We have been talking about taking a trip like
this for as long as we've been together. Our wanderlust is
what brought us together (our first date was a week in London 5 years ago)
and the trips we've gone on since then have only fueled our desire to
hit the road. Our round-the-world journey was slowly becoming a reality when Dale
was between jobs in October 2000. With Dana's sister's wedding planned for April 2001,
and our lease up in June, we knew it was time to seize the moment and plan for a
departure in the summer of 2001.
There are a million components to planning a trip like
this, and we are insanely neurotic people who obsess about each detail.
Planning quickly became a full-time job on top of our other full-time jobs. (When Dana and her friend, Robin
traveled in Europe and the Middle East, their planning consisted of Robin dumping a variety
of notes written on napkins onto the floor, and then agreeing to meet in the Milan airport. If only
our planning could have been so easy...) The three biggest planning challenges were itinerary,
budget, and medical. Additional considerations were gear, moving, storing stuff,
arranging all our personal affairs (school loans, credit cards, bank accounts, etc),
and finding a home for our guinea pig, Tessa. Dana left her job at the psychiatric hospital +2 months
prior to departure, and Dale left his company 1 month before.
ITINERARY Since we'd done a fair amount of traveling in the past, both together and separately, we
had a pretty good idea of where we wanted to go. So we hit the bookstore, library and
internet and began researching travel to Africa, the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, and
South and Central America. Our trip slowly began to take shape.
We decided to visit South and Central America last for
several reasons. One is that we may want to settle there for a few years after our journey is over
so it will be a perfect place to end if we find our next home. Two is that we want to study
Spanish in a language immersion program prior to traveling through these countries. We figured a 2 month
break to live in one place while studying Spanish would be perfect mid-trip after we'd worn
ourselves out being on the go non-stop in Africa and Asia. Three, we'll really miss our families
and friends by then and the Americas are a lot easier for them to get to to visit us. So we checked out
the weather patterns in Africa, the Himalayas and Asia for our departure time and things fell into place.
We wanted to avoid being in places at high season as much as possible, but at the same time, we did
not want to be stuck somewhere during a monsoon, flood, or the like. Shoulder seasons are the ideal,
so that you can have decent weather but avoid the majority of tourists. Unfortunately, however,
it's unavoidable to be in some areas during peak season. So, our itinerary became
more clear, first stop Madagascar, then travel overland through southern and east Africa, followed
by the Himalayas, Southeast Asia and onward to the Americas.
We have a rough estimate of how much time we will be spending in each country, but we plan to be fairly
flexible (one of the good points of an RTW ticket is full flexibility in changing dates).
Within each country, our knowledge and degree of detail for an itinerary varies. For instance, we have a good
idea of what we're doing in our first 2-3 countries, and then a few highlights for others (see itinerary),
but that's about it. We've checked out most of the guidebooks (it really takes a review of
Lonely Planet, Moon, and Rough Guide books to piece together a good picture of a country), and that gives
us a view of the highlights, inter-country transportation, etc. However, we also want to be
sure that we get off the "gringo trail" a bit, which is the path that all Lonely Planet guidebook readers
follow, so that we can blaze our own path based on talking to locals, serendipity, etc.
TICKETS With our itinerary in hand, Dale spent
countless hours researching flight schedules and prices. Having a sense of the airlines routes, fares
and schedules is imperative information to have when working with the round-the-world ticket
agencies. After dozens of phone calls back and forth to the ticket agencies, Dale secured our
tickets with TicketPlanet for a reasonable price. Our round-the-world tickets are as follows:
New York City to Johannesburg; Nairobi (Kenya) to Dacca (Bangladesh); Kathmandu(Nepal) to Rangoon
(Myanmar) to Bangkok (Thailand) to Manila (Philippines) to Los Angeles(California). We're then using
airline miles to go from L.A. to Chile, then Chile to Colombia, and finally, Colombia to Central America. Again,
Dale did all the research for this and had our trip mapped out before calling to have these ticketed.
The agencies really are not much help in putting together the ideal itinerary, but you can wrangle out of them
which routes are the best deals, and plan accordingly. They will try not to tell you what an individual leg costs
(they will try to tell you that it's just one fare), but that's plain bs and they're just trying to hide
their mark-up. You can price the exact itinerary using a combination of online search engines (see Links),
to know if you're getting a good deal or not.
GEAR Once we realized we would be wearing the same clothes for 14 months in
every possible weather condition and social situation, finding the perfect clothing and gear
immediately became a huge undertaking. Having lived out of an enormous Jansport pack for 8 months in the past, Dana knew that having
an enormous pack meant having a lot of unnecessary things. One of the first things Dana bought was her
backpack (Eagle Creek Endless Journey) and figured she'd fit her necessities but no extra stuff.
We then looked through the travelogues of other couples (see LINKS) and came up with our packing list. With
all the new materials out there (coolmax, dri-fit, etc.) and conflicting reports advising for and against
cotton clothes, things became pretty confusing. The store CAMPMOR sold almost everything we needed
at a huge discount so we ordered a ton of gear and clothes from them. We found that both REI and EMS retail stores
have significantly less of a selection than their websites, so after checking out some gear in the stores
we bought from them online as well. Both these stores have great sales, so again, if you're planning a trip like
this and are on a budget, spend some time shopping around before buying. Having Dana's pack on hand before buying
the rest of her gear was a big help in assessing realistically how much we could pack. Dale's obsession with finding
the perfect pack, however, has been an ongoing saga. He needs a bigger pack than Dana (his clothes are twice the
size), and also felt that he would prefer a better suspension system than most travel packs offer.
Remembering how much Dana's sleeping bag felt like home on her previous backpacking trip, we knew how important it was to have one. With our plans including such a
wide variety of climates, we decided on +20 degree, artificial fill sleeping bags (from LL Bean). Silk sleepsacks were quite
pricey compared to their cotton alternatives ($60 vs $15) but they were so much smaller and lighter
we shelled out the extra cash. We looked at OUTSIDE magazines ratings of everything from
jackets to binoculars to boots, and this helped guide our purchases. (see GEAR links)
FINDING A HOME FOR OUR PET We adopted our guinea pig, Tessa, from the animal shelter
2 years ago. She has been the sweetest little girl, giving us loads of laughs and kisses.
We wanted to find just the right foster mother for her. We considered our options, and decided
that Dale's sister would provide the perfect home for her. So right before we depart, we're
driving Tessa to her house in Cleveland, OH.