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Logistics, planning, and scheduling (disappointment)

This trip has been in the planning phases for more than a year.

On November 18, 2013 I posted this on Facebook: 

I am once again thinking the trans-siberian railway sounds like a pretty cool vacation. Maybe in a year or two?

And my cousin Steve Vincent responded that he was interested. And the rest is history.

OK, so no. The rest is immediate future, which is pretty damn exciting. Since I’m typing this from my hotel room at the HuLu House in Beijing. I arrived late yesterday (that would be Thursday), and today Steve and I are headed out adventuring and hiking the Great Wall. (And let me tell you: I’m looking forward to the exercise, after last night’s extravagantly delicious dinner of Peking Duck and other assorted delicacies. Very yum.)

Anyway….back the beginning, for a bit. The adventure itself will start with the next post. First, I want to share some of the planning process.

I love planning. Planning travel is exciting. Reading about the history of places you’re going to visit, finding hidden gems in the blog posts and comments of others, anticipating the adventure is half the fun. Since we began planning this way back in 2013, I have been reading various books and blog posts, attraction summaries on TripAdviser and in (not one, not two, but THREE) guidebooks, and seeking out details about prices, packing lists, and itineraries.

Example: Attraction A in Town X is only open on Sunday. But the train schedule gets us there on Friday and do we really want to spend 2 days in Town X? (The answer is generally no.) Should we spend an extra day in Town Y so that we land in Town X on Saturday instead? But Attraction B in Town Y is only open Friday, and then we would miss it. Which is more important?

I suspect my examples are long-winded here, but at least you get the point. Planning is half the fun of travel. 

(Perhaps I should also note that I love spontaneity in travel, although I’m not very good at it. I’ve been working on that. I like to travel with people who are better at it than I am.)

Here’s what it comes down to:

  • We picked September/October because 1) we thought the weather would be pretty good, and 2) I thought I could get out of work more easily at the beginning of September.
  • We picked the Trans-Mongolian route because we both think Mongolia sounds pretty cool.
  • We’re going east-to-west because it’s the less traveled direction, and because I thought I could combine the trip with a work visit and get a free flight to Beijing (that didn’t work so well for me).
  • We’re ending not in Moscow but in Minsk because Steve and his wife live in Minsk part of every year, and so I have some pretty good incentive to make a visit!
  • And we’re not spending much time at all (only a few hours really) in Moscow, because while I might make it back to that grand city some day, I’m probably never going to go back to Lake Baikal. Or Kazan, or any of the other smaller cities we’ll be passing through.
By this past spring, we had a pretty solid itinerary, and had made reservations for a tour in Mongolia and a hotel in Beijing. We bought our plane tickets. We actually had money down. That was when I first really felt like, Hey, this trip is actually HAPPENING!

Which was about when:

Kerfuffle #1

(Note: There has not actually been a Kerfuffle #2, but come on: we’re traveling internationally for 3 weeks. There probably will be, at some point. Also, kerfuffle is a super word, and too good not to use when you have the opportunity.)
We discovered–after money was down in Mongolia and flights were purchased–that train schedules that were essentially the same for YEARS had suddenly CHANGED.
There was no longer a train to Mongolia on Saturday. 
There was NO WAY to get to Mongolia by train unless we either:
  1. Changed our trip start date, meaning changed flights (expensive), rebooked hotels, revised tour in Mongolia, and (most displeasing to me) renegotiated hard-fought vacation days with work.
  2. Stayed much longer in Beijing than initially planned. 
Neither of the above options were appealing.
So instead–and this is especially hard for me–we are not taking the train to Mongolia.
We are completely skipping the first leg of the train, and are flying to Ulan Batar. (Which I swear is spelled in too many different ways to tell which is write. I guess I’ll see what the signs say when I get there.)
Lesson: It’s important to be flexible on big trips like this. Even when you’re disappointed.
And I think that’s it for this post.
Normally I spend more time on these, proof reading and revising and such, but people it’s almost time for breakfast and I’m jet-lagged and hungry. So you get TRAIN OF THOUGHT.
(I guess The World can now make some intuitions about how I think. That’s a little worrisome. Use your power for good, Friends!)