Recently, a lot of people have been asking me about how my planning is coming along. Aside from the occasional cryptic post on Facebook, I haven’t given out many details. Part of the reason is that I’m rather short on details at the moment; I’m still in the “broad, general outline” phase of planning. Still, the planning process is, in my opinion, a fun part of travel, so why not share it? Caveat: I’m the kind of person who also enjoys packing, so my definition of “fun” might be different from yours.
So how does a traveler plan for a 14-month trip through 30 countries based on the writings of a guy who visited those same places over the course of five years nearly a century ago?
Damned if I know.
I’ve never ‘planned’ for a trip, per se. I’m more of the “buy a RT flight to Narobi for three months and see what happens when I get there” kind of girl. No itinerary, no timeline, no to-do list. This Uneven Tenor trip is proving to be exactly the opposite: I need a [rough] itinerary, I have a timeline, and I certainly have a to-do list. I’m trying to figure out how to ‘plan’ this trip without ruining all the good surprises. Here’s what I have so far:
1. A massive spreadsheet and a notebook: When it comes to planning this much travel all in one go, organization is key. I’m a huge fan of Excel so a lot of my trip details are currently in spreadsheet form. I have a tab listing countries, costs, visas and red flags; one tracking airfares; another tracking the money I’m saving for the trip; and one more to organize my credit cards and the miles I’m earning. I also have a notebook where I’m writing down country-specific details so I can roughly budget how long I’ll be in one place. For example, Paris will only be about a week, but Greece will be nearer a month.
2. Budget estimate: Primarily through the Wikitravel and Lonely Planet websites, I’m digging up the average daily cost of travel for each of the countries I’ll be visiting, and estimating how much time I’ll spend in each country. I choose cost estimates for the upper end of budget travel, then round up again so I’ll have a buffer. I also have to add in expensive activities like transatlantic airfare, big visas, and climbing the Matterhorn. So far I’ve made it through Europe and North Africa, leaving the Middle East and all of Asia in my “to do” pile.
3. Some visa plans: I know that I can get visas to all the countries on my list, but some will be trickier than others. So far I’ve researched my France long-stay tourist visa (so I can stay in Europe’s Schengen region longer than 90 days) and my China visa. Timing the visas is critical. I have to apply for my France visa a certain number of months before my trip begins, and I’ll have to order and pick up my China visa while I’m in Hong Kong. Something convoluted will happen with India, too. The whole visa thing is really a headache, and I haven’t even started the paperwork. And don’t even get me started on reciprocity fees for US citizens…
4. No activity plans: Like I said, despite all this planning, I want to maintain a casual “I wonder what I’ll do today” vibe. During all my country-specific research to determine how long I want to stay in each region (aside from ‘forever’) I’ve avoided looking up attractions, activities, hostels, etc. Those things I’ll discover in situ, or at least en route.
5. Status of the big events: I can’t believe how much time I’ve put into this aspect of my research and how far away it all remains.
**I still haven’t found an elephant to ride over the Alps, but a German-speaking friend of mine did some internet searches for me and found some possibilities for me to follow (thanks Kate!). I do have a backup plan pinging around my head, though, so you can rest assured something epic will happen on Great Saint Bernard Pass this August.
**I recently found out that my only chance for swimming the Hellespont River is to do so on August 30th with an organized race that costs $521–bummer. And…
**…the Nile River is filthy but people have swam in it without dying of disease, so there’s hoping. But…
**…I’m learning how to swim distances greater than one pool length!
**The Matterhorn’s main hut on the Hornli Route will be closed for renovations this summer, so that plan is still a little up in the air, as well.
**Moral of the story: apparently I still don’t know how I’m going to pull off any of these shindigs.
So, that’s the status of things. Oh yeah, there’s also that thesis I’m supposed to be writing…and sleep. Speaking of which, good night!