Sunday, April 30, 2006

Shot Put

None of the travel vaccines was covered by my medical insurance.

The policy of non-coverage seems short-sighted but typical. Most Americans conceptualize a vacation as a hurried one- or two-week jag within North America or to the Caribbean or Western Europe. Few of these destinations require much in the way of immunization. So the insurance companies opt not to cover, and the serious travellers with my health plan have to pay out of pocket for their vaccinations.

I had seven shots, which totalled $944, or $134.86 per shot. I don't really have a way of gauging if this is expensive or not, but it does not seem outrageous. On the other hand, one of the shots was a polio booster, and I assume the R&D for the two major polio vaccines had paid for itself by, oh, 1969.

Ouch

Albert Pujols is not Hee-Seop Choi, and Sonja the Nurse is not Juan the Medical Assistant.

Earlier this month, Juan tacked five vaccines into me within two minutes. Barely felt a thing. Butterfly kisses, via steel needles.

Yesterday, Sonja the Nurse gave me one shot. Searing pain throughout the procedure, which seemed to take far longer than necessary. Arm hurt all day and is still sore.

Sonja should take more batting practice.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

2 x 2 = $2.70

Visa photos are overpriced.

A photograph that meets international passport and visa standards -- 2" x 2", full color, on photographic paper, full face, no glasses or hats -- costs between $2.75 and $3.00 per photo here in Los Angeles.

Kinkos had the best combination of price and convenience, at $2.70 per photo, before tax. A few places near LAX had slightly lower prices, but getting to and from El Segundo is a pain. Price breaks for larger orders were slim, probably because few people ask for 10 to 20 photos at a time.

I find it hard to believe that the investment in paper and employee time, plus the amortized cost of the cameras and printers, is more than 50 cents per photo. My guess is that the photo stores know that the average consumer of passport and visas photos is in a time crunch and isn't going to object to a few extra dollars to satisfy a bureaucratic necessity.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Spectacles

I purchased four pairs of glasses, two regular glasses and two sunglasses. All prescription, since my eyes have deteriorated a little since my last exam five years ago. I am a collector of optical imperfections, being simultaeously near-sighted, far-sighted and astigmatic.

The top criterion was durability. One of the frames is made from titanium, and two from chrome. One of the sunglasses is shaded in black, the other in brown. One covers more surface area than the other. The road will decide which is more practical.

I went to the Optical Shop of Aspen on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, which is not a place to shop if you are looking for a deal.

Total bill: $2,263. Or $565.75 per pair. Or $188.58 per pair per year, assuming three years of wear.

Using the correct formula, any purchase can be justified as practical and thrify. See.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Amazing!

The Republic of India has officially granted Peter Fallow the privilege of entrance and exit, in six-month installments, for the next ten years.

I am amazed at the speed at which the Consulate General of India processed the visa application. The official literature stated that processing took five to ten business days, but I assumed that was an optimistic estimate – an "aspirational" rule, as the lawyers say. It took less than one week.

I am amazed at the beauty of the visa. The full-page sticker is filled with ornate rotogravure in multiple colors: orange, purple, yellow, green and light blue on a white background. The wheel that appears in blue on the Indian flag, called the Ashoka’s dharma chakra, is engraved in yellow on the visa. The Consulate General affixed its seal in dark blue. A consular officer signed the visa in green ink, taking care that the signature extended onto the passport page itself to prevent tampering.

I am amazed that India will allow almost any U.S. citizen to bum around the country for ten years. It’s an enlightened, open-minded, forward-thinking policy which must be reaping dividends in investment, development and additional tourism. It’s something that China should consider when reviewing its stingy policy of 30-day tourist visas.

And I am amazed that India would grant the 10-year visa to me, what with my official plan to eat, drink and cavort from one end of the sub-continent to the other. Now without time constraints!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Another Puncture

Japanese encephalitis vaccine shot No. 2 of 3. Painless enough. Juan, the Mexican medical assistant at my doctor's office, has great technique. You can barely feel the stick.

DMV

I love the DMV. Despite its reputation, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has been pleasant and efficient. Would that every government agency worked as well.

The DMV web page allows you to sign up for an appointment at the branch of your choice. When you arrive, you get into a small line of people with appointments and avoid the enormous line of people without. You fill out the proper form, get called to a window, conduct your business and leave. The whole thing takes about 40 minutes. And there’s a large portrait of Governor Schwarzenegger watching over you the entire time.

Thus far, I have had to conduct three separate DMV transactions. First, I obtained a California Identification Card to use as a back-up government-issued photo ID. Second, I updated my Drivers License photo, so customs and border officials would see a bland thirtysomething businessman in a suit instead of a long-haired 24-year-old in a hideous rugby shirt. Third, I paid off my car and received the title in less than two weeks.

DMV. Better than Passport Services!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Time Shift

When I first decided to take a year off and travel, the principal motivator was that I was tired of my job. So, when I started preparing for the trip, I began a countdown of the number of days until I stopped work.

After purchasing the outward-bound ticket, I started to track both the number of days until I stopped work and the number of days until I left the U.S.

Now, I only keep track of the number of days until I leave the country. Leaving my job -- the impetus for the trip -- has become a side issue.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Onward Ticket

Welcome FlyerTalk readers! I have always enjoyed the high level of knowledge on the FlyerTalk forums, and I certainly hope you like this blog enough to bookmark it and check in once in a while.

Several FT members have raised the question of how I am handling Thailand's onward ticket requirement. Thailand, like a lot of countries, requires that you have a ticket -- often an airline ticket -- to leave the country before the border officers will let you into the country. Now, in reality, Thailand does not enforce this requirement. But an airline can be fined if it transports a person to a country who is denied entrance. So the airline check-in people at your point of departure are often hyper-picky about your travel documentation and, if they find it wanting, will not allow you to board.

Some long-term travelers purchase a fully refundable ticket from Thailand to a neighboring country and then, once they are in Thailand, cash in the ticket for a refund. But it can be easier to purchase a non-refundable ticket on one of the new low-cost Asian carriers and then throw it away if you don’t use it.

For example, a one-way fully refundable Economy ticket on Thai Air from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, costs $187. But a one-way non-refundable ticket for the same route on AirAsia costs only $28. When you factor in the time value of the money and the potential hassle of getting the refund, some people may opt to purchase the non-refundable AirAsia ticket. If an airline charges a refund fee of more than $28, the choice seems clear.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ticket

I have purchased the airline ticket. Thai Air. One way to Bangkok. Leaving in early July. Fully changeable and refundable (because I am a worry wart).

I purchased a seat in Premium Economy, a relatively new class of seating which I hope becomes a standard option throughout the industry. Premium Economy is a special section, usually at the front of the Economy cabin, that provides more legroom. That's it. The services are usually exactly the same as in Economy. But Premium Economy on Thai Air offers six extra inches of legroom which, on a fifteen-hour flight for a six foot one guy, can make several hundred dollars worth of difference.

The Thai Air pricing has a strange quirk. The one-way, restricted Economy ticket is $811.50. The one-way, unrestricted, Premium Economy ticket is $1,170.50. But a one-way, unrestricted Economy ticket is $2,019.50. Clearly, Thai Air is charging an exhorbitant amount for unrestricted Economy tickets in order to identify those customers who are willing to pay more for extra room and nudge them to buy a Premium Economy ticket. But why at a price that's almost twice what is necessary to get the job done and which all but guarantees that no one will be purchasing unrestricted Economy tickets?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Punctures

On Friday afternoon, my employer contributed an additional two hours to the trip as I visited the Travel Clinic of my HMO. In rapid succession, I received immunization injections for typhoid, meningitis and yellow fever, a polio booster, and the first of three shots for Japanese encephalitis. I had previously received the shots for hepatitis A and hepatitis B as well as a chicken pox booster.

My arms felt like logs that had been chopped my lumberjacks.

All Clear

All credit cards have now been paid, leaving a balance of zero. On the road, the cards will be used for better hotel accommodations and airline tickets, but generally used as little as possible. The credit is really for the back-home expenses on the other side of the journey, since just about everything in the U.S. can be paid by card.

Crowning Jewel

I spent four hours on Friday completing the paperwork for the 10-year Indian tourist visa. I call it the "Drop Off The Face Of The Earth" visa.

Mechanics: Complete form. Create innocuous-seeming itinerary. Staple two passport-sized photos to the application. Go to Bank of America to get a money order for the $150 visa fee. Be told that B of A does not provide money orders to non-account holders. Go to my bank to get money order. Get Express Mail stamps and envelopes from post office. Draft cover letter. Make sure postage is accurate for both the Express Mail envelope going to the Indian Consulate General in San Francisco and for the return. Place the entire morning's work -- and the original of my passport -- into the custody of the United States Postal Service for delivery to the bureaucracy of India.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Maddening Ambiguity

A visa to enter a country has a life or, more formally, a period of validity, e.g., 90 days from the date of issue. A visa also grants you the ability to remain in the country for a certain period of time, e.g., for 60 days. If, to use these examples, you enter a country 30 days after the issuance of the visa and stay for 60 days, no harm, no foul, your last day in country is the last day of the visa's life and the last day of your allowed 60-day stay. But what if you enter the country with a remaining visa validity period which is less than the maximum number of days you can stay, i.e., walking up to the border with 30 remaining days of visa validity and requesting a full 60 days? What happens? The answer: It depends on the country. Some will view the visa as a permit which lets the border official grant you the full amount of time in country. So you could get a 60-day entry stamp even on the last day of your visa. But some countries see the visa as a limitation. All travelling must occur within the visa's life. For real fun, call someone at the consulate of a foreign nation and try to get a definitive answer as to which rule their country follows.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Book Bag v.1.0

The books to be read on the trip have now become a canon, with the additions, deletions and resurrections characteristic of an actual canon of literature.

Several books were immediately included and are in no danger of being eighty-sixed from the literary casino. The Quiet American was the first book added to the trip list, and it will stay in the backpack until it is read.

Some books were overlooked at first but, upon reflection, are now securely on the list. An example is The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata.

Other books rapidly fall into and out of fashion. A Simenon mystery was in the bag and then out within days, as was Sense and Sensibility.

And some books continuously move in and out of the bag, unsure of their final disposition. Anne Rice's Queen of the Damned will have to wait until the day of departure to learn its fate.