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March 14, 2008

Internet still amazes me…

Filed under: Round-The-World-2003,Travels — stephane @ 12:50 am

Someone made my day and more today. In 2003 when traveling in New Zealand during my round-the-world trip, I helped 2 sisters that were backpacking to go from Queenstown to Te Anau. Five years later, one of them finds the blog entry and writes me a very nice thank you email.

This is really why I valued the time off I took in 2003. I made so many furtive encounters with such nice people from diverse background. It’s really moments that last forever and internet makes it sometimes so easy to bump into people again. 15 years ago, what would have been the odds really to have that happen.

November 29, 2005

SSI within WordPress

Filed under: Round-The-World-2003,Software — stephane @ 2:41 pm

In my previous blog, I was relying on SSI (Server Side Includes) to load a thumbnail gallery dynamically. This small HTML snippet was generated offline by a very limited template language within my image browsing software on my laptop and then uploaded via scp along with thumbnails and tagged images. So to generate a table to layout thumbnails, some JavaScript were used to dynamically write the table rows where appropriate.

All this proved to be a bit of a problem within WordPress. Of course, since it’s PHP. I did not feel like going through the 400+ entries manually, so I was thinking of emulating SSI via a WordPress plugin. Nice. Except that WordPress does its own HTML processing, adding br tags for every carriage return and is playing with quotes and double quotes…

My HTML snippet had carriage return between element attributes, so it was messing up everything. I then thought it a work around would be to filter the content from carriage return. This did not work either because the JavaScript was missing end of line commas. So I added another workaround to fix the commas. This also did not work because WordPress was encoding quotes in a way I did not really understand ( I honestly did not spend much time with it and did not feel like going through the source code)…

I just changed the WordPress plugin to use a regex to match all img tags in my HTML snippet and the table is built dynamically within the plugin. That has nothing more to do with SSI, but hey..this works for me right now and provide a reasonable interface to a legacy system… Until I have time to waste and see if it makes sense to do full SSI within posts and bypass the quoting mechanism.

Pictures galleries are now integrated to be similar to what was available in my old blog, so enjoy the you can see it is mostly diving related with some marine creatures, with some exception as the one below from a 4-month lion cub in Zimbabwe, which is one of my favorite:

November 26, 2005

Round The World Air Fares

Filed under: International,Round-The-World-2003 — stephane @ 5:59 pm

Since I cleaned up my travel section, I figured that I would post some information on RTW air fares. RTW air fares are pretty unknown to the public eyes and airlines do not advertise them too much for some obscure reasons. I believe it is mostly targeted toward frequent flyers as ticketing rules can be pretty complex if you want to really take the most of it. Airline staff themselves can get lost with it, so you’d better get your facts straight before coming to see them as they can ruin your journey in a few seconds by telling you that some connections are not possible while they are. But you should take the time to look into it because the investment is worth it if you like to travel.

Airlines in those days are grouped in ‘alliances’ such as OneWorld, Star Alliance, SkyTeam, each of them offering their own RTW ticket roughly about the same prices.

I would discard immediately SkyTeam as the airline offer is not appropriate for leisure travel that are located in the southern hemisphere, plus feedback indicates clearly that staff is clueless dealing with such complex routing travel. OneWorld and StarAlliance are the very best. OneWorld is the top of the crop to me, it has 2 round-the-world fares (distance and zone based), extremely well located hubs and codeshare flights. Caveat though, OneWorld canceled its agreement with Air Kenya since April 2005, so most destinations in East Africa are now dead end and require surface segments or additional booking. ( I used Air Kenya from Nairobi to Lusaka in 2003).

There are mostly 2 types of air fares: distance-based and zone-based. Most rtw tickets are distance-based.

Basically you will have a fare that matches a given level of distance and your travel class (economy, business, first).
For example, with Star Alliance and OneWorld (Global Explorer): there are four fare levels, allowing you to travel up to 26,000 miles, 29,000, 34,000 or 39,000 miles.

When using a distance-based air fare, it is very important to understand that airlines mostly operate from their respective hub. For instance, if you intend to visit Souh-East asia and Australia within a SkyTeam fare, you won’t be able to do much and you will waste miles very quickly when moving between stops. The hub in Asia for SkyTeam is the Korean Air one, which means Seoul which is quite far up North for traveling in South-east asia, you’d better go for a hub in Singapore or Bangkok (Star Alliance with Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways) or take advantage of OneWorld nice coverage in the Australasia region (Cathay Pacific, Qantas, …)

OneWorld offers a RTW fare which is zone-based. It is called OneWorld Explorer. There is NO limitations on distance, but the number of flights is limited to 20 (it was 25 or so 3 years ago). You have maximum 4 flights per zone, 6 in North America and you can buy 2 additional flights at an additional price (~150$ but depends on travel class). Note that an interzone flight do not count in any zone. Route must be in a continuous westward or eastward direction between zones and backtracking is possible within a zone. A zone is a continental zone from 1 to 6: Europe+Middle East, Africa, Asia, Southwest Pacific, North America, South America. This is to me the most flexible ticket.

One should not be too psycho-rigid about connecting cities via flight segments but also take advantage of surface segments where it makes sense. For example travelling between Bangkok and Singapore is a breeze via train, same from Cairns to Brisbane and Sydney, etc… In New Zealand, you should not bother waste a segment but drive from Christchurch to Auckland or vice versa depending on how you visit the place. Same for Capetown and Johannesburg, it could make sense depending on your city of arrival and departure to just book one segment or none at all. For instance, even though I stayed nearly 2 months in South Africa in 2003, I arrived to Johannesburg from Victoria Falls, I have been driving from Johannesburg, basically went up close to Mozambique and to Capetown following the coast via Durban, East London, etc… and took a flight back to Johannesburg as a connection to Hong-Kong.

The fare will also depends on where you start your journey (more on that later). It does not really match the local economy, but for instance in the EURO zone, prices will be identical. There will be a variation with UK as the local currency is still the sterling pound. Prices are normally adjusted worldwide every year to adjust to currencies fluctuation but you can get some massive difference if you are aware of the prices in different places. Our friends from Australia and New Zealand, usually get a very very interesting price all year round, but it is quite expensive to get there normally. Our US friends usually go bother their canadian neighbours to buy their ticket. As of now, Egypt and Turkey seem to be the way to go for prices due to the low value of the local currency.

But the move will be worth it, especially if you take a business or first class fare. Price is not negligible in these travel classes. If you are aware of the real price of tickets in first class, you will notice that a 1st class round-the-world ticket is roughly equivalent to a single normal flight in first class…not to mention that in first class you will get 200% miles in your frequent-flyer card.

Let’s look at fares for Star Alliance within the EURO zone:

Max miles Max stopovers Economy Business First
26,000 5 1999EUR
29,000 15 2399EUR 5399EUR 8499EUR
34,000 15 2749EUR 6249EUR 9699EUR
39,000 15 3249EUR 7349EUR 11449EUR

Here is the OneWorld Global Explorer fare in the EURO zone:

Max miles Max stopovers Economy Business First
26,000 5 1899EUR
29,000 10 2400EUR
34,000 15 2900EUR 5000EUR 7875EUR
39,000 15 3400EUR

Here is the OneWorld Explorer fare in the EURO zone:

# of Zones Economy Business First
3 2000EUR 4500EUR 7140EUR
4 2400EUR 5000EUR 7875EUR
5 2900EUR 5600EUR 8820EUR
6 3400EUR 6400EUR 9975EUR

As a comparison, here are the prices as quoted from Cairo. They were quoted in Egyptian pounds (EGP) and converted to euros based on the current exchange you can see it is worth in most cases taking a cheap (or spend your miles) flight to Egypt..especially for First class !:

# of Zones Economy Business First
3 1713EUR 4041EUR 5242EUR
4 2012EUR 4490EUR 6043EUR
5 2310EUR 4938EUR 6851EUR
6 2614EUR 5388EUR 7657EUR

Do not forget that these prices do not include airport taxes, they can only be quoted once your itinerary is submitted and they can be very different depending on airports (JFK is hard on taxes). Note also that due to petrol price, most companies now apply a fuel surcharge tax and are very different between airlines.

A lot more could be said about these tickets, but this is probably enough to make you think about your next vacations. :mrgreen:

To help you work on your itinerary, you should download the following tools (Only for Windows users):

You will be able to know exactly which flight connects to which city, dates, departure time, estimated arrival time, aircraft type and so on.

One last thing. It is better if you talk to airline staff using traditional codes used in the airline industry. Use flight numbers obtained from the electronic timetable, use IATA airport code instead of city name, on the phone use international/NATO phonetic alphabet to spell IATA code. Use IATA airline code instead of airline name (AA for American Airlines, BA for British Airways,…)

If you are not comfortable with it. Write them before calling your travel agent. Not only it is more appropriate and understandable on the phone, but it also adds a psychological effect to the person : mmm.. this person is not the average idiot and know what he is talking about it. When dealing with the BA office, I have had the staff asking me if I was a professionnal and working in the travel industry because I knew the rules, had the whole itinerary and was actually able to look up flights faster than she could with her lousy Sabre/Galileo/Amadeus computer text interface which requires multiple screens and text inputs. It was actually easing her job a lot when she had to record the 25 or so flights as I had all information ready.

One final word of advice. All your segments are open. Even though you set a date, you are able to change it anytime without fee…but..even if your travel agent insists on issuing tickets with potential date as only an indication and telling you that it does not matter…DO NOT DO IT. Once your tickets are issued with the date on, you could have a hard time in some countries if your return ticket is in the past. Some countries insist of having a return ticket and this will be checked at the immigration office. For instance, I was stuck about an hour at the Bali airport because the immigration officer was clueless, moreover the Qantas office was closed as it was around midnight.

Enjoy round-the-world tickets, they are worth it !

update: fixed a couple of typos

January 14, 2004

Willaurie, Trimaran, Wall

Filed under: Bahamas,Round-The-World-2003 — stephane @ 3:50 am

Last day of diving today as I’m leaving tomorrow. We were lucky enough to cross the path of 2 dolphins on the bank but they were not very curious and the encounter was quite short. Apparently it was a pregnant mother and a juvenile one. We started a dive from the Willaurie toward the Trimaran and them went West along the wall to reach another wreck (I don’t know its name) just west of the Willaurie.

January 13, 2004

Trimaran, Goulding Cay, Shark Wall, Shark Dive

Filed under: Bahamas,Round-The-World-2003 — stephane @ 3:17 am

Pretty busy day as we did 4 dives. We decided to go diving with Stuart Cove’s in the afternoon to look out for carribean reef shark and get pretty exciting dives. As it is 10 miles from Stuart Cove’s, it is not really doable with a dinghy. In the morning, as the movie ‘Into the Blue’ was being shot close to Clifton wall, we went to the Trimaran wreck which has no mooring as it is gone as of this writing but were told it was in bearing 170 from the middle of the Willaurie. It is easy to find (once you know where to go) and I would say it is about 150m from the Willaurie at a depth of 22m. We then did a shallow dive at Goulding Cay which is full of Elkhorn Coral so near the surface that they are awash at low tide. I was able to see a magnificent spotted eagle ray swimming in less than 3m of water.

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