spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Happy Blog-aversary to meeeeeee

This is a short and sweet celebration of 4 years of blogging.  I’m grateful to still have this outlet for all my planning shenanigans.  PLAN-anigans?!  Yes, I just made that word up, and …yes, you’re all very welcome to use it.  If I ever change the name of this blog, it’ll be to “Plananigans: the joys of an orderly life.”

Anyway, here’s a look back at last year’s capsule post:

I’m in the thick of advance planning for Europe 2018, as well as being super focused on finishing off the car loan a year early.  I’ll be grateful that we can take the kids on these adventures, and soak in their gratitude, as they have really started to express it.  I’ll be banking any miles/points bonus opportunities and sharing them here.  I hope everyone can achieve their travel dreams, and hope to help them along!  Here’s to another year!

I’m going to call it a success.  We did in fact pay off our car loan over a year early, so that bit of the budget has already been reallocated to the Car Replacement/Repair Fund.  And the kids are getting ever more excited about the trip, with my son making a passport for his stuffed bear, and my daughter planning all the pictures she will take with a new camera she is saving up for.  I hope my sharing the ways I’ve used miles and points on this trip have been helpful to all!

Next up for me is more planning.

  • I’m considering getting a new credit card to help offset that pesky Paris-Seville trip cost.  It’s been a long time since I applied for one- almost 2 years, which is a lot for someone who loves sign-up bonuses!  Anyway, I’m still comparing which would work best for me, so I’ll write about it when I decide.
  • my daughter’s school band is doing a trip in the spring- to NYC!!!  They’ve been talking about it for about a year, and after several information sessions, and meeting the minimum number of participants, the trip is officially ON!  I will be going along, of course, but as an independent traveler.  I’m taking my son and staying with my parents in NJ- should be a great time.  Another trip to plan, yay.  Planning to use my Alaska Companion Fare for these mainland tix.

Ok, now to the capsule statement for next year…

I will have greatly enjoyed our European trip, having packed just the right amount of clothes, purchased the perfect magnets/souvenirs, and taken precious photos of my family having both spontaneous and planned fun.  I will be spoiled by having seen my parents in December (for Xmas in North Carolina), January (on the way back from Europe), March (for the band trip), and May (when they visit Hawaii for DD’s graduation).  I will be getting ready to send DD off to college and wondering if I can pay for tuition with a credit card…think of all the miles!

Thanks for reading!


I feel like a real EuroSTAR

I took the Eurostar train from London to Paris once before, and I remember it was pretty cool.  I was all, European Rail Travel! Crumpets to Croissants! The Chunnel! For this trip, once our departure to Europe changed from the NYC area to North Carolina, and the opportunity to fly into London was in play, I realized that my next Eurostar opportunity had arrived!  I immediately started researching, and saw the magic words any uber-planner loves…“prices are cheaper the earlier you book”Read the rest of this entry »

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An Adventure in American AAdvantage and Avios

…ay ay ay 🙂  My mission: get the 4 of us from Seville (SVQ) to Barcelona (BCN) using less than $420, preferably on nonstop flights, preferably later in the day. Seemed easy at first: Iberia MUST have a nonstop flight between these popular Spanish destinations, right? And I could totally use my Avios on Iberia flights, so that would be a cinch, right? You would think so…

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Paris to Seville UNbooked! And Newark-Honolulu finally booked!

Why would I UNbook something when the cancellation/change fees are crazytown?  Trust me, all will be explained.  I had all my price alerts set and had been manually checking prices as well…and it paid off!  I used my trusty Alaska Companion Fare to make some travel magic…and I was able to stay (sort of) on budget.  Here’s how I did it… Read the rest of this entry »

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Bits & Pieces: Southwest Hawaii news, IHG and SPG card changes

Holy cannoli, things have been crazy lately.  My trip planning took a bit of a back seat, though I did manage to book some tickets from Paris to Seville on Transavia, which is a European low-cost carrier affiliated with Air France/KLM.  More on that in another post- especially as they’ve already made an unfavorable schedule change…I refused the change via email and they said they’ll be contacting me (during THEIR business hours, in the Netherlands) to discuss the alternatives.  Anyway…on to the good stuff! Read the rest of this entry »

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Confession: I just bought 4 tickets…with cash

I KNOW!  It’s so rare for me to pay for anything but taxes when using miles/points, or pay for 1 or 2 fares and use miles/points/companion fare for the rest.  But this time it made a lot of sense.  I still have some tickets to buy for the European trip, but I’ll discuss some nice updates from Chase Ultimate Rewards that may just help me out with those. Read the rest of this entry »

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Consulate and Embassy- what’s the difference?

I recently had cause to consider the title question, and realized that I couldn’t quite answer it.  It was on my mind as I renewed DD’s passport and needed to browse the travel.state.gov website for the appropriate forms.  It popped up again when my parents sent me a box of some childhood documents, including my original application for Naturalization, which had some government addresses on it.  Do you know the difference between a consulate and an embassy?  Let’s find out! Read the rest of this entry »

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Award travel success- transatlantic flights

I plugged our voyage  into the Great Circle Mapper, an excellent site to determine flight miles between destinations, potentially very useful in the near future (see Flights to Spain and Flights within Spain further down).  This is what came back!

europe trip route map

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Award travel success so far, European hotels

Yeaaaaaaaaaaah buddy! We currently have 4 of 7 hotel nights needed covered with points, with 2 of the remaining 3 hopefully covered by certificates later this year.  I shall now regale you with my recent adventures in hotel booking.

Um, have you ever noticed that European hotels (even American chains) rarely sleep more than 2 people?  I’ve had quite a time setting up 4-person rooms in London, Paris, and Barcelona.  We are lucky to be able to stay with family or friends in our other 3 stops (North Carolina, Seville, and New Jersey).  My chart:

Location # of nights needed # of nights booked on points # of nights paying OOP % nights covered
North Carolina  3-4  3-4 sister points  0  100%
London 1
Paris 3
Seville 3  3 friend points  0  100%
Barcelona 3
New Jersey 2  2 daughter points  0  100%

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8:07-8:45a, 1/13/18

This screenshot from my cell phone, plus the message, “We just received this message from the Civil Defense.  We are all together in the house.”


That’s what my parents, my sister, and my daughter’s father received from me at 8:12am Saturday.  I had woken up due to the distinctive sounds of the cellular emergency alert- Hawaii residents have heard it quite a few times over the years, due to tsunami warnings, hurricane watches, and flash floods.  I opened my eyes and read it, then stared at the message uncomprehendingly.  It felt like minutes went by but it must have been seconds.  I yelled at my husband to read it, yelled for the children to come to my bedroom, turned on the TV, and sent that message to my loved ones.

After a few moments of chaos in the house, closing the windows and shutting the doors, we all settled into my bed.  We did a short explanation of what was happening to the kids.  I desperately searched the channels for anyone offering more information.  My brain was pushing forth random bits of knowledge: the local news said a few weeks ago that we would have about 15 minutes available if a missile was launched from North Korea and aimed toward Hawaii; that if it were possible to aim such a device precisely, they were split on whether it would head toward the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor with all the military presence or toward Waikiki for maximum loss of life; that if it were nuclear, then all bets were off; that I hadn’t heard the new sirens that went into effect 2 months ago; that I needed to add some things to my “throw in our bag if we have to evacuate” list; that now nearly 10 minutes had gone by and no one was saying a damn thing on TV.  It was 8:22am.

I tried to quiet all these thoughts as I explained to my DD that we had the recommended amount of bottled water and canned food in the apartment, plus a crank radio and candles, and where all those things were.  I told her that our living trust and wills were updated, with my parents and sister having a copy of everything they would need to access our life insurance and other important documents.  I said all this and dimly thought that I could be proud of having done so without breaking down. At first I thought I had started crying, but it was DD.  Her phone was buzzing nonstop, her friends all expressing how much they loved her and each other.

I realized that I hadn’t said “I love you,” in the message to my family.  I decided to do so once some news outlet confirmed this nightmare for me.  I figured I would start with a voice message recorded on WhatApp so the “I love you” could be preserved and uninterrupted.  Then I would call, and go through the whole situation and answer their questions.  It was now 8:27am.

I was mentally writing a script when several things happened.  My husband’s phone started pinging with Facebook messages, screenshots of Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s tweet saying that it had been a false alarm.  My own phone started buzzing with texts to the same effect.  Finally, a local news network interrupted the college basketball game we had muted in the background to report on the story.  They were leading with Gabbard’s tweet, and also expressing surprise that no official retraction/correction had been made, well past the time we would have all been attacked.  People were floating stories of possible hackers to the system, Pearl Harbor-style early warnings that shouldn’t be ignored this time, and impact/fallout survival basics.

Finally, at 8:45am, we received the official “false alarm” message.  It made little impact to my state of mind.  OK, false alarm, but of what?  Had something been in fact launched, but shot down before reaching us?  Was it an asteroid headed our way that set off the warning system on some satellite?  How could this have happened?  Where we just supposed to have a normal Saturday now?

I decided that no one was leaving the house that day, and we cautiously left the bedroom.  I talked to my parents on the phone, and texted my sister on and off.  At one point or another, all 4 of us had splitting headaches.  I made chicken quesadillas for lunch, my son’s favorite “crispy fish” for dinner.  We watched our favorite funny movie, “Big Business,” which contains this line that makes me belly laugh every time.

My son was a little harder to settle for bed that night, needing some music and his sister to be in the room before falling asleep.  I talked to one of my best friends from college on the phone, and she made me feel better by saying that she’s trying to come for a visit sometime this year.  I did some trip research and booked our London hotel (Crowne Plaza- King’s Cross) with IHG points.  There is a Platform 9 3/4 store there in the terminal, plus a fun photo op!  This improved my state of mind.  But I knew the nighttime would be rough.

And I was right.  I was terrified to sleep, thinking about waking up tomorrow to same situation, Groundhog Day style.  I hadn’t cried yet, and was waiting for it to hit me.  I delayed as long as I could, and finally drifted off after 3am.

Today was Sunday, and as it happened, I had a rare weekend day to myself.  DD had a school event for extra credit, and DH/DS were off to watch the Sony Open (a golf tournament).  With my time, I made our weekly bread, cleaned the house a bit, exercised, read, worked on a puzzle, etc.  I was feeling OK.  But it finally hit me as I was washing the dishes.  Reader, I cried.  I sobbed.  It will take a long time for me to come back mentally from holding my kids and husband close while planning the last conversation I would ever have with my parents/sister.  And I was lucky- we were all home!  If this had been a few weeks ago, or a few weeks in the future, we might have all been scattered around town, at baseball games, theatre rehearsals, or work.

All this distress over a warning system that had to be put in place over what amounts to a dick-measuring contest between 2 imbéciles.  

It’s now been confirmed that the whole false alarm thing was down to human error, which occurred during routine testing of the system.  So, now we know it works, which is a positive.  But, should there be a next time, I wonder how many will take it as seriously as they did this time?

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