Mapping things out:
Our approach to planning our trip was to have fun with it. Here was the opportunity to dream big and loud. After all the world is really big and there are so many places to see. But before creating our dream hit list, we had to first agree on the length of our journey. We went with 7 – 8 months based on our allocated budget. Next, came the fun part. Armed with a map of the world we then pulled out a pad and went buck wild, writing down all the countries we wanted to see. We easily filled up the page and arrived at a total of about 60 (spanning across 6 continents). That was the easy part.. but realistically we had to creatively narrow it down to about 20 – 30 countries. We wanted to enjoy the places we saw and take our time doing so. This wasn’t going to be a rush job of just flipping through countries just to say we did so. Our journey would start with Europe where we planned to stay about 3 – 3.5 months (June – early Sept). From Europe we planned on a week-long getaway to Africa (Senegal). We decided to do this fairly early on into our trip. Next in mid-Sept was Turkey/Greece and we allocated 2 weeks for this. But as it turned out, we unfortunately realized we could only do one of these countries and decided on Turkey (for the 2 week duration). We have friends who visit Greece often and hoped to join them on a future trip and so make up for our omission. From Turkey we set our sight on Southeast Asia for 2 months (Oct – Nov). It would be my first time so I was super excited. From there we would continue east to Australia and New Zealand for 1 month (Dec). Latin America was initially part of our dream list but we realized there would be no way to do it (not properly anyway). Instead we decided to end our trip with a bang and hit some islands in the Pacific. We didn’t know exactly which islands but figured we would sort it out eventually. The answer would come by October and we chose to spend New Year’s in Fiji.
In terms of the countries we chose to visit, we identified friends all over the world who we could potentially stay with. As it turned out, we stayed with friends/family in 9 different countries. In total we visited 27. Here’s the full list: France, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, Turkey, Senegal, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and USA.
Some considerations were that places like Russia, China, Japan and India would warrant their own trip another time.
Summer is better. Choosing our seasons:
One of travel’s luxuries is the ability to choose your seasons. We decided to follow the summer or hot weather for our entire journey. This implied some limitations on countries we wanted to see but on the flip side, it meant not having to pack any winter clothes. During our months in Southeast Asia (Oct – Nov), we encountered some rain as this was their rainy season. But overall we enjoyed far more sun than rain.
Dollars, francs, rupiah, korunas and ringgit. Deciding on our budget:
On average we worked with a budget of $100 a day per person. We anticipated some countries in Europe to be the most expensive part but surprisingly Australia took the title. The Aussie dollar has come a long way in the past few years to the point where it was marginally stronger than the $US. New Zealand wasn’t as expensive as their dollar is weaker than ours. In Europe where the euro is utilized, things were more expensive (i.e. France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Belgium) than countries that still have their own endemic currencies (Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary). Southeast Asia was the most budget friendly. Even $50 a day can go a long way out there.
We found that opening an account with a bank that offers zero fees on foreign transactions would be crucial. We used our ATM/debit cards everywhere and this way we never had to carry large amounts of cash on us. Credit cards were secondary but we avoided them for the most part as they typically tag on a hefty foreign transaction fee.
What about my favorite t-shirt and that awesome pair of shoes? How do you pack for 8 months on the road:
The short answer: sparingly!
We chose to travel with backpacks (a multi-day backpack per person), which we could easily throw over our shoulders and get on the move. I borrowed one from my brother-in-law while Brigitte purchased a new one from Eagle Creek (65 Liter capacity). Mine was slightly bigger at a capacity of 80 liters. Both packs came with a protective outer shell for the rain. Stuffing the heck out of these packs became commonplace but as most airlines have a weight limit per bag, we always used good judgement and a scale (whenever available). I also brought a regular (school size) backpack in which I carried our daily provisions. This was my carry-on.
In terms of clothes, a pair of jeans, 2 pairs of light or summer pants, and 2 pairs of shorts was it for me from the waist down. 8 – 10 t-shirts or sleeveless shirts and 1 cotton sweater. 10 pairs of underwear and 5 pairs of socks. 1 pair of sneakers, 1 pair of casual shoes and flip flops. By the end of the trip, I had gone through 5 or 6 pairs of flip flops. It’s something you can always buy on the fly (for cheap). I also brought 2 bathing suits. Our rule of thumb was, don’t bring anything that you will regret losing. Everything is pretty much replaceable except for fancy or sentimentally valuable objects. All that kind of stuff was left behind.
I’m afraid of needles! Medication and immunizations:
Many of the countries we visited required vaccinations to prevent catching illnesses/infections like yellow fever, polio, tetanus, hepatitis, etc. We also had to get malaria pills for Senegal. Best way to asses what’s needed is through a consultation with a primary care physician. We also referred to CDC’s travel website (http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/), for a list of diseases present in each country we visited and so we figured out the immunizations we needed. It’s very simple to use, you just type in the country you’re visiting in the search bar and hit “Go”.
We took some basic medication with us in form of advil (pain killers), imodium (for diarrhea), alka seltzer and cough drops.
Travel Insurance just made a whole lot of sense and we signed up for a policy through Seven Corners. They offer various comprehensive plans. We never really had to use it but it was the right decision to have it.
Visitor or Entry Visas – some countries require them, others don’t:
Some countries require an Entry Visa prior to arrival depending on your nationality and passport. For example, Australia required a Visa for US citizens prior to arrival. This was easily obtainable by applying online. Vietnam also required a Visa and a “Permission of Entry” can be obtained prior to arrival. Other countries (i.e. Indonesia, Laos and others), offer a Visa on arrival for a set fee. It’s important to have enough money to pay for the”Visa on Arrival” and most countries accept US dollars. There are several websites that offer information on countries that require Visitor Visas. In addition, checking the Embassy website of any given country will offer information on Visa requirements.
True story: at one point we had so many Visitor Visas and entry stamps that Brigitte’s passport ran out of space, it simply filled up. She had to obtain additional passport pages from the US Embassy (we were in Australia at the time), in order to accommodate future stamps and visas. This was done on the spot for a fee.
“Say cheese!” And does this place have wifi? Techology for the trip:
We took a digital camera (Sony Cybershot H-50), a Flip camcorder, a Macbook laptop, 2 iPods, and a Blackberry. We also brought a handful of USB keys on which we saved our pictures. A backup memory card for the camera was also key and came in handy. Looking back the only other thing we should have taken was a solid underwater digital camera. We also took 2 plug-in converters so we could always charge 2 electronic pieces at a time.
Internet: we had wifi or some sort of an internet connection everywhere we went. Some countries offered free wifi at hotels, restaurants/bars and other areas like shopping malls and airports. Of the countries that charged for wifi, Australia and New Zealand were notoriously costly and even put a cap on the megs we could use.