My Best Travel Experiences of 2018

Pic: Shipwreck Beach at Zakynthos Island, Greece.
Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life. – Michael Palin. I’m pretty sure that statement is valid for me too! Time to wrap up 2018 with an overview of my travel highlights of the year.

Flights

Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class Bart Lapers
Pic: Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class (Mar 2018)
After record years 2016 with 116 flights (160,432 miles flown) and 2017 with 122 flights (161,352 miles flown), I ended 2018 with slightly lower flight stats.

    • 95 flights (139,609 miles flown) (5.6x around the earth, 336 hours up in the air)
    • 1 First Class flight with Air France
    • 15 Business Class flights with Emirates, Kuwait Airways, Swiss, Cathay Pacific, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Thai Airways and Turkish Airlines.

Best First Class Flight: Air France

Air France First Class La Premiere Chauffeur Service Bart Lapers April 2018
Pic: Air France La Première Chauffeur Service at CDG
In April, I redeemed 200,000 Flying Blue miles (+ 302 EUR in taxes & fees) for Air France La Première First Class from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Los Angeles on the Boeing 777-300ER. With its legendary status of one of the most exclusive First Class cabins, I couldn’t skip this one. Check my Instagram Stories video for an overview of my La Première flight experience.
Air France La Premiere First Class Bart Lapers B777-300 Paris to Los Angeles April 2018
Pic: Air France La Première from Paris to Los Angeles

Best Error Fare: Norwegian

Norwegian B787-9 Premium Economy
Pic: Norwegian B787-9 Premium Economy (Aug 2018)
As my focused shifted away from premium flights in 2018, I only flew a limited number of error fares in 2018.

  • Emirates A380 Business Class from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur (335 EUR)
  • Kuwait Airways Business Class from Colombo to Istanbul (199 EUR)
  • Norwegian B789 Premium Economy from Singapore to London (78 EUR)

The latter being the best deal of the year in my opinion. Norwegian Premium Economy includes priority check-in & boarding, seat reservation, two checked bags of 20KG each, lounge access, premium onboard meals and complimentary drinks. I’ve flown Norwegian twice in long haul Economy and once in Premium Economy this year. Every occasion was an excellent experience. I love the friendly & stylish crew, new aircraft and how you can order food & drinks on demand via the inflight entertainment screen. I’ll fly the Norwegian Premium Economy error fare again early 2019! 😉

Hotels


Pic: InterContinental Dusseldorf Welcome Gift
In 2018, I stayed 134 nights at hotels compared to 153 nights in 2017.

  • IHG (50 nights) – InterContinental: 18, Crowne Plaza: 11, Hotel Indigo: 11, Holiday Inn Express: 4, Holiday Inn: 2, QO: 2, Kimpton: 1, EVEN Hotels: 1
  • Hilton (16 nights) – Hilton: 7, Double Tree by Hilton: 5, Hilton Garden Inn: 2, Hampton by Hilton: 2
  • Park Inn: 9 nights, Radisson: 1 night
  • Marriott + Starwood: 5 nights
  • Hyatt: 2 nights
  • Best Western: 1 night
  • HotelTonight: 3 nights
  • Airbnb: 14 nights
  • Other: 33 nights
  • TOTAL: 134 nights

Best Price Guarantee

Kimpton De Witt Amsterdam April 2018 King Studio with terrace
Pic: Kimpton De Witt Amsterdam (April 2018)
Thanks to the now discontinued IHG Best Price Guarantee, 11 of my stays in 2018 were free! Highlights included:

  • InterContinental Paris Le Grand, April 2018 (404 EUR)
  • Kimpton De Witt Amsterdam, April 2018 (324 EUR)
  • EVEN Hotels New York – Times Square South, June 2018 (441 USD)
  • InterContinental Carlton Cannes, July 2018 (1044 EUR)


Pic: InterContinental Paris Le Grand Opera View

Best Hotel Redemptions

InterContinental Ljubljana Club Room Bart Lapers October 2018
Pic: InterContinental Ljubljana Club Room (Oct 2018)
Loyalty program points financed 32 of my hotels stays in 2018:

  • IHG points: 475K (25 nights)
  • Hilton points: 80K (4 nights)
  • Marriott: 12.5K (1 night)
  • Park Inn: 9K (1 night)
  • Hyatt: 10K (1 night)

Some of the great value redemptions included:

  • Hilton Garden Inn Dubai Mall Of The Emirates on New Year (30K points) instead of paying ˜250 EUR / night
  • Park Inn Hasselt (9K points)
  • InterContinental Ljubljana (15K points)
  • InterContinental Kiev (6 nights at 15K per night)
  • Park Hyatt Mallorca (10K points + 114€) instead of paying 607 EUR / night

2018 FIFA World Cup Finals weekend in Moscow:

  • Holiday Inn Express Moscow Paveletskaya (2 nights at 20K per night)
  • Crowne Plaza World Trade Centre Moscow (25K points)

Best Airbnb: Oduo Loft


Pic: Oduo loft in Spa, Belgium (Jan 2018)
Of the 14 nights at Airbnb rentals in 2018, Oduo wellness loft in Spa was the absolute highlight. Check the video of my stay below to be emerged in the snowy wonderland of the Belgian Ardennes. Highly recommended for a relaxing weekend! Bonus: Use my referral link for 30 EUR discount on your first Airbnb booking.

Range Rover Velar Spa Belgium January 2018
Pic: Range Rover Velar in Spa, Belgium (Jan 2018)

Best City Hotel: Riva Arun Bangkok

Riva Arun Premium Jacuzzi Suite Bangkok May 2018
Pic: Riva Arun Premium Jacuzzi Suite in Bangkok
For my stay in Bangkok in May, I was looking for an alternative hotel as I had already stayed at plenty of the ‘known’ hotels in Bangkok. The Premium Jazuzzi suite at Riva Arun (215 USD) turned out to be an excellent choice offering views of Wat Arun and the Chao Phraya River.

Best Destinations & Activities


Pic: Neuer Zollhof by Frank O Gehry in Dusseldorf
I visited 27 countries in 2018 of which 6 for the first time: Kuwait, Belarus, Russia, Slovenia, Jamaica and Saudi Arabia. Below are some of the best destinations I visited in 2018 including the coolest activities.

1. Tenerife, Spain

Playa de Las Teresitas Tenerife May 2018
Pic: Playa de Las Teresitas Tenerife (May 2018)
To my surprise, Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, had a lot more to offer than resorts & bars filled with drunk British holiday makers. As long as you avoid Playa de las Américas, you can enjoy the beautiful nature and landscapes the island has the offer. Another big advantage: everything is insanely cheap. I rented a Mini One for 3 days at Hertz for just 57 EUR! Fuel is also a lot cheaper than in mainland Europe with petrol less than a euro per liter. I stayed at a remote airbnb in Anaga Rural Park (a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve) which was the perfect location for some amazing hikes.

2. Faroe Islands, Denmark

Mulafossur Waterfall at Gasadalur, Faroe Islands June 2018
Pic: Mulafossur Waterfall at Gasadalur, Faroe Islands
In June, I travelled to the Faroe Islands thanks to a cheap SAS fare (228 EUR). The Faroe Islands, part of Denmark, haven’t been overrun by tourist yet despite offering some of the most rugged and spectacular landscapes I’ve ever seen. Check Rob’s video below to get an idea. I stayed at two excellent Airbnb rentals, Inga’s place in Sandavágur (close to the airport) and Hilary And Flemming apartment near Torshavn Center. Car rentals aren’t cheap in the Faroe islands, but I received great service from Unicar.

3. Zakynthos, Greece

Shoe Selfie Shipwreck Beach Zakynthos Island Greece Bart Lapers June 2018
Pic: Shoe Selfie Shipwreck Beach Zakynthos Island
In June, I also visited the island Zakynthos featuring the fabulous Shipwreck Beach. In 1980, a freight liner ran aground in the waters around Zakynthos Island on Navagio Beach during stormy weather and bad visibility. The ship was abandoned and still rests buried in the limestone gravel of the beach.

4. Helicopter flight above Manhattan

Manhattan FlyNYON helicopter flight June 2018
Pic: Manhattan FlyNYON helicopter flight (Jun 2018)
One which already made it on my top activity list of 2017, the FlyNYON doors off helicopter flights above New York City. After a very cold 15-minute daytime flight in November 2017, I experienced a 30-minute sunset flight above Manhattan in June. Spectacular!

5. 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow

Bart Lapers at Saint Basil's Cathedral Red Square in Moscow
Pic: Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square in Moscow
After attending the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, I used the 2018 FIFA World Cup as an opportunity to visit Russia visa free. Buying a ticket for any match during the World Cup provided you with a FIFA FAN ID granting unlimited entries into Russia. After seeing the Belgian national soccer team advancing in the tournament, I bought a ticket for Match 47 (Japan v Poland) in Volgograd (105 USD) to secure my FAN ID. I didn’t attend the game, it was just the cheapest legal option to get hold of a FAN ID. Later I also read about people using random ticket numbers they spotted on social media to apply for their FAN ID. I had already booked my hotels using IHG points back in July 2017 for the finals weekend in Moscow (July 13-15, 2018) just in the case the Belgian team would make it. Apart from saving a lot of money, it also allowed me to cancel the reservations and get my points refunded when the Belgian team would leave the tournament early. After our quarter-final victory against Brazil, I went ahead and booked my flights for the finals weekend using Miles & More miles (outbound) and cash for the inbound, a cheap Pobeda (Aeroflot) flight from Moscow to Cologne. The rest of the story is history, we lost the semi-finals from France in Saint Petersburg, so I ended up exploring Moscow for the weekend.

6. Saint Petersburg, Russia

Church of the Savior on Blood Saint Petersburg October 2018
Pic: Church of the Savior on Blood, Saint Petersburg
Originally the 2018 FIFA World Cup FAN ID was only valid during the World Cup, but at the end of the event Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the FAN ID would remain valid for entries into Russia until year-end. An opportunity I used to visit Saint Petersburg mid October. It was beautiful Indian summer weekend with amazing fall colours. One of the highlights was a Russian Mil Mi-8 helicopter flight above Saint Petersburg. (see video below)

7. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Edge of the World Bart Lapers Riyadh Saudi Arabia Dec 2018
Pic: Edge of the World, Saudi Arabia (Dec 2018)
One of the most spectacular and anticipated trips was kept for the end of year. In December, I visited Saudi Arabia. It was the first time in the country’s history that tourism visas were being issued. Before it was only possible to visit on business invitation or as muslim for the Hajj in Mecca. The opening of the Formula E season in Riyadh was chosen by the Saudi government to ‘test’ the concept of international tourism in the country. Around 1000 foreigners from 70 countries used the opportunity to discover this unexplored territory. What I expected to be a very conservative country, turned out to be quite different. Apparently, Saudi society is going through a rapid transformation under the rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). No more religious police harassing people on the street, no more mandatory headscarf for women (Abaya is still mandatory), women driving cars, public entertainment, etc… All of this was impossible just two years ago. In fact, I witnessed the first international music concerts EVER in Saudi Arabia during the Formula E season kick-off event in Riyadh. It was surreal to stand between a mixed crowd of young Saudis going crazy on the tunes of DJ David Guetta!
David Guetta at Formula E in Riyadh December 2018
Pic: David Guetta at Formula E in Riyadh (Dec 2018)
As this was a unique opportunity for passport stamp collectors to get Saudi Arabia checked off the list, a large gathering of world explorers took place during the Formula E event in Riyadh. On Saturday morning, I joined 35 of them to discover the Edge of the World. 90km northeast of Riyadh, the plateau on which the capital was founded ends with a 300-meter-high drop-off offering amazing views on the surrounding plain. Check my video of the trip to get a better idea how unreal this place is!
Bart Lapers at the Edge of the World, Saudi Arabia
Pic: Edge of the World, Saudi Arabia (Dec 2018)
I hope you enjoyed reading about my highlights of 2018 and inspired you for some fantastic trips in 2019. For more videos of my trips, check my Stories highlights on Instagram. I wish you a healthy, safe and spectacular 2019!

10 Comments on “My Best Travel Experiences of 2018

  1. Did you ever try the “new” IHG BPG with a points reward? Is it easier to get the claims approved?

    • Hi Steeve, I didn’t try the new IHG Best Price Guarantee yet as it’s a lot less rewarding than the old one. But your comment is a good reminder I should keep it in mind for my next IHG bookings. I’ll report back when I have feedback.

  2. A year well traveled 👏 wanneer geef je nog eens een masterclass over punten? 🤗

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