Summer officially ended on Monday. Well, I guess not quite officially. Fall equinox and all that. But the kids headed back to school for the 2020-2021 year, and that marks the end of summer in my mind.

There were positives and negatives to the past several months, but it has been increasingly difficult without the structure of activities and school for them. I’m sure many families have been in a similar boat. We were able to enjoy a little bit of summer travel, and I’m thankful for it. But I’m simultaneously very glad they are back to in-person class. Longest. Summer. Ever.

Taking Stock of Upcoming Plans

From March through June I made all sorts of trip cancellations. This ranged from entirely planned excursions where I’m still fighting for (at least one) airfare refund, to speculative hotel bookings on points that are easy to undo. We had several potential trips on the calendar, and the pandemic nixed all of them. We made some other plans, but none of the original trips came to pass.

The remainder of the year is still in question as well. I only have one other trip on the radar, an error fare to São Paulo that I booked many months ago. The way things are looking, I’ll probably still fly it. There is also a potential for a conference in November, and it currently looks like it is going to happen, even if COVID-19 remains a concern. They don’t seem all that phased in Georgia.

I have been kicking around the idea of heading out on a solo adventure for a few weeks. I took a couple last year, and even though they were crazy short, I had an absolute blast. I was supposed to enjoy Copenhagen this spring for a few days, but that was one of the casualties of the pandemic.

The issue has been and still is…where can one possibly go outside the U.S. right now??

Stuck in the Award Travel Doldrums

Even though travel to most of the world is currently restricted, I often find myself browsing award flights. Most people don’t consider this fun, but it is one of my primary outlets. Award travel has long been my thing, and I love finding seats on obscure routes and to obscure places. A few weeks ago I was fixated on the United Island Hopper. Ironically, I’ve found award space on some routes and carriers better than I’ve ever seen. Sigh. Such is life.

As a few countries opened up, my exercises changed from a theoretical one to something that could turn into an actual trip. I initially wanted to visit Greece, but it didn’t open up as expected. Once a few of the Balkan countries opened up to international arrivals, I got more serious.

Eventually, I gravitated toward Istanbul, Turkey instead.

Why Turkey? Why Istanbul?

In terms of international destinations open to Americans, there aren’t a multitude of choices. There are some Caribbean countries currently open, and a handful of other places in the world. Plainly put: there are plenty of itinerary options into Istanbul available. After finding one I really liked, I slept on it, and pulled the trigger the next day. I’ve scratched almost all other international travel this year. It’s high time to “just take the trip.”

Even within Turkey, Istanbul wasn’t my first choice. My top pick is Goreme, a city in the Cappadocia region known for its cave houses and hot air ballooning. But the award flights for a short visit simply didn’t work. Getting to Kayseri, the closest airport, is a bit of a chore. The travel would take too long, even on the most ideal flights available.

Everything pointed toward Istanbul. It is both the largest city in Turkey and one with an amazing and storied past. The more I thought about it, read about Istanbul, and mulled the idea over, the more keen I became with the possibility for a quick 3-day international trip. It is the place where Europe and Asia meet, there is a wealth of history to unlock, and the food sounds absolutely spectacular. It’s also a place I’m not entirely sure I’d be comfortable bringing the kids, so it makes even more sense for that reason.

Turkey’s COVID-19 restrictions are also minimal, which is a major upside as well. Travelers showing signs of coronavirus will not be allowed to enter the country, but other than that, Turkey is open! Masks are mandatory in many public areas, but that really isn’t any different than here in California. There is also a curfew for people over 65 years of age. Overall, restrictions are minimal.

Booking My First Airbus A340 Flight

One of the other deciding factors is that I could fly an Airbus A340. With the pandemic accelerating the retirement of many older aircraft, including all of British Airways’ 747-400s, I’m not sure I’ll ever have a chance to fly an A340. I’ve previously looked at flying first class on a Lufthansa A340-600, but that hasn’t panned out yet.

One of the flight options to Istanbul was business class aboard an Airbus A340-300. Without any idea if I’ll be able to ever fly this unique wide-body aircraft at some future point (never did I think I’d miss my chance to fly the BA 747 again!), I thought it would be perfect to plan it into this trip. Flying upper deck 747-8 Lufthansa business class was another option, but this is more likely to still be available in the future.

The chance to fly the A340 helped seal the deal. Who knows. Lufthansa may end up accelerating retirement of their fleet, and this chance could evaporate as well. Let’s do this now.

Putting All the Pieces Together

With the outbound business class itinerary booked using United miles, I found a return flight using just 53,000 Flying Blue miles for KLM business class. I’d have to spend a night at Amsterdam airport (luckily there is a hotel within security), but that is entirely fine. Airport nights give me a chance to plane-spot and edit photos. Or catch up on work, all will undoubtedly be necessary by that point.

My hotel in Istanbul will be courtesy of Hyatt points and certificates. If there has been one upside to traveling less, it is the ability to accumulate a lot more points than normal. I had plenty of options.

The trip will give me almost exactly 36 hours in Istanbul, all said and done. It’ll be a great opportunity to enjoy a quick adventure after a summer spent mostly at home. Then I can settle in for a few months before the next, and other than that, it might be until after the New Year before I head abroad again. How I hope to not have to cancel any more trips!

How about you…have you planned any international trips this summer or fall? Are you willing to travel, even in light of the current conditions?