Compared to someone of my age, I happened to be a person who is a little behind on experiencing the outer world. For me, the leisure of travelling to a completely foreign place to discover and experience vastly different cultures and people were only like a chapter from a well-written book, or from a movie.
Today marks the day I travel across borders for the first time. The destination is our geographical neighbour, Sri-Lanka. Though I might have experienced the most exotic travel destinations in my home country, the Maldives, seeing and experiencing a foreign country is a completely different, yet utterly similar kinda experience.
I just made my first trip across borders and here is my story;
Thanks to the internet of things, I (probably) saved a couple of trees (or a branch) by not using a piece of paper (other than my passport and the boarding pass) for the whole process.
My planning for the trip begun by loading my phone with three very important applications. First, Cheap Flights (Download for Android & iOS). This application helps you create a flight schedule in the most convenient/ preferred way for you by combining flights from all available airlines, often allowing you to save on airfare.
The best airline recommended by the app for my trip was Emirates, quicky I downloaded Emirates app (Download for Android & iOS) and registered an account with them, booked and paid online for a trip from Male’ to Colombo and return a week later. I was custom to the lengthy process by travel agents usually goes through for booking my domestic flights and was quite surprised by the flexibility Emirates offers. Such as pre-selecting seats, meals and other amenities such as upgrading to first class/ business class.
Nonetheless, I was super excited to be onboard the humungous Boeing 777 flight right from choosing Emirates.
As the second app, I installed Booking.com (download for Android/ IOS) and began the search for a hotel that suites our expectations and budget. The app lets you customise your search and narrow your focus to find the ‘hotel designed just for you’. We booked our hotel in about 10 minutes after reading a handful of reviews about the place. The particular hotel we chose did not require a pre-payment nor does they charge a cancellation fee, so we booked without a hassle.
I can only imagine how hotel booking would be without the Internet, without reading reviews and without going through actual photos of the place from different users. I doubt it would be a pleasant experience.
Anyhow, I am pretty relieved all the preparations for the trip are sorted-out on our own online. However, as the old saying goes all good things comes to an end: I started having second thoughts about the hotel and transport booking as the date came close to departure. Out of curiosity, I tried calling the number from Booking.com app and couldn’t reach them. I finally dropped a mail asking for a confirmation of my reservation.
Fast forward to the morning of the departure day, we went out shopping for a suitable backpack for both our first international trip. It is when I got a call from a Sri-Lankan number informing me the reservation had to be cancelled because of an issue with their booking engine. They politely informed me the dates were pre-booked by a group of individuals from Nepal a year ago and the engine did not pick it up.! However, they offered us booking from a nearby hotel instead.
Right after the call, I quickly opened booking.com and searched nearby hotels, however not one hotel was available within the amount we initially budgeted. I was consistently reminded by Booking.com app that 80% of the hotels in the city are already booked for the dates of my stay mostly due to Christmas season. Depressed by the situation we started our journey to ride home to calmly find an alternative solution. Fortunately, before we reached home Booking.com app set a notification about a sudden price drop of one of the places we had saved for review but not booked for exceeding the budgeted amount earlier.
Thanks to the app, I was able to immediately book the hotel right within our budget with just a few clicks. Learned from the previous booking, we quickly reached out to the hotel and confirmed our booking. I can easily credit Booking.com app/ website for singlehandedly saving our trip.
Finally, it was the time to check-in. There were long queue lines for every check-in gate and sadly only one person was attending all customers. While we waited for our turn; I noticed everybody had a printed ticket and travel documents on them. The officers were also going through these documents before allowing them in. I was a bit nervous as we did not bring any print-outs of any documents (other than the passport & NID) as we did everything online. Thankfully, the officer let us in without any trouble after going through the PDF document on my phone.
After going through security, we arrived at the check-in counter dedicated to the Emirates online booking counter. The staff checked everything and handed over the boarding pass and congratulated us for a free business class upgrade for our first trip with Emirates. We were pretty surprised and even more excited to explore the business class experience on the ‘best airline in the world’. Thank you, Emirates for making our first international trip even more special!
With the upgrade, we were given priority on the passport checking counter and we arrived at the departure terminal in no time. There was still an hour to kill before boarding, so we wandered around the place doing a little shopping from Duty-Free, exploring the lounge and getting food from different places around the terminal. Just before boarding, I remembered I had not collected the pre-purchased dollars. Thankfully I found the counter and got the dollars right before time.
We boarded the plan along with First Class & Premium/Gold members before others. The seats were convertible (bed to seat) and featured a private entertainment system. Live feed from cameras placed outside the plane allowed us to view the stunning sunset. Not long after takeoff, we were offered a glass of refreshing juice followed by a mind-boggling in-flight meal with coffee and juice. Dining experience while cruising above 26000ft cannot be any better (unless First Class), I believe.
After landing we were yet again given access to exit the plan before others. Hence, we ended up in Colombo Airport without any sort of guide. We went to a counter named ‘On Arrival Visa’ and the lady (official) there asked us to go the other way but the directions were not clear. The signs were clearly not doing a good job assisting a completely new traveller.
Fortunately, we bumped into a friend who directed us to the correct place to get our passports stamped and ‘legally’ get into Colombo. From there, the signs were helpful to find our checked-in baggage, though it took about 45 minutes to arrive. We followed the rest to exit the place.
End of Part 1 – From my first trip abroad. 3 apps that made my life easier!
Part 2 – 3 Apps that will save you a ton in Colombo – Comming up soon!
Cheers! & happy travelling!