Star Alliance Round the World Ticket

Having dreamed of and discussed a round the world trip for years, Kay and I started casually talking about doing it for real when he started his summer internship in Germany last summer. As the summer went on, we both felt more and more like the timing was right. When Kay was done with school, I would quit my job and we would take some time off together and travel before starting something new. We both needed the time to relax, unwind, and reconnect with each other.

But where to go? We talked about this all summer and into the school year as well. Kay thought about just going to Australia for 3-4 months and renting a camper and driving around the outback, but I… I wanted to see everything! (And wives always get their way in the end, don’t they?) Also, we didn’t find ot how long we should travel until Kay graduated almost, so we waited really late and bought tickets on December 22 for 9 months of travel.

Having achieved the much-sought-after gold status with Star Alliance, I was very preferential to flying Star Alliance flights. Plus, I knew that Star Alliance offers the Round the World ticket, so while I looked at other round the world ticket offers like One World and 3rd party mixed-alliance-itineraries like AirTreks, I quickly just decided to go with the one that would give me instant lounge access, extra baggage, and the possibility of upgrades. It cost a bit more, but our first flight to Sao Paulo from Zurich was actually upgraded to business somehow, so already well worth the difference in price!The Round the World ticket does have some limitations, like you have to travel in one direction around the globe; ie no backtracking across the Pacific ocean more than once, although you can zigzag up and down a bit. You also have a limit of 15 stopovers, 16 segments (flights) and 39,000 total miles, which is easy to hit if you put in as many continents as I did!

After discussing which countries to visit and when, we made a little plan and it ended up making sense to start in South America and head west. I really wanted to visit Patagonia and Kay wanted to visit New Zealand, and we wanted to do both during their southern hemisphere summers, and the main point was that I wanted to be up in Japan by cherry blossom viewing in April, so those three countries decided most of it. So for now, our itinerary includes:

  • Brazil
  • Argentina
  • Chile
  • New Zealand
  • Australia
  • South Korea
  • Japan
  • South East Asia (Philippines, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar)
  • Maldives
  • India
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Ethiopia (this one was unplanned!)
  • South Africa

Mostly, I was trying to max out the number of stops on the ticket to save the most money per flight, also by flying direct always. You can buy round the world tickets for less money, but the cost per flight usually goes up quite a bit and you can lose value by having connecting flights that eat away at your segment limit. Our tickets cost around $6500 a person, for about $500 a piece for each one way ticket. Considering that a one way ticket from Zurich to Buenos Aires alone was over $1100, and round trip tickets would have been even more, it made sense for us to buy it. And to put it in perspective, you can buy a round the world ticket for $5200 that only takes you to 4 stopovers, for about $1050 for each ticket.

Are there cheaper ways to travel around the world? Sure. You can try places like AirTreks that search for flights on both Star Alliance and other alliances like One World, Sky Team, etc, or you can go by the seat of your pants and go where ever you find cheap tickets whenever you find them, but Kay and I are just too Swiss and we wanted to have a loose plan for the trip and the security of knowing we paid for our flights.

So, when January rolled around, we were off! More later with our packing list. 🙂

Hello from the end of the world

2016 turned out to be quite a busy year. I took 26 (self-funded) international trips out of Switzerland, most of which were spent traveling to visit Kay while he was studying in France, Singapore, later interning in Germany, and then back in Singapore. While Kay was busy finishing his MBA at INSEAD, I was busy preparing, listing, and selling our apartment (all in German without a broker!) as well as preparing our belongings for an international move. Oh, and quitting my job. 🙂

At the end of December, I traveled to Singapore one more time for Kay’s INSEAD graduation and then we came back to Switzerland for Christmas on the 23rd of December to pack our house up before the sale and pack for travels. With work permits in limbo, the earliest Kay can start working is October 1, so we are using the time to go on a long-awaited, long-debated, and long-fantasized world trip across four continents and 15 some countries.

So here I’m writing from Ushuaia, Argentina, where we are already a little way into the trip. We bought our tickets on December 22 and actually left to visit family in Brazil first on January 11, before stopping in Buenos Aires on the way down to the most southern city in the world. While there is stress planning everything last minute, the trip is as glorious as the photo below leaves you to believe.Patagonia has been on our travel list for a very long time and since it ended up making sense to buy a round the world ticket for what we wanted to do (more on that later), we ended up here first, during Patagonian “summer”.Tomorrow we are already headed to Chile to visit Puerto Natales and head to the famed Torres del Paine. This whole trip is a bit rushed so far, especially with a rocky, stressful start finalizing the flat sale and trying to detach ourselves from Switzerland (banking, ugh!), but we are on the road and on the move!

More to come whenever I have time and internet!

Pneumonia is no fun

So, to be fair… I had a good reason for falling off the face of the earth in May.

Right around my last post, I came down with what was the beginning of an aggressive drug-resistant pneumonia just before visiting Kay in Singapore for the weekend after he switched to INSEAD’s Asian campus from France, which made the flights to and from Singapore some of the worst, most painful ones I have ever endured. After two weeks trying out three different kinds of antibiotics and suffering from 40ºC fevers daily whenever my fever meds ran out, I was finally admitted to the hospital.

I really, really, really did not want to go to the hospital with Kay in a different country. I cried a lot about it. I prayed for the antibiotics to work and for myself to stop coughing into vomiting. But the fact was, the pneumonia was beating me. I was sleeping for up to 20 hours a day, I had excruciating back pain (from the muscles around my lungs, as I later found out) that made it hard to breathe at times, and  I didn’t want almost any kind of food. It was all just… disgusting, aside from fruit, fruit juice and Sprite, and sometimes cereal. But even those would come back up again when I coughed enough, and I couldn’t control my coughing, yet it was a seemingly harmless unproductive cough. I lost a lot of weight pretty quickly, which put me down to around 123lbs, a weight I haven’t been since I was around 13.

So, feeling quite alone in the world, I packed a bag up one Sunday, dried my tears, and took a tram to the hospital to check myself in, in German, not knowing how this works with insurance. Kay, six timezones away, was traveling in Bangladesh with friends for the weekend, and was beside himself with worry when he found out that I had to be hospitalized. It was all pretty freaky. He wanted to know if he should fly home, but I told him not to miss his classes and that I would be in good hands with the doctors. I’m basically a saint. 😉

The doctors took an X-ray of my lungs and were horrified to see how large the fluid in my right lung had become. While they thought they might not have to admit me, they ended up doing more tests to confirm that I had a huge “thing” in my lungs and I needed intravenous meds ASAP. They also were concerned that there was a slight risk I could maybe have tuberculosis (that’s something fun to hear!), so they immediately put me in isolation in the emergency ward before finding me a private room to isolate me. Suddenly being masked and isolated (all auf deutsch) was kind of surreal. Kay was asleep by that point and after a visit from my FIL, I was all alone again, kind of freaking out.

When they finally found a room for me, which normally I wouldn’t qualify for on my insurance, but they needed to isolate me, the nurse settled me in for the night, and before she left, I asked her what my room number was. “17”.

Kay’s special army number. Somehow, I felt like it was my MIL acting from above, and letting me know that everything will be alright, even if Kay was so far away. It reassured me some as I spent the first night in that dark room terrified.

I ended up staying for ten days in the hospital. My case was apparently of great interest to the doctors for how extreme it was, but I started feeling better, and eventually was released to spend another week at home before going back to work after a full month away.

The meds at home were still pretty nasty and made me feel very ill and nauseous, but back at work, I slowly started getting better. I looked terribly gaunt and unwell thought. My skin was sallow, my cheekbones were hollow, and I had dark, exhausted circles under my eyes. Ain’t no makeup gonna cover up some unhealthy skin like that… I wasn’t fooling anyone!

Kay and I also had to spend almost 2 months apart, because I was too unwell to travel and visit him anymore. We didn’t see each other again until he flew home for my birthday in July before starting his summer internship in Germany. It was really hard being apart so long, but since then, we’ve managed to see each other every weekend in the summer and not longer than 2-3 weeks apart for the rest of the school year.

I’ve had several follow up appointments to check up if the pneumonia and my lungs are healing well, with almost twice the time to check for healing as with normal pneumonia cases. I was surprised how many people in the hospital have heard and discussed my case… it makes it sound like one of those Grey’s Anatomy cases where the doctors say, “Hey, look how crazy this is! Have you ever seen anything like it??” In fact, for happening in May, I still have to go for a lung panel next week to test if my lungs are working properly. But considering that I continued my training for a half marathon after the pneumonia and successfully ran it in September, I am not too worried. 🙂

As things stand now, Kay is almost done with classes, finishing up later this month. I have traveled SO much since then, and have lots to fill you up on. We have a lot of exciting plans for next year and I know I will have time to update the blog! More soon. 🙂

Gluten Free Brasilia, Brazil

I didn’t really worry about how to eat gluten free on our whole trip to Brazil. The main food we eat is churrasco, which is BBQ meat with beans, rice, veggies, and salad. Plus, Brazilians label all packaged food, even things like cachaçha, as gluten free.
For breakfast at our hotel, there was also usually pão de queijo- cheese bread- which is made out of tapioca flour.There was also always a lot of fresh fruit to enjoy, and lots of Brazilian coffee!With lots of fresh vegetables and options, I was not feeling left out of the food scene, although I did miss enjoying the subzero beer from my previous visit in 2010. They serve beer extremely cold and keep it in a thermos on your table, ensuring that each glass you have is ice cold. Plus as soon as you finish the bottle, another one was on its way. I had to be a little more careful with the caipirinhas. 🙂Some meals were not quite as amazing as others, like this mediocre salad below, but that happens when you’re eating in a mall.We also enjoyed lots of cafezinhos, little coffees.If there was one thing we got enough of on this holiday, it was MEAT. Glorious meat.Another favorite of mine is Brazilian tapioca, which are a kind of pancake made out of tapioca flour, often served with condensed cream and coconut. Although they are less common outside the north of the country, we found them in a mall and made sure to order some!Another part of churrasco’s feijoada – stewed beans and pork served over rice- is farofa, which is toasted cassava, or tapioca, that you can see in the lower left of the photo above. That was also a typical part of my Brazilian diet. 🙂

Not all the people know what gluten is, but eating gluten free in Brazil is still a pretty painless process. The most painful part was eating too much meat and not enough vegetables!

Brasilia, Brazil

Kay had been wanting to visit the capital of Brazil for many years, so when I found “affordable” direct flights to Brasilia from Paris, where he was already going to be for his INSEAD pre-course in December, I booked us tickets together and started planning the trip from there.

Once he was done with his course, I whisked him away for some relaxation before the craziness of INSEAD would begin.Brasilia is one of the few “planned” cities in the country, laid out in the shape of an airplane, with many buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer, it also houses the three branches of government.
Brasilia was nice and hot when we showed up. So much, that we didn’t rub enough sun lotion on our little gringo bodies and got burned on the first day! Oops.

The domed building was the Memorial dos Povos Indígenas (Museum of Indigenous People) which had a photography exhibition at the time.The city was a bit more empty than usual as many diplomats who fill the city were on Christmas holiday.Here we are visiting the Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida, or Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasília.The inside of the church was very beautiful, with exquisite stained glass and an intriguing floor plan having people go below ground level to enter the church.Kay was very interested to visit the governmental parts of the city, below you see the towers that house the Congresso Nacional (National Congress).

And near the congress was the Praça dos Tràs Poderes, with an Olympic flame nearby.
We were two happy campers with the weather in December. 🙂Brasilia is not the most pedestrian-friendly city, and we ended up using Uber for the first time ever a lot on this trip.There are also some areas like around the TV Tower, wide, open, dark spaces, that you don’t want to be at night, because they are a big scene for drug deals and theft.We also made a visit up the TV Tower to see a view down the “belly” of the airplane.We booked a tour to visit the Palácio dos Arcos housing the foreign ministry.Also below was our visit to the congress halls, which took quite a bit of finagling to get in, and Kay needed shoes and a nice shirt. We actually went like three days in a row before we finally got tickets for a tour. Bureaucracy is strong in the capital of Brazil!After a few days, it was time to head to Bauru to meet Kay’s family for Christmas.