The first stage of planning a trip is figuring out where you want to go. At first, this is as simple as pulling up a map of the world and letting your imagination guide you. Some continents, some countries, appeal to us more than others. We simply followed our desires and intuitions until we had a list. We refined this list by ordering it, based on what incurred the least travel, and what time of the year suited a specific area of the world better.
In our case, we started with the more challenging countries first. This ended up working out because it takes quite a bit of energy to deal with the conditions in those countries. It’s also worth noting that home starts to call after a few months and you risk calling it quits early if a country really beats you down (and some of them do!). Being low on energy also leads to lazy planning, and potentially bad decisions that can strongly impact a trip.
Our budget was divided into three parts:
Home budget: what will you need to keep paying for while you are away? Any sources of income? We decided to rent our place out while being away, so the mortgage, utilities, stacked up, while rent gave us a breath of fresh air. Also, check if your carrier allows for data usage while abroad. In our case T-Mobile provided free 2G or 3G in nearly every country we visited (Vietnam being the exception), which justified keeping the subscription running while away from the US.
Away budget: Do some research on the cost of living in each country. We separated expenses into the following accounts: housing, food, transport, special activities, and a buffer of 10% to account for mistakes, or unexpected costs. Many sites have incredibly useful tools to conduct this research. Lonely planet is incredible for this. For nearly every destination, they have a “Essential information” page (see America’s page as an example) that breaks down the essentials.
Travel budget: This will most likely comprise of your plane tickets, or other modes of transportation that will get you from one country to the next. Do some research to see how much flights cost to go between your various destinations. Decide whether you want to book ahead of time, or more last minute (more on this later).
We fit all our research into this spreadsheet (embed or link) to help us gather everything in once place and sum up all our expenses. This is where the rubber really meets the road and you get a sense of whether you can make this work or not. From here on out, you can make some decisions to figure out what compromises you need/want to make. For example, we needed to cut our list of countries down and decided to tackle South America at a later date, but we could also have opted to travel with a much lower housing budget and stay in hostels all trip long, or be more frugal on food, or stay longer in each place to cut down on travel costs (probably what I would choose to do, with hindsight).
Life-savers / MVPs:
- Mosquito net: whether at home in temperate climates, or in malaria prone areas, this guy will save you countless hours of sleep and buy you invaluable peace of mind.
- Our backpacks: light, flexible, with a detachable, smaller backpack / day bag.
- Packing cubes: don’t let your life become
- Menstrual cup
- Smart wool socks
- Quality power adapter: universal, with USB ports and retractable stems
- Plastic soap bar box
- Smart phone: always a double edged sword, as the temptation of screens can be an easy fall back for a tired mind, the convenience in unknown or hostile environments is not to be neglected.
Things we ended up never using:
- Meat bags
- Door stopper
- Steripen (although I would still recommend grabbing this one: water is life).
The only flights we booked before leaving were our trip to Paris and back to SF, as well as our flight to Johannesburg. That left a lot of flights to book during our trip. When all was said and done, booking last minute cost us an extra 15%. It’s non trivial, but the flexibility this has granted us was worth it. Few things are worse than being stuck in a place that oppresses you, or needing to leave a place you are thoroughly enjoying, simply because you locked yourself in months ago.