Iberia Airlines Plays Song About Death and Dying Before Takeoff

Earlier this week I had the distinct displeasure of flying from Copenhagen to Madrid with Iberia Airlines. While my trip ended up being fantastic, the flight itself was an unmitigated disaster.  The flight crew was unfriendly, rude and all around difficult to engage with. Which, fair enough, is disappointing but not all that uncommon in this day and age. But, ultimately I ended up being in for two distinct surprises that left me all around shocked.

The first was when I reached my seat, went to sit down and had to squeeze into it. I’m 193cm (6’3″) and long-legged so it’s always a bit of a challenge.  This time though? Utterly ridiculous. The space between each seat was so tight that even in the more spacious sections between the seats it was still tight enough to leave my normal sized water bottle self supported and securely stuck as shown in the photo below. I realize I’m a bit tall, but I’m not unreasonably tall…and this? Less than a water bottle’s worth of space from seat to seat? Pure tomfoolery. And for those of you who are tall and curious?  Yes, the stewardess managed to ram my knee with the drink cart with significant force, shrug it off, and go back to business without even a passing apology.


But, the real icing on the cake came as we prepared for takeoff. In between the cabin crew’s safety talks music was playing over the cabin speakers.  A nice touch and one that ultimately should be soothing and relaxing.  So, knees getting bruised by the seat in front of me, I settled in and tried to enjoy the music. Then, something about the lyrics seemed off and caught my ear.

Celebrating the New Year in Madrid

The small travel alarm I had with me let out a loud chirp ripping me from the throes of my quasi dream state. I’d mentally told myself I needed to be up early – which left me just awake enough to spring into action. Rolling over and silencing the small alarm clock, I quickly glanced around the room feeling a bit guilty. I was relieved I hadn’t woken up any of the others in the room. Apparently, the alarm was nothing compared to the trinity of earth shattering snores two of my fellow hostel mates and I had been responsible for over the previous 4 nights. Holding my breath I gently eased myself down from my perch in the back of the room on the top bunk bed. Making more noise than I’d have liked I quickly dressed – pausing to moan and rub the sleep from my eyes. I tossed on my backpacks and made my way to the elevator. It had been a late night and my train left far sooner than I’d have liked.

Half in a daze I checked my e-mail in the lobby before setting out into the crisp morning air. It was a cold, wet, gray day. It made me regret leaving Granada a bit less, for which I was grateful. Five minutes later I was standing on the Grande Villa scratching my head and hoping I was about to board the right bus. Eventually, I found the one I needed and after a quick five minute ride, disembarked in front of the train station. With a few minutes to spare I picked up a small box of Pringles and found a bench. Eventually the train arrived and I said my goodbyes to Granada. It was a bitter sweet moment. Effectively the end of my explorations and my latest adventure. From Granada it was back to Madrid for New Years and then onto a plane for the 12:40pm flight back to the states.

The train ride back to Madrid was comfortable. The scenery attractive. Having arrived at the central station, I quickly found my way back to the Musas Residence. I’d stayed at this hostel when I first arrived in Spain. There I settled into my room, showered, grabbed a kebab and began taking vitamins. It was December 31st – I knew I had a long night ahead of me, and with a 14 hour flight waiting for me on the 1st it was time to prepare. I read, napped, ate and drank water. Only venturing out to enjoy the city briefly for food or fresh air.

New Years Eve in Madrid

As evening settled in, there was a palpable electricity in the air. Everyone was excited and eager to begin the evening’s celebrations. Madrid has a reputation as one of the most exciting New Years Eve celebrations in the world and I was eager to experience it. I swung by one of the local stores which was still open and picked up two bottles of wine and another kebab before heading to the hostel’s kitchen/common room. There, after a bit of a hunt, I found a cup and corkscrew and settled in at a table with 3 other Americans – a brother, sister and their mutual friend. They’d just arrived from the Midwest and were eager to kick off their trip. We shared wine, stories and got acquainted – quickly polishing off a bottle of champagne and both bottles of wine. As we warmed up for the evening we joked, laughed and teased each other and the others who drifted over to our table. We decided to make our way out on the town and headed towards Puerta del Sol – Madrid’s New Years Eve celebration ground zero.

As we wound our way from plaza to plaza…and past bar after bar…we eventually found a fantastic little dive which had bathrooms in the basement, down a winding flight of stairs that resembled a dungeon more than restrooms. We paused for a side of olives, quick tapas and glass of Sangria before rejoining the throngs flooding through Madrid’s streets. Everyone was in high spirits and most of the Spaniards were dressed with colorful wigs and fanciful outfits as part of the festivities.

Starting to feel the bottles of wine we’d had earlier, I led us through the winding streets towards the Puerta del Sol. With about an hour to go, we found the entrance to the event…A barricade across the street with at least 6 police officers standing guard. We paused, taking in the sight, and quickly realized that instead of carding or giving people grief as they entered the police were handing out giant plastic cups to party goers. Not to be left out, we quickly backtracked to one of the entrepreneurs turned street vendor selling grapes (more on this later), beer and bottles of wine – expecting price gouging we were surprised to find a bottle of champagne was only 5 Euro. Hardly more than we’d paid earlier at the local supermarket. Two bottles and 4 large plastic cups later we were inside the barricades and working our way through the crowd. We’d managed to beat the majority of the crowd and as a result ended up with a great view of the main building (note the building in the attached video).

Once in position we settled in and waited, quickly getting to know the various groups around us. Some were Spanish, others were English, others Australian and yet others German. The square was packed and despite it’s great size quickly filled to overflowing. The dull roar of the crowd was deafening…and then the final countdown began. Marked by twirling lights we all stood, jumping up and down and shouting at the top of our lungs with 12 grapes in hand.

As the final 12 seconds of 2008 clicked by we quickly ate our grapes – one for each second. The 12 grapes signify the 12 months of the year and have become a fun tradition, albeit difficult to execute. Cheeks stuffed with grapes, Madrid ushered in 2009 with the roar of thousands of voices and one of the most incredible fireworks shows I’ve ever seen. As one the crowd jumped and cheered – pausing only long enough to steal a new years kiss – we watched as vibrant explosion after vibrant explosion lit up the evening sky. As the firework show subsided the crowd slowly began to untangle itself. Like water poured onto parched earth we flowed back out and away from the square en-mass. Heading in every direction and clogging all of the side streets.

After a quick pause I realized I’d lost the others. After a few minutes spent looking for them, I eventually gave up and undaunted slowly made my way back to the hostel – pausing as I met new friends along the way. Once back at the hostel I reconnected with the Americans and settled in for a few rounds of drinking games with a group of other travelers and hostel employees. Somehow time quickly slipped past and long before I was ready I realized it was 5am. With a heavy heart I said goodbye to three Italian girls I’d met (all from Milan) and crawled into bed. I had to be awake at 9am – there was an hour’s commute to the airport, and then the typical 3 hours advanced check in for international flights.

In rough shape I woke at 9. Half standing, half rolling out of my hostel bunk I crawled into the shower for a quick rinse before hoisting my backpack up and onto my back. The walk to the metro was easy. The stale metro air however, was not. With a grimace I purchased my metro ticket and waited for my train all the while fighting the urge to vomit and sweating in silent misery. It had been a good night. It was going to be a rough morning. As the metro train rattled along its tracks I paced at one end of the car as women nervously watched me. I quickly realized that my pacing – though necessary – made me seem nervous. Combined with my size (I’m 6’4″, 200 pounds), general appearance and two backpacks (one on my back and a smaller a smaller day pack strapped to my chest) the pacing understandable left them a little edgy. The whole scene was comical. The metro itself looked like a war zone filled with hundreds of party-goers in all different states – all bedraggled – making their way home.

Somehow, I managed to hold it together for 40+ minutes across 3 separate metro lines. Believe me when I tell you that when I reached the airport station I was the first one off. Like a lightning bolt I made my way to the surface and to fresh air. I never actually got sick…but it was a close thing. Another 5 minutes on the metro and I doubt I’d have made it.

Once inside the airport, I made it through security in a matter of minutes. So much for needing 3 hours! I grabbed a quick bite to eat, then quickly located a set of benches where I could stretch out. It was 10:30 – my plane left at 12:40. I took a quick nap and recovered some before heading to my gate. Luckily I arrived early. In some sort of odd Spanish form of efficiency the plane was boarded and heading towards takeoff by 12:35. Scratching my head in wonder, I shrugged and counted my blessings – it was a good thing I hadn’t arrived late.

The flight back was long…the planes old and the service mediocre. Despite the discomfort though, I didn’t mind. It had been an amazing adventure from start to finish – and oh what an ending.

If you ever have the chance to celebrate New Year’s in Spain head to Madrid. It’s without question, one of the most amazing parties in the world.

Madrid Part II

As time rushes by the adventure has continued to be an absolute delight. After finishing my last post I set out into the city. In usual form I was more focused on the voyage than the destination. With my map stashed in my back pocket I picked a direction and began to roam. Through small alleyways, along major two lane thoroughfares and beyond I wound my way north across the city. The weather has been delightful, a little crisp but far from too cold. I’ve also been blessed with sunny weather and a total lack of rain. Eventually I found myself in downtown Madrid’s bustling tourist and business center. With beautiful old architecture thrown seemingly at random between new signs for major chains and newer buildings, the city was vibrantly alive with life.

I eventually found a large, beautiful park. I absorbed the beauty of fall-kissed trees, enjoyed the clean crisp air, and breathed in scents coming from all the vegetation. As I neared the center of the park, I came across a number of gorgeous cats who had seemingly laid claim to a small Galapagos monument. Walled away from the people by large wrought iron fences the cats had free reign of a fun, small set of pools and bushes. As I was relaxing and watching the cats frolic an old woman came up with a stroller. To my amazement, in place of the usual child the stroller held a cat strapped into an adorable little vest sitting regally in an unzipped jacket turned quilt. Though tied by its leash to the stroller, the cat was obviously far from interested in wandering off. As he sat there relaxing and watching the birds his mother pulled out a number of cans of cat food, began feeding the strays, conversing with each and calling them by name. The whole thing was adorable.

I watched the cats play in the bushes and harass the local pigeon population before I continued into the center of the park which was based around a small lake. The lake was surrounded by walkways on two sides, with the Galapagos monument on the third, and a large war memorial on the fourth. The memorial was a beautiful thing with a large central pillar, statuary and steps that led down to the water’s edge. Eventually I made my way around the lake’s edge and spent an hour or so napping, reading, and relaxing in the afternoon sun at the base of the steps near the water.

Rested and relaxed I continued my exploration of the park and eventually found a large, beautifully manicured garden which lead me down towards the Prado Art Museum. Despite painfully sore feet, I decided to make every moment count and picked up a ticket. The museum had a wonderful collection, all beautifully displayed. In addition to a number of the usual famous pieces, I found countless less renown works from masterful artists. Most memorable was a fantastic statue created in the 1400 or 1500s that had rich, pure colors and appeared to be almost 3 dimensional. The other pieces that really caught my attention were a series of stunning inlaid tabletops. The tables impressive in their weight to begin with, had tops that were completely covered in inlaid motifs depicting animals, wildlife, patterns, and flowers all created with gorgeous precious stones. One of the more impressive ones was also supported by 4 large beautiful lions.

In addition to their rather sizable art collection, the museum also had small, beautiful sets of Greek and Roman statues, and a number of marble slave masks that were infused with an amazing degree of expression and emotion.

After leaving the Prado I found my way back to the hostel where I rested for a bit before setting out to find some food. As I roamed hunting for a tapas or kebab shop I stumbled into a bustling market street lined with butchers, vegetable stands, and the like. A little further down it I found an entrance into an a large, two story market full of individual produce, fish, meat, olive, and sausage stands. The smells, colors, and assortment of food was absolutely fantastic. As I roamed, trying to decide what to pick up for dinner, I eventually picked up a persimmon and several tangerines. Not in the mood to cook meat, and unable to find seafood prices that fit my budget, I elected to continue my quest for a kebab shop. Eventually, kebab in hand I settled in back at the hostel for another night meeting new friends.

After a few hours spent in the hostel common area meeting, greeting and getting to know each other we set off to explore the city’s night life. As we meandered our way through the city and hopped from bar to bar, we eventually ended up at a fun downstairs club. The entrance was a small staircase where I had to watch my head, but the club itself was a narrow set of basement rooms with a vaulted brick ceiling. The place looked as though it had once stored wine casks. Eager to enjoy the evening, we danced, relaxed, and explored the particularly flavorful and peculiar club which was populated predominantly by locals dancing, smoking, and drinking the night away. By about 4:30AM we decided to call it a night and made the trip back to the hostel. The city at night is beautiful with vibrant lights, people wandering the streets at all hours, and a constant hum of activity.

The following morning I woke up early, explored the area around the hostel a bit more before hopping the tube up to the train station. The train station is a large, beautiful structure, with fun elements and a very flavorful style. One of the large common areas within the station has an indoor garden in the center of it with large palm trees, all sorts of vegetation and even a decent sized pool full of lilies and turtles. After taking it all in, I snagged a quick bite to eat and then made my way to my train. Interestingly I had to put my backpack through an x-ray machine. I then boarded the train through a terminal, as you would at the airport. An all around new process I hadn’t been through before.

I enjoyed Madrid thoroughly, though it´s without question a large city and lacks a lot of the charm of a smaller town. The people were friendly, but in a big city sort of way. The streets while beautiful are somewhat sterile and modernized, not to mention, land-mined with dog nuggets. That said, I enjoyed it immensely and my stay was fantastic, but the city cannot compare in any way, shape or form to Seville which I will write about soon.

Spain – The First 48 Hours

As I begin my first full day in Spain there is already so much to share that I´m eager to put it down while it is still vivid in my memory. It´s about 11:00AM. As I upload several videos I´m typing away on a sticky keyboard in a small internet cafe down the street from my hostel.

The Flight

My flight over was good. Long, but good. Matt picked me up from the apartment around 9 and by 10:00 I found myself checking in and going through security. Lines were non-existent and by 10:30, after a quick snack, I was relaxing at my departure gate watching the minutes slowly march by. Despite the lack of lines the airport itself was alive with activity. People coming, going, and generally caught up in the hustle and bustle that makes the lifeblood of an airport so fascinating to watch. By 11:30 I double- checked my gate number, only to find that it had been changed during my brief nap. After tracking down the new gate we boarded and set off.

I´m anything but impressed with US Airways. While the staff on the US leg was courteous and the highlight of the trip, the planes are old, dirty junkers that have been stripped of everything humanly possible.  It´s truly embarrassing when compared to companies like EasyJet and RyanAir. The US planes are older/just as old, in comparable/worse condition, they charge for everything, the service is mediocre and yet the fares for the US Airways flights are at best 10X the price.  I´m relatively confident that the planes on both legs of my trip were older than I was and showed it. On the first leg food, and even more obnoxiously water, was available for sale – despite the 3.5 plus hour length of the trip.

After a 30 plus minute delay getting off the ground we eventually found our way to Philadelphia. Luckily they´d factored in over an hour of extra time for delays and I was able to make my connecting flight with just enough time in between to grab a quick bite to eat, and to refill my water bottle.

Unfortunately, the Phili to Madrid flight was delayed by some sort of mechanical problem initially which at one point involved them shutting the entire plane/power off, which was rather entertaining.  By the time we finally got up and running and began our taxi out to the runway the weather had deteriorated forcing us to get a de-icing spraydown before taxing back to the takeoff queue.  No sooner had we finished the de-icing wash and begun to taxi back to the queue when the weather changed again, forcing a second trip to the de-icing zone for a different type of chemical spraydown.  Two+ hours later we were finally prepared for takeoff and airborn. 

 Before watching the one in flight movie – Journey to the Center of the Earth – on the old wall mounted plasma, dinner was served.  Chopped southwestern style chicken, with rice, corn, salad and a roll. Unfortunately, they somehow managed to burn the rice presumably by having the container on the heater or in the microwave too long.  Beyond that the lettuce was wilted – but it made for a good enough snack. On the upside I didn´t get food poisoning =p. My post nap routine consisted of reading, snatching brief naps, listening to music and generally staring at the back of the seat in front of me. 

The highlight of the flight was the sunrise.  As we crossed the ocean at 35k feet with the sea below us, a blood red sunrise slowly spread across the horizon.  It was truly spectacular with some of the most vivid reds and oranges I’ve seen in a sunrise in a long time.  The sunrise´s beauty was made that much more dramatic by our altitude and the absence of clouds.  Truly stunning.


I arrived in Madrid around 11:30 AM on Wednesday.  Always a weird sensation to leave at 1PM one day and then to arrive in your destination nearly a day later.   Customs was incredibly easy and by 11:45 I was standing at the entrance doors to the airport scratching my head, letting the realization that I´d made it sink in, and trying to decide my next step.  As you might imagine, first things first – money.  After a little hunting I eventually tracked down an ATM and pulled out some cash.  After picking up a packet of gum to break the large bills the ATM gave me and to get change for the Metro I tracked down a tourist information chiosk, picked up a free map and then continued towards the Metro.  Directions, metro map and city map in hand I quickly picked up a metro ticket and traveled my way through the 3 metro lines I needed, before finally arriving at Tirso De Molina.  The Spanish metro so far has been extremely clean, easy to navigate and punctual – fantastic!

It was not until I made my way up the old granite steps out of the metro station and into a brisk, sunny, Madrid day that I truly felt like I was in Spain.  The metro station is in a small square, ringed by a market, various odd shops, a small theatre, and a number of bars.  Among the newspaper stands there are 5 or 6 flower vendors selling beautiful arrangements of freshly cut flowers, moss, vases and other similarly themed items. 

My hostel was about 100 meters down one of the smaller, one-way side streets off of the main square.  With the office located on the 4th floor it was an entertaining adventure to find the right buzzer on the door, then to make my way up to the Musas Hostel.  The hostel itself is clean, modern, fun and laid back with fantastic facilities. The rooms are extremely clean and all have in-suite bathrooms which is nice.  The room I´m in is a 10 person mixed sex room with bunkbeds sandwiched in, in every way possible.  With free 15 minute web access, a full kitchen and great common area it´s a great deal for 15 Euro a night.  The hostel itself is oddly decorated with vividly graphic, but artistic sketches of women in the nude or half drawn images of sextual acts.   Entire walls are covered in the colorful, framed, 8×10 sketches creating a fun, artistic, and highly entertaining scrapbook like feel.  

After checking in, I dropped my bag in the baggage room and made my way to the common area where I dozed, read and checked my e-mail while I waited until they finished cleaning the rooms at 3.   By 3:15 I was snoring away contentedly in my hostel bunk eager to snatch a few hours of sleep for what I knew would be a full evening.

By 5:30 I was up and ready for food and exploring.   Ready for something familiar I made my way down a random street from the square and quickly found a kebab shop.  With a steaming kebab in one hand and a soda in the other I took in the street’s odd assortment of Asian, Middle Eastern, and bizarre clothing/rug/trinket stores while enjoying the cobblestone streets, historic architecture and general feel of the city.   My foray into the surrounding area lasted about an hour before I found myself back at the hostel engaged in conversation with/getting to know a number of the other travelers.  As expected most are Australians and New Zealanders with a number of Canadians and Americans thrown into the mix.   After another quick foray to the corner store for beer and salami I ended up cooking an extra chicken breast given to me by an Australian couple who didn’t want to go to waste.  

By 9:00 Eduardo – a gentleman from Mexico City, who has been living in Spain for the last 6 years and currently works for the hostel – brought out a large tub of Sangria and a deck of cards.   After a warm up game of Kings Cup we demolished the Sangria and all elected to pay the 10 Euro for the pub crawl Edwardo was leading. 

After a few brief stops at nearby hostels our group made our way to the first pub.  There, as part of the crawl we each got a free pint and an hour or so to mix, mingle, and relax.   Somehow I ended up meeting a group of 3 girls my age, out with an older husband/wife and family friend.  Despite my nearly non-existent and their nearly non-existent English we quickly hit it off – though for the life of me, I´m still confused about what they were out celebrating.  Each had Christmas raindeer antlers on, flashing/glowy rings, and two of them had large boas.  We danced, we chatted, we laughed, we drank and before long one of the girls ended up putting her antlers on me and insisting I wear/keep ’em.  After a thoroughly entertaining hour or two the pub crawl moved on. I said goodbye to my new found friends, and got a hearty laughs for the rest of the pub crawl for my antlers.

The next few pubs we went to were all surprisingly busy for a Wednesday night and an absolute blast.  Despite intending to get to bed by 1:00AM, I found myself at the last stop on the crawl – a large underground night club.  Too tired to dance more and with the pub crawl winding down I elected to set off back towards the hostel which I knew was somewhere to the south.  Starving I picked up a can of pringles – the only thing I could find and began wandering slowly south.  Eventually, with a general idea where I was, I was lost.   Wandering through the winding warren of deserted streets I eventually ended up walking near/past a group of 3 well dressed locals in their late 30s/early 40s.   As I approached one of the guys asked me a quick question in Spanish which I didn´t understand. After a quick exchange, he asked if I knew where a bar was.  Right as he did, we apparently found it.  The bar – was a local hole in the wall.  With a door that looked more like the entrance to a house than an establishment, no sign, and definitely no windows.  The gentleman I´d be talking to asked if I wanted to join them…I thought about it for a second, sized them up, considered the time and then went for it. 

Just inside the door and to the left was the bar.  In many ways it looked like the entrance to a tiny hotel.  With stairs going up on one side, and the bar where the receptionist would ordinarily be.  We passed by the bar, and quickly made a left down a small hallway into a small room full of people, cigarette smoke, small tables and music.  Despite the late hour – probably close to 4AM the place was packed.  A quick count showed more than 40 people sandwiched into the small area.  The room had a wooden bench seat that wrapped around most of it with a tiled back that stretched up to about head height as you sat. There was a tightly packed small coffee shop and tables in the middle.  We sat and Carmen, the woman in the group quickly said hello to “El Maesrto” an older gentleman with a cane, and suit coat, who periodically burst out into low, smoke flavored song.  

There was one acoustic guitar which was periodically passed between people while others seemingly at random burst out into song.  Sometimes brief 30 second blurbs, other times longer snippits of song.  The crowd as a whole snapped or clapped along all the while drinking and smoking.  Almost everyone there had a cigarette in hand and the smoke left everyone’s voice rough and eyes red.  It added to the atmosphere.  The walls were simply decorated with photos of flamenco singers and performers. The gentleman I´d met was thrilled to share the experience with me.  

Eager to capture the moment, but feeling as though it might be inappropriate to pull out my camera, I turned my video camera on in my pocket to capture some of the songs and the atmosphere.   Here are the two videos – though i´m afraid they´re audio only:

Eventually my new found friends left and I decided it was time to continue to wayward trip home.   Here´s a brief video I shot as I walked – one i´m sure you´ll love mom:

Not to fear, I eventually found my way home safe and sound, crawled into bed, and think I have managed to thoroughly beat my jet lag.

Time to get to exploring the city! Bye for now!

Spainward Bound!

Hello friends!
It’s 1:05 AM Tuesday the 16th of December and a few brief hours from now another adventure is about to begin. My ticket is booked, my plans double checked, my bags packed, my shoes dusted off. Now all that is left is the open road, adventure and growth.

The sensation right before a trip is an amazing one. For me it is, in many ways, very similar to the sensation right before giving a big speech. Butterflies in your stomach, anticipation, the unknown, a little fear and an eagerness to undertake the experience. You wonder what you forgot, what you should have done differently and then ultimately commit to it 100%. Once your cross the threshold and the door is closed behind you, you’re off and running.

By the time I factor in the 3 hour lead time the airports require, flight time and layovers I’ll be looking at just under 20 hours of travel time….yikes. That said, the first leg of the trip will take me from Phoenix to Philadelphia. There, weather permitting, I’ll switch to a second US Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Madrid. My hostel is booked in the heart of old town and I’m ready to go.

First though, I recorded two quick videos as I packed this evening which outline what I’ve chosen to pack, why and how it all comes together. My goal for this trip is to avoid checking luggage, and with the shorter (16 day) duration, I’ve gone with a smaller pack. Without further adieu:

Part II:

Everything fit with loads of ample room.  Despite the extra room, I’m still nearly positive that I’ve over packed.  I’ll do a post mortem after the trip and share what should have made the list and what shouldn’t have.

Next Stop – Spain!

December 12th will mark one year to the day since I returned from my 3 month European walkabout. A trip during which I explored Scotland, England, The Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Italy, San Marino, The Vatican and Greece. While it has been less than a year and I have no right to complain, my feet have been itching for the open road, my eyes dying for new sights and my palate hankering for new tastes and foods.  I still have some great content to share and post on the usual subjects before I leave, but please be advised that for the duration of the trip (12/16/08-1/1/09) I will be publishing travel journals instead of my typical blog content.

The Research

For the past month I’ve been scouring the web for deals and information.  New Zealand’s weather, current currency rate, and beauty put it high on the list. As did the climate, exchange rate and tango dancing in Argentina.   I even considered Iceland despite the 5 hours of daylight and 35 degree highs…after all how can you beat an opportunity to visit a Scandinavian country whose currency has lost nearly half of its value in the last 5 months?  A return trip to the Greek islands also received heavy consideration.  As did Costa Rica, Hawaii and Cancun.  So many amazing destinations … each with its own flavor, its own mystery and its own adventure.

One of the most exciting things about travel is how your comfort level changes the more you do it. As I learn more about the world at large my curiosity and hunger to explore it continues to grow.  The end result is a fairly carefree approach to where I end up.  I know that no matter where I go or what part of the world I explore, I will grow as an individual while experiencing exciting new tastes, adventures and cultures.  The beauty of that approach is it allows me to be significantly more flexible when booking my trip. To use my upcoming trip as an example; despite researching possible destinations and airfare for more than a month and a half, it wasn’t until 60 minutes before I booked my flight that I knew which country/continent I was going to be traveling to.  30 minutes after that I’d narrowed the destination down to Barcelona and Madrid and shortly there after my ticket was booked.  There are few sensations like clicking “submit” and knowing that you just invested a sizable chunk of money in airfare and have committed to a new adventure. In its own way it’s every bit as exciting as a state of the art roller coaster ride and I find it often leaves me with similar butterflies in my stomach.

Unfortunately, the only time I’m able to get off is between December 16th and the 4th of January.  As a result of the holiday travel, airfare skyrockets during this period – even on international flights. As it turned out airfare to Argentina was over $500 more than a trip to Spain with airfare to New Zealand coming in at $800-$1000 more. Places like Hawaii, Cancun, and Puerto Rico were cheaper, but only by about $200.  By flying out on the 16th (my earliest possible date) and being willing to fly home on New Year’s Day, I was able to find airfare more than $200+ dollars cheaper than if I tried to fly back on the 2nd-4th.

The Resources

I do most of my booking research through Lessno.com and Kayak.com both of which do an excellent job searching multiple carriers and returning quality results.  While both offer a flexible date search the matrix which Lessno generates is the best I’ve seen on a travel booking site and allows for a much wider date range than Kayak.  On the flip side, with registration, Kayak’s daily fare monitoring e-mails can be really useful.  I did my actual booking, however, through FlyCheapAbroad.com which is the same service I booked through last year.  The website looked unprofessional and left me a bit nervous, but every time I’ve used them so far, they have delivered quality service and an unbeatable price.  The flight I ended up booking through them was the exact same flight that came up on Kayak but for more than $40 less.  Hopefully they won’t disappoint.  For those considering a flight to Hawaii or New Zealand, I discovered that Hawaiian Airlines and Air New Zealand/Qantas all run fantastic specials 1/2-2/3 of the lowest prices on Kayak and other search sites.  If you’re booking far enough in advance, it always pays to double check with the carrier and see what they’re offering.

With all of the global economic issues the dollar has been skyrocketing and while this may not be incredible for the US economy, it’s every travelers dream. The US dollar has gained over 20% against several major currencies over the last 6 months, and shows no signs of slowing down. It’s a great time to travel if you’ve been lucky enough to avoid the flood of pink slips going out.

The Destination

As mentioned above, I ended up selecting Spain as my destination.  My travel style is backpack/hostel based and takes a very play-it-by-ear approach.  I’ve booked my ticket so I know my starting and ending destination, but that’s about the extent of it.  I’ll be booking a hostel ahead of time in Spain for my first 2 nights and another over Christmas as a precautionary step, but beyond that my trip will be fluid.  While I may end up making it over to Portugal, it’s more likely that I’ll be focusing on southern Spain.  16 days should be just about the right amount of time to give southern Spain a somewhat thorough going over.  Similar to the first 2 months of my trip last year I’ll be traveling on my own and I’ll use Hostelworld.com, Couchsurfing.com and Hostelbookers to find and book my accommodations.

I’m eager to re-visit Spain and see it through an adult’s eyes and perception (I spent time there when I was 11 back in ’95) . I’m also thrilled to have an opportunity to explore a piece of Europe I skipped over during my last trip.   I’d love to make it over into southern France but highly doubt I’ll even make it as far as Barcelona.

One exciting addition to the trip that I did not have with me last year is an ultra portable Flip Camera. If all goes according to plan I should have the usual travel photos as well as exciting new video to share with you all.

Have tips, suggestions or ideas on where to go/see and stay?  Please share them in the comments section below! It’s time to do a bit of wayfaring!