Here’s where the story begins: A boring introductory chapter explaining exactly how we managed to plan a month of travel over 7 cities all over a huge country.
1. BOSTON: THE BORING DETAILS
A month in Brazil. Where do I even start? The part where I got the game tickets? How about the part where, back in 2010, Mike and I decided right after the US-Ghana elimination game that the next World Cup, we’d do the whole thing? I could also go back further, to 2004, when we got married and couldn’t take a honeymoon because I was about four weeks shy of finishing grad school. At the time, Mike’s mom was living in Porto Alegre and said as a gift, she’d fly us down there and we’d all have Christmas in Brazil. Except then she moved back to Boston and we never got to go to Brazil, making 2014 a pretty good time to take a delayed trip to celebrate our 10th anniversary.
Just for laughs, when the FIFA official ticket lottery opened for 2014, we went ahead and requested a TST-7. That’s a team-specific ticket for 7 games. TSTs come in 3, 4, etc packets all the way up to 7, and mean your ticket follows the team of your choice. 3 pack is all 3 group stage games (we had this in ‘06 and ‘10), 4 adds the Round of 16, and so forth. When your team is knocked out, the ticket turns into the team that sent you home, and if they’re knocked out, then it’s the team that knocked them out. If your team doesn’t make it out of the group stage, your ticket follows the group winner.
About two months after filing the ticket request, I come home to an email from Citibank:
Dear PRAIRIE CLAYTON:
During our routine account monitoring, we discovered that your Citi Gold Advantage Visa Signature account has suspicious activity that we need to verify immediately.
This was no phishing attempt. This was making sure I did indeed authorize a charge from some outfit called FIFA TICKETING. I called to approve the charge and then waited anxiously for a week until it officially posted. We were in. We were going to Brazil.
Well, after our employers gave their blessing. Mike’s was a bit easy, as he’s not only hourly, he specifically warned his company when taking the job that he’d be MIA in June of ‘14. Mine was trickier, requiring some delicate negotiations, careful reading of HR’s vacation accrual/rollover policies, and a few nervous chats during a first quarter company re-org. Hey, at least my office is nearby the Brazilian consulate, making the visa process a snap. Got the time approved in February and immediately set to booking everything.
How do you book a trip where, not only is there no good central hub to use as a housing base, as we did in Germany and South Africa, you don’t know three of the cities you will need to visit? In my case, I planned two parallel trips: one if the US came in first or last, and one if we came in second. Trip A would be Porto Alegre, Rio, and Belo Horizonte; trip B would be Salvador, Brasília, and São Paulo. That’s between the group games in Natal, Manaus, and Recife and a final in Rio. I spent a month or so poring over AirBnB listings, asking potential hosts if they were open to me making reservations that may need to be canceled on June 26th. Some weren’t, some said call back in June, some mistook “acceptable surge pricing” for “killing golden goose.” Booked all 4 elimination games/final for both potential paths, holding back hope we’d land trip B, which would take us to more appealing tourist spots than trip A.
In South Africa, we joined up with some groups of friends for both a safari and a Johannesburg home base. As I said, that wasn’t viable this time. The US’s group stage host cities were roughly like hosting the first game in Boston, the third one in New York, but the second one in Cheyenne. Our pals Sean and Brock, who’d organized the South Africa safari, said they were picking beach cities a little ways out of Natal and Recife, and in Manaus, a game-night stay at a small hotel following a jungle tour. Said they were encouraging all their buddies to do the same, especially to cluster in the beach towns of Pipa (Natal) and Porto de Galinhas (Recife). Sounded good to me. We linked up with some 1st time World Cup attending pals to go in on a bungalow in Pipa, then got a first and last night apartment in Manaus plus an Amazon tour package. For Porto de Galinhas, we decided to go in on a house with a dozen other friends in Serrambi, an even smaller beach town down the road from Porto de Galinhas.
You totally bored with this whole planning chapter yet? ‘Cause I could make you read the Canadian airline spreadsheet pun battles.
We booked our flights in and out of Brazil, as well as the Natal-Manaus-Recife loop, in the spring. Individual flights between venue cities, that we’d have to do when we got there. Bus, maybe? Who knew. Either way, it would depend on the group stage outcome, and, while Brazilian airlines usually offer a combo pass, they sure weren’t doing that during the Cup.
Most of my friends said I was nuts, but I loved all of the planning and research. Reminded me a lot of planning my wedding while I was in grad school. Guidebooks, spreadsheets, lists, folders of carefully detailed printouts of every reservation and receipt, vaccinations and fancy drugs for exotic ailments. Almost attempting to learn Portuguese. I said that South Africa rewarded you for doing your homework; Brazil would require honors-level homework to pull off.
PRAIRIE’S ALL-TIME FAVORITE TRAVEL AND EVENT PLANNING ADVICE:
Get everything in writing and keep a paper trail. Google Docs is great and all but keep paper records on hand for when there’s no internet, which will be more often than you like.
On June 13, we watched Brazil win the opening match against Croatia as we packed up our belongings in a nylon carry-all; the next morning, we set out for one month in Brazil.