Monday, May 19, 2008

Flights to Obscure Places

After a longer than anticipated stop in Calgary (which included the best snowboarding season ever), Lara and I are on the road again as of early May. This time we are off for a year on a trip that will take us from Holland to Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, caving in China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and finally six months in various parts of Africa. Because we are going for so long our schedule is flexible. That way we can spend more time in places we like and adjust to changing political conditions.

The first adjustment we had to make happened even before we left Calgary. We had intended to start the trip in China and head overland to Kyrgyszstan through Xinjiang province in Western China. Unfortunately because of all the political unrest China has effectively closed the country to independent travel. You need hotel reservations for every night in the country and visas are limited to 30 days. This is fine for an organized tour, but makes backpacking rather difficult. A nice man at the Chinese embassy denied us our visa request and told us to try again after the olypmics.

As a result we decided to start our trip in Kyrgyszstan instead (after visiting Lara's family in Toronto). All Central Asian countries require a Visa and Kyrgyszstan is the only one where you can get it at the airport so it is a logical starting point. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that Toronto-Bishkek (Kyrgyszstan) is not a major travel route so we decided to book the flight ourselves as seperate legs. This turned out to be a pretty interesting experience in do-it-yourself travel booking.

I started by researching which airlines fly into Bishkek. We found out that there are direct flights to Bishkek from Istanbul on Turkish Air. The Turkish Visa is available at the airport, so that isn't a problem. Istanbul is also easily reachable from Amsterdam, and there are direct flights from Toronto to Amsterdam. Since I have family in the Netherlands that seemed like a great way to go.

We found out that websites like and don't show flights on discount airlines (think Westjet), so we researched discount airlines and found a cheap charter from Toronto to Amsterdam and another cheap charter from Amsterdam to Turkey. Simply by typing "Discount Airlines" into Google we saved about $1000.00.

Just as I was about to book the first flights Erin Lynch, my friend in China managed to get us an invitation letter to go caving in China. As a result we could now get a 30 day Chinese Visa without hotel bookings. We couldn't really carry our caving gear through a month of travelling, but I was able to find a company that could ship our caving gear to China for about $300. As a result, we can now do our China caving trip even though we won't be able to do the sightseeing we had originally planned.

Luckily we didn't have to change our plans much. All we need to do is time our entry into Kyrgyszstan so that we don't overstay our welcome before heading out to China. And of course we now need to figure out how to get from Bishkek to Chengdu, China. Our research shows that it is possible via Urumqi China, but we'll have to book the tickets in Bishkek since there aren't reliable online bookings for some of the airlines we want to use.

Who knew that an adventure would need so much paperwork! And we haven't even started to get all the required Central Asian visas yet.

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