Four flights, three epic layovers, one taxi ride and 48 hours later, I have arrived in my new home: Kampala, Uganda. More specifically, Muyenga, Kampala, Uganda, but I’ll get into that in a later post. We were able to book all of my flights using miles. Translation: miles = a lot more miles are traveled than typically necessary to arrive at your destination. Here’s what I did right, and more importantly what I did wrong, during this long trip halfway across the world.
My journey began from Parker, Colo., at 3:30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning. I’d gone to bed at midnight – probably not my wisest decision – it’s always best to try and get a good night’s sleep. When I arrived at Denver International Airport, I sighed a huge sigh of relief when my baggage checked in under 50 lbs. each. Luggage scales are great, but my thrifty home scale worked wonders as well! I spent about a half hour weighing myself and my luggage making sure the luggage wasn’t overweight. Having to shift items from one piece of luggage to another – or even worse, having to discard something – while in line to check in would be a royal pain.
Unfortunately for me, I spent half the day in panic because the American Airlines attendant informed me that my bags would only be checked through Doha, Qatar. What? I have to lug two 50-lbs. bags and two stuffed-to-the-gills carry-on bags (I pack a lot of snacks) around for 14 hours during my layover? Shouldn’t it be checked all the way through to Entebbe? The less than helpful attendant said he couldn’t do anything about it. I would have to inquire right before I board my third flight on Qatar Airways. Great.
I wish I could say I slept on my 6 a.m. flight from Denver to Dallas. But I didn’t. Too excited for upcoming adventure, perhaps? I did start hydrating. Flying always dehydrates me. And I hate using airport/airplane restrooms; but I realized for this long haul, I didn’t want to risk suffering from jet lag and dehydration upon arrival.
My flight from Dallas to Houston left around 1 p.m., arriving in Houston at 2 p.m. What did I do all day during my layovers? I worked. In between flights, meals and calls to my mom and Jay, I was extremely productive! Most areas of the Dallas airport had work stations and in Houston I found some random plugs to stay connected. Thank you, major airports for now all offering free wi-fi! It really did help the day go by!
About 20 minutes before my flight to Doha, a gate attendant for Qatar Airways finally showed up. At this point, I had hyped myself into full panic mode on what it would be like to have to pick up my bags, go back through security, customs, etc. in Doha. Oh yeah, and I had a middle seat for the 14-hour, 50-minute flight! Of course, in true Lindsay fashion, I stressed myself out for no reason at all. The attendant happily checked my bags through Entebbe (OK, here’s where I admit, I wasn’t sure how they would pull this off, and questioned if my bags would actually make it…) and gave me an aisle seat. There were actually plenty of seats on the plane and nobody directly next to me, so I had plenty of room to spread out to watch a few movies and catch some zzz’s (with the help of a few sleep aids).
Here is where I shamelessly plug how amazing I thought a) Qatar Airways and b) the Doha Airport was. My flights with them were so comfortable (yes, even in coach), clean and the service was impeccable. May even rival my experiences on Korean Airways! The Doha Airport boasted some of the most amazing shops and the main concourses sparkled like a new penny. The service in Doha was also phenomenal. Here is where I made another spot on decision: I splurged and went to the Airport Hotel, which resides in the main concourse. I was able to negotiate an 8-hour room rate for an 11-hour stay. I had a lovely dinner, listening to live piano music while enjoying a glass of wine before I settled into my room for a much needed shower and a few hours of sleep. Game changer.
Now, upon arrival in Uganda, I made sure to have all my visa information figured out ahead of time. Know the address of where you will be staying, a contact phone number and have the proper money ready. In Kampala, they prefer new (within the last five years) U.S. dollars. And they prefer bigger bills. It’s amazing how many people don’t have this sorted and are the reason immigration lines get held up. Don’t be that guy. Promise?
Once I was through immigration, I could see Jay through the glass doors anxiously awaiting my arrival (as a mzungu – or gringo – he definitely stood out). Within minutes, all of my bags (Hallelujah!) had arrived. Jay had hired a driver for about 80,000 UGX to make the drive from Entebbe to Kampala, which is normally about a 45-minute drive. On a Friday, with some of the worst traffic in the world, it took several hours. But I made it! I’m here! And my soul feels more alive than ever.