2015 has been a whirlwind year for the Road More Traveled blog and its devoted author. The year has been filled with incredible adventures by air, road, and sea, with considerably more travel than I initially envisioned when I sat down to write my 2014 year in review post at about this same time last year. So without further adieu, on to the highlights.
Significant Growth for the Blog
2014 featured 56 posts in total between the old blog and UPGRD. 2015 was my first full year with UPGRD, and I managed to grow that to 103 posts in the current year, including this one. Interestingly enough, posts about air travel or the aviation industry took the plurality of posts with 35, with restaurant reviews coming in second at 22, and roadtrip-related posts a distant third at 12. Much of that just has to do with how our personal travel shook out this year, which I’ll discuss later in this post. I also experimented with social media promotion with the “Where’s UPGRD” feature. Though I’m not sure how many new readers this attracted – before and after stats suggest not very many – hopefully you enjoyed the cheesy hat poses.
More exciting has been the dramatic growth in readership. We have only been able to track pageviews since March, but since that time, views have grown from 3,823 in March to 7,135 in the last full month of November – a nearly 87% increase! Needless to say, back when I started blogging, and was attracting maybe a couple of hundred views a week on Blogger, I never imagined I’d get to even this modest level of readership, to which I can only say thank you to all of you who read my posts and spread the word to others. Now, of course, the challenge is to keep increasing that bottom line by keeping you, the Road More Traveled’s loyal readers, engaged and coming back for more…
Much More Air Travel than Expected
2014 clocked in at 38,567 air miles, a total fattened up considerably by an unexpected trip to India in January. With a cruise to Europe already planned for the summer, I figured the 2015 total would end up a little lower, perhaps in the 25,000-30,000 range. Boy, did I ever blow that out of the water with this map:
- Total miles flown: 63,755
- Segments: 38
- Carriers flown: 11 – VX (Virgin America), WN (Southwest), AA, BA (British Airways), US (US Airways), AF (Air France), 0D (Darwin Airlines/Etihad Regional), OK (Czech Airlines), AB (Airberlin), BC (Skymark), NK (Spirit)
- New carriers: 4 – 0D, OK, BC, NK
- New airports: 4 – PRG (Prague), TXL (Berlin Tegel), OTP (Bucharest), UKB (Kobe, Japan)
- New aircraft – Airbus A319, Airbus A380-800, Boeing 787-800, Saab 2000
The primary culprit for blowing up this map were two previously unplanned international trips, one to Prague and Bucharest for our wedding anniversary in October, and the other to Tokyo and Kobe for my birthday in November. The October trip was originally supposed to be a roadtrip to Napa, but an unsually cheap Business Class airfare to Europe along with the strong dollar lured us there instead. Japan was also a “whim” trip egged on by exceedingly cheap airfare. Incidentally, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Japan were my 45th, 46th, and 47th countries* visited, respectively (trip reports will be forthcoming next year). Despite splitting my allegiance between AA, Virgin America, and Southwest, I was able to qualify for AAdvantage Gold status, accruing approximately 42,000 elite qualifying points. Don’t fret, loyalty program geeks – I wouldn’t have made Platinum even if those VX and WN flights were switched to AA, though it would have been close. The summer trip to Europe to catch our cruise was paid for with miles, so it didn’t earn me any. This year’s air travel also featured a decent number of segments, 12 in all, in premium cabins – 6 in AA’s domestic First, two in British Airways First Class, two in BA Club Europe, and two in AA’s transatlantic Business Class. Half of the segments were courtesy of an award redemption to Europe, though the other half were because of American’s attractive premium cabin pricing out of DFW.
Among the highlights – four new carriers, a couple of them pretty exotic (Darwin Airlines and Skymark), and four new aircraft types, including America’s inaugural 787 flight in May and my first time flying on an A380 in British Airways First Class. I was also part of US 1939, the farewell flight for US Airways, in October, and decided to spend all of one penny on airfare to see if Spirit really was as bad as advertised. I’ll have that trip report up within the next few weeks.
Sailing the High Seas
My mom had actually been planning our family reunion cruise around Europe aboard the Emerald Princess for months by the time the calendar turned to 2015, so needless to say, my wife and I were brimming with anticipation. It didn’t disappoint. Seven days in our balcony stateroom took us from Istanbul to Rome, via Greece and Malta (my 43rd and 44th countries, respectively). Among the highlights: a visit to the island of Delos, exploring the tiny island nation of Malta from one end to the other, a scenic journey up the side of Sicily’s Mount Etna, and visiting the “other” city buried by Mount Vesuvius, Herculaneum. Getting to and from Europe was also quite the treat, featuring First Class on British Airways both to and fro, including the aforementioned ride in the pointy end of an A380. Aboard the ship itself, Princess Cruises comemmorated the 50th anniversary of the line with special activities and menus on board.
On the Road Again, But Not as Much as Planned
When Brad asked for travel goals early in the year, mine was to spend at least 5,000 miles on the road. I didn’t quite make it.
“Close to home” road tripping
Looking for pizza in Sicily
The total ended up at 4,039 miles. I would have easily cleared the bar of 5,000, except we decided to scrap our road trip to Napa to go to Prague instead. On the other hand, the tally did include a pair of road trips in foreign jurisdictions, one a self-driving tour to Stonehenge and Salisbury in England, and the other a bus tour in Sicily to Taormina and Mount Etna during our cruise. Cheap gas stateside also allowed for a handful of weekend jaunts that probably wouldn’t have been done in years past, including a drive up to Tulsa to visit the home of America’s first hamburger, a return to the beautiful Talimena Scenic Byway to see the fall foliage, and a fun afternoon in a rented Camaro on one of California’s best scenic byways, Highway 33 north of Ojai. I’ll have a full report up at some point, but here’s a teaser in the meantime.
A Fun-Filled Year in DFW Aviation
One of this blog’s focuses is on the bustling Dallas-Fort Worth aviation scene, as home to both American and Southwest, and 2015 certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of newsworthy items. Avgeeks far and wide descended on DFW International Airport in May to board American’s first public flight of the revolutionary 787. Naturally, that was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, and I even scored 2 lines of fame in the Dallas Morning News. 2015 was also the first full year that smaller brother Dallas Love Field enjoyed life free of Wright Amendment restrictions. Upstart Virgin America found the sledding tough, going so far as launching and then abandoning money-losing flights to Austin, but larger Southwest had tremendous success, even picking a fight with behemoth Delta over gates at the space-constrained airport. A court hearing in Sepetember came and went with no resolution, so stay tuned for more fireworks.
2015 also featured the re-introduction of American’s “banked” hub at DFW, a move ostensibly designed to provide shorter, easier connections for those using DFW as an intermediate connecting point. There has been very little in the media regarding the effects of the rebanking since its introduction in March, but my initial skepticism may have been warranted. On the other hand, American’s much-anticipated res system integration with US Airways went nearly flawlessly, a huge positive step forward in the merger with US. And of course, the avgeek in me just had to experience it first-hand, in this case as a passenger on US Airways Flight 1939 (link above), and daring to return home the day of the cutover.
Looking Ahead to 2016
Personally, my travel patterns are likely to revert back to a more “normal” distribution. With a roadtrip out west already planned for May to attend my brother-in-law’s wedding that will burn most of my vacation quota, and a whole lot more international travel (and the associated money involved) than expected in 2015, my air travel numbers will likely be a fraction this year’s. I probably will try and seek out a “gimmick” flight or two for your entertainment, though. Of course, catching up on my October/November trip reports and my two-week road trip next year will mean plenty of content throughout the year. Continued cheap gas will also fuel, no pun inteded, a few more random weekend trips like the one to Tulsa last yaer. Hey, Texas is a huge state; there’s lots to explore within over a day or a weekend, especially when it comes to foodie hot spots.
Locally, 2016 should be entertaining. The long-simmering feud between Delta, Southwest, and the City of Dallas should finally be resolved by the courts. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how the prolonged slump in energy prices affects the significant expansion in international service at DFW, especially from the “Big 3” Middle East carriers. Will cheap oil force them to scale back the recent expansion? A large portion of the traffic is connecting traffic headed to India and South Asia, as opposed to straight energy industry traffic, so I suspect not, but it will be interesting to watch.
As far as content, as alluded to above, I still have to catch up on trip reports from our October trip to the Czech Republic and Romania and our November trip to Japan, along with a smattering of other items from late in the year, so I’ll still have plenty of great stuff even with the reduction in travel. There will continue to be a new post in your inbox every Saturday, along with a smattering of unscheduled ones throughout the year. Don’t forget to follow my Instagram account for more great photos, past and present, of my travels around the country and world!
In closing, thanks to all of my loyal readers out there for a great year, and to the UPGRD team of bloggers for your continued support and feedback. Thanks for a great 2015, and here’s looking forward to an even better 2016!
Photo at top: Charles Bridge and Prague Castle from the banks of the Vltava River, Prague.
* “Country” is a bit of a controversial term at UPGRD, especially when it comes to territories like Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands. The country count is at 47 if “territories” are included. It would be 45 without.