When making an around the world itinerary, you are going to change your mind a whole lot as to how it will look from beginning to end. Here are the first few approaches we took into the initial planning.
We bought a map of the world.
Todd and I went to the local bookstore and hoping to avoid anyone we knew, we bought a brand new world map. The first planning session may have involved a little whiskey and lots of tiny post-it notes as we read through a few general books with titles like ‘2000 Places to See Before you Die’ and so forth.
That map didn’t have a chance! A week later I had post-its all over the floor from trying to put too many in one area or another. The size of the countries were too small to differentiate from each other and mostly we were just confused as Europe and Asia seemed to disappear under a pile of post-its.
“Did I mark Brussels yet?”
“I don’t know. Hold on and let me just move one of these sticky notes….damn there they all go.”
We made a top ten list of countries.
By that I mean we each made one. Now, I do realize that twenty countries in one year are probably too many when you want to travel slowly and really immerse yourselves into a culture. But it was a good jumping off point.
We went to the library.
Todd and I got out travel books from the countries we listed and started to do some more research. Another list was made a few weeks later and not surprisingly it had changed for us both.
We read travel blogs.
So. Many. Blogs. If someone asks me what I did for the month of March, 2016 it was read blogs. All kinds.
I am super Type A and uber organized and started immediate research into a number of topics. Blogs are great for current budgeting in countries, safety issues, packing advice, anything really, but you have to look through a lot until you find that voice that speaks to you. Some I used purely for inspiration based on their photos and some more for advice.
We started a notebook dedicated to planning.
Some pages were dedicated to countries with scribbled notes from guidebooks, travel shows and of course blogs. We had other pages with packing details, reasons for doing the blog (or not), and an ever-growing list of the blogs I now subscribe to.
Fast forward a month or so and we had a good idea of where we were starting.
Our first itinerary (April 2016):
US (1 month split between West and East coast) –> Ecuador –> Bolivia –> Peru (3 months in S. America total) –> Hawaii (2 weeks to visit a friend) –> South Korea (2 weeks to visit other friends) –> SE Asia (4 months) –> Europe (2 months) –> India (1 month)
It pained us to cut out New Zealand, Australia, and parts of Africa, but they were too remote to justify the flight cost at the time.
Then I started looking at plane tickets.
This made the planning more realistic. Hawaii got the boot first. It literally jacked prices up an extra grand each. Ouch. Next to get the ax was South America. If you have read our backstory you know we love South America and have professed to return many times. Our reasoning was that we have been there once and although we have much more to explore, we have never experienced Asia.
Todd has wanted to get to Europe his whole life and I have always found India interesting, so they won out. It was also way cheaper to fly directly to Asia from the US.
At this point in the planning, we were getting overwhelmed by it all.
Travel insurance? Vaccines? So much stuff to order online! We realized we were trying to narrow down every single country and where to go in each country.
We decided to stop focusing on details so far out.
Realistically, our plans would change no matter what so why worry about it now?
So we pinpointed where to go first.
Spring was cold and dreary in Oregon, and we had islands and beaches on the brain. I was devouring all these blogs describing the Philippines and how beautiful their beaches are. The country was not even on our radar originally!
But we kept going back to it – the snorkeling, sunsets, people renowned for their hospitality and some stellar Unesco Heritage rice paddies. We found a great flight deal from NYC to Manila and decided it was meant to be. So after our time in the states, the Philippines would be our new home for a month.
After deciding on an initial jumping off point, the rest of the itinerary fell into place.
We knew we wanted to do some volunteering so we decided to head to Malaysia next. Volunteering in Malaysia is easier than some other SE Asian countries, with a ninety-day visa on arrival and no special volunteer visa needed.
Todd and I looked for a few weeks for opportunities through Workaway and reached out to an eco-resort in Gopeng. We signed up to volunteer there two weeks, helping with cooking, light cleaning and keeping the guests happy.
After that, we made a very loose plan to meander up the peninsula to Thailand and island hop.
We scheduled one bucket list item far in advance.
Our last scheduled event was in mid-February 2017, at an elephant sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai. I was hesitant to book something so far out, but this organization books up fast and is well known in the area.
The Elephant Nature Park rescues abused and displaced animals from all over SE Asia and helps to educate the locals and tourists alike about how to treat them. We were going to observe the elephants (no riding!) in their natural environment for a whole week while aiding in bathing time, feeding and preparation of food. It had been on my bucket list to work with elephants, so this was one activity we did not want to miss.
After the sanctuary, we planned to stay in SE Asia longer since so many countries are in a relatively small area.
Cambodia and Laos were at the top of the list. Vietnam is another country we both wanted to delve into thoroughly. Possibilities beyond Vietnam were South China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan before hitting Europe.
Time and money would play an important part in the decision at that point.
We aimed to volunteer again in Europe to extend our budget.
Croatia, Spain, and Ireland were the only definite countries on the list so we had some major planning to do still.
At the end of the trip loomed India (which goes against any advice about traveling in one direction around the world, but we really didn’t want to be there in the summer anyway).
And that is how we planned our around the world itinerary. It was loose and open to radical changes, but for us, it was a great place to start.
Our final itinerary before leaving to travel (August 2016):
US (3 weeks split between West and East coasts) –> Philippines (1 month) –> Malaysia –> Thailand –> Cambodia/Laos? –> Vietnam –> other Asia locations?? –> Europe –> India