was a bit of a dealbreaker. So we pulled out a map. What was near enough to Rome where we could go?? Adele came up with Malta. Malta?? It's the island where Adele wants to go to get lost. Ok. I'm game. We did some quick research. Hotels were pretty cheap. Flights were pretty cheap. It's an idea!! That's where we hit the next snag. The agency didn't have anything in Malta. Okay...how do you not have hotels?? And here is where the plan actually came together.

It was early in the morning when I was on the phone with the travel agent. She was explaining how sorry she was that she didn't have locations in Malta. And then she started naming places where we could go. The lightbulb went off in my head. If we could go anywhere, why don't we go to Paris?? We would only have to cover the flight from Rome to Paris (a quick Kayak lookup showed under $100 one way) and the hotel. The flight from Paris to Chicago would be covered by the travel package. Adele wasn't even in the office yet and I had a message to the agent with the plan. I gave her the price range for the hotel, the flight info we saw online and the number of nights. I'm pretty sure the agent got back to me at about the same time Adele did. A day after hearing from the travel agent, we had hotels and flights. Well...except for another snag...

I can understand why travel agents are quite wary of online booking services. The agent said, "Here's the price of the hotel. And the flight from Rome to Paris is $250 for each of you and will be stopping twice." Wait. What?? No, seriously. What the F---?? It's a two hour flight from Rome to Paris. It's $57 on EasyJet nonstop. How in the holy hell can the lowest rate be $250 (with two stops!!)?? I was told that they "didn't have the same booking systems as online." And that's why we will go through the online services for the future.

A small digression story...when I went to Moscow two years ago, we were worried about booking foreign hotels through Expedia or Orbitz sites. It was the first foreign trip I was going on since my London trip 10 years earlier. What did I know?? I went to a travel agent and when one FINALLY got back to me, they quoted a rate of $2500 for the duration of the trip. When going back a few days later for more questions, the rate had gone up to $2700. And that's where I lost my mind. With the combination of TripAdvisor and Expedia, we found a hotel for about $1000 for the trip. And the hotel was fabulous. Sure, it was on the end of a subway line, but who cared?? We saved more money than we spent on the hotel. And I haven't talked to a travel agent since. This doesn't help with the whole idea of being a Part-Time Freelance Travel Agent, but still...

So I threw a fit. A $250 flight (with two stops!! This is the part that floored me) was unacceptable and a potential dealbreaker. The agent wanted to check with co-workers to find another option, so she asked if she could call me back. 20 minutes later, she said we could book our own flight and we were good to go. I don't know why or how things changed, but I didn't care. We could book our own flight and save crazy money. Done and done.

The most insane part is that this whole process took about 36 hours. And we were finally booked. From November until now (3 weeks to go!!), we've been planning. It's been lighter planning than South America (though any planning is lighter planning than South America), but we're just as excited.

But that's not all. There are other trips happening this year. Or at least during the first half of the year. What else is in the works??

Spring Break

Apparently, Elias and I have a tradition. We go on Spring Break trips. Or at least, that's what I was told last year when he asked where I was going to take him on Spring Break. So we had to figure out where we wanted to go.

For a while, I pushed him away. I was trying to weasel a trip to Orlando, but it didn't happen. It wasn't a big deal, but it made me have to be a little more creative. I spent hours looking at a map...where could we go?? I think it was Elias that mentioned New York. New York, huh?? Hmmm...

So I started looking. Flights were totally doable. There are plenty of things to do. It was looking promising. Then I looked at the hotels. Ugh. It stopped me in my tracks like a record scratch in a crowded bar. The prices were way expensive. And let's face it, I'm worried about the bedbug situation. That's all you hear about when staying in New York. Bedbugs. You basically have to burn your house down to get rid of them. So I asked questions.

One station said, "I like the W hotels.". Well, sure. If I want to spend $400 per night. Can't do. Jodi mentioned staying in Jersey City. I originally thought no, but then she lured me in with the idea of mass transit across the street. But still, the hotel cost was high.

I went back to the Orlando idea again. This one, the hotel was cheap, but the the flight wasn't. It was still doable. And we could go cheap. Disney Transportation. And maybe Gina's friends signing us into the park for free. It's an idea. Until the flight went up $300 in a day. Aaaaaaaand we're out.

So I'm still melting down a bit about Spring Break. Mom mentioned St. Louis. It's an easy drive and neither of us has been. But I won't lie, hearing St. Louis after hearing Orlando or New York is a bit of a downer. There's still time to figure this out. Not a lot of time, but enough. I hope...


Now this one is really the wild card trip. Memorial Day Weekend. The idea exists, but the trip actually happening...we're a long way away from the planning. Soon...it'll happen soon...

So that's where I'm at right now. The year is already pretty booked. And who knows what else is in the works?? I know we won't run out of places to go. If anything, we'll run out of money first. But a zero balance on credit cards is just so overrated...


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