Three Trips, Five Months- Part II
Before we go on to Trip #2, a brief story about Trip #1.
There was a tragedy in my family— a car-accident death— and I cancelled the trip to be with my family in California.
It was the right thing to do. Even though I had travel insurance (NEVER EVER DO NOT GET TRAVEL INSURANCE) I did miss out on a few things. But, as I said, I did the right thing.
As far as travel goes, I used the refund from the insurance to go on another quick trip to London a month later. I got to see Bryan Cranston in ‘Network’ (Same Day Rush Ticket) and two other plays. All is well.
You can find a lot of posts and articles online from travelers who feel it is the only city you need to visit when visiting Scandinavia. Often grouped with the Greatest Cities in the World.
Also, allegedly pretty expensive.
An essential part of the Proper Jaunt philosophy is how it is able to bring back Dreaming and Wishing into your everyday life. For me personally, events in my life had lead me to a point where everything I did, everything I thought about, everything that was going to occur to me, had to produce some sort of concrete result. I will not go into details here; suffice to say I had to see that that result would somehow be able to go towards my goal of providing for my family.
Along the way, I let go of anything that had no gravity. I could still devour books, but I no longer dreamed of writing them. Not without someone paying me first. I could play my guitar and my banjo and my mandolin, but no longer did I even remotely entertain that doing so would take me anywhere outside of the confines of the life I was currently living.
Sound a little harsh? To some. For a lot of us, it was a simple reality.
Modern American Life, that we all profess to want, that we all agree is a good goal to work for, needs money. For all kinds of things; and as political winds blow different ways, you find that one year you don’t worry about your Health Insurance, and the next year it’s all you worry about. There are many things that attract worry and need money: cars. Schools. Food. And certainly not least, a Roof with some walls.
Again, I’m just talking about myself here, but for me, thinking about a Proper Jaunt brought some imagining back into my life. Let’s say I had worked out the part where I had a thousand bucks I could spend on a trip for myself. Maybe I was just in the process of making that happen. That part gave me license to dream about where I might go. I could read up on exotic places without a sense of dread or failure.
Finding cheap airfares was something that put that dreaming up to a whole other level. I subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights; so far, that is the only site I give money to, but I get newsletters from many different carriers and websites like TripAdvisor and Expedia.
So, a typical day of checking the in-box for the email account I use for that purpose, I might see that there are cheap flights for interesting destinations in the coming months. I can imagine what going to Helsinki might be like. I could get to Brussels, and then take an inexpensive train to another nearby city.
Anything beyond the Dreaming Stage means going to the carriers websites and finding out the cheapest ticket. For that, Google Flights in invaluable. Without going to into the specifics of how the very engine that helps you out— Google’s Search Engine— can then cause flights to go up in price when you check them later, the best way to use Google Flights is by using Private Browsing. I don’t know of a browser that does not support it. It basically keeps information out of cookies and caches that your browser— and Google’s search mechanics— normally keeps track of. You’ve probably looked at a pair of shoes online, and then when you go to a site that has ads on it, the ads are all from online places that provide shoes. That’s it in a nutshell.
So, a Private Browser page. I like the Safari web browser for that purpose. Go to Google flights, and once you enter the cities, a fare calendar shows up. You can pick the cities of your departure and your destination, then check the calendar to see months and what days have the best fares. I find that when I switch my Departure city from Portland to Seattle, the fares go waaaay down.
Another great website is Momondo.com. Again, in a Private Browser window. It gives you a wide variety of options for cities and dates.
So, let’s say I get an email about a cheap flight to, how about Prague. I go on the websites listed above (oh, there are others). BAM. Immediately I’m imagining myself bunking in some cheap pension near the Old Town section, drinking good beer and writing postcards.
And what did all that cost me? Very little, even counting the subscription payment to Scott’s Cheap Flights.
Typically with these low fares, you have to act fast. That can be both good and bad. It’s amazing how fast you can get really excited to visit Tblisi and then find out all the good fares are taken. It also means that if you’re dragging your feet about a place and/or a fare, there’s probably a reason for it; and while you might not have the time to suss out that reason just now, you’re probably not going to jump on the deal.
So, one day, I’m checking my email. This is about two months before I head to London on a Proper Jaunt to see two plays at Shakespeare’s Globe (DBYD- Do Before You Die), when I saw some cheap flights to Stockholm for the next March. These were for some reputable airlines, including my favorite, Iceland Air. The fares were in the under $600 range; while not strictly within my own self-imposed guidelines, way better than the $800-$900 those usually went for.
A few days later, an email had a notice from Iceland Air that they were creating basically a low-fare ticket on their normal flights. For travelers who agreed to have only one bag— and not a very big one— they would knock significant money off the price. This would put them within swinging distance of the Norwegian Air Shuttle and the WOW Airline prices, to be sure.
So, I checked Norwegian and WOW. They had ticket prices to Stockholm in $400-$500s. Now, that was a little closer to my wheelhouse.
So, I checked Iceland Air. From Seattle, to Stockholm. In March of 2018.
I thought the website had only given me a one-way ticket price. The round-trip price, on Iceland Air, was $320.
I even went to a different computer, and opened up a Private Browsing window to check again. Yep. Same deal. $320 bucks to fly from Seattle to Stockholm and back again.
I was a bit dumbfounded. I was at work at the time, and saw this while on a break, and was due to go back to work. Without meaning to, I exclaimed out-loud, “Are you KIDDING ME??” I quickly showed it to a colleague who likes to travel, and his eyebrows threatened to leave his forehead. “Oh man, you gotta jump on that.”
Now, airlines can publish something called Mistake Fares. SCF often has those. It means the airline makes an actual mistake, and then usually retracts the offer and refunds your money (or not). But this did not seem like it was a mistake. It also was clearly not something that was going to be around very long.
My next break was my lunch, in just over an hour, and I had nothing else on my mind in that mean time. When I went to lunch, I immediately went to a computer to check that it was there. I’m not sure what I was hoping for. Part of me wanted it to be gone; who could deal with this kind of pressure?
The other part of me thought, this is what I’ve been talking about. This is the cheap fare that starts a Proper Jaunt. If it’s there, I have to get it.
It was still there. And it was only available the days I wanted to go; roughly six days in March. I bought the ticket from a work computer.
Now, the important thing to remember in times likes these— which I had forgotten at this point— is that, in almost every case, you have 24 hours to get a refund for a flight. I truthfully only realized that when I hit the “Complete Order” button. I still had a chance to think more clearly about it. I could still get a refund, and just wallow in the dreaming I was doing about that “frozen old city of silver and stone”, to quote Jason Isbell.
A quick peruse of my hotel websites, though, showed me I could get the kind of room I always looked for— single room, shared bathroom— for well within my $50-a-night guideline. I could even do a Hostel; not my first choice everywhere, but in some foreign cities it could be a bonus. The room I later booked was $47 a night. Private room, shared bathroom, only a few blocks from the central train station.
Now I had some time to do some more leisurely research. To imagine the city and dream myself there.
Stockholm was a true Proper Jaunt. Only three days spent there. Was it enough time? Probably not. Would five days have been enough time? Probably not. I had a fantastic time.
The reason I say it was a true Proper Jaunt is because I the whole trip was just about being in Stockholm; being in a very foreign city, and attempting to see a few sites and function there. When friends asked what I did in Stockholm in three days, I said, “I was in Stockholm for three days.” That really was the locus of the joy and happiness and excitement and wonder I felt.
Part of that was being able to spend as much time as I wanted, wherever I wanted. One of my three days was spent going to the Fotografiska, the Photography Museum in Stockholm. When you are going by the (dreaded) Bucket List mentality, you have to hurry through the Fotografiska (or wherever you are) to get to the next thing because it’s a list goddammit and you have to check it off. With A Proper Jaunt, you stay one place as long as you want. You can truly enjoy what you are doing. Now, there is always a plan, there are always other things you want to see. If you have time, you go see them. After feeling culturally sated and stomach hungry, I decided to walk up toward Gamla Stan (the Old Town) to try to get a bite to eat. After that I was going to go on a Winter Cruise, that was included in my Stockholm card. Stockholm is all islands, after all, and even though it was really cold, I was up for it.
I found a place in Gamla Stan I wanted to visit, the Swedish Postal Museum. It was really just the front room of the main Post Office, but it was lovely. I bought some cards and had a great chat with the guy who worked there. It was still early afternoon so I decided to go the first eating establishment that looked good and fast (no being served by a waiter). I found Cafe Gramunken, ordered a beer and a sandwich, and barely got to a free table before the place filled up. It literally seemed like about 20 people had been walking behind me and came right it after I ordered. The sandwich was delicious; so was the beer so I went up and ordered another. I put some pics on Instagram, wrote a couple of postcards, and then checked my map for where the Winter Cruise left from. It was about a mile away.
A word about the cold: for some reason, I really love to visit a cold place. Even wearing a kilt. I grew up in Southern California and the first place I moved when I left home was Minnesota. I may try to delve deeper into Why I Love The Cold in another piece, but suffice it say it really fills me. Maybe the fact that I don’t like being hot has something to do with it. I recently did the Geno 2.0 DNA testing and three-quarters of my DNA comes from Northern Europe; who knows if that stuff figures in.
So I walked about a mile, through Gamla Stan, stopping briefly on bridges and marveling at the chunks of ice flowing beneath me. The wind off the water was pretty cold, and as I made my way to where the Winter Cruise picked up, it got quite even colder. As my nose ran and my eyes watered, I saw that I had missed the Winter Cruise for that day; wouldn’t ya know, the Winter Cruise had Winter Hours. I would have had to have been there immediately after I left the Fotografiska; even with public transportation or an Uber, that would not have been possible. So I was glad I followed my instincts (and my stomach). I had thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon up to that point, and it means I can do the cruise on my next cheap trip to Stockholm.
I made my way to a Museum I had passed on the way to the cruise— The Medieval Museum of Stockholm— and went in there for about an hour. It was wonderful; the Museum was built on top of medieval ruins that had been found when they were trying to build a car park. After that, I took pics, I wandered around the area near the cruise, I peeked into a few stores. I finally found myself back on Gamla Stan and went to Barrels and Beer, where I had one of the best hamburgers I have ever eaten, along with some great and unique local beer.
Yes, getting local beer was wonderful. Yes, seeing the public artwork, and the sense of being on a island that all of that water gives you. Yes, the museums that I went to amazed me. Yes, all of that was good, but so was just being there. Just walking around. Just letting the not-my-usual-space-ness of the place envelope me. That was my trip to Stockholm.
Trip #3? Amsterdam, and either Prague or Berlin. Trip #2 had been cheaper than Trip #1. How in the hell could Trip #3 be even cheaper??