Our disastrously great Christmas trip

It was the best of trips, it was the worst of trips! My wife Jade and I could never have expected the highs and lows of our trip home to Australia for Christmas and New Year’s 2013-2014! Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it better…

It started back in August when we purchased our tickets with Air Asia to fly from Saigon to Brisbane on the 16th of December. The plan was to check out Brisbane – where we plan to live when we move back to Australia in a year or so – before heading down to my hometown Inverell to spend Christmas with my mother before heading back up to Brisbane with her for a couple of days before heading on to the Gold Coast for the last couple of days of 2013, flying back to Vietnam on January 1.

The first high: The free upgrade

We were travelling on a shoestring, so we booked hostels and guesthouses through Agoda for the duration of our stay. Everything was set until a week or so before our trip, we got a message from Agoda that the hostel we’d booked with in Coolangatta had notified them the room we’d booked had suddenly become unavailable. In it’s place, they gave us the choice of two locations. One was a cheap hotel in Surfers Paradise – I Googled it, and it was known for being extremely noisy at regular times, and we were gonna be there New Years Eve! The other choice was a 4 1/2 star resort just south of the Queensland border. It was away from the crowds of holiday revelers and right on the beach in a quiet spot. So after reading the fine print that said Agoda would cover any price differences, we took the resort option. We’d booked a hostel room without ensuite for $72 per night, and got a nice room in a resort where the cheapest rooms are advertised at $350. I only wished I’d booked for three nights instead of two!

The holiday was already off to a great start! But then, things never go so smoothly. What followed was the biggest and most idiotic mistake I’ve EVER made…

The first low: The missed flight

So we were getting ready on the morning of December 17th to head to the airport and take our 1pm flight when something occurred to me…

We were booked to take a train and bus to Inverell on the 19th, with a day and a half between arriving in Brisbane and that journey – that is, two nights in the first guesthouse. That meant that flying out on the 17th, we’d arrive the 18th and then… hang on… that’s one night! Where did the extra night go?!! I went online to double check the ticket, and came to a horrible realisation. We were meant to have flown out the day before!

How could I have made this mistake?!! Why was I so sure it was the 17th we left on?!! Air Asia cancels tickets for no shows, so all the money we’d spent on the tickets was gone, and since we’d gotten a really good deal, the replacement tickets would be much much more expensive, especially at this time of year – probably double! We tried to call Air Asia, but it was too late to book tickets for that day, so we sped off to the airport to try to get tickets on the same flight but on the 17th.

I realised later why I had been so sure the date was the 17th. Back in August, I had entered an event in my phone’s calendar: 17th of December: Gold Coast. I had put in the day we arrived at the Gold Coast. ARRIVED. I didn’t have any other entries in the calendar, so every time I looked at my phone I saw “Dec 17: Gold Coast”. After a month or so, the number 17 was so firmly planted in my head, that I forgot that was when we arrived at the Gold Coast after an overnight flight, and had myself convinced that the flight began on the 17th instead. My wife also followed my lead. In these days of e-tickets, I never print out air tickets anymore, so all I had was that calendar entry. Lesson learnt – I will always print them out from now on, no matter what!

Thankfully my wife is very patient and lets me be human from time to time – I can’t imagine how it would have felt if she was on my case after that! I pity the fool who marries a critical wife.

(Slight) High no. 2 – The replacement ticket

On arriving at the airport, we somehow managed to get tickets for the same special price of the original tickets – about $750 altogether for the two of us, including taxes and seats with extra legroom on the first flight! Not only that, but we found out we could at least claim back airport taxes from the missed flight, so it wasn’t all lost. In the end, even with the cost of the cancelled flight the day before, we still spent less on the flights than if we had booked the cheapest seats with the next cheapest airline. We resolved to be positive, let the bad experience go and enjoy the trip as though the missed flight had never happened. That was until…

Low no. 2 – the flight from KL

The flight from Saigon to Kuala Lumpur was fine, but we were unable to get seats with more legroom on the flight from KL to the Gold Coast. OK, I wasn’t gonna sleep. No problem, I’d just pay for the in-flight entertainment…

After we boarded, we found out that they only had in-flight entertainment for those who had booked it at the time of purchasing their ticket, despite the fact that the website says it is also available onboard for a slightly higher fee. We had paid for in-flight entertainment on the flight of the 16th, but couldn’t book it at the airport on the 17th for some reason.

Great. So a sleepless night with absolutely NOTHING to do! I can’t sleep on flights even when they’re comfortable, but squished into a small space made things even worse (I’m the one usually helping the vertically challenged reach goods on the top shelf at the supermarket). This was gonna be a long trip. Thankfully the food that was available was pretty good and reasonably priced.

Low no. 3 – trackwork and fever

OK, remember how I said we’d booked everything months in advance? Well it turned out that they had scheduled trackwork on the railway between Brisbane and Grafton (halfway to Inverell), and the schedule of the trains had been altered as a result. Instead of an already early 6am start, our 7-hour trip to Inverell would now begin at 4:50am. So after arriving from Vietnam and having been awake for about 30 hours, we had half a day to adjust to the different time zone before taking a day-long trip to my hometown which started when our bodies were still telling us it was not even 2am. That extra day in Brisbane would have really come in handy! It was really hard for me to forget that stupid, stupid mistake I’d made….

It was during the first night in Brisbane that I came down with the fever. I didn’t sleep well at all as a result, and the trip from Brissie to Inverell became even more arduous than it would have been anyway. However…

High no. 3 – a great trip

I’ve gotta say, the trip by train from Brisbane to Grafton is truly spectacular! The scenery is so beautiful, and recent rains had painted the landscape in deep shades of intense green that contrasted beautifully with the deep blue sky and brilliant white clouds. It may have been the delirium brought on by fever, jetlag and lack of sleep, but I’ve never seen my country look more amazing!

We stopped in Grafton and had to wait for about two hours before the bus took us the rest of the way to Inverell.

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I won’t bore you with my frustration at the fascist rules they now have for the bus journey relating to what you can or can’t take on board the coaches now in Australia, as perhaps my almost delirious state made it seem a bigger issue than it was (but honestly – they are RIDICULOUS rules)!

So after a lot of head nodding and jolting throughout the trip, we arrived in Inverell.

Low no. 4 – the mysterious spots

Thankfully, my fever was abating by the time I arrived at Mum’s place, but there was worse to come…

As we were watching TV that evening, I found myself scratching a lot. My back and shoulders had become extremely itchy. I thought maybe mum’s new kitten had fleas, and they were biting me, but I shrugged the whole thing off. That was until I took my shirt off before hitting the hay to find my back was covered in red spots. Great.

I’ve had chicken pox, and I’ve had the measles, so I have no idea what I’d come down with, or even if it was viral or I had been bitten by something. Regardless, I slept like a log that night!

The next day the spots continued to spread down my arms, and to my torso, legs and feet. The fact that Jade, who’d been sitting right next to me the previous night was unaffected made me think it was viral and was probably connected to the fever I’d just had. It certainly made for an uncomfortable few days of preparation for Christmas!

High no. 4 – being home

It was great being home again. I appreciated the small things including…

1. Being able to drink the tap water
2. Understanding what everyone around me is talking about ALL THE TIME!
3. The amazing variety living in a multicultural country affords – especially when it comes to food
4. Catching up with old friends
5. Breathing air that you can’t see and having a lot of personal space

We got a little Christmas tree, as the only place we could keep it safe from Mum’s crazed kitten was on top of the fridge!

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It was nice to celebrate Christmas in a country where it is so much a part of life that you can’t escape it. Yeah, it’s annoying when you live there, but you really appreciate it after having lived somewhere where it’s not really a major festival.

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On boxing day (the day after Christmas for those who don’t have it), I took Jade on a walk in the local wilderness park Goonoowiggal (an aboriginal name meaning “plenty of rock wallaby”). We didn’t see any rock wallabies, but it was a nice walk anyway. By then, we’d adjusted to the time, the itchy spots had disappeared (although Jade had a few start to pop up on her), so we could just take it easy and really enjoy the tranquility. Despite the negatives, we were really enjoying the trip.

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High no. 5 – pretty much the rest of the trip

I could have added one more low – some last minute trackwork changes and delays on the way to Brisbane – but it was minor, as we ended up really enjoying the trip back to Brisbane. We also had a really nice relaxing time in Brisbane.

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And before we knew it, it was time to pick up the rental car and drive to Kingscliff where the resort on the beach awaited us.

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Our room was about 50metres from the beach

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On our last full day in Australia – and in 2013 – we took a relaxing trip to Springbrook national park where we saw Natural Bridge – a small waterfall that looked quite scenic in the brochures.

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OK, so sometimes I’m fascinated by simple, strange things like the vine above.

Honestly the spot wasn’t really amazing, but it was a really nice trip nonetheless, and the scenery on the way was amazing.

By the time we were ready for our flight back to Ho Chi Minh City, all the great parts of the trip had completely erased any effect the lows had had on us, and we felt that it had been a truly great trip.

I’m really looking forward to the day we don’t have a return ticket! One year to go…

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