When you think you are well prepared for your USA trip …

but you aren’t.

It is nice to plan a trip yourself: you can often find cheaper deals and book everything from your pc, however you can also miss some important information that travel agents would have given you.
That happened to me!

I have been preparing like mad for this trip and as a final check I just wanted to make sure that my Dutch passport (which expires by the end of January 2010) was OK to travel with to the US. So I called the US Embassy in London and checked with them, and yes all was fine.

Oh and by the way had I registered on the Electronic System for Travel Authorization? Uhh, what? Uhh, no? Never heard of it? Didn’t need to last time I went to the US?
No, but you need to now!

So how do I do that, I asked the lady?
Well I could Apply here.
Allrighty, will do that I said.
Yes and you have to do it 72 hrs before you leave.
Ehrm, I am leaving within 48 hrs..? (I could feel a heart attack brewing)
Well we can’t guarantee you’ll have it in time then.
But my flight is going on Friday? What happens if I don’t have it by then?
You can’t get on your flight.
But why didn’t British Airways tell me?
It’s the responsibility of the traveller.
Is there any way in which I can get it faster?
Nope. There wasn’t. And really the Embassy woman could not care less.

And I thought But. I. Really. Have. Been. looking. Forward. To. This. Trip…. and could see the plane flying away without me Friday.

You better apply as fast as possible – she told me.

And so I did, barely able to type my name correctly because of the stress and the thought that my trip would be cancelled. I entered the application form, prepared for some nervewracking hours to come waiting if they would be able to process my application before Friday or not. And – I got approved within 10 seconds.

I did not believe it at first and had to read the page 5 times, but yes I was approved and can travel to the US on Friday.

That was a major PHEW!! I can tell you. And I learned my lesson – never assume that things are the same as last year. Whenever travelling to a country – check the bloody rules for entering that country.

And just so you don’t have to go through the same stress:

If you are travelling to the US and your country participates in the Visa Waiver program you need to apply online for Travel Authorization.

It is free and the only website to do that is the official ESTA website. Fill in the form, and wait for approval. Apparantly it can take up anything from 10 seconds to 72 hours to be approved. Be aware that there are website do the application for you for money, don’t go there, the only official website is the one mentioned above.

My heart beat is slowly getting back to normal. I think I am going to spoil myself with a KitKat and a tea now.

Oh and don’t you just love the sketch, make your own on: Odopod.com (Click for original size)

USA Holiday preparation

There are only seven days until my departure to the USA, so a good time today to do any last minute holiday shopping on Amazon.

I ordered the following neccesary items:

  • SanDisk 4GB SDHC Secure Digital Card. Something tells me that I am going to take a lot of photos, and with both an 8MP and a 10MP camera, the file size of the photos will be large. I don’t want to take the risk of running out of cards, so I ordered another 4GB. Just to be on the safe side.
  • Lowepro Apex 20AW Digital Camera Pouch – Arctic Blue. A small more protective pouch for my Panasonic DMC-TZ4 pocket camera. Somehow I managed to get this for £7.49 from Amazon including postage, but it doesn’t show up for that price anymore now. I guess I was lucky!
  • A cute luggage tag and a lock. Yes ok they have hearts on them. But I liked them, and they will make my suitcase even more recognizable when it arrives at LAX airport.
  • Noise Cancelling Foldable Headphones
    It is going to be a long flight from London to LA, estimated flying time is 11 hrs 5 min, distance: 8758 km / 5442 miles. Wow!

    I have done a long flight like this before, from Beijing to London so I kind of know what to expect, but it is a long time. Good thing that BA has entertainment on demand in their aircrafts. And just to be able to hear the movies properly or listening to the onboard radio, and to keep some of the airplane noise out of my ears – noise cancelling headphones seemed handy.

    BA has taken The Boat That Rocked from their schedule again though, which is hugely disappoiinting. But they do show a Bill film: Notes on a Scandal, and they show other favourites like The Proposal. And there are actually some films on the list that I haven’t seen: The Knowing and The Hangover for example. I think time will fly. Literally.

  • The Boat That Rocked [DVD] [2009]. Yes what can I say, if BA doesn’t want to show it, I have to buy the DVD. For the extra material alone. Please, please let there be more material showing Bill Nighy dancing on Rolling Stones music.

I will now make a map of the locations of my hotels, and the things I would like to see. And write a long list of things I want to do, and plot them on the map too.

I bought two guides: Los Angeles (DK Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide) for LA, and San Francisco and Northern California (DK Eyewitness Travel Guide).

So I am already having a lot of fun finding out what to do and see in both places.

Of course I am also keeping a close eye on the wild fires in the California, and especially Los Angeles but it looks like things are getting under control. Which is good for the people who live there, but also for me as a visitor.

If there is anything I absolutely should not forget to bring with me, let me know!

“I’ve bought a ticket to the States. I’m off in three weeks.”

US trip

(Coffee on me for the person recognizing the title quote without googling!)

I am not exactly off in three weeks, I am off in 10 days! And I am not prepared at all yet, so I better start working on that.

I have stripped off quite some bits from the draft plan and have decided to leave the East coast for another time.

I did try to put Chicago in, but I had trouble finding a reasonable priced place to stay so I dropped it in the end. Next time, baby.

The final plan is simple:

  1. I fly from London to Los Angeles.
  2. I spent a couple of days in LA.
  3. I take the Amtrak Coast Starlight train to San Francisco. This takes 11 h 17 minutes and is supposed to be one of the most beautiful train rides in the US. (You can continue to Seattle if you stay on the train, but I get off in San Francisco).
  4. I stay in San Francisco for 6-7 days and fly back to London.

That is roughly the plan. I have booked flights and hotels using Expedia, Tripadvisor and Hotelscombined. Now I just need to figure out what to see and do.

A couple of things I know I am going to do:

In San Francisco

  1. Rent a bike and bike the bridge.. It is not sure I will rent the bike there, am still investigating the possibilities, but am definitely going to bike the bridge.
  2. Take a ride on a San Francisco cable car
  3. Do a whale watch tour.

More ideas will popup I am sure, also for LA, but this is as far as I got.

I have to run now, I am off to a preview of Away We Go. (by Sam “American Beauty” Mendes).

Travel plans – version 1 – I need your help!

US trip

It has been a while since I have been on a far (ok further) away trip, so this year I have decided to cross some items of my “would love to see” list.

(Here is a bigger version of the map on Google)

But I need your help dear readers.

But first, the plan. Here are the places I want to visit:

1. Boston
I want to go to Boston to do a Whale watching boat trip. I have long been wanting to see whales from up close and Boston seems to be a perfect place for it.

I also want to do this Lighthouse tour, this area is about an hour north of Boston.

But apart from that, is Boston worth a visit?

2. Niagara Falls
I want to do the Maid of the Mist tour and just see these impressive falls. (Am planning to stay here for one day and then move on)

3. Chicago

I don’t know anything about Chicago, but it is just one of these places that sound so familiar.
Question to you reader: is it worth visiting? And what to see there?

4. San Francisco
I know what I want to see here: the Golden Gate bridge. And it is on the coast, so I am sure there is a beach too. And light houses.
And there is some more whale watching to do here as well. Wait a minute, do I actually need to go to Boston at all?

Has any of you ever been in San Francisco? What area is good to stay? And what to see and do there? How much time would you spend here?

5. Los Angeles
This is a bit the same thing as Chicago. I have heard the name so many times before. I know they have the “HOLLYWOOD” letters on the hill there. But is Los Angeles worth a visit? What to see and do there? How much time would you spend here?

Any tips and hints and comments are highly appreciated!

(I am planning on spending about 2 weeks in the US)

I can hear you think – where is New York on the map! I know, I know, but Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman did not have time to see me before November, so New York is scheduled then. Honestly, I am not even sure I will survive watching both Craig and Jackman on one stage.

London » New York

Packed suitcase.
Charged batteries.
Loaded iPod with the right tunes and voiciliciousness.
2 paper notebooks and a couple of pens.
Passport, plane ticket and theatre ticket reservations (let’s see what happens).
Credit card.
The need to relax and be away for a couple of days.
2 lucky coins in my pocket.
I am ready.

Irregular posting the next couple of days, but I surely will write from the Internet cafe in 23rd Street, just around the corner of the Empire State building.

See you in New York.