I’ve hinted at the ultimate vacation disaster that befell us in previous posts, so I guess I’d better clear up what I’m talking about. This happened a long time ago now—nearly two years—I have to admit. But it crushed me so badly that I couldn’t even say the name of our intended destination (or listen to the song this blog is named after) without bursting into tears for the better part of a year. I still have a hard time thinking about what slipped through my fingers. It was the only trip on which we've set out for a destination and been unable to get there.
Uzbekistan—land of shimmering Silk Road oases, tassel-bedecked bactrian camels and golden brick citadels—that, ladies and gents, is my ultimate dream destination. I am undone by its profound history and I am only just slightly ashamed of my wallowing in romantic notions about it. It’s the birthplace of many of the textile traditions (suzanis, ikats and more) that make me faint and verbally incoherent. It was—and still is—my No. 1 bucket list item and I was about 10,000 feet high with sheer excitement about it.
And then, over the course of something like 36 hours, I watched it all explode and burn in an all-consuming blaze.
I don’t want anyone else to go through this misery. So please, read on and learn from my mistakes so that you don’t destroy your dream trip.
Step 1: Pick a Destination that Makes Your Grandmother Say "Where Now?"
"Uzbekistan, Granny. It's below Russia and between China and Europe."
"Oh gosh! I don't even know where that is! Is that safe?"
God bless you, Granny. You know when I’m making a harebrained decision and I don’t even see it. Even if your grandmother’s geography ain’t all that sharp, if you’re picking a place she’s never ever, ever in her life heard of, you might want to take some extra precautions and be vigilant about every last detail of your itinerary.
Turns out that not so many Americans are headed to Uzbekistan on holiday—who knew? That dearth of visitors means one thing: fewer flights. A place like London or whatever, you’ve got flights coming out your ears, on hundreds of airlines. Less so for Tashkent—you’re basically looking at Aeroflot, Turkish Airlines, Uzbekistan Airways and maybe a Kazakh airline or something, if they feel like it.
So let’s say you use an OTA (online travel agent), maybe one that is called something like Shmayama, and they sell you a flight that has you on United and then Uzbekistan Airways. What they won’t tell you is that those airlines aren’t partners, they’re just smushing the two flights together because there aren’t many available flights to Uzbekistan and they want to make a sale. They also won’t tell you that what they’re selling you is a ticket that requires you to go through the check-in process all over again (including going through customs, getting your bag, re-checking in, going through security and so on) once you’ve landed at your layover.
This was crucial information that we needed but did not get. Had we known, we would have balked at the NINETY MINUTES we were alotted for the layover and said “haaaaayyyll naw.”
Because we did not have that information, we ended up missing our flight, and the options for other flights to get us to Uzbekistan were extremely scanty. Had we been able to book one of them, we would have had to wait a week before we could actually get on the plane. Not ideal when you’re a PTO nomad with a two-week vacation.
The Takeaway: Be hypervigilant about your flights if you’re going somewhere “weird” (thanks again, Granny) where relatively few flights go. If there are multiple airlines in your itinerary, double (triple) check that they are partners and make sure you will be ticketed all the way through, with none of this re-checking-in shenanigans.
Step 2: Ignore Changes to Your Flight Schedule
Ever get an email telling you that an airline or OTA has—surprise!—changed your schedule? Of course you have. It’s an annoyance we’re all familiar with. But, hey, did you know that those changes can have consequence beyond making you mildly annoyed that your flight leaves two hours later than you’d wanted? IT’S TRUE. Matter of fact, those little changes, depending on how they’re executed by the folks behind the curtain, can completely hobble you and leave you stranded with no way to get home other than buying a whole goddamn new ticket. Pretty neat, amirite? No, I am not rite.
There’s this little thing we learned about through our experience: manual entry. When the folks at the OTA made changes to our tickets, they “coded them manually.” This is what I was told by Lufthansa staff who, may the gods bless and keep them, were doing backflips to get us on a plane to our destination. That means that the OTA staff who made those changes in some weird, system override-y sort of way and in doing so, made it impossible for any outside agents to put us on another flight. Ergo, the human-angel hybrids at the Frankfurt Lufthansa service desk could not make changes to our schedule—only the OTA could do that.
Of course, when we called the OTA, they said they’d need to submit a request, which would take 24 hours, and if the request was granted, we’d have to wait four days for the new tickets. Well, the next plane left in four days, not five, so that was decidedly unhelpful. They ended up denying the request anyway because we were “already in travel.” Makes perfect sense, amirite? Again, no, I am not rite.
The Takeaway: If and when you get those schedule changes—particularly if you’re using an OTA and flying on multiple airlines—call them and discuss the changes. Tell them that if you have a bout of bad luck or delays, you want to know that you will be able to get on another flight ASAP without having to fight tooth and nail or wait for five fricking days.
Step 3: Check a Bag
The Uzbekistan Trip That Wasn’t is the central reason we’ve gone carry-on only. When we arrived in Frankfurt and had to rush to get through customs, get our bags, re-check-in and get to our gate within 90 minutes, we knew we were going to be in an epic crush. We got through customs right quick, but then were forced to sit and wait for our bags for 70 minutes. Believe me, I know, because I counted every last one of those minutes through my boiling tears.
We couldn’t just run away without our bags because there was no way to get them to Uzbekistan, thanks to the lack of relationship between the airlines we were flying. And who knows what’d happen to the bags if we just abandoned them in Germany?
Because we were traveling to a cold country in a cold season, we needed the clothes we’d packed in the checked bags and couldn’t go with just what was in our carry-ons. It was a freak situation, yes, and we could have planned better. Thus, we were forced to wait for our bags—and that was what made us miss our plane, after which everything fell to pieces.
The Takeaway: Ditch the checked bags. You can pack in a carry-on. You can, I promise. There is a whole community of ultralight travelers out there and they have blog posts and YouTube tutorials and all you’d ever need to convince you that you too can do this. I bought myself a dope little backpack-suitcase hybrid, some dope little packing cubes and now I’m not looking back. If I ever need to run my ass through the airport at breakneck speed to catch a flight to my most-dreamed-of destination, I will have nothing stopping me (other than my general badness at running).