Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Planning for our Round-The-World Trip

Trip planning is in full swing now. I’m treating it like a full time job. Up at 6 or 7am, work out in the gym downstairs, eat breakfast, check the news online as well as updates on Facebook & Twitter, then work straight through until lunch. Thirty minute lunch break then back to work until at least 4pm, when Greg & I have our dinner debrief (he’s learning to cook so we plan our weekly meals out on Sunday, pick up all the necessary ingredients at the grocery, and then have “lessons” prior to actually cooking). I stay close to the kitchen to answer questions or help as needed, then we eat dinner and relax afterwards. I typically try not to do any trip research after dinner because it works my brain too hard and then I’m afraid I won’t sleep well. Of course, this schedule varies a bit if we plan an afternoon outing or if we have to work out later in the day because Greg has an early morning conference call. In general though, I’m trying to devote a minimum of six hours a day to sorting out the details of the trip.

I did a lot of preliminary research over the past few years because I originally thought I would be setting off on this trip around August, 2008. But my job situation changed and I wasn’t able to save up as much money as I wanted to by that date. So I kept working and minimized my expenses as much as possible while still trying to enjoy & fully experience life in New York City. Luckily (in one sense), my job was super demanding and required a lot of overtime work and thus I was able to stash more money relatively quickly. However this also meant that I had very little spare time to work on the trip planning. With a new tentative departure date of late 2009, I forged ahead one day at a time but was concerned about the lack of time I was devoting to the trip prep. Not to mention that I worked such long hours I didn’t have time to go to the gym to get in better physical shape for the trip.

It was in the middle of all that that Greg came into my life. Our relationship started very slowly and innocuously at first (yes, on Facebook!), but soon enough he was an integral part of my day-to-day existence. This despite the fact that he was living in Nashville, TN and I was in New York City. Some of our first conversations were about travel, much of them spent with him talking about wanting to spend more time in Europe & Hawaii and me talking about going to Africa & Southeast Asia (and generally around the world). It would take many months before we both considered it a possibility that we could do some variation of my RTW trip together.

So here we are, almost a year and a half later. Our relationship has been untraditional to say the least. Over the past year we have lived together (in some form or another) in New York City, Seattle, Honolulu, and Portland, OR. We have also vacationed in Hawaii & Eastern Europe and taken long weekend trips to the Smoky Mountains, Indiana, and more. While the title of this blog “Alethea’s Excellent Adventures” was meant to be about my RTW travels, the subject matter has so far been my “living experiments” with Greg (see links to archived posts). That will change soon enough, because we have officially set a departure date for our round-the-world trip. It is really only a few short months away which is why I have to focus my time & efforts on the planning & preparation. Greg is helping, too, of course. He just has less spare time because of his job.

Our first task was to individually make lists of all the places in the world we want to go (we actually did this several months ago). We have also been purchasing & testing the necessary clothing, footwear & gear (mostly for Greg as I have been traveling in this fashion for over a decade so I simply need to “update” a few things). We have both saved up the necessary funds and have moved them or are in the process of moving those earmarked funds into the appropriate accounts (with no to minimal ATM withdrawal charges or foreign transaction fees). We also have re-entry funds set aside to allow us to come back to the U.S., catch up with family & friends, move to wherever we want to live, and take our time finding jobs. We both have been devoting some time every day to reading travel blogs or other relevant literature. We have ensured that our passports are renewed/up-to-date. We started working out 6 days a week at the beginning of February, alternating cardio & strength training, and are both in better shape now than we’ve been in many years.

Now we are at the more detailed phase of trip planning. We have compared our destination lists and narrowed them down into what seems to be a workable 6 month itinerary by roughing out dates & durations for each location (with the option to add on another 2-3 months at the end if our finances are in good enough shape). We have checked seasonal weather averages & conditions as well as any dates that might coincide with national holidays or large festivals. We have calculated the costs & time required to obtain visas.

Our next steps are to firm up the itinerary and apply for visas; get a full physical (me only; Greg did this in January); meet with a travel medicine specialist and start getting any necessary vaccinations; and book any peak season tours or air travel (only if absolutely necessary -- I prefer to wing it and not be committed to definite dates). In the meantime we’ll continue to do research on specific destinations and make sure we’re not trying to see too much, too fast.

We’re also going on vacation in mid-May (less than 2 weeks away!) to Yellowstone National Park. Three nights each in Old Faithful & Mammoth and two nights in Jackson, WY. Greg & I have both had Yellowstone on our top ten list for quite some time. We’re going early in the season so we expect to see some snow and may have to deal with cooler temperatures and inclement weather, but we should get to see most of the park minus the huge summer crowds. This is also birthing season for much of the wildlife so we should see lots of baby animals. I’m definitely going to need a break from all this planning and am really looking forward to our vacation!


  1. You do have a new full-time job! Wish we had more time to plan our trip (we decided we wanted to go RTW in December and left in March!). But then again, not having plans had it's advantages. We met so many great people on the road by staying in hostels, we were always getting real-time updates on destinations we'd thought of and ones we hadn't. Upkeeping our blog ended up being one of the hardest things to do while on the road, and it still is now. I try hard to find a particular time of the day most condusive to work and stick to it. I admire your resolve!

    In terms of paperwork, look closely at how many pages you have left in your passports. The passport office will put in extra pages for FREE, as long as it isn't a rush. You just have to provide an itinerary, but ours wasn't very official, just a list we wrote up at home. Visa pages take up one full page, plus the facing page must also be kept free for stamps. Some countries will not be kind to your passport and will place their stamp squarely in the middle of the page, thus making more stamp impossible. Supposedly, you need to have a certain amount of free pages for places like China to consider giving you a visa, but I've never heard of anyone having issues with this IRL.

    Visas are easy peasy to get while abroad. We only had our Brazilian visa arranged before we left (but we've had it since 2005). We got India, China, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia all on the road. You can't set up many of these visas more than 3 months in advance, so you may have to do it on the spot. Hostels are there to help, but each city has TONS of places that will do it for you, and they are legit.

    I can make a suggestion about funds management while abroad: we set ourselves up with Schwab for credit and checking accounts (the checking includes a brokerage account). They have amazing programs where they don't charge you ANY atm fees anywhere, and no foreign currency exchange fee either. This is pretty much one of a kind, and in the current banking climate, I'm not sure how long it will last. We had all of our accounts linked (ING with all of our savings, Chase checking as a holding pen & to pay some bills back home, and then we would sift small amounts into the Schwab card — we only kept the Schwab on us, so no one could ever access any of our bigger accounts were it to fall into the wrong hands). We were very happy with the set up, but we had to be mindful that Schwab takes a full 3 business days (once or twice up to 5) to transfer cash. Since we were keeping such a low balance, a few times got tight.

    Just some stuff to think about. Planning all the wonderful places you'd like to see is one of best parts! I envy you!!

  2. Yeah! I'm glad to hear that the departure date is growing ever closer.