Overview: ETF22

The problem with travel, is choice.

As the pandemic recedes into unhappy memory, much of the world is once again accessible with a flight or two. And in those long lockdown days, no end of possible destinations found their way onto my travel shopping list. But once free to pursue it, I found myself wondering where – quite literally – to start.

Most of my early international trips – including my first five long-haul ones – were not about a specific place, but an event happening there, usually as wandering academic conferences made stops in new cities. These didn’t just dictate the where, but the when – and provided some structure to a visit, with sightseeing fitting in around talks and social events.

I’m unlikely to attend an ECC or a JMM again any time soon, so I was intrigued when Counting Countries host Ric Gazarian announced the Extraordinary Travel Festival: a conference to bring together those “Chasing 193”. Not mathematicians, but given my increasing fascination with systematic travel, still my kind of people! The event would be held in Armenia – somewhere that wasn’t on my radar, and to be honest seemed a bit more adventurous than I’m used to. However, what better time to give it a try than with the support of some of the world’s most travelled individuals?

With no direct flights to the capital (and host city) Yerevan from the UK, the door was open to one of my improbable routings. The obvious connections through Europe all arrived in Armenia between 1 and 5am, but I found more sensibly timed options further afield: specifically, Dubai. This would be a significant overshoot and backtrack, but the UAE would be another new country for me, and I could get there cheaply and comfortably via staff travel on BA.

However, I wasn’t confident I could get back, as my journey would overlap with school holidays – if I didn’t make it onto a Wednesday flight, I’d be stranded for most of a week. Rather than gamble, I looked to my mileage accounts. A KLM redemption Dubai – Amsterdam – Bristol was most direct, but also involved an unpleasantly early departure and connecting through Schiphol might be an ordeal. Far more civilised was Air France to London via Paris – and it would give me a chance to fly on an A350, which had proved elusive earlier in the year.

So: two unknown countries, some aviation novelties, and indulging a geeky interest at an unusual event; an adventure new in the details, yet familiar in outline!

As usual, there is also a flyertalk report for this trip – head there if you prefer a chronological treatment, or would like to comment!