Traveling for a Year: Harder or Easier than “Real Life” ?

As you can imagine, the anticipation for a year long journey is intense. We have been thinking about and looking forward to this trip for a very long time. As the time draws closer (3 months and 6 days!!) I have been swinging back and forth between two mental states:

  1. Oh my gosh, I can’t wait to get out of here. The day to day grind of work and life is killing me! Life on the road will be so much easier!

    and …

  2. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe we’re actually doing this. I’m terrified. I won’t get to sleep in my own bed and curl up comfortably in my own home for a YEAR?! I have to live for a whole year with only the clothes that fit in my backpack? That is going to be really difficult!

So, is traveling for a year harder or easier than our “real lives”??  Both, perhaps?

Traveling will be easier.

  • No day to day grind! We will not be feeling the pressure of jobs or bosses or any of those normal “things you have to do.” We won’t ever feel bored with life.
  • We will have more choices about how to spend each day. If we want to rest, we rest. If we want to go out, we go out. If we enjoy a city or town, we get to stay longer. If we don’t find that something meets our expectations, we can get out of there more quickly. If we meet cool people who are going somewhere we didn’t even think of, we can change our plans on a whim and join them!
  • We will have a lot fewer schedules to keep. This sounds like the ones above, but has an extra layer. There will be much less time pressure. We will be able to forget about time for days at a time if we feel like it!
  • Sleeping in! This is really similar to the above bullet, but I mean come on! We can sleep in on any day we want!
  • And, the obvious – We can lay in hammocks sipping beers whenever we want =)

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but…

Traveling will be harder.

  • We will be pushed outside our comfort zones every day. We will be navigating cultures and locations so different from our own constantly.
  • There won’t be a place that we can call “home.” We will constantly be on the move, living out of small backpacks, sleeping in all manner of places from the really grand to the really not, wearing the same set of clothes day in and day out.
  • We will be far away from friends and family having to function without any of the support system that we are used to. At times we will fill completely disconnected from everyone as lives will continue on without us: potential weddings, babies being born, birthdays, and holidays will proceed where we can’t be present.
  • Every day will require new and different kinds of problem solving. Talk about mental exercise! We will be exploring new places, using transit systems unfamiliar to us, in languages that we have no competency in. We will often worry about being scammed, cheated, or robbed… or just generally ending up in bad situations due to our mistakes or even just poor luck.
  • Traveling can be exhausting! We’re looking at a TON of long bus, train, rickshaw, taxi, and plane rides. Ugh.

So, while I’m sure that I will continue to think “only a few more months and I’m out of here!” every time something gets frustrating, I will remember that it won’t be a dream. Sometimes it will be gritty, real, and exhausting. I will miss you all very much and will hope you keep us updated on the big happenings in your lives!

Any comments on your experiences with long term travel would be appreciated!

 

 

 

How Do You Plan Something Like That?

Another question that we have been asked is how we are going to plan such a big trip. It can seem daunting, but it has also proved to be pretty fun because we are so excited!

Choose Some Highlights

The first thing we had to decide was what we were most excited to see.  We both had some ideas about what we wanted to see around the world such as: The Parthenon, other ancient world ruins in Greece and/or Turkey, Machu Picchu, the Amazon, the most southern points in the world, Penguins, Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Himalayas, castles in Europe, The Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, etc. We both love ruins, history, and outdoor beauty. Della was interested in visiting some of the countries from which her students come from: Burma and Nepal.

 Save Some Places for the Future

After thinking about the highlights we wanted to see, we had a huge list! So we had to pare it down a bit. We first took into account that some places are easier to get to from the US than others. For example, we ultimately decided not to visit South America during this trip at all because it is so much easier to reach than all the other continents. We believe that we can fly to many countries in Central or South America for shorter vacations in our future. It is easier to plan a two week summer vacation when you are only a couple of hours away via plane. It is much harder to plan that same vacation when you know you will be spending over a day’s travel time on each end (plus jet lag). This thinking led us to focusing on Africa, Europe, and Asia on this trip.

 Choose a Direction

Next, we tried to see how we could make them fit together in some semblance of order. We did not want to flit all over the world in big plane rides – we’d rather want to travel overland where we could to save money. This led us to the idea that we were generally travelling one direction around the world – either west or east.

 Consider the Climate and Crowds

The next step was to look at the weather. We knew that we would rather avoid the hottest time of year, the coldest/wettest time of year, and busiest tourist season in every location. Knowing we were leaving in July helped us get an idea of where we wanted to be and when. Many round the world books have collected average temperature and rain data about different locations.The website Price of Travel also has a lot of good information about climate and tourist season, both on its location profile pages and in posts about the best cheap places to travel during certain months.

Once we read all this information, we were a little overwhelmed. Then Eric’s nerd side came out and he decided to try and organize it visually. He decided to get some old-fashioned notecards and lay out an itinerary. First he made notecards for each month. Then, he made a notecard for each of the potential destinations and listed on the cards when it was best to visit the destination, when it was OK, and when to avoid. We then laid these cards out and tried to optimize for the “best” category.

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Using this system helped us come up with a general flow of the trip: Africa first, Europe next, and Asia last. We do get to Africa during the coldest part of the year, but it is the best time for wildlife watching. This also helps us avoid the worst of the summer crowds in Europe. Also, we will get to Asia during the best (least hot) weather months.

Consider the Costs

We also looked at the relative cost of traveling in all locations we wanted to visit. We wanted to stick to a $100/day or less budget for the two of us. This, unfortunately, made us reconsider visiting many of the countries in Europe. However, the great news was once we decided that many of the countries in Western Europe were too expensive for this trip, it made us start to research more about countries that we knew very little about. Suddenly, countries like Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania were on our list.

 Dive In

Finally, we had a general idea of the countries we wanted to visit and the order in which we could visit them.  The next step was to learn more about each country in an effort to plan the approximate amount of time we might want to spend there.

This became very tricky as we don’t want to over-plan the trip. This actually has been our biggest struggle in planning – attempting to plan too much! The beauty of a long trip is that we can shape the trip as we go. We can spend more time in places that we enjoy or less in places that we don’t. We will become exhausted if we are constantly on the move and should try to plan some down time in certain locales.

Still, we want to do a little planning, so we decided to start with guide books. We are true believers in Lonely Planet guide books and have used many to guide our research. One thing that has been invaluable is the Denver Public Library. It offers loans on almost all Lonely Planet books that are quite recent. We have been able to get the guide books from the library and spend time reading through the various sites – giving us possible time tables and ideas about the best way to travel from one location to another.

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Read Travel Blogs

The guide books are a great resource for learning about a destination, but it’s also nice to hear more personal stories to really get a feel for the place. Luckily, on the Internet it is now very easy to find such stories! Often, if we want to read about a place, we will just Google “<place name> travel blog”, and a ton of results pop up.

There are a few other web resources that we like to check. Wikitravel provides advice similar to a guidebook, so it’s a good place to use for cross-referencing. We also like to check Trip Advisor reviews to make sure that the places we are thinking of get good reviews.

Keep Track of It All

It’d be nice if we could remember all of this information we’ve found, but when you’re planning a whole year that’s somewhat hard to do! Our solution has been to keep track of what we have found in a set of Google Drive documents. This way, we can both edit them, and we will be able to access them from anywhere. Whenever we find a noteworthy link, we add it to the corresponding document for future reference.

Always Be Planning

It’d be foolish to say that we have come up with our final plan. We are hoping that part of the fun of this adventure will be experiencing some unplanned and surprising things! So, we are hoping to use all this research as a basic guide but will continue to seek out new information about the places we are going to go. You can check out the Itinerary link on our to see where we’re currently planning to go… but don’t be surprised if you see it change!

Learning Something New Everyday!

Did you know that a braai is a BBQ grill?

Did you know that an ablutions block is a bathroom?

I didn’t. But now I do! At least they are in South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana.

We’re getting close to having our plan put in place for our self-drive safari! (More details to come)