ALL POSTS IN [Editors’ Trips]

Over the last 2 months I’ve managed a couple of fun vacation runs — a variation of a mileage run that involves actually leaving the airport and exploring a city — to Moscow, Paris and Johannesburg. My trip to Moscow was a weeklong vacation, while my runs to Paris and Johannesburg were just extended weekends. A little crazy, I know, but the experiences and sights were well worth the expense and travel time. And besides, or perhaps most importantly, I earned a LOT of miles, ate caviar and saw elephants.

Total Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM): 29,043
Total Redeemable Miles (RDM): 58,086
Flying Time to/from Moscow: 23h 13m
Flying Time to/from Paris and Johannesburg: 37h 40m

Saint Basil's Cathedral

Photography by Arthur Hsu

This year, I’m hoping to earn 150,000 SkyMiles in order to book a round-trip business-class award ticket to Australia — a ticket that would normally cost approximately $16,000 (yes, you read right). I was inspired to book both of my recent “vacation runs” after I saw posts about cheap tickets on FlyerTalk. Another great site to follow is The Flight Deal, which gathers airfare deals that make the most of your miles and money.

When booking mileage runs, be sure to check your fare class.  Some fare classes don’t earn miles or only earn a reduced number of miles. For my trips, I flew Delta T class and KLM/Air France R class, both of which earn full Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM). Both trips also had a low cost per mile (CPM), which is important for a great mileage run. Typically, you want the CPM to be under 5 cents per mile.

Moscow Cost per Mile: $0.0347
Johannesburg Cost per Mile: $0.0420

A mileage run is a trip solely for earning EQM, so oftentimes you never even leave the airport. But in this case, I turned them into vacations.

My trip to Moscow was the first time I used Global Entry, a Customs and Border Patrol program that expedites the immigration process when returning to America, which I was approved for the week before leaving for Russia. Thanks to this program, it literally takes less than 1 minute to clear customs. If you don’t have it, I recommend you apply since it also includes TSA Pre-Check, which gets you through security quicker and with fewer hassles.

Overall, Moscow is a beautiful city with many activities, but in my experience, it is also very expensive. I stayed at the Hotel National, where Lenin stayed while the Kremlin was under construction. It’s also a Starwood property, with which I have Gold elite status, and so I earned 8,852 SPG points thanks to my stay.

Hotel National, Moscow

Photography by Arthur Hsu

While in Moscow, I enjoyed the various sites such as Saint Basil’s Cathedral and a day trip outside the city to Troitse-Sergiev Monastery. If you find yourself in Moscow, be sure to explore the metro system — the various stations are truly beautiful, each with a different design. I also enjoyed proper meals, including a 10-course omakase meal at Nobu Moscow. Don’t worry, I also sampled iconic Russian cuisine such as caviar and borscht.

Komsomolskaya Metro Station, Moscow

Photography by Arthur Hsu

My trip to Johannesburg was a much shorter and farther excursion, with a 12-hour layover in Paris and about 37 hours in Johannesburg. With such a short amount of time in Paris, I made my way into the city and used a hop-on/hop-off tour bus to see the major sites before I returned to CDG and grabbed some food and Scotch whisky in the Air France Salon to await my flight to Johannesburg.

Once in Johannesburg, I took the Gautrain, Africa’s first rapid rail system, to the Radisson Blu Gautrain hotel, and shortly after, my guide arrived to take me on a tour of Joburg. I liked the sound of Cashan Private Day Tours, which offered custom city tours, and I was able to book a half-day tour with Penny Cashan. Our first stop — and most surprising and enjoyable element of the tour –  was the Market on Main, which occurs every Sunday at the Arts on Main in the Maboneng Precinct, with great food and various art galleries. I had no idea that Joburg has such a thriving art community.

The next and last day in Joburg, I booked a 1-day safari with Felleng Tours to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. This turned out to be a great experience, since we were able to take the time to find 2 of the Big Five– the white rhino and the African elephant — along with many other amazing animals and sights. Fortunately, the daytime temperatures were low, so the animals weren’t hiding in the shade.

Elephant in Pilanesberg Game Reserve

Photography by Arthur Hsu

Back at O.R. Tambo Airport, I headed to the Air France Salon before deciding to check out other lounges in the airport thanks to my Priority Pass membership, which gives me access to lounges around the world where I do not have elite status. Properly hydrated and nourished, I headed to the gate to catch 2 flights home — just short of 22 hours with a connection in Amsterdam. Now I need to start thinking about my next mileage run.

Watch Mommy Points‘ tips to earn airline elite status.

Getty Images

This weekend Thailand celebrated its New Year, know as Songkran, with the world’s biggest water fight. Songkran is an annual Buddhist holiday that traditionally calls for Thais to visit elders and temples on the first day of the year. The days leading up to the New Year are less serious and filled with epic water battles across the country. For the 3 days leading up to the New Year, there isn’t a dry spot in Thailand, as the “Land of Smiles” fills its water guns and buckets and takes to the streets for the celebratory dousing of passersby. This festival is based on a renewal and cleansing tradition stemming from the water blessing in temples for the New Year. Each year this all-out water fight only gets bigger — and wetter– in Thailand.

Last year, I unintentionally planned a vacation to Thailand during Songkran. As a tourist, I didn’t know what to expect. I prepared myself with a waterproof camera case, a poncho (that proved useless) and the “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mindset — I bought a water gun in a Thai market for protection. As most tourists who find themselves in Thailand during Songkran can probably attest, I felt lucky to be here to witness something so unique and at the heart of the country’s culture: a veritable national party.

Thailand, a country already so well-known for its hospitality, welcomes droves of tourists during Songkran to join in its annual water fight. So take it as a compliment if you get soaked with a water gun here. It means they like you.

During the 3 days of Songkran, I was lucky enough to see 3 different cities celebrate it.  The first day of Songkran, I was in Pai, a small mountain town in the north of Thailand. Pai has become a favorite among expats and tourists looking for a nature reprieve from Thailand’s congested bigger cities. The small town of Pai is centered around one main street and everyone in the town seemed to be on it during Songkan — either in a truck filled with young mischievous water-throwers with trashcan-size buckets full of water or lined up on the streets for a prime spot to watch the action. And as I would learn repeatedly throughout Songkan, the ultimate target for drenching during the festival is always the tourist. My introduction to Songkran in Pai began when I was ambushed by a group of young monks armed with super soakers (see photo).

Photography by Stephanie Price

Next stop on the Songrkan tour was Chiang Mai, my absolute favorite city in Thailand, less touristy and globalized than Bangkok, but still with plenty to see, do and taste. As our bus from Pai pulled up to the gates of Chiang Mai, I quickly realized that Pai was just a trickle of water fights compared with this city’s all-out water war. There was no shortage of water in Chiang Mai either, as the fuel for this 3-day water fight here mostly comes from the river that runs through the city. By the second city, my travel companions and I had amped up our ammunition; water guns just weren’t as effective — or as fun — as entire buckets filled with water.

 

Photography by Stephanie Price

Our last stop on the Songran tour was Bangkok, Thailand’s bustling capital city. This was also the last night of the celebrations before people throughout the country would flock to temples for a more serious (and drier) day with family — but not before one last big splash. So we found ourselves in the epicenter of the country’s water festival, on the biggest night, in Thailand’s biggest city. Think New Year’s Eve in Times Square, but instead of noisemakers, everyone’s armed with water guns. Our hotel was smack dab in the middle of the action on Khao San Road, a 0.5-mile-long strip full of bars, restaurants, hotels, stores and heaps of tourists mostly of the young budget-traveler type.

As I learned firsthand, staying dry as you walk through Khao San Road is the least of your problems during Songkran. I could barely walk through this street because it was so crowded with Songkran revelers. While Thais are generally known to be laid-back people  – often, you can even escape the water splashing if you just shake your head or hand — we found no such luck here. No matter how much we pleaded, we couldn’t escape getting soaked in Bangkok. The water battle on Khao San Road was unlike anything I could have imagined. Few would ever take a camera out here to document the craziness for risk of it getting ruined. Luckily, neither did I.

On the early morning of the New Year, after a final night of water mayhem, we were due to fly home. We woke up and breathed a sigh of relief that finally the crowds on Khao San Road had gone home and we could skip the bathing suit under our clothes and poncho for the trip to the airport. So we packed into a tuk-tuk (Thailand’s rickshaw) with all of our luggage (cabs were nowhere to be found on this national holiday) and headed to the airport. But to our utter surprise, we received one final drenching at a stoplight from a truck that still had a bucket of water in the back from the night before.

Soaked and carrying our wet bags, we arrived at the airport laughing, knowing there was no better way to leave Thailand than with one big splash.

 

San Francisco is a huge tourist destination, with Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge all drawing crowds. Sure, on my trip out west, I had to see the sights, but right across the famous red bridge was the best part of my getaway: The often-overlooked Mill Valley, located 14 miles north of San Francisco in the beautiful, mountainous Marin County.

What feels like a combination of beach town and Swiss mountain hamlet, Mill Valley offers a quiet taste of NorCal life, with boutique shops, eco-conscious restaurants and enough outdoor space to fill days and days with hiking. When I escaped to warmer climes for a week, stumbling upon Mill Valley was a happy accident.

My Top Picks in Marin County:

Mill Valley Inn
Imagine an upscale beachside hotel. But at the foot of a mountain. Surrounded by woods. With free breakfast, a free wine and cheese reception, a fireplace in the room and a balcony overlooking redwoods, this is my new favorite hotel. They’ll also offer you a bike, if you’d like to explore that way. But beware: there are a lot of hills.

El Paseo

Tucked away in a stone-covered alleyway, El Paseo is Tyler Florence and Sammy Hagar’s take on a traditional chophouse, serving up finely aged steaks and local, sustainable ingredients. The pair worked together to restore this historic restaurant, which was originally opened in 1948. El Paseo retains its rustic feel with exposed brick, reclaimed wood and plenty of candlelight. Also, you have to order a steak. And perhaps the crispy duck wings.

Bungalow 44
A stylish bar with large, cushy booths, Bungalow 44 prides itself on its California cuisine, as well as its creative cocktails. It doesn’t get much fresher than their cucumber margarita and perfectly cooked ahi tuna. Even though I ate here before the live Jazz started, I still felt like I was dining in a 1940s supper club.

Super Duper Burger
This place may claim to serve fast food, but it is anything but typical. There are 5 locations throughout San Francisco, and luckily there is one right down the street from the Mill Valley Inn. The beef is delivered from San Fran’s own Niman Ranch and ground fresh daily. The pickles are homemade and the buns are toasted. Top it all off with fries finished with fresh garlic and 6-month aged cheddar. I mean, come on.

Stinson Beach

Even on a foggy day, Stinson Beach is a beautiful place for a walk. Climb over rocks and watch the waves crash below you, or sit along the shore and watch the surfers take their chances. Hidden on the other side of Mount Tamalpais, (if you’re prone to car sickness, watch out – the road is CURVY) this beach feels worlds away from Mill Valley. On the drive back, pull over wherever you can find a parking spot, because sure enough, there will be a trailhead with spectacular views of the water.

Marin Headlands

If you pull off the road right before getting on the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll come across the Marin Headlands. Drive up the road a little and you’ll find overlooks that’ll take your breath away. After grabbing pics of the San Francisco skyline, hike a little further. Not only will the Golden Gate look so close you could touch it, but there you’ll also find the historic Fort Barry and Fort Cronkhite. Or what’s left of them.

Latest Pins on Pinterest

  • Vintage Summer: National Ice Cream Month #tbt

  • Santorini, Greece

  • Lake Placid, New York

  • Before Selfies