Deciding where to visit has been daunting. Depending on who is counting, there are 195 countries on planet Earth. We have been to 23 of them. The US Department of State currently has travel warnings for 31 countries. Star Alliance (our frequent flyer program of abundance) with 27 airlines flies to all but 14 of them. What was our criteria? Our methodology? Our philosophy? Well, it really came down to:
- The frequent flier miles that we had earned over the last 20 years were enough for two round-the-world tickets in business class. Sure, we had the miles and we had flights "available" to 181 countries but the restrictions of Star Alliance RTW SaverAwards are not insignificant. RTW Awards (1) allow a maximum of five stopovers, (2) routing is defined as one Pacific and one Atlantic crossing, (3) the direction of the route must be consistently east or consistently west, (4) total miles eligible for travel is limited to 35,000 miles, (5) black-out dates are common and few seats are allocated to award travel these days, and finally (6) booking a reservation requires an algorithm worthy of Sheldon Cooper.
- Security. We agreed that we would avoid any country on the US Department of State travel warnings list, as of the date we made our flight reservations (June 2010).
- We agreed that "we would go where we had never gone before" with only a few exceptions (Joan had been to Israel and Egypt in the 1980s).
- In the final analysis, the overriding philosophy came down to selecting destinations that were of people and cultures rather than of nations and flags. We were looking for places full of wonderful experiences and lasting memories. We wanted a trip, after we returned home, which we would be able to describe to each other as..."that was #*!@ing awesome".