The itinerary I had printed a day earlier from UNITED was becoming worn before I even boarded my flight from SFO to Narita, Japan.
I had learned the day before my trip that the flight that was booked for me from San Francisco to Bangkok was not actually a flight from San Francisco to Bangkok. Rather, it was a flight from San Francisco to Narita, Japan. A stop-over. And then another flight to Bangkok. Same flight number. Different plane.
Oh, and hours in the Narita Airport.
The little things United likes to keep from its loyal customers.
I studied the itinerary as I sat on-board the (now) first long-leg of my journey to Thailand, looking at it, hoping that somewhere on that crinkled piece of paper it would tell me just how long my stop-over in Japan was.
Of course, it didn’t.
Resigned to just roll with it, I put the paper back in my messenger bag and waited for the doors to close on the plane so I could get comfortable for this long journey.
I watched as people took their seats in front of me. Across from me. Behind me.
I looked to the two open seats next to me.
No one. Could it be …? Were the Travel Gods actually smiling on this girl today?
I tapped the flight attendant’s arm who was standing next to my row of seats and gestured to the empty ones beside me.
“Is this really happening?” I asked him.
“I think it is,” he said, smiling. “The flight isn’t full.”
I hadn’t had a row to myself on a long-haul flight since my first solo backpacking trip in 2002. And now … what was starting to sound like an annoying trip with unexpected stopovers … there was this blissful silver lining of empty seats.
I waited, holding my breath as the final passengers boarded.
FREE. FREE. FREE.
I was given nine hours and 45 minutes of empty seats. During this time I took full advantage, sprawling out nearly immediately, closing the shade (the sun never set on the trip across the Pacific), and relaxing. Ironically, the first film to come on was “Water for Elephants.” The book version is what sparked my initial interest to go visit formerly abused elephants in Thailand.
When we began our descent into Japan, I sat with my face glued to the window, soaking up every detail of the water and whitecaps as it lead to the coastline; the green and red farmland below; the crashing of the waves where they hit the sand.
Well-rested and content, we arrived to Narita, where I learned the stop-over wasn’t really a stop-over, but more of a five hour visit to Japan.
I wandered around my gate aimlessly for a bit, eyeing the sushi restaurant.
I mean … sushi … Japan … I HAD to eat there. Especially since I had no idea if my return ticket included another little stop-over.
I pulled up a seat at the counter and ordered some fresh sushi and cold sake.
I’m in Japan (airport). Eating sushi. Holy crap.
I tried to make the lunch last as long as possible. I savored every bite. The fresh, fresh fish. The rice. The cold and delicious sake.
Then, I looked at my bill.
Since I hadn’t known about my little Japan excursion, I hadn’t looked up the conversion from USD to Yen. I had ordered without thought of the actual cost.
“Excuse me,” I said, turning to the man next to me at the sushi counter. “Do you know what the conversion is for USD?”
Please don’t let it be too bad.
He examined my bill.
“You just paid $52 for sushi and a shot of sake.”
Oh. My. God.
So, one sushi roll, one piece of Yellowtail sashimi and one piece of Ikura later, that was the damage.
I quickly chocked it up to the experience … because … that’s what traveling is all about … and went to the gate, wallet zipped.
A few hours later, I was boarding my next flight to Bangkok. A six-hour trip.
This time, I wasn’t so lucky. I had a seatmate, but he was cool. We talked for a bit about elephants (he mentioned how much he loved his elephant paintings, something I didn’t even know existed), about Bangkok, about travel writing, and then I passed out for almost the entire duration of the flight.
When we arrived to Bangkok, he took me under his wing, walking with me to customs and then showing me where all of the food was located and where I should sleep until my last flight of the day, a one-hour quickie to Chiang Mai, boarded.
After almost 30 hours of traveling, I was in Thailand.