air travel

Let's go Positano

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“Sid, I am fed up with your procrastination! You keep putting things off and look at what's finally happened? I am going to cancel those days off that I had booked!”. With this, my wife stormed off, slamming the door shut behind her. I wanted to get up and yell at her. Tell her that I had been busy. Tell her that I always did the planning. Tell her that it was only human to forget. But I did nothing, except silently watch her storm out through the door. Deep down, I knew I was at fault, and that it was time to make amends. We had planned to take a special trip for our special 10th “relation-versary”. Though we’d only been married for five years, we’d been dating for five years prior to that, and the “relation-versary” was a special term that I’d coined to celebrate the day when she had finally said yes. Everything had gone smoothly up until this point. Even though April was a very busy month for her, my wife had managed to get a few days off. We’d budgeted for the trip and saved up for this occasion. Even my parents offered to look after our son, whilst we took some time off, to re-live our coupledom again. All I had to do was pick a destination, and plan the holiday. 

Image from Rentvillas.com

Italy had always been one of our dream destinations. Despite having spent almost seven years in London, we never had an opportunity to visit Italy. So I’d decided that Italy would be our destination. Of course with no access to unlimited funds, traversing all over Italy was not going to be an option. So after lots of online search (using Google of course; I’m a smart traveller after all), I had narrowed it down to a quaint coastal village in Italy, called Positano. There was another reason for this selection of mine. For those of you who read my posts, you might be familiar that Positano featured quite heavily in one of my novellas, and subconsciously I had fallen in love with the place. So you might even say that some part of the research was already done. And since my wife had loved the description of the place, I was sure the place would be a sure shot winner with her too. But here was the problem - caught in between a number of deadlines, I'd completely forgotten to book the holiday. It was only this morning, when she'd asked me about the plan, that I’d remembered that I hadn’t booked anything at all. I’d immediately set about looking for affordable air tickets and hotel bookings, neither of which I was able to find, since there was less than 3 weeks for  the outward travel dates that we were looking at.

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I was devastated. (Sounds shocking right? Especially since it was my fault that there were no tickets available ) But trust me, I was!

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I knew she’d been looking forward to this romantic getaway, especially since she’d been having a really tough time at work. As I desperately flicked through different tabs on the browser looking for a miracle, I noticed a video that had popped up via an advertisement. The snapshot of the video had a hand drawn airplane with a few passengers, an island, a ship, a camel and some other interesting objects . Though I had initially wanted to dismiss it as an advert for children,  something in the drawing caught my attention. And on closer observation, I discovered that the title of the video read Skyscanner - Born Honest- TV advert. Curious to know more, I clicked on the advert which had a voiceover by Ex-Doctor Who star Matt smith. Towards the end of the short, snappy advertisement,  a hand drawn button appeared and almost yelled out to me : "Lets go!”. (Check out the skyscanner TV advert on YouTube below)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lio0r5zDDFI

Having travelled quite a bit, I was surprised that I hadn't come across Skyscanner previously.  A quick but detailed search revealed that though a relatively young organisation, they had over 25 million monthly visitors. And not only did they partner with some of the top companies in the business to provide the best list of affordable flights, they also claimed to help get great hotel and car hire deals. "This must be a sign !" I thought as I entered the search details into their easy-to-navigate website. Within seconds I had hit the jackpot. So much so that I wanted to yell out “Eureka". Somehow Skyscanner had found not one, but multiple combinations of affordable tickets to Naples, which was the nearest airport to Positano. I made a note of the details and the cost and moved on to the next step, which transferred me to the website of the partner, that let me confirm the booking at the very same price that Skyscanner had shown me.

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Content that the flights were sorted, I moved on to the next thing on my list - accommodation.

Screen grab from skyscanner.co.in

Since Positano is a small town, I was conscious that the number of hotels and rooms could potentially be lower in number.  After all, I hadn’t had much luck with some of the other more prominent websites. "Why should skyscanner succeed where others had failed?" I thought.  Once again, as soon as I had hit the enter button, my screen was populated with an amazing list of  hotels all fitting my search criteria. I had the options to sort them by price, distance, rating, popularity and many others factors. In a matter of minutes, I had secured a room in a 4-star hotel, with a beautiful view of the Amalfi coast. I breathed a sigh of relief. I finally had a good shot at redeeming myself.

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But my planning wasn’t over yet. One of the reasons I'd picked Postiano was for the drive along the “Strada Statale 163”, also known as the Amalfi Drive, one of the world’s most scenic routes. It was a driver's paradise and I completely intended to make full use of it. Of course, that meant we would need a car. Having been abroad for a while, I had bad experiences of missing crucial hidden clauses whilst hiring cars. But once again, Skyscanner came to the rescue. A quick search gave me a choice of amazing cars to choose from. I made a selection, entered a few details, and within minutes, I was the proud rental owner of a Skoda Fabia. Well,  at least for 5 days.

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Once all the three were confirmed, I decided to do the next set of planning. I collated all the  confirmation emails, created a spreadsheet with a quick list of items that we needed to pack and uploaded all of these online. Once these were sorted, I carefully unpacked the gift that I had intended to originally give her - an iPad mini. After setting it up, I quickly searched the App Store and downloaded a comprehensive Italy Travel guide app by Triposo Inc. After my “smart booking” miracle with Skyscanner, this app was all that I needed to complete my “smart travel” experience. The app provided, not just information about sightseeing, major attractions, weather and restaurants, but also contained a quick guide to what needed to be packed, a phrase book of useful Italian phrases and best of all, an offline map of Italy. All absolutely free. Using the app, I marked out a tentative itinerary and saved it on the iPad mini itself.

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I impatiently tap my fingers on the table looking at the clock. It’s nearing lunch time, and my wife should be home soon. As soon as I hear the door bell buzz, I rush to open it with a smile on my face. My wife greets me with a cold, stern look, one that slightly makes my insides tremble a little bit. She walks past me and puts her handbag down on the table. I continue to smile at her, which I secretly think, starts to anger her further. I look at her and say, “Guess what?” She glares at me again, and asks “What? Did you forget something else ? Maybe our anniversary date?” Though I’m slightly taken aback, I regain my cool demeanour and thrust a package into her hand. Surprised, she opens it up to reveal the new iPad mini that I got her. Quickly, she puts the “serious” mask back on, and asks “….and this is supposed to be in place of the holiday that I was counting on? Which by the way, you managed to screw up !” . “No!” I answer with a smile still plastered on my face. I power up the iPad, point to the wallpaper of Positano that adorns the lock screen and say, THIS is your real gift!” . As her face erupts into a beautiful smile, I silently thank SkyScanner for saving my skin.

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This post was written for the “Travel Smart with Skyscanner” contest in association with IndiBlogger.

To me, smart travel means being able to find good deals, even if it is at the last minute. Something that I successfully managed to do this time around, through www.skyscanner.co.in; And it wasn’t just for travel, but for accommodation and local transport too. Additionally, I also believe in harnessing the power of technology to travel smart. So having all the confirmation saved as a document that can be retrieved from anywhere in the world, and an app that can help plan my itinerary is a must.

As for Skyscanner, there are a couple of things that make it probably one of the best online travel comparison sites I’ve used. And trust me, I’ve used plenty.

a. The app uses the widest range of airlines and online travel agents that I've ever seen. No wonder, they get the best deals. b. It is extremely user friendly and very transparent. No hidden charges and absolutely free to use c. Seamless transfer to the partner’s site and the cost is exactly as shown with no surprises jumping out at you  d. Sky Scanner's best time to book tool : A very useful tool which shows you when you need to book to get the best deals. Quite handy for the smart traveller who is also an advance planner. Check out this cool tool here or download the brochure here e. The Price alert tool : You can subscribe to their pretty amazing price alert tool  which lets you know via email, every time the price of the flight you track, changes. Completely free and if you decide that it’s not for you, you can unsubscribe at any time. No questions asked. Check it out here f: The Skyscanner Airmail - This is their weekly email newsletter which brings you the best of everything in travel - deals, tips, inspiration, advice, quite literally, everything. And it's in an amazing format too. Click here to check it out

So what are you waiting for? Check out skyscanner now, and get the best deal for your next dream holiday. Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 12.59.28 am

Mr Murphy gives me a flight to remember

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I let out a sigh of relief. My international flight was scheduled for take off in an hour and I was thanking my lucky stars that I had been able to make it to the airport, even if it was with minutes to spare. I was flying back to London after a short break with my parents in Dubai, and despite having made the journey from my home to Dubai International Airport numerous times, my father had somehow managed to take a couple of wrong turns, which meant we ended up travelling half the way to Abu Dhabi (another emirate about 150kms away) before we were en route to the airport. But I really can’t blame my father entirely on this front. There are days when everything can possibly go wrong, and today was just one of those days. In retrospect, I should have guessed that something was going to go wrong, the moment I put my hand into the toiletry bag and realised that my shampoo had leaked. But being optimistic, I didn’t take it to heart, and just blamed it on my “rather unprofessional” packing skills. Of course this meant that I not only had to change my toiletry bag, but also my suitcase, since there was a large off-white stain seeping through the top, which I wasn’t keen on having to explain to anyone. So after 20 minutes of hastily re-packing everything (or as my mother calls it - dumping everything haphazardly) into  another suitcase, I was finally packed and ready to go. The only thing that was left for me to do, was to quickly change my clothes and we could be on our way.

Having broached the subject of clothes, there is a confession that I must make. Whilst on long-haul flights, or any flight that’s over three hours in duration, there are only two T-shirts that I prefer to wear. Since I’d worn one of them on my flight to Dubai a couple of days ago, this only left me with one other option. Of course, I had plenty of other shirts and tees, but consider this one of my, let’s say idiosyncrasies (though some of them call it being superstitious - a word that I vehemently dislike). As I pull down this particular t-shirt over my head, I hear a loud ripping sound. I glance down, only to realise that there was now a large tear where I had grasped the t-shirt (probably too tightly) to pull it down. That should have been my second sign, that the day was not really going to go according to plan. But once again, optimism took over cynicism and I swapped my torn T-shirt for another shirt. An hour behind schedule, we were finally on our way to the airport.

After the ceremonial good-byes were said and tears shed, I quickly ran to the baggage drop counter. Usually the queue for this counter is the fastest moving one, regardless of which airlines you’re flying on or which airport you’re flying from. I mean, that’s usually the benefit of having checked in online, isn’t it? And since I’d made it to the airport before the check-in counter closed (even if it was just minutes before), I was sure that my ill-luck was going to turn around. Alas, fate had other plans. The queue was moving at a snail’s pace and I was starting to get really impatient. I quickly waved to one of the airline support staff who was shepherding the queue and informed him that I was running really late for my flight. Though he initially gave me a look, which I could only construe as “So? That’s not my fault !”, I suspect good sense prevailed and he helped me skip the queue and drop my luggage.

As I quickly rushed through security and immigration, I heard a strange name being announced via the public-address system. It sounded strangely familiar, but vaguely alien too. After a couple of repeated hearings, I suddenly realised why the name sounded familiar. It was my name, but coated in a thick Arabic accent. I rushed up the escalator in an attempt to find a directional signboard which would direct me to my boarding gate. I quickly glanced at my boarding pass, which boldly announced my boarding gate as C49. I looked around to find out where I was, and noticed a large interactive panel, which stated “Looking for your gate? Find out here!”. Thinking that it must be a sign from above, I let the strange looking machine scan my boarding pass. And then it loudly announced, with almost a Scarlett Johansson-esque voice  “You are approximately 20 minutes away from your boarding gate. The gate will close in exactly 13 minutes”. Cursing my fate again, I take a deep breath, and make a run for it. Now, since I’m largely overweight, and can be categorised under the shape “Round”, I suspect that for an on-looker, I might have appeared akin to a rather large beige snowball, rolling towards its destination. But one thing I’ve always prided myself in, is the fact that I can run pretty fast. Well, faster than what you’d expect from a fat person. You know why? Because I always assume that there’s some lovely food waiting for me at finish line. And my "athletic" skills didn’t fail me this time either; I reached the gates (albeit huffing, panting and sweating like I’d just run a marathon) with 2 minutes to spare.

The pretty looking airline ground staff took one look at me and slightly wrinkled her nose. I knew why. No amount of Davidoff Cool Water or Armani Code perfume could mask that lovely odour that I was giving out. Silently I followed her through the air bridge and into the aircraft, where a pleasant looking steward directed me to my seat. As I walked down the aisle, I noticed that almost everyone was staring at me. I timidly walked up to the row that I was designated to sit in. As luck would have it, I’d been allotted a window seat. And not just that, the seat next to me was empty. I almost squealed with delight, because as any experienced air traveller can tell you, having two seats to yourself automatically qualifies you for an enjoyable flight. But again, fate, or in this case I call it, Murphy’s law, decided to rear its ugly head.

As I buckled up my seat belt, and took deep breaths to calm myself down, I heard the muffled sound of pointed heels against the carpeted aircraft floor. Assuming that it was the stewardess bringing me some water, I looked up with a smile on my face. But alas it wasn’t the stewardess. Rather it was one of the most gorgeous looking women that I’d ever seen (Of course my wife is way hotter). Now here’s a bit of insight into men and air travel, or rather any kind of travel. If we’re travelling alone, every one of us (and I mean every one) secretly hopes that we have a pretty companion as a co-traveller. If it’s someone who can also indulge in a bit of chit-chat, then trust me, we are really happy campers. And as a man, I couldn’t believe that I’d struck what we called the “travel-lottery”. Alas, it was one of those days when I could have really done without a pretty companion, or any companion for that matter. But Murphy is evil. Not only did he seat a gorgeous woman next to me, he seated a gorgeous woman who was talkative and rather flirtatious, next to me. And here I was, unable to continue the chit chat because I was conscious of my rather dishevelled appearance and body odour.

With a heavy heart, I excused myself, plugged in my headphones and pretended to fall asleep, all the while cursing my bad luck. Ironically, I did actually manage to fall asleep, and when I got up a few hours later, my pretty neighbour was deep in flirtatious conversation with a rather dapper looking gentleman, who was sat in the aisle seat in the next column. “That could have been me!” I thought, once again cursing Murphy and his dreaded law. And that’s when it struck  me. I did have a spare shirt in my hand luggage and all the other luxury toiletries that I needed, to re-invent myself and make an impact on this damsel. With that in mind, I gathered my spare shirt and the toiletry bag, and popped into the aircraft washroom. Now, if you’ve travelled by air, you’ll know that aircraft toilets have severe space constraints. So trying to dress up there, is not really the best option in the world. But since I didn’t have much of a choice, contorting my body in almost impossible ways, I managed to change my shirt and freshen up.  And that’s when I heard the familiar ding of the “seat-belt sign” chime.

Content that she’d have to put on her seat belt and hence couldn’t stretch over and talk to the other man, I happily walked over to my row. I heard a melodious giggle from the row of seats adjacent to mine (yes, the very one that that dapper man was sitting in). And that’s when I noticed that the pretty damsel was no longer sitting next to me. She was sitting next to the man, giggling away at what I can only assume was one of his jokes. Sighing, I glanced at what was originally her seat, i.e. the one next to mine. Sitting there comfortably with her librarian glasses and reading the bible, was an elderly nun.

Cursing Mr. Murphy once again, I slowly slid into my seat. It was going to be a long, lonely flight.


[This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was "Comedy of Errors: Murphy’s Law says, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”]