Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Planning for my Travels

Here's what I used in planning for my Brazil Adventures.

Brazil is the latest of my international travels since 2000. I start by gathering up frequent flyer miles. I then buy the Lonely Planet guidebook to develop my itinerary (looking at the highlighted places to visit). Also, the guide lets me know if I need to get my visa ahead of time (like with Brazil) or if can I get one upon arrival. Finally, I check for the recommended immunizations or drugs to take, and review the State Department travel advisories.

Frequent Flyer Miles
Since 2000, I've made 15 international trips to Asia and Latin America using frequent flyer miles; plus another 12 to Mexico using a combination of frequent flyer miles or companion tickets (Alaska Air). We use our credit cards for almost all purchases to rack up a lot of miles. I do what is called "churning" my credit cards. For example, for this trip I opened up an American Air Advantage credit card with Citi which gave me 35,000 miles. Then with the left over miles from my last year's Chile trip, I had enough to "pay" 40,000 miles for a round trip from Seattle to Rio de Janeiro where a ticket now costs about $1,500. To learn more about "churning" and how to maximize the frequent flyer programs go to the Frugal Travel Guy website. There, you will learn about some extreme "churners", how to get to your destinations, and see some current credit card offers.

Brazil, Lonely Planet Guide, 7th Edition
Since I started my foreign country travels, I have found that the Lonely Planet (LP) guidebooks provide me with what I need to navigate my way around the countries I visit. They are an indispensable travel tool in planning my itinerary, determining what issues I need to take care of before I leave, and most importantly how to get in, out and around the cities I visit. The language food guides and common phrases are invaluable in places I visit where no one speaks English.
I cut out a dozen of sections from the above the colorful Brazil LP Guidebook. Each section goes into a ziplock bag. When touring around the specific area,I carry one section and leave the guidebook and other sections in my backpack. It's easier to handle and makes you less of a target for ne'er do wells that may spot you if you had the big, colorful guide out.

The Itinerary
I start with Rio de Janeiro, and look at the highlights displayed on the country map. I decide to first head to the southern destinations and then head north to the Amazon at Manaus. Since the distances are so great, along the way I compare the cost of flying vs the bus and plan three internal flights that cost about the same as the bus costs and are less arduous. I decided to fly from Manaus to Rio a few days before my return flight so I have a time cushion for flight delays. I round out my trip by visiting Ouro Preto before returning to Rio for the flight back to Seattle.

The LP include the travel modes, times and costs in most city sections which can be found under the caption titled "Getting There & Away". As I build my itinerary, for each stay date(s) I list the Hotel or hostel I plan to stay at, their phone number (in case my wife needs to contact me in an emergency), the city, and the cost per night. For travel days, I post the duration of the ride, the times of departure, and cost. I get most of this from the LP guide, but sometimes go to the bus or airline websites. Rarely do my actual travels match these itineraries for a whole host of reasons: recommendations from other travelers, no vacancy, more or less interesting places to see, overly ambitious travel plans, etc.

I use to use the LP budget "Sleeping" places, but since my recent trips to Chile and Japan, I have come to rely more on the recommendations I find on The Hostelworld website. I started using Hostelworld to locate accommodations in Chile because single hotel rooms were so expensive. I thought that hostels were just for young travelers, but I found out differently. They are great places to stay where your needs are for sleeping accommodations in convenient locations. It is also fun to meet other travelers and learn of what to do in your upcoming travels. I look for places with good reviews, WiFi, lockers for your bags, a bottom bunk for my posible night trips to the bathroom, and breakfasts included in the price.

Getting the Brazil Visa
The Brazil LP Guide Informed me that I needed to get a visa and to mail it down to the Brazilian Consulate in San Francisco. if you can go to the San Francisco Brazilian Consulate, you can apply yourself, but if you need to mail for it, they provide a list of third party "fixers". After reading the Yelp reviews, I chose Brazil Fiesta. I emailed them on Feb. 27th and they immediately scheduled a date with the Consulate to get my Visa which was March 9th. I assembled the materials requested like a passport photo (Rite aid $9), a Protocolo NĂºmero (visa application form) from the Brazil government website, copy of my drivers license, AA flight itinerary, USPS money order for the Brazil Consulate for $160, a $60 check to Brazil Fiesta for the processing fee, and a return priority mail envelop for the return of my Passport. I received my Passport with the Brazil visa on March 19th. Easy process!

Medical issues
The yellow card in the photo is my "INTERNATIONAL CERTIFICATE OF VACCINATION" as approved by WHO. While ordering up a travel supply of Cipro for bacterial diaherra, and doxycycline for malaria prevention, my Dr. Recommended that I get a yellow fever shot since I was going to inland Brazil and the Amazon. I already had shots for polio, Hep A&B, Meningitis, typhoid, tetnus, and shingles. she gave me a shot for yellow fever and a tetnus booster as well. I also plan to pack a tube of antibiotic cream, aspirin, ibuprofen, sudafed, Imodium, band aids, needle, handiwipes, and Agua Mira--water purifier drops.

Lately, I have been buying annual travel insurance at a cost of $249 per year from Access America, now known as Allianz. If you end up buying it, please use this travel agent's code: F028686. It belongs to Donna Bender, my wife' college roommate and long time friend who runs MauiCalls with her husband, Wayne. She is the one who booked me on my first big trip to Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal back in 2000.

This insurance is good for trips throughout the year that do not exceed 90 days from home and are at least 100 miles from home. Coverage includes: $100,000 for emergency medical transportation (think--helicopter evacuation from the Himalayans), $300,000 flight insurance, $20,000 emergency medical & dental, $25,000 accident, $1,000 trip cancellation or interruption, $1,000 baggage coverage with a $500 limit on camera and electronics, $200 bag delay, $500 trip delay, and 24/7 hotline assistance.

I have collected $1,000 for stolen bags in Costa Rica, $50 baggage delay in Thailand to buy toiletries and a change of clothes, medical transportation (car rental)from Ashland, OR to Seattle for a sprained ankle while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. When my bag was stolen in Costa Rica, the 24/7 hotline connected me with my two credit card companies to cancel my cards, and FedEx new ones to me, told me how to get a new US Passport, and arranged with AMEX for some emergency money. What a lifeline! As long as you get police reports, and provide documentation of the loss, the clams process is simple and quick.

I carry $200 emergency cash in $20s and stash them throughout my stuff including a couple of twenties In a small Baggie under my insoles. Travelers checks have fallen out of favor as ATMs have populated the world. The LP Guides will tell you places you need to load up on local currency because of a lack of ATMs.
You do not need to exchange dollars for local currency since there are ATMs at all airports and you will avoid the high fees charged by the money changers. ATMs also give you the current exchange rates as well. I avoid all money changers especially the ones walking about with wads of money.


Before you go, be sure to print out the "Travelers Cheatsheet" from the OANDA website. Instead of taking the entire page with me, I cut out the Cheatsheet and glue it together as you can see below the page. One side features US Dollars in units, increments in fives and then larger amounts. The reverse side shows the units in Brazilian Reals. I seal them in laminate too. This Cheatsheet is very handy for making quick calculations.

In my next entry, I will share with you what I plan to pack and how much it all weighs.

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