(Thanks to life not going exactly as planned the posts from this trip are somewhat out of order right now. That’ll be fixed eventually; sorry if it gets confusing. – Seth)
We’re not supposed to be in Mumbai right now. We’re not even supposed to be at an airport. We’re supposed to be on a train from Udaipur to Jaipur, chalking up another experience and milestone on this trip. Instead we’re headed home, 50ish days after we started the trip and 10 days before we originally expected to.
Getting sick in Amritsar didn’t help, though we’re mostly recovered from that now. But that’s also not the reason we’re leaving, at least not all of it. When I started planning this trip and building out the trip I wanted to have this level of flexibility. I wanted to know that the itinerary could change. And that when we got done with traveling we could just go home. We did and we are.
When Marie Kondo visits your trip
With the stomach bug mostly in the rear view mirror we had a pair of cities left to visit on our original itinerary: Jaipur and Mumbai. Jaipur was the part of the trip I’ve been looking forward to the most. But after so long on the road I had to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to it nearly as much as I thought I would be. Or that I should be. In the Kondo parlance, I did not think that the next 10 days of travel would bring me joy. Linnea had similar notions. And if we’re not truly enjoying this trip then why are we here?
Turns out we’re not any more.
Sitting in our hotel room a couple days ago I looked to Linnea and said, “Why don’t we just go home?” We had no reasons not to do it and plenty of reasons to do it.
And it is not just because our travel luck here has been pretty crappy of late. A derailed train, delayed and canceled flights, trains removed from the schedule and unexpected overnights all suck. We played through those bits. Surprisingly well, I think, all things considered.
But in the bigger picture we’re just ready to be done for now. And to save a little of the passion for travel that we hold so that the spark can ignite again somewhere soon.
The mistake(s) we made
I don’t regret pushing the trip this long initially, though in retrospect there are a couple things I can see as potential indicators that it wasn’t going to run the full course.
First, our schedule lacked a true break anywhere. We talked about planning for that. We wanted to alternate “easy” and “hard” parts of the trip. We would need time to work while on the road, not just be tourists. And we did work along the way, but it wasn’t as expected. We didn’t truly have a base to set up and focus on that aspect of our lives.
We also failed to plan time for relaxing. “But you’re on a two month holiday; how much more relaxing does one need?” you might protest. And there’s some truth to that. But then there’s also the reality of travel. Moving to a new city every few days, rediscovering the local scene and learning what is ok or not in the area. And also we don’t generally spend our travels sitting on lounge chairs by the water. For two of the weeks we were trekking above 10,000 feet with temperatures dropping below freezing at night. This was not an especially relaxed itinerary.
Also, India is rarely a destination many speak of in the same breath as relaxation. Incredible, beautiful, powerful, emotional and more. But rarely relaxing.
I think we would have been marginally more successful if we chose one city as a new base of operations for a couple months and then took occasional trips from there to see other areas. That approach comes with a different set of problems and challenges, but I think it would’ve been closer to what we really wanted this time around.
Still, no regrets about what we did or how we did it. Just lessons learned. Seriously, it has been an amazing journey that we were fortunate to take together. We’re just shifting gears on the timing of when it ends.
Unwinding the bookings
As for the logistics of wrapping the trip a couple weeks early, things were surprisingly easy and nearly everything was refunded at or close to the initial deposits paid. A decent bit of that comes from the decision early on to use points for our return ticket from India. Sure, there may be fees associated with reward changes or cancellation, but compared to most cash tickets those fees are far more favorable. And in our case the elite status made cancelling the original tickets free.
It also turns out booking that a last minute trip out of India this winter back to the USA is pretty easy, in coach or business class, thanks to Cathay Pacific‘s troubles getting anyone to show up in Hong Kong. Or because United Airlines opened up last minute business class seats on its nonstop to Newark. Even SkyMiles had a couple (much less good) options, mostly on partners. Lacking sufficient points we could’ve made the last minute trip on cash tickets at a reasonable rate. Prices were under $600 for decent flight times on a couple carriers. It was nice to have options. Turns out we were spoilt for choice.
In the end we chose the United flight over Cathay Pacific for two reasons: Time and time. Both leave Mumbai stupid late at night but the United flight will allow us to get on board and then just sleep as much as we want. Eventually we’ll get to Newark and then deal with the short extra connection to Boston. On Cathay the first flight was a 5 hour redeye, followed by a twelve hour layover. While I love Hong Kong and running in to town to get some dim sum was mildly compelling the whole point of this is to get home so we chose the routing that came up 10 hours shorter overall and with better sleep timings. Even knowing that UA’s catering ex-BOM is not always very good.
We also had to purchase an extra flight from Udaipur to Mumbai to position for the reward trip. That was not horrible, coming in at roughly $150/person for decent timing. And that cost was somewhat offset by a partial refund on the Jaipur-Mumbai flight we were holding for travel just after New Years. Unlike in the US the “nonrefundable” tickets actually do give a portion of the fare as a proper refund, less the cancellation penalty.
On the lodging front we booked via AirBnB for both Jaipur and Mumbai. In both cases the refund policy gave us back the bulk of our payment as we hadn’t hit the cutoff deadline yet. We did lose out on one nonrefundable night in Abu Dhabi (Etihad Apartments was part of our initial return plan) but that was relatively cheap. And, somewhat ironically, that was booked after we got sick and I still thought we’d finish out the initial planned itinerary.
Train tickets were very cheap to begin with and refunded at roughly 65%. I am mildly amused that I started the planning for this trip with the idea of just riding trains across India with our next destination chosen by whim and what was nearby. Ultimately we completed zero of the train trips booked and only even started one of them.
I haven’t run the full math yet but I’m pretty sure that after exchanging for the cheaper award flights we come out net positive in cash outlay and definitely fewer points burned. I’d like to claim that was on purpose, but the reality is it mostly was a function of getting lucky. And being willing (or needing) to change last minute.
Tales from our South Asia Adventures
- Six new (to me) airlines booked; more to come!
- An Amazing South Asia Adventure: Introduction
- A love/hate relationship with Singapore
- A Kuala Lumpur visit that was not to be
- DLD 272: Customer service is hard
- Getting sick sucks
- Pulling the rip cord: We’re bailing early on India
- DLD 273: Outsourcing your holiday mess making
- Slowing down: The tourist bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara