Jetlag, again. If there are a ton of typos in this post, I’ll blame it on a combo of jetlag, and writing this post back and forth between my iPhone and iPad. I am sitting in my father’s kitchen at 4 am, reflecting on the year that was. I can’t lie, I’m a sucker for these sorts of moments in life, and so while I consider New Year’s Eve the most overrated holiday, I do fancy the opportunity to sit back and reflect on the year. In this case, there’s a lot to reflect on, and a lot to hope for in 2015. So let’s look back: how many countries did we visit, how many miles did we fly, and most important of all, what life lessons did we all learn from our travels this year?

The number of miles flown this year was absurd when you consider travel blogging isn’t exactly a full time gig for us. In a little more than 5 weeks, Laura and I have circled the globe. Twice. So how many miles does that add up to?

Patrick: 120,669 miles
Laura: 74,455 miles

Between the two of us, we have been been on the road a lot. What countries have we visited?

Chile
Argentina (twice)
Germany
Netherlands (twice)
United Kingdom
Peru
Belize
Italy
Hungary
Japan
Hong Kong
South Africa
Qatar
Mexico (12 times)

However, hitting 14 countries in one year, some multiple times (Mexico, my second home), had it’s impact on our domestic travel. Where did we travel domestically?

New Orleans
San Francisco
Palo Alto
San Diego
San Jose
Santa Barbara
New York
Denver
Washington D.C.
Lake of the Four Seasons, Indiana
Milwaukee (3 times)
Chicago (twice)

But I’ve never been a numbers and stats guy, which probably explains why I work in the touchy feely world instead of something with science. And so to me, the question at the end of each trip, each year, always circles back to “why does any of this matter?” What did we learn?

Going back to places is great
For a long time, my obsession with travel had to do with seeing new places. I was on a quest to increase the number of places I had visited, and the idea of returning to countries hardly mattered. That changed this year. Returning to Hong Kong and eating our favorite dim sum at Tim Ho Wan was unforgettable.

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Tijuana, I have come to find, is one of my favorite cities in the world, and much of that is because of the people I have come to call friends there. And it meant the world to me to discover Amsterdam, one of my favorite cities in Europe, and to return a few months later to explore it with Laura.

And next year, the theme of returning continues. I visit El Salvador again in a few short days. We return to South Africa for a wedding. And I go back to Mexico countless times, and am most excited and nervous about my return to Ecuador, the country outside of my own that means the most to me.

It’s ok not to like a place

I pride myself on my curiosity first and foremost, and on my ability to find goodness everywhere I look second. And so Doha, Qatar, was an immense challenge for me. It has certainly ignited my curiosity, but most likely not in the way the Royal Family of Qatar might hope. While in Doha, I do not believe we met a single Qatari citizen. No joke. But we interacted with countless employees from SouthEast Asia, India, Kenya, and elsewhere in the world. We heard brief snippets of stories of people lured to the country to make money and trying to find meaning (and any amount of joy) to live there beyond the money. We saw fashionable stores and expensive cars, only to have our image of those blocked by poor migrants from Bangladesh and other impoverished parts of the region who are building this city up for the World Cup and beyond and losing their lives in the process.

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On top of it all, the city had no soul.

I am sure there are people that love Qatar. It projects a growing power and influence that is hard to deny. But to me, the city of Doha was a slap in the face to human dignity and symbolic of all the many dangers of materialism. And what I learned being there was that it was alright to not like it. I was happy to leave. I found goodness in the incredible people working against incredible odds in this city, but I take little comfort in their goodness knowing how horribly stacked the odds are against them. The Middle East can be such a beautiful place and for me, Doha simply struggled to capture any of that beauty I know so well in other parts of the region.

Mother nature deserves our respect

I have always known this of course. I live in an earthquake zone, ever aware that nature can have it’s way with everything mankind has built in Los Angeles. But on our safari, I found myself wondering how different our world would be, for the environment and animal rights, if all people had a chance to do a safari. I will write a separate post about the safari later, but our guide was an absolute lover of animals. She knew which animal was which, she had named all the elephants, all the lions, etc… She grew fussy when she witnessed tourists driving through the park who didn’t respect the animals or the environment. Plenty of times we chased a vehicle down to chastise them.

But it was really in observing the zebras, the elephants, and even the strange little dung beetles that I grew more and more appreciative of the wild world beyond my urban existence. I was in awe of these creatures, blessed to be so close, and curious like a 3rd grade child at the end of each game drive. If they had an Encyclopedia set (remember those?) I would have been leafing through the pages about each animal, every night.

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I never want to use my miles for anything less than business class

Arrogant? You bet. But the way I see it, we all have to be arrogant about something, and for me it’s travel. In November and December alone, we took 6 flights of 8 hours or more, and only 2 were in economy. Until you experience it, you’ll never know how pleasant it is to push a button that turns your seat into a bed, and sleep away 8 of the 15 hours of your long haul journey. The food is nice, the audio video screens huge, and the lounge access convenient (free food, reliable wifi, and good showers) but it’s all about the seat and the leg room. When you redeem miles, the biggest bang for the buck is in business or first class redemption. The journey we just completed to Hong Kong, South Africa, and Qatar would have cost over $25,000 if we redeemed it with cash. Instead, it cost us some SMART earned airline miles and $200. Earn your miles and utilize them for business or above, you won’t be sorry! Don’t believe me? Look below…

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Some of the best travel is left to luck

In May, an opportunity arose. Europe and Japan, together on one ticket, for less than $300. Sure I’d have to find a way to get home from Japan, but with airline miles, that was no problem. I called Laura, but she was in a meeting. I figured the window was closing on this deal so I took a gamble and bought tickets, praying she wouldn’t find me crazy or seek out papers for divorce. Turns out she thought I was crazy, but that good sexy kind of crazy that comes with “Hey babe, I just arranged for us to return to the city we fell in love (Tokyo) and to explore Budapest and Rome as well.”

We had the trip of a lifetime, and most of it was just pure luck. I had one of the most memorable meals of my life in Belize, and it’s all because I was “unlucky”, unable to find the original restauraunt, I was seeking out, and settled instead for this random lobster shack on the side of the road.

We have the urge to plan the heck out of our travel. And some planning is good and needed, else you won’t be able to do what you want to do. But TripAdvisor and Yelp can only take you so far. Sometimes it’s worth taking a risk on a place that isn’t highly reviewed or reviewed at all. 99 out of 100 times, you’re better off asking a local where they suggest to eat. Plan out the big stuff, by all means. Make sure you visit the Anne Frank House and see Van Gogh’s artwork, but also allow yourself to just get lost on the beautiful streets of Amsterdam, wandering through this cobblestone street and that, curious, hopeful even, that the next discovery around the corner is the one you’ll share with friends years after your travels come to an end.

What’s next?

I used to joke that my resolution was to make no resolution. And so these aren’t resolutions so much as hopes and dreams.

Like I said earlier, I’m excited to visit El Salvador, Ecuador, and South Africa again. I’m also excited to visit Paris, wait for it- for the first time! Yes, I don’t know how it has eluded me for so long but on our journey to South Africa for Katye and Sarah’s wedding we’re also managing a stopover for a few days in Paris.

My goals as they pertain to this blog are simple:

1. I want to provide you more information about the place we know best: LA. Our most popular webpages right now are our blogs on where to eat in LAX and things to do around LAX on a layover. Another popular post is our social justice eats in LA. And so we want to bring you more of the LA we know best which lucky enough for you, is the LA that rarely makes it into any tourist guide books.

2. Other uncommon guides. Tijuana. Cordoa, Argentina. East LA. Places we know and are coming to know well, and places we find most tourists overlook. Keep your eyes open for guides like those, and we’re happy to take suggestions as well.

3. More collaboration. As blogging become a more and more serious hobby, our readership grows. It started with our moms reading our posts (thanks for still reading). Then a few friends got in on the act. It all changed the day I was having coffee with a friend at LMU, and a man I didn’t know approached me. He introduced himself as a friend of a friend and said he’d been hooked on the blog. Thanks to some of our advice, he managed to snag the trip he’d always wanted to do but never thought he could do, using some simple miles strategies we spoke of. Since then, our readership has grown and grown, and along the way we’ve met some great people. So my hopes for next year is to lean on you more. A blog flourishes when it is communal. I hope we get to meet some of you on our travels or share a meal with you when yours bring you to LA. I hope you continue to submit comments, questions, suggestions, and even the occasional hate mail (please sign it next time, at least) to help us better serve you.

It’s been a great year for the Furlongs and so we hope it has been the same for you. If it has, carry it over into 2015. If it hasn’t, well, turn a new leaf and meet 2015 with more optimism. Thanks for joining us, and as always, stay tuned as in the weeks to come we’ll have some fresh new posts and, most fun of all, a few new give aways. =)

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