2012 Travel Review – Crossing the 100k Line


Despite being so delayed with blog posting (and posts from our Christmas trip to Istanbul are coming – really!), one post that really can’t be too fashionably late is the year-end review.

Last year’s review was titled “The Year of Travel”, but you are probably not surprised to hear that 2012 surpassed it in many ways – I flew more and was away more.  However, there seemed to be fewer new locations (as work trips tended to be to places I’d already been, or to the US), and less leisure travel (it was quite hard to find time for that!).  As I write that, though, it doesn’t mean that there weren’t highlights – more on that later.

While I was away from home for 94 nights in 2011, or just over 25% of the year, in 2012 I was not at home for 119 nights, or just shy of 1/3 of the time.  26 of those nights were with Astrid, so we were not together for 93 nights – which also roughly means that those 93 nights were business travel and the 26 were personal.  The breakdown by location was 42 nights in the US, 23 in continental Europe, 17 nights in Asia, 12 in the UK, 7 in Australia, 6 in South America, and a whopping 11 nights on board airplanes…and 1 night on board a train.

After flying about 50,000 miles in 2010 and 83,000 miles in 2011, 2012 comes out at over 111,000 miles – or nearly 4.5x the distance around the earth and just shy of half of the distance to the moon!  That adds up to an estimated 239 hours of flying time, which means an average travel speed of about 465mph.  If we conservatively assume that one typically spends at least an extra half hour per flight on the airplane (that isn’t counted in the official time), then that’s about 258 hours, or more than 10.5 full 24-hour days, on airplanes.

This summary map shows my 2012 flying - certainly the highlight was the trans-Pacific round trip between Hong Kong and San Francisco, shown by the arrow that goes off either end of the map!

This summary map shows my 2012 flying – certainly the highlight was the trans-Pacific round trip between Hong Kong and San Francisco, shown by the arrow that goes off either end of the map!

As in 2011, my flying was predominantly long-haul; 22 of 37 flights were longer than 6 hours, and almost all of the rest were short-haul (less than 3 hours), with our recent flights to Istanbul being the only mid-haul flights of about 4 hours each.  My flights were also more on familiar airlines; leading with 14 flights on British Airways (38% of flights, but only 27% of miles – due to shorter flights to/from Jersey, Oslo, and returns from Germany and Barcelona).

Boarding a British Airways flight to London-LHR was a common sight; here is the boarding gate at Washington Dulles in August.

Boarding a British Airways flight to London-LHR was a common sight; here is the boarding gate at Washington Dulles in August.

Cathay Pacific emerged as a new favorite for me – I did fly them once before in 2011 (on a short regional flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok), I flew 8 long-haul flights with them for a total of 41,500 miles – including to/from Australia and across the Pacific.

The Queen of the Skies - London to Hong Kong on the upper deck of a Cathay Pacific 747-400.

The Queen of the Skies – London to Hong Kong on the upper deck of a Cathay Pacific 747-400.

My only new airlines in 2012 were Thai Airways and Air Canada (although feeling more familiar being North American, albeit with that annoying French being spoken all the time!).  I also had four flights on Qatar, which is frequently rated as the world’s best airline, and I’m happy to confirm that they are quite good.  More toward the other end of the spectrum, after a year off in 2011 I had two flights in 2012 on easyJet – previously we flew them a lot in 2010, but most of the short-haul travel around Europe has now been replaced with reward tickets on BA.

The Air Canada Boeing 777-300ER that took me from Toronto to Sao Paulo, after landing at Guarulhos International Airport (which, by the way, is probably one of the worst large international airports in the world, despite serving as the primary gateway to Brazil and most of South America).

The Air Canada Boeing 777-300ER that took me from Toronto to Sao Paulo, after landing at Guarulhos International Airport (which, by the way, is probably one of the worst large international airports in the world, despite serving as the primary gateway to Brazil and most of South America).

The only routes I flew more than once were London to Washington (twice, both on BA) and Hong Kong to London (twice, both on Cathay Pacific), although I flew Hong Kong to London a third time via Doha on Qatar as well.  In terms of airports, London Heathrow was naturally the most popular, featuring as the start of finish of 20 out of the 37 flights, but the airport’s design of completely separate terminals makes it feel less monotonous (I flew 6 in and out of Terminal 5, three times in and out of Terminal 3, and once in and out of Terminal 4).  However, Hong Kong International was a strong second at ten times – and all during a roughly 10-week period in the fall (as discussed here previously).  The only other airports that I landed or took-off from more than twice (i.e. more than just once in and once out) were four times each at Toronto, San Francisco, Doha, and Dallas, and an uneven three times at Washington Dulles and London Gatwick.

A view of Washington Dulles International Airport, including the iconic main terminal designed in the late 1950s and the infamous "mobile lounges" that I think look more like aliens (the weird rubber-tired vehicles behind the Lufthansa plane).

A view of Washington Dulles International Airport, including the iconic main terminal designed in the late 1950s and the infamous “mobile lounges” that I think look more like aliens (the weird rubber-tired vehicles behind the Lufthansa plane).

the new airport in Oslo

The check-in area at Oslo Gardermoen, the all-new-in-1998 airport serving Oslo that has a well-regarded design with a light, almost floating roof held up by wood pillars.  All in all, the place has a very Scandinavian feel, combining traditional materials like wood with an otherwise very modern and up-market feel.

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I’ve blogged about this before, but I just can’t say enough about how good the Hong Kong International Airport is, or here specifically the airport express rail station – this is the exit area, where luggage carts are waiting for people coming off the train.

Before looking back chronologically at the year in more detail, train travel certainly warrants mention here.  Although 2012’s train travel cannot beat the awesomeness of the Shinkansen in Japan at the end of 2011, in 2012 we did take some of the most scenic routes in the world in Scotland, two trips through the Channel Tunnel (which sadly now feel pretty commonplace but are still quite amazing!) and I slid in a quick short segment on a Chinese high-speed train (being sure to not ride in the first or last car!).

The overnight Caledonian Sleeper train from London to Scotland, at the end of the journey in Fort William, 12:40 after leaving London.

The overnight Caledonian Sleeper train from London to Scotland, at the end of the journey in Fort William, 12:40 after leaving London.

We started the year with a visit from our friend Bill, and we enjoyed exploring transit around London while also squeezing in a quick weekend trip up to Newcastle and York.

Bill and I at the National Railway Museum in (old) York, enjoying a train-shaped cookie.

Bill and I at the National Railway Museum in (old) York, enjoying a train-shaped cookie.

I quickly followed Bill back across the Atlantic for TRB, the annual Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington that attracts more than 11,000 people.  As always, going to Washington is an opportunity to see great friends Sarah and Drew as well as visit family in Baltimore.  After a few days in Washington, my boss and I traveled in caravan up to New York – he was one train ahead of me, and it felt like we spent most of the journey trying to communicate by constantly-dropping phone calls and lousy Amtrak wi-fi as we prepared for meetings the next day.

When I go back to New York, using the subway is a familiar treat - although I'm always mindful of the shortcomings that are apparent after seeing so much other transit around the world.

When I go back to New York, using the subway is a familiar treat – although I’m always mindful of the shortcomings that are apparent after seeing so much other transit around the world.

I took the opportunity in January to visit the new 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan - it was interesting if cold and icy, and I will want to see it again after the site is complete.

I took the opportunity in January to visit the new 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan – it was interesting if cold and icy, and I will want to see it again after the site is complete.

February took me back to the US for meetings in Fort Worth and Austin, Texas.  The weather in Texas in February was great, and in addition to a lot of hard work we also got a lot of really good steak!  IMG-20120228-00148

The group went to the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo - a real Texas experience!

The group went to the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo – a real Texas experience!

My upper-deck seat on the BA 747, which is one of the better business class experiences in the world of flying.  The upper deck feels like a private jet with just 20 seats.

My upper-deck seat on the BA 747 on the way home from Dallas-Fort Worth.  The upper deck feels like a private jet with just 20 seats (and, I can’t lie – the looks on others’ faces when you turn and go up the stairs are pretty good too!).  This is definitely one of the better business class experiences in the world of flying.

We had a great long-weekend planned for early March in western Germany, but ultimately had to cut it short due to me being pretty sick after the whirlwind Texas trip.  You can find a few photos of that trip here.

Cologne - a classic shot of cathedral and trains, just perfect for Astrid and I!

Cologne – a classic shot of cathedral and trains, just perfect for Astrid and I!

After returning from Texas at the end of February, I actually didn’t travel outside of Europe again until the end of July, a period of five months!  That seems hard to believe, perhaps, given the total tally for the year, but illustrates how concentrated inter-continental travel was in the fall.

Still, those five months were certainly not quiet.  In between hosting three different house guests for a total of over a month (Astrid’s mom, my brother, and Astrid’s friend from Switzerland), we made several European trips.  I had work trips to Paris, Newcastle, Barcelona, and Oslo, and Astrid joined me after the Paris and Oslo meetings for some great long weekends.  We’re thinking of trying to visit Barcelona sometime in the next couple of months, as it is a good winter destination for a long weekend city break.

Without a doubt, our long weekend in Paris was one of the year’s absolute highlights, as we finally figured out how to enjoy the City of Light (and love!).  We also threw in a last-minute crazy weekend getaway to (old) Jersey, thanks to the great last-minute availability of British Airways reward tickets…short distances are just 9000 miles and £30 per person for a round-trip.

Astrid and I at Place de la Concorde in the heart of Paris.

Astrid and I at Place de la Concorde in the heart of Paris.

My second trip of the year to Washington at the end of July was a bit of a professional highlight of the year – I was asked to come and present at a workshop.  Somehow, I managed to navigate the federal government bureaucracy to get them to pay for business class on British Airways too (the rules state that the ticket has to be with a US-based airline and cheaper than the reference trip, but as I was willing to stay over a Saturday night to see family and friends and was able to leverage the AA-BA trans-Atlantic joint venture, it was possible!).  After the meeting in Washington I spent a couple of days in New York, staying for the first time in the Times Square area (which felt quite odd after living there).

At the end of August was another of the year’s highlights – a business trip to Brisbane, Australia.  I’m still aiming to post something specific about Brisbane and impressions of Australia – I found it to be an odd combination of California and Britain!  The journey was incredible – over 10,000 miles and 22 hours in flight each way.  Despite knowing that, it is still a bit hard to get your head around how far away the place actually is – from anything.

My colleague and I at the rail yard in Brisbane.  Unfortunately, we only had one day to explore Brisbane - don't worry, though, Astrid and I are working hard on a long-term plan for a great vacation down under!

My colleague and I at the rail yard in Brisbane. Unfortunately, we only had one day to explore Brisbane – don’t worry, though, Astrid and I are working hard on a long-term plan for a great vacation down under!

Luckily, between excellent service from Cathay Pacific on all four legs and our ability to make the time and expense of an overnight stopover in Hong Kong both ways, the trip wasn't so bad.  This is the older-style "coffin" seat being phased out.

Luckily, between excellent service from Cathay Pacific on all four legs and our ability to make the time and expense of an overnight stopover in Hong Kong both ways, the trip wasn’t so bad. This is the older-style “coffin” seat being phased out.

Not long after getting back from Australia, I embarked on the mega-trip that saw me travel from London to Bangkok, then on to the West Coast of the US and back again.  Apart from being my longest trip ever at 25 nights away, it included a combination of a new place (Bangkok) as well as some more familiar but still quite favorite places on the West Coast of the US.  I have to admit that I didn’t like Bangkok too much – the heat alone made me almost pass out the minute I stepped outside!

I have to admit, though, that I liked the food much more than I thought I would - an area of personal growth and improvement that I'm very proud of!

I have to admit, though, that I liked the food much more than I thought I would – an area of personal growth and improvement that I’m very proud of!

The trans-Pacific flights were in some ways the highlight of the trip, although very much saddened by not being with Astrid for our fifth wedding anniversary.  You can read about it, including how I arrived in San Francisco before I left Hong Kong, here.  As a stopover point, I enjoyed two separate one-day visits to San Francisco, which is definitely in my top five cities worldwide, as well as more than two weeks in the Pacific Northwest.  The long journey back home was mitigated by again excellent service from Cathay Pacific.

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The Cathay Pacific lounge at SFO was a welcome sight after a long day of wandering around the great city, albeit down a pretty drab corridor that kind of looked like it belonged in a spy movie!  There is a 12-hour headway on San Francisco to Hong Kong Cathay flights, leaving at about 1am and 1pm.  My 1:10am departure ensured that I was ready to sleep on board.

The Cathay Pacific lounge at SFO was a welcome sight after a long day of wandering around the great city, albeit down a pretty drab corridor that kind of looked like it belonged in a spy movie! There is a 12-hour headway on San Francisco to Hong Kong Cathay flights, leaving at about 1am and 1pm. My 1:10am departure ensured that I was ready to sleep on board.

The new Cathay Pacific business seat is hands down the best I've ever had, and beats some other airlines first class (I understand from the Internet).

The new Cathay Pacific business seat is hands down the best I’ve ever had, and beats some other airlines first class (I understand from the Internet).

This is the foot space - the angle lets you stretch out comfortably on the full-flat bed.  What's worth noting also is how Cathay Pacific fixed all of the problems with their old generation "coffin" seat  with this new offering, including more width and facing the window (instead of away from it on the old ones, which led to severe neck pain if you wanted to look out at all).

This is the foot space – the angle lets you stretch out comfortably on the full-flat bed. What’s worth noting also is how Cathay Pacific fixed all of the problems with their old generation “coffin” seat with this new offering, including more width and facing the window (instead of away from it on the old ones, which led to severe neck pain if you wanted to look out at all).

After the mega-trip Astrid and I had a great weekend in Belgium, and then headed off for opposite sides of the world in November, as she headed west to the US and I east to China.  After a very hard week of work in Guangzhou, and mostly seeing the walls of the Sheraton hotel, I spent a day in Shenzhen and a day in Hong Kong before the journey home.

Before heading to the airport for my 00:25 flight to Doha on Qatar, I took a night-time journey on the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor, a real highlight and something that cements Hong Kong in my top five world cities as well.  Even though it didn't work out for Astrid to join me in Hong Kong this year, I hope we can do it sometime soon.

Before heading to the airport for my 00:25 flight to Doha on Qatar, I took a night-time journey on the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor, a real highlight and something that cements Hong Kong in my top five world cities as well. Even though it didn’t work out for Astrid to join me in Hong Kong this year, I hope we can do it sometime soon.

The last work trip of the year was to Sao Paulo, not much more than a year after my first trip there in October 2011.  Unfortunately, December in Brazil is approaching the heart of summer, which means temperatures some days were near or even over 100F.  The journey on Air Canada was pleasant, including the stop in Toronto (see an upcoming post), and I was glad to be able to move up my return a bit to get home sooner to a very sick Astrid at the end.

Christmas at 100F is awfully odd for someone from the Northern hemisphere!  This was a store decked out in holiday spirit on Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo's premier shopping district, near our hotel.

Christmas at 100F is awfully odd for someone from the Northern hemisphere! This was a store decked out in holiday spirit on Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo’s premier shopping district, near our hotel.

At the very end of the year, our Christmas vacation in Istanbul rounded out quite a busy year.  I think we’ve started doing a good job of trying to take advantage of the perks of such a busy work travel schedule, such as air miles – our trip to Istanbul cost just miles and £60 total, when the retail price for the same tickets would have been about £500 or more.  Furthermore, I was able to snag two exit row seats on the tired old BA 767, making the four-hour journey much more comfortable.

What’s on tap for 2013?  I’m sure there are some surprises around the corner, but on the work side already planned is a January trip (in just 11 days’ time, actually) to Washington and New York, where I’m presenting at the huge TRB conference for the first time, as well as a likely March trip to the western US and an April trip to new places in South America, primarily Buenos Aires.  On the personal side we’ve got a short weekend hop to St. Malo by overnight ferry and the very exciting trip to the Maldives, where we will try the beach getaway in style (and thanks to air miles and hotel points).  Stay with us as we try to catch up and share more of our adventures in 2013, and best wishes to you and yours for a best-yet new year!

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Posted on 01/01/2013, in travel, Travel to Asia, Travel to Europe, Travel to the States and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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