As I had mentioned earlier when we left for our trip to Singapore, I did say that this was going to be a very short trip. I joked around by saying that we left LA just to have a quick lunch and dinner in Asia, and that we’d be back in a flash. And that’s exactly what happened.
When I booked this unpublished fare, I knew going in that we wouldn’t be traveling for weeks all over Asia. We were gone from the US for a total of 8 days, of which 6 days were spent on vacation, while the other 2 were spent during the plane rides. Too short? Perhaps. But, we’ve been going on many vacations this year. Here’s our 2017 vacation year-to-date recap so far:
- San Francisco, California
As you can see, there wasn’t a huge need to go on an extended vacation. We knew that we’d be back…someday soon.
So before I go over the takeaways, let me take you through the travel back to the US. From my last entry, I had been sick with the stomach flu. On our last night, I just went straight to bed, and didn’t bother to go out to eat anymore. I was in bed by 6:30pm. I woke up around 11pm, all of them were still awake. They prepared a plate for me, but I didn’t really have that much of an appetite, so I ended up going back to bed again.
Wednesday morning came and it was already 5am, it was time to get up. Nancy did take care of the packing. We had purchased quite a few things and I had no idea that we’d fit them all in our carryon luggage. I didn’t really want to check in any luggage. But, Nancy was able to get them all in – yes!!!
By 5:30am, we said our goodbyes to Joey and Yam…..the kids were still asleep. We took our last group picture in their living room, and then we made our way down to catch our Uber. Joey and Yam stayed behind this time. The airport was just 15 minutes away.
Our Uber arrived within 5 minutes, as expected, there was no traffic en route to Changi International Airport. Our flight was scheduled to leave 8:10am. We made it to the airport around 6am.
We took care of business at Japan Airlines counter, and we began making our way to our gate, but first, we stopped at DNATA, an airport lounge that’s accessible to us for free to due to our Priority Pass that we earned with our Chase Sapphire Reserve and our American Express Platinum.
For once, I was feeling a whole lot better. The meds that the doctor gave me the day before helped with my stomach flu. I was in a way better shape, my spirits were high, I was ready for the long travel ahead.
DNATA had a full service buffet with a nice variety of Asian-style dishes including udon, dumplings, and a whole lot more (see above slideshow). I was tempted to eat a lot, but I told myself to behave. By 7:15am, we made our way down to the Terminal, and made it to our gate. Our Japan Airlines flight left right on time and we were on our way to Tokyo.
Eight hours later, the flight arrived safely in Narita. We had to find our other gate for our next flight back to LA. We did have a couple of hours to kill so we weren’t as rushed. Unlike other airports, Narita’s airport lounges are not located near the gates. We wanted to hang out at one of the lounges but the thought of leaving the gate and going through security just did not entice us, so we decided to just stay put. Instead, we sat near the ticket gate agents and chatted with two other travelers, one was on her way to Baltimore, and the other, back to LA.
Once we boarded our plane, I was pleasantly surprised that we were given seats in front of a wall, meaning there were no seats or passengers directly in front of us = more leg room. That was nice! For the next eight hours, the flight was even more comfortable. We did manage to sleep for about 4-5 hours, just enough for us to get recharged.
Why I love Global Entry
We arrived at LAX shortly after 10am. I wanted to get out of the airport right away so we could go straight home. Once we got out of the plane, we headed straight to the Global Entry kiosk, there was no one in line. Just imagine 10-15 ATMs that were vacant. That’s how it looked. All I had to do was slide in my passport, answered a few questions, took a quick picture….and then a printout…done. Handed our printout to the officer…done. We headed down to baggage claim…wait, we had no baggage to claim. Boom!
We made it for the exit lanes. There was a separate lane for Global Entry cardholders…again no line, the rest of the travelers took the other exit lane where there was bit of a wait, a much longer wait. Not for us….that’s Global Entry. How did I get Global Entry? Two ways, I got it with my American Express Platinum Card as part of their many card benefits. The cost for GE was $100, and that fee got credited back to me. You also get free TSA Pre-check (it helps speed up the process whenever you’re flying domestically). Nancy and the kids got their GE via our Chase Sapphire Reserve. We love it!!!
Here’s a link to my favorite travel credit cards. Click here.
Well, finally….here it is. I’ve not written a takeaway in awhile. My last trip prior to this was our last-minute vacation to Kauai. It all happened in a flash, and I just didn’t get a chance to write my takeaways. So here goes….my favorite part of my blog is when I write about my takeaways.
Using cash vs. miles/points – As I had mentioned, we did not use any miles and points for this trip. We took advantage of an unpublished fare of $327 per person via Japan Airlines. That was a steal. I decided to save my miles for other future use. Here’s what I wrote about how we scored this $300 trip to Singapore.
No Jetlag – one of the things I struggle with whenever Itravel is trying to get some sleep right when I get to my new destination. No matter where I am in the world, I always struggle (a) with the time difference; and (b)trying tobe comfortable with my new space (it could be a hotel, condo, or a house). However, this time around, I somehow came prepared. I brought Melatonin with me. It’s basically a natural sleeping aid. The one that we brought with us was purchased from Trader Joe’s. It helped us in getting to bed when we needed it most. I only struggled to sleep on my very first night, I’m sure it was all coupled with excitement upon arriving in Singapore. But the next consecutive nights, especially when I got sick, boy, did I get me some sleep!!!
Now the true test was the return back to the US. We tend to struggle most with jet lag whenever we come back from Asia. Surprisingly, no jet lag….none! I went to work right away the day after coming back home, and I was perfectly fine. So to melatonin, thank you!
Carryon, carryon, carryon – we were gone 8 full days from home. We decided not to bring a huge luggage that we’d be checking in. We stuck with the plan. We went to Singapore and came back home with the same two carryon luggage. We even squeezed in quite a few treats to bring home. Our weight limit per carryon was around 25 lbs. I never weighed the luggage but could guarantee you that we had more than 25 lbs per luggage. I wasn’t worried. Japan Airlines was not notorious for weighing the carryon luggage. Good job, Babe!
No cell service needed – my past few trips to Europe and Australia, I opted to get T-mobile’s plan which allowed for free international calls and unlimited data. This time around, my plan was to get a SIM card for my data usage. However, thanks to Joey, he just let me and Nancy get connected to his cell phone’s data service. We didn’t use the Hotspot option, instead, we tethered our phones to his Samsung. Thanks, Joey!!!
We needed cash – I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t prepare for this. We ordered money for our use in Singapore and Malaysia, but we didn’t plan to bring cash. In Malaysia, lots of places only accepted cash. Our driver, Suresh, accepted payment in cash only. We wanted to apply for an account with Charles Schwab which would’ve allowed us to take money from the ATM anywhere in the world – the best card that you could use without being charged an ATM fee. However, I procrastinated and did not apply. But since coming back from our trip, we have since applied for an account and we’re ready to use our Charles Schwab account.
Quality vs. Quantity – we had 5-6 days of being on land in Asia. Not a whole lot of time. It was so tempting to go to many different destinations knowing that airfare is cheap, and that we could be in another place within 1-2 hours if we chose to fly. We had an ambitious plan of being in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and even Thailand.
We would’ve accomplished quite a few things, including getting new stamps on our US Passports. But, we opted to take it slow. And so glad we did. On the days that I got sick, we might have been en route to Bangkok at the time. I know that I wouldn’t have had a great time in Bangkok being sick the way I felt those days. So yes, we opted to do less, and spend more time on land, less hassle.
A year of Francisco Reconnection
If there was an overall takeaway, this had to be it. Early this year, I was able to meet up with my cousin Che-Che. She’s the youngest daughter of my Dad’s older sister, Tita Mercy. I remember going to their house in Bulacan when we were kids. In early January 2017, she posted a picture of herself, and looking at the background, I could tell she was at LAX Airport. Che-Che and I are “friends” on Facebook, but we weren’t exactly super close or anything. So when I saw her posting, naturally, I sent her a Private Message and welcomed her to California. I asked her about her plans, and she really had none.
Long story short, she and her friend, Diane ended up staying with us for 4 days last January. We took them all over Southern California, and gave them an abbreviated tour from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles.
Looking back, I think they had more fun at the Camarillo Factory Outlet, right, Che? Diane? 🙂 It had to be one of the best few days I’ve spent with a Francisco family member in a very long time. We promised to stay in touch, and we stayed true to that promise. Thanks to Facebook.
Fast forward to ten months later. I had no idea what to expect when I decided to reach out to Joey, my first cousin, about visiting Singapore. We haven’t really seen each other in so many years (over 30 years), and it wasn’t like we grew up together. We had very vague memories about each other. For me, it became another opportunity to put the puzzle pieces together.
Before moving to the US, I grew up on my mom’s side of the family, and my ties with my Dad’s family was our occasional trips to Bulacan where he was from. I had a general idea who his siblings were, but half the time, I had forgotten how many they were, and had forgotten their names as well. It didn’t help that I spent the rest of my childhood to teen years once we moved to California, so the more out of touch I became with my Dad’s side of the family.
But, I guess it’s best when you don’t expect anything to happen because the best things happen when you least expect them. That’s what happened the moment I saw Joey at the airport, to the time that we drove to their apartment, and all throughout the days of our stay in Singapore and Malaysia.
He and Yam took care of me and Nancy, attended to all our needs. Joey became our official photographer. He used his tripod, his Samsung, Nancy’s iPhone, and our Canon DSLR….he used them all to make sure that we captured every single moment. Most especially, when I got sick. I wasn’t exactly the best house guest. I was moody, I was mostly to myself because I was just in pure pain, and all I longed for was to be in bed.
Our many hours spent on our way to Malaysia, our bus rides, train rides, Uber rides….the stories we exchanged, our lives growing up in different parts of the world, and the times I inquired about our families. I have to admit that I am “friends” with many members of my family (both on my Mom’s side and my Dad’s side), yet I don’t really know or remember them much. So this trip gave me the opportunity to put those pieces together.
In closing, Joey and Yam (and to your beautiful kids), Nancy and I are ever so thankful for your graciousness, hospitality, and for welcoming us to your home. I still can’t believe that we had that opportunity to meet and spend time. Especially for putting up with me and Nancy and all our crazy requests! We’ll make it up to you when you visit us in California. The invite remains open for you and the family to come visit. We will make sure to take care of you as well. I hope to see you again someday soon, and hoping that it does not take another 30 years for all of us to see each other again.