USA is a truly global nation. It’s influence in various domains ripples all over the world, mostly in positive ways. The cool new tech, trends, fashion, etc comes from the west aka United States of America. Obviously, as a person of millennial generation and heavy consumer of modern media, especially in the form of movies and TV Shows made in USA, it was a dream come true to be able to visit the USA.
In this post, I will write a little into the opportunity that resulted in the most exciting journey of my life.
- How I got the opportunity to visit the USA for free?
- The 15 hour journey from Kochi to San Francisco
- Video: Landing at San Francisco
How I got the opportunity to visit the USA for free?
To be honest, I never expected that I will ever be able to visit USA in my life. The first and biggest hurdle was getting the visa. The next hurdle was the expenses related to flight and hotel reservations. It was too much to think for my “self-employed” self back in 2018.
One day, an opportunity came up for me. The search engine giant Google invited me to an event related to Product Experts program that I was part of. All I needed to do was to have a valid US visa and Google will cover literally every other expense!
The process of getting US tourist visa is considered one of the hardest and most expensive. The visa application alone would cost me $200. Apart from that, I had to fly to Chennai and stay there a few days for the Visa application and interview. That would add another $200 expense for me.
Everywhere I consulted about my chances of visa gave me a negative reply. However, the opportunity was too good to pass on based on other people’s opinions and presumptions – there was a little hope in me that kept telling me to take the chance that would dry $400 out of my pocket.
Anyways, let’s just say that the stars aligned and I was able to secure a 10 year ( yes! 10 year!! ) valid US B1/B2 visa which paved the way to my first US trip.
Google then arranged me the round trip flights and hotel bookings to attend the 3 day event. All for free!
The Journey From Kochi to San Francisco
If you observe the globe, you might notice that India and USA are on the opposite sides of the earth. The journey from India to USA would take at least 20 hours and the time-zone difference is so huge that I would be theoretically time travelling.
From my home airport Kochi ( COK ), there are no direct flights to San Francisco ( SFO ). This meant that I had to transit via another airport. Having experienced all the awesomeness of Singapore’s Changi Airport before, I knew that I should be travelling on Singapore Airlines via Singapore airport for this awesome journey.
The First Leg: Kochi – Singapore
My journey to the US started at around noon on 30th October 2018 from my home to Cochin International Airport. I was carrying a backpack and an half empty American Tourister rucksack with nothing but clothes, my electronics and some cash.,
I boarded the Low Floor AC KSRTC bus to the Cochin international airport ( aka Nedumbassery ). It was an uncomfortable 2 hour bus ride – the bus was packed and I had to stand all the way! But I was okay to bear it in hopes of the wonderful in-flight service from Singapore Airlines.
Finally, I reached the airport. I was still full of energy despite the tiring bus ride – probably because of the excitement and surrealness of the journey I was about to embark on.
The first leg of my flight was in Silk Air ( low-cost short distance flight service by Singapore Airlines ) from Cochin to Singapore at around 11 PM, scheduled to arrive in Singapore at 6 AM in the morning. I had previously travelled in Silk Air for my Singapore trip in 2017 where I explored Universal Studios and the Sentosa Island in Singapore. I had great experience with Silk Air then and hence I was excited for this upcoming flight.
After a few hours of boring time at the airport, the boarding finally started. I was so excited to be finally in the airplane.
I prefer to sit in the window seat. Looking at the massive clouds, the blue sky, the land, the sea, and just getting lost in thoughts is my favorite past time when in an airplane.
I had pre-booked Special Meals – Vegetarian Indian Meal in this Silk Air flight from Kochi to Singapore.
This Vegetarian Indian Meal in Silk Air consisted of Chappathi and some vegetable curries. It was quite delicious and I had a good sleep after the meal.
At around 5:30 AM next day, the pilot announced to prepare for landing. I was hoping to get to peek at the early sun from the airplane window, but it was very cloudy that day. I didn’t even see a ray of sun, it was a very gloomy atmosphere in Singapore that day.
Anyways, as scheduled, we landed at Changi International Airport in Singapore by 6 AM. I had a layover of 3 hours at Changi International Airport in Singapore until my next flight to San Francisco.
I have been to Singapore twice before – in 2011 and then in 2017. On my last visit to Singapore in 2017, I discovered that Changi Airport is not that kind of airport where you can just sit around and wait for the next flight. There are tons of attractions spread across all the four terminals of Changi Airport – I could barely cover attractions of Terminal 2 in 2017.
So I explored around Changi Airport during my short layover of 3 hours even though I was little tired from the last flight. When it comes to exploring, tiredness is not an excuse for me.
The attractions at Changi Airport deserves its own post. Maybe, I’ll write about it soon.
The 15 Hour Flight From Singapore to San Francisco
The 3 hour layover went so fast. Before I knew, the final security check for my flight to San Francisco had started.
The security check process was quite troubling. You are in a queue and you have to unpack your bag, put electronics in a tub, take off your jacket, take off the shoes, take off your belt – all within seconds without stalling the queue. You have to rush through it. Otherwise, be prepared to get yelled by the security officer.
You have to do all these while making sure not lose track of your flight ticket and passport.
After clearing the security check, while waiting at the boarding area, I had this feeling of nirvana. My dream of being in the US was just hours away. I thought I’d never get to visit US in my life and yet here I am – and it happened easier than I thought!
Finally, I was in my seat on Singapore Airlines SQ 32 from Singapore to San Francisco. It was an Airbus A350-900 and this was a special flight for a couple of reasons:
- It was the biggest plane I have ever been on at that time.
- Longest flight in my life yet. I’ll be in this flight at least for the next 15 hours!
- My first time-travel. The flight departs from Singapore at 9:20 AM on October 31st and will arrive in San Francisco at 8:50 AM on October 31st. So technically, I will travel back about 20 minutes in time when I arrive in San Francisco!
The flight was not that full and there was an empty seat right beside me. That was a great relief for this long journey.
After about few hour into the flight, the meal was served. I had pre-booked a Hindu Non-Vegetarian Special Meals.
The meal consisted of rice, butter chicken, and some desserts. It was a great meal.
After that meal, everybody seemed to be getting to sleep. But I couldn’t get myself to sleep since it was still day outside. I enjoyed the view through the window, looking at the clouds and the ships that were sailing in the ocean until it got boring and fell asleep.
About 7 hours later, I woke up and the crew had started serving the second meal. I had pre-booked a Hindu Non-Vegetarian Special Meals for this time as well.
This time, I received some kind of roti and chicken. It was a good meal as well. By the time the meal was finished, the rays of a beautiful morning started dawning upon the sky.
We were just a few hours away from San Francisco. I noticed the clouds and sky look much clearer in this part of the earth. The blueness of the sky was something I have not seen anywhere else before. It was quite a beautiful blue sky.
Soon we started approaching the North American landmass. I was looking out the window to spot any recognizable structures. I was able to spot the iconic Golden Gate bridge through the airplane window.
The view of the landscape of San Francisco from the airplane reminded me of my childhood days when I played the flight simulator games like Flight Gear and Flight Simulator X. It looked very familiar!
The buildings and roads of San Francisco looked so organized and there was a pattern to it. It was beautiful to see from above.
As scheduled, we landed at San Francisco International Airport by 8:45 AM. My in-flight experience in Singapore Airlines SQ 32 was nothing less than great. I am a fan of Singapore Airlines and the quality of service they provide.
The immigration process at San Francisco airport went smoothly. I picked up my luggage and headed to the arrival area. There, I was picked up by a driver who was assigned to take me to Santa Clara Marriot hotel where I was staying for the next few days.
The ride from the airport to the hotel was very interesting. My driver was a Mexican. We had a great conversation about each other’s countries, cultures, and various stereotypes.
I was super tired from the long 24 hour travel from the other side of the earth. I was not sure if jet lag hit me, but I sure was excited to be in San Francisco. The climate was quite chilly and I loved it.
For the next 3 days, I would be attending the event at Google’s Head quarters in Mountain View, San Francisco and then later took a bus to Los Angeles for solo-exploration. More on that in coming posts!
Video: Landing At San Francisco
If you are an avgeek like me, you might enjoy this video of landing at San Francisco that I recorded and overlayed with some chill music. Check it out!
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