About Amber

(And The Husband)

After 10 years as an attorney, I left my job at the largest law firm in the world and decided to start living my life. I am now a recovering tax lawyer, perpetual nomad, intrepid foodie, and yoga teacher, traveling the world With Husband In Tow.  I plan, Eric follows, and after 65 countries and 12 years of marriage, I want to share our travel and expat tales with you. Follow me @husbandintow

Currently: Stalled in Ubud, Bali!

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Traveling, With Husband in Tow

Wednesday
Apr232014

Our Wedding Story

Our wedding was a simple one, and not necessarily the stuff of fantasy or legend, but is the next episode of our sappy love story.  We wanted good food and good music so people would have fun.  Everything else was the fluff.  For me, it is enjoyable to look back at the photos of when we were young, skinny, and oh so naive about our future together, and about what it actually means to be married. 

With Husband In TowEric only looks slightly terrified here, right?We set the date for our wedding within a few weeks after getting engaged on that rainy night in DC.  We settled on July 28, just a short ten months after the engagement.  We had a short window.  We had just enough time for me to work as an intern for the summer between second and third year of law school, finish the job, get married, and have a honeymoon, before returning for my final year of law school.  After choosing the date, we learned that we would be sharing our anniversary with Eric’s Irish grandparents, which made it all that more special. 

We went through all of the usual pre-wedding rites of passage, including an engagement party and bridal shower in New Jersey with family, and another shower in DC with girlfriends.  I registered for all of the typical bridal swag: Lenox china and flatware, crystal, candlesticks, expensive cookware.  I got all of that and more.  So much stuff that I look back and wonder why?  Most of it we don’t own any more.  We have our china and crystal stored at Eric’s mother’s house.  I am not sure why.  I don’t know that we will ever use it, but I can’t bear to figure out what to do with it.  For now, it rests in a basement in New Jersey.  

I had my bachelorette party in Baltimore, complete with penis straws, penis-shaped jello shots, and a run-in with the Mexican Navy.  A few girls got drunk.  One threw up.  I was not one of them.  

With Husband In TowWho wears a lavender Ann Taylor dress to their bachelorette party?With Husband In TowEric had a bachelor party in Atlantic City.  There are no photos of his party.  Surprised? 

Our wedding was held at the Westin Grand in Washington, DC, much to the annoyance of all of our family in New Jersey.  We just felt no connection to any where in New Jersey.  So, we called it a destination wedding.  We also did not get married at a church, or by a priest, probably to the dismay of Eric’s Catholic parents.  We also did not incorporate any Jewish traditions into the ceremony, despite the request of my then step-father.  After all, I was not Jewish, and it would be easier to keep all religion out of the ceremony.

With Husband In TowIn the end, we danced the horah.  Who even knew that our DJ would have Hava Nagila, but next thing I knew we were up on chairs, as were my parents, and even Eric’s parents.  So, it looks like we brought at least one Jewish tradition into the wedding.  My new mother-in-law looked terrified up there.  My new father-in-law had been drinking enough to enjoy it. 

Eric and I made an agreement to not drink too much at the reception itself, but the after party was a different story.  Where I, always the classy bride, spilled a bright red Cosmo all over my dress.  Whatever.  When was I going to use it again.

Tuesday
Apr222014

Why You Should Never Book a Flight With Kayak

Sometimes I feel as though I have been booking travel since I was a child.  I recognize that is a bit of a stretch, but being the one who books 95% of our travel, With Husband In Tow, I have spent my fair share of time online, looking for decent deals, earning and redeeming miles and points, and managing our itineraries. 

It is because of this that I am almost sorry to say that I broke one of my cardinal rules of travel booking, and suffered the consequences.  I hope that you can learn from my mistake. 

Booking Through a Middleman Like Kayak

I have always been skeptical of travel booking websites, like Expedia, Kayak, and god forbid, Priceline.  In my mind, you never know what you are going to get.  We religiously use Kayak to search for itineraries, figure out who flies where, and to price flights.  But, I NEVER book through Kayak.  I ALWAYS book through the airline direct.  After all, 99% of the time I can find the same itinerary for the same price through the airline directly.  Why insert a middle man into the process?

I also am a points whore, so I want to ensure that wherever possible I am earning miles for my flights.  I am always weary that I will not earn my miles by booking on another website, particularly with discounted fares.  Or, minimally, it will be a huge hassle to add the frequent flier number with them later.  If I book through a travel site, can I take advantage of any airline status I may have? Will I be able to reserve decent seats, which I like to pick through Seat Guru to ensure I am not sitting near the toilet.  If the flight schedule is changed or the flight is cancelled will the airline do their best to help me out, or will they point their finger back at Kayak or Expedia?  Too many questions to allow for smooth traveling. 

Eric Wants to Go to Vietnam

Then, I spent 3 hours looking for the perfect itinerary for Eric’s 40th birthday trip to Vietnam.  We need to fly from Bali to either Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, and then onto either Hanoi or Saigon, before connecting to either Da Nang or Hue, before training to Dong Ha.  For people who have not traveled to 65 countries before, this could be a daunting task, but Eric did some initial research, and I was able to finally use those logic skills they tested on the LSAT.  I booked 6 flights to get us to Dong Ha for his birthday, while trying to minimize cost and travel time.  Already, Eric knew he better enjoy his big day.

I booked the flights on a combination of two low cost carriers: Air Asia and Jetstar.  We fly Air Asia all the time and understand their booking process.  With Jetstar, when I tried to book flights through their website, my credit cards (all of them) kept getting declined.  I was seeing some good prices, and I did not want to wait.  I decided to book 2 of the flights, roundtrip Saigon to Da Nang, through Kayak, where we had found the initial pricing anyway.  I booked the flights, received a confirmation email from Kayak, and I moved onto the next flight I needed to book.  

The Future of Customer Service - Twitter

When Eric reviewed the confirmation email, though, he realized our flight from Da Nang to Saigon took off three hours after our connecting flight from Saigon to Kuala Lumpur. And, we had the wrong flight from Saigon to Da Nang.  Through another 3 hours of customer service hell, we found out that Kayak sold us two flights on Jetstar that do not even exist!

When I reached out to Kayak through their hard to find phone number (no answer), through Twitter (no answer), and through their customer feedback form (a measly reply),  they said Jetstar services the ticket and I would need to contact them. 

I spent a good deal of time with Jetstar customer service, in particular chatting with a live agent online.  She told me I was SOL and they could change the flight for me, but with a change fee.  They told me it was Kayak’s error.  The finger pointing and blame shifting was enough to tear my hair out.  I tried to resolve the issue the only way I knew how: Twitter.

I had some good success with Etihad Airline’s Customer Service, by contacting them through Twitter, and I swear it is the new way to resolve problems.  So, I Tweeted to Kayak:

Why You Shouldn't Book With Kayak

Then, my friend Katie picked up the Tweet and we had a little conversation, where I brought Jetstar into the mix: 

Why You Shouldn't Book With Kayak

Just when I had given up hope and began to dispute the charge with my credit card company, I received a reply Tweet from Amanda at Jetstar:  

Why You Shouldn't Book With Kayak

Within minutes, Amanda called me through Skype, and two minutes later, she booked us on an earlier return flight that will enable us to make our two connections home.  No change fees.  Problem resolved.  Thank you Amanda.

Things I learned from this experience booking with Kayak

  1. I will never book through Kayak.  I finally received a response from their customer service, telling me I needed to resolve with Jetstar.  When I replied back to inform Kayak that they sold me two flights that did not exist, they ignored me.  I even told them I was considering booking a multi-city itinerary to Europe in October through Kayak (the truth), and now I will not (also the truth).  I suggested they take a look at their system and remove the flights that do not exist so others can't book them (they are still on the site and available to be booked).
  2. Tweet away to resolve customer disputes.  Amanda let it slip that the folks responding to Tweets have more leeway to resolve problems than their other customer service reps or their booking agents. This was similar to what I found with Etihad. Of course, this only works with companies that monitor their Twitter account.  I have yet to receive a reply from Kayak through Twitter.
  3. There may be one reason to book through Kayak direct.  If I found a flight that was ridiculously cheaper than anywhere else online, I might consider purchasing through Kayak.  But I doubt it.  I am more skeptical than ever on this one.  It might be an itinerary and price that are too good to be true if they are not found anywhere else online.  In the end, Kayak sold me two flights that do not exist.  If JetStar had not responded to my Tweet, I would have to go through the process to dispute the charge on my credit card, which would have taken up to 30 days, while I purchased another itinerary for the same flights.
  4. Eric better enjoy his birthday in Vietnam.

Kayak is a reputable company and has great tools for travel planning, but I will never book a flight through them again, ever.  

What experienes have you had with Kayak, or similar websites, good or bad?

Sunday
Apr202014

Feeling Cabin Fever in Bali

I am feeling some cabin fever, entirely of my own doing.  

There are different types of cabin fever.  I remember the weekends when it would snow in Chicago.  We would watch it pile up outside of our basement windows from the comfort of our leather sofa, me generally under a fleece blanket, while we cleaned out the DVR of our favorite shows. I wore flannel pants and thick socks.  Usually red wine was involved, drank out of very large crystal glasses, often opened many hours before the customary 5pm drinking time.  This was mother nature induced cabin fever.

Then, there is the self imposed cabin fever that I experienced as a traveler not traveling.  When I wanted nothing more than to hunker down in one spot, with the backpack unpacked, feeling normal for just a bit.  Until it got a little too normal, a little too grounded.  I started to itch.

Living in BaliI am sure many of you, who just experienced snow in the States in the middle of April, will feel no sympathy for me and my plight, as I am forced to take in the view over the rice fields here in Bali.  Nor am I expecting sympathy.  After all, yesterday was a lovely day in Bali.  I never left the house.  Practiced no yoga.  I watched our gardner, Pak Mejo, build a new scarecrow for the rice paddies, to scare away the birds.  I planned some travel.  And here in lies the rub. 

When we first secured our 60 day visa to Indonesia back in November in Kuala Lumpur, I knew we had something special.  It is getting increasingly more difficult to get a 60 day visa to Indonesia, particularly from the embassy in KL, and particularly for people whose passports are loaded with Indonesian visas, like ours are.  We knew we needed to make the most of it, which for us meant taking advantage of the possibility of four 30 day extensions, allowing us to stay in Bali for six months straight.  At the time, it seemed amazing, as I was loathe to travel after our stint in Europe and the Middle East.

Now, I have Ubud fever.  Some refer to it as island fever when you have found yourself in Bali for too long and need a break.  We are almost 5 months in and we have spent only 3 nights away from the house.  I have not spent this much time sleeping in one bed in years, I might even say decades. In our old lives we were always traveling, for work, for vacation, always booking the next flight.  

Living in BaliDuring the prime of my legal career, we took numerous trips in a single year, just for vacation.  Normally, we would take one or two longer trips a year, mostly to Europe, sometimes to Asia.  We have flown to Rome for Labor Day, Amsterdam for Thanksgiving, Argentina for a weekend wedding.  We would do weekends in San Francisco, or tack on days to business trips to make the most of an already paid-for flight.  Then, there were almost monthly trips to Palo Alto, California, where I was a regular at the Westin, always greeted by the same front desk guy.  I was there so much he stopped asking to check my ID. I rarely lasted two weeks without taking a flight somewhere.  During dry spells we would drive to NJ to see Eric’s mom, or at least spend a night in Maryland with Eric’s sister and her family.

We were always on the move.

Living in BaliNow, other than a few day trips to the beach, and a weekend at the luxury Viceroy just down the road, we have not left The Big Orange House.  I think it is starting to affect my psyche.  

For the first few months in Bali I had no interest in going anywhere, planning any travel, whatsoever.  We have thought about heading south for a night or two at the beach and I have been too lazy to find some place to stay.  Or, I have not wanted to get out of my regular yoga schedule. 

Now, I am finding it difficult to keep my regular schedule, not wanting to leave the house, and being uninspired by yoga classes that I generally love.

I need to leave.  I need a remedy for my island fever.  So, a traveling we will go.  So, a travel planning I have done. 

After 6 months of stillness, the last seven months of this year we will be planning at least 3 trips.  Taiwan, the United States, Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, Spain, Italy, and Greece.  Some already booked and some in the process. 

Living in BaliIn the mean time, I am starting to enjoy the planning process a little more.  I am getting excited to travel once again.  At the same time, I am feeling a little bit of Groundhog’s Day, being so grounded in one place for so long.  It is similar to the Groundhog's Day life I escaped from when we left the US to explore in the first place.  Life ADD.

My energy levels are low.  I am finding myself less and less inspired to write, something I usually enjoy tremendously.  I enjoy spending time with our friends here, but I am starting to tire of the restaurants and food options. I dream of dim sum.  I know a simple solution to the problem would be to explore Bali more, or even Indonesia - there are like a thousand other islands we have not been to yet.  But, I honestly don’t want to. 

I just can’t explain my malaise.  Part of me wants to be okay with my laziness, allow myself to work for a few hours on something, even if it is just booking a complicated itinerary to Central Vietnam, and then being okay with lounging by the pool.  Or even in the pool.  I worked hard for this lifestyle.  I continue to. Sometimes.  

But I think my current emotional rut is a result of my itchy feet, and my interest in exploring.  It is about time.