Flying by the Seat of My Pants

Flying by the Seat of My Pants
Tracy Bernard

Quite Literally. My brother and I recently decided to embark on an adventure. We picked a day to meet at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport with a carry-on, some money, and a passport. We looked at departing international flights, picked one and went. Of course knowing we were going to do this, we previewed the list of available city options on the airline we had to fly on, which narrowed it down to six cities. The cities included Paris, London, Munich, Amsterdam, Rome, and Tokyo. We also asked family and friends their thoughts on where to go. Turns out, people’s opinions on where to travel are as varied as having a favorite color. If you’ve ever wondered how doing something like this went, here’s our experience:

Day 1 • Travel Day

The city we chose, based on available seats on the flight out and our target return date, was Rome. The flight was scheduled to leave at 6:30 pm and arrive in Rome at 11:30 am local time, approximately eight and a half hours later. In honor of our destination, I chose to watch The Godfather during my flight.

Day 2 • Arrive in Rome

We arrive at our hotel which is humble and a bit out of the way, but serves traditional Cappuccino and fresh croissant “the way it should be made” every morning. Since we were unable to sleep on the plane, our goal is to stay up until 7:00 pm. We check in, get a map and get our bearings – luckily, almost everyone we encounter speaks enough English to help us with simple questions. We hop on a bus which takes us to the business district and find a pizza place, well-rated on Yelp, Pizza Zizza. The pizza was amazing. After a lot of walking in the hot sun and a couple glasses of wine with the pizza, 28 straight hours of no sleep sends us back to the hotel where we decide to get cleaned up, rest and plan a tour of the Vatican.

Day 3 • The Vatican

Early in the day, we did some shopping and enjoyed more Italian food for lunch which was in open seating outside, and because it was hot, they had cool mists directed towards the diners. After lunch, at the advice of others, we paid for a guided tour of the Vatican. This was definitely the way to go. Our guide spoke English and we were given special headphones so we could hear her. She was knowledgeable and spunky, and kept referring to us as “my family” and the “blonde American”. This was definitely the highlight of the trip. She pointed out priceless works of art by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and others, along with stories of many of the artists, craftsman, and clergy responsible for the visual spectacle of the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. The entire tour took about five hours and left us with the late afternoon to walk, shop and enjoy a delicious dinner of lamb chops and a fresh tomato and basil salad. It was a terrific day, but I could see the anxiety building in my brother as he watched the return flights available to us steadily filling. By that night, we determined we needed to cut our trip short and return the next day which had a flight only half full.

Day 4 • Departure Day

We were up and at it early to pack and catch our late morning flight. The good news? The half-full flight allowed us business class seats. If you can afford to do it, I recommend making this upgrade on any flight over 6-7 hours. The fully reclining seats, extra room, and loads of amenities made the flight feel like part of the vacation.

Unfortunately, I was still unable to sleep.

So…would I do it again? We did everything very affordably by taking advantage of my brother’s employee benefits with United. So under those circumstances, yes. Had I paid full price for our plane tickets though, I probably would not. I definitely would stay longer for several reasons. First, by day two, we had figured out how to navigate the bus and train system, along with using Euros, but didn’t really have time to enjoy our newly learned efficiencies. Second, going 28 hours without sleep, then two days in a new time zone with an eight-hour difference, followed by another 30 hours without sleep leveled me. I felt exhaustion similar to mono for about four days after our return. They say the best thing to spend your money on is experiences. Spending time with my brother, seeing the Vatican, and eating my way through Rome was definitely an experience I’ll cherish forever. Fly by the seat of your pants, girls – take the trip.

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