Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shots and more shots

Today I went to Passport Health for a medical consultation and my first round of immunizations. I am pretty much going to need every vaccination under the sun due to the areas I'll be traveling in. I'll need hepatitis A and B, tetanus, polio, Japanese encephalitis, and influenza, among others. Plus, I'll also need to take pills to ward against malaria every day I'm in an at risk area and then for 28 days beyond that - this could essentially amount to 120 days or more!

Passport Health also gave me a HUGE booklet of information on health and safety in all of the areas I plan to travel to. It's a lot of info to read through, but it seems like it's going to be very helpful. I will be seeing the folks at PH quite frequently as some of the immunizations require multiple rounds of shots. Today I started my first round of Hep A & B shots ($155 for each of the three rounds - ouch!).

I'll go into a little more detail later this week, but for now I'm on a mini trip. . .to the Jersey shore! No vaccinations needed here (well, that I know of!)

Monday, June 29, 2009

I'm not the only one with crazy plans

I read a story recently about a 16 year old Australian girl who is getting ready to attempt to sail around the world by herself and unassisted. How cool is that? It's not something she and her family have decided on willy-nilly. She has a lot of experience and a lot of planning has gone into her journey. I figure if she can take a trip like this, then surely I, as a 30 year old woman, can take a RTW backpacking trip. Her trip is going to be much more difficult than mine. It's quite inspiring, actually. Read her whole story here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mobile Phone vs. Google Voice vs. Skype

One of the things to consider when traveling and being away from home for a long period of time is staying in touch with friends and family. That's now a lot easier than it once was because even in less developed countries the internet is fairly accessible. Email will be a godsend when I'm finally off and exploring the world, and the blog is one extra way to stay in touch. But what happens when I get homesick and really need to hear a familiar voice?

My current cell phone is a quadband phone, meaning it can be used globally. I have to call my carrier, though, to find out what the rates and plans are. Just because my phone can be used, doesn't mean I should use it; it may be prohibitively expensive.

Next up is Google Voice. This is a new service that won't be offered to all users for another couple of weeks, but is essentially a way to access and make calls from your phone or the web. No software needs to be downloaded, but since this will still be new by the time I need it, there may be kinks to be worked out. Also, for all I know, it may only be available in the US; it's something I'll have to look into more.

Finally, there is Skype. Skype is essentially an internet phone service that allows users to call and chat for free, as long as they have downloaded the Skype software. I know people who use it and love it, but I don't know enough about it yet. One cool thing is that you can also video call for free which means that when I'm homesick I'll be able to hear and see the person on the other end. The problem? Downloading the software. I will be using public computers - not a personal one - so this could be a big issue.

Does anyone have any experience or input in this area?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Someone please plan my itinerary for me

You see, the problem is that I just can't decide which destinations are "musts" and which are "would be nices." Since Southeast Asia is going to happen, I figure I might as well do Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji because when else will I be on that side of the planet? And I'd really like to do Costa Rica and Peru so I figure I may as well also hit Brazil and Argentina because how often will I be in South America? And if I'm going to make it to all of those places, I may as well go to a couple of areas of Africa, too, because then I will have made it to 6 continents (including Europe which I haven't mentioned yet) and how cool would that be?!

My dream destination list would include the following:
  • San Francisco
  • Montreal
  • Reykjavik, Iceland
  • U.K. (London, Dublin, Edinburgh)
  • Barcelona
  • Prague
  • Greece
  • Budapest
  • Moscow
  • India
  • Burma
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Cambodia
  • Vietnam
  • Hong Kong
  • Tokyo
  • Bali
  • Sydney and Melbourne, Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Fiji
  • Cusco, Peru
  • Costa Rica
  • Rio de Janiero
  • Buenos Aires
  • Marrakesh, Morocco
  • Cape Town, S. Africa
  • Egypt
  • Paris
  • Italy
  • Switzerland
In case you weren't counting, yes, that covers 6 continents and 32 cities and/or countries. (And to be honest, I could easily add a whole boat load of places that I'm probably forgetting about.) I think that I can cut out Africa, South America, and Montreal. Reykjavik will be too cold during the time that I'm planning to be there, so that's out. The visa requirements for Russia are crazy, so that's out. Tokyo, Paris, and the UK are too expensive, so they're pretty much out.

What that leaves is the more ideal destination list:
  • San Francisco
  • Barcelona
  • Prague
  • Budapest
  • India
  • Burma
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Cambodia
  • Vietnam
  • Bali
  • Sydney and Melbourne, Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Fiji
  • Costa Rica
See? It's much more manageable, but yet. . .still overwhelming. Anyone have any ideas? Please?? Or, better yet, go here and let me know what you come up with!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Friends in far away places

I mentioned the other day that when I traveled to Mexico earlier this year, I'd met this cool British couple. Mexico was one of their last stops before they headed home (I think they hit California after that). They'd been to Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand before that. I didn't grill them too much about their experience(s) at the time. . .I didn't want to scare them off, after all.

But they are home now and settling back in to "normal" life, and the three of us have exchanged a number of emails over the last few days. Since they're the only people I've ever met who've done a trip like the one I'm planning, I wanted to hear from the horse's mouth what it was all about. And you know what? I didn't think it was possible, but I just may be even more excited than I was before.

The Brits (until I hear from them that they're cool with me mentioning them by name, I'll just have to refer to them in a variety of other ways) went to all the places that I'm planning to visit and they had all kinds of recommendations. Some of the images I've seen so far are so freakin' beautiful, I could cry. Don't believe me? Go to Flickr and search Railay Bay, Thailand.

This picture was taken by flydime:
This one by Melosh:
And this one of Koh Phangan by Darcy McCarty:

See what I mean? Are you crying yet, or is it just me?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Test drive

Yesterday a friend flew in from California and she and I met up in DC for the day. I hadn't seen her since September so it was really nice to be able to hang out with her for awhile. I took the opportunity to test drive the shoes and backpack that I bought for the trip - don't worry, I warned her ahead of time that I'd be all geeked out like a tourist! :-)

Last weekend I bought these Keen shoes*:
and this Gregory backpack*:
and ended up looking like this:
The whole point of doing this was so that I could decide now if the pack was comfortable and if the shoes needed a lot of breaking in time. I figured it would be better to find out that stuff now rather than when I'm on the other side of the planet in Singapore or Vietnam or something.

The results? Pretty good, actually. The shoes were super comfortable. We walked around DC for hours and my feet weren't pinched, squeezed, or blistered at all. I even wore heels when I went out last night with no difficulties and usually after a day of walking that's the very last thing I want to do. The pack also was surprisingly comfortable. Now, granted, it probably only weighed about 10 pounds as opposed to the 25+ pounds it will most likely weigh when completely packed, but it was almost easy for me to forget I was carrying it. I liked that the back was ventilated which means that the pack didn't sit directly on my back and there was space for air flow. This isn't to say that I didn't get a little sweaty in the 90 degree weather yesterday, just that I was a lot cooler than I would've been if the pack didn't have that feature. The straps were also very comfy. They are well padded and didn't dig into my shoulders or hips at all.

There will, however, be other test drives in the near future. My pack isn't going to weigh 10 pounds when fully loaded, it'll weigh 25, and the difference between the two is pretty big. Who knows, the extra weight may even affect how I feel about my shoes. Plus, the pack has about a zillion snaps, buckles, and tie downs that are going to take some getting used to. The more I use them when I'm home, the more familiar I'll be with them on the road. Final word? I haven't yet taken the price tag off the pack, but I feel confident that this will be the bag I take with me on my journeys.

* Edited to add costs as a way to record pre-trip expenses. The shoes cost $100 and the pack cost $211; both prices include tax.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Deciding when

So I mentioned my difficulty in deciding where I should go. The other big decision is when to go. When I initially started thinking about this idea a couple of months ago, I figured since I had the passport and the money, I was good to go, right? Uh. . .not so much. Apparently it takes a little bit more planning than that!

The biggest things I have to take care of before I leave are related to health. Different countries will require different immunizations that I'll have to get. Sometimes that's as simple as one pill or shot, but sometimes it will require multiple shots over the course of a couple months and then additional time for the vaccination to be effective. I don't have a regular doctor that I see, so I have to figure out how to get these immunizations and where to go to get them. While I'm at it, I also have to line up health insurance. I might be okay with taking the risk to not have health insurance while I'm state-side, but I'm not so foolish as to go without it while I'm many, many thousands of miles away from home. Besides, some countries will require me to show proof that I have it before I'm even allowed to enter.

Other than the health issue, there's various other planning and prep activities that need to take place. Each destination country's visa requirements need to be looked into. I'll have to figure out what to do with all of my possessions while I'm gone. The fun part of deciding what to do and see in each city/country I visit will have to be done. Also, as excited as I am to be doing this, I really do need some time to wrap my brain around the fact that "whoa, I am about to embark on an adventure like never before!"

Right now my target leave date will fall sometime between October 2009 and January 2010. There are pros and cons for each. October would work because my apartment lease will be up then and the weather will be nicer than January for some of the places I'd like to hit right at the beginning of my trip. On the other hand, January could be ideal because I'll get to go to the October wedding of some friends, I'd have more time to plan, I'd be in town for the holidays, and I'd be able to request travel related gifts for my birthday (hint, hint). Besides, 'World Travel 2010' has a nice ring to it. :-)

Is it normal. . .

. . .that recently I've woken up early (as in, well-before-the-alarm-goes-off early) every day thinking things like:
  • I really need to get rain gear
  • I wonder what my itinerary is going to look like?
  • Is Skype something I should look into more?
Well, is it?? Obviously I have a lot on my mind, but I could do without the early morning wake up call.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Deciding where

My travel planning methodology is usually pretty straightforward. I brainstorm a list of cities that I've never been to before and research flight costs to those cities. Cheaper flights get top priority because I'd rather spend my money during vacation than getting there. Once the destination is determined I research and book accommodations. And, finally, it's time to flesh out the specifics - what do I want to do and see while I'm there?

The longest trip I've ever planned before was two weeks long, so it's quite another story planning this kind of extended trip. Deciding the destination isn't a problem in and of itself. After all, there aren't very many places I wouldn't go. From there, though, it gets complicated and a bit overwhelming. It's not as easy as picking a place and getting there and back. Rather, it's taking a string of places, figuring out how to travel between them, deciding how long to stay at each place. But then you also have to figure in other things like cost and what the weather will be like in different parts of the world at different times of the year.

So for this trip, my methodology is going to essentially be the same, but with a little extra detail and involvement. I've already resigned myself to the fact that there are going to be some places that I just won't be able to go to for this trip. They'll have to wait until next time. I've decided against these places for various reasons, but the two biggest reasons are cost and safety. For example, the Scandinavian countries and the U.K. are very expensive; the Middle East and Greece aren't the best places for a woman to travel by herself. The places I am considering, however, are being added to my probable list for one or more of the following reasons: 1) cost, 2) ease of getting around as an English speaker, 3) sightseeing opportunities, 4) strictly relaxing opportunities (beaches, etc.), 5) distance from home (meaning: the farther from home, the higher the priority because I may not have the same chance to visit such distant places in the future), and 6) well, I guess that about covers it.

I'd like to have a ramp up period and a wind down period. The ramp up period will ease me into the travel life and will ideally be in an English speaking, first world country. The wind down period will also probably be in an English speaking country and the main goal for that time will be more like a "real" vacation (no sightseeing, no whirlwind excitement - just laying on a beach somewhere and relaxing). Everything in the middle, though, is up for grabs. I just want to make sure I have a good mix of everything: cheap vs. expensive, first world vs. third world, adventurous vs. relaxing, "easy" vs. "difficult."

All I know for sure right now is that I plan to spend a lot of time in Southeast Asia - Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam are near definites - and probably Australia and New Zealand, too. I'll share more of the itinerary as I decide on things.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

You're doing what?

That’s the question I’d get asked most often when I’d tell friends or colleagues that instead of getting a new job or contract, I was going to take time off to travel instead. Then, when they found out I meant international travel by myself, they were really thrown off.

But I’d give more details. Tell them that I wanted to be able to go to the places I’d been dreaming about for years. That I didn’t just want to take a vacation. I want to work, volunteer or learn something new – in every country I visit. Yes, of course I want to see some of the same things that other tourists go to see, but more than that I want to go off the beaten track, meet people who actually live in the areas that I’m visiting.

It didn’t take long for everyone I spoke to to come around. Soon, they were almost as excited as I was about the prospect of a year long trip around the world. I heard the phrase “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” more than once. People began to insist that I had to do it. As thrilled as I was by this newfound dream of mine, I was also scared. I needed a dose of reality.

So I went to dear ol’ dad with my plan. I figured if anyone was going to snap me out of it, it would be him. I prepared myself and fully expected that he’d say it was too dangerous, too foolish, too expensive, too everything else, and just not a good idea in general. Of course, I was still gonna go anyway! And then, surprise surprise, Dad was all for it. He said I should definitely do it if I had the chance and that it was something he wished he could do. Instead of a dose of reality, I ended up even more excited. I knew that if it really was a bad idea (for whatever reason), my dad would definitely not be shy about telling me so. Since he didn’t try to talk me out of it, it had to be a good idea.

The next question people would ask is “How do you plan a trip like that?”

That’s what I was about to find out. . .

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What's the plan?

A number of events in the last year have conspired and joined together to put me in a fairly unique situation. First there was a break up of a very long term relationship which meant that I was single and dating for the first time in my adult life. It also meant that I moved into a new apartment and was living by myself for only the second time ever. Within a couple of months, I was dating again, trying to find new hobbies, and just getting back on my feet in general. Dating was fun, but I certainly wasn’t in a rush to be in a relationship again.

Somewhere along the way I thought that taking a trip might be fun. It was winter time and I could think of nothing better than being in a warm, sunny place on a beach somewhere. I asked a couple of girlfriends if they’d be interested in joining me and for various reasons they all flaked out . But I had already decided that I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I’ve always been fairly independent and I figured I could handle taking a trip to Mexico by myself. After all, it was only going to be for four days and I’d be in a resort, not the jungle. I wasn’t at all nervous about this decision. . .until I was getting ready to land. Then I thought, “What in the world am I getting myself into?!” As it turned out, I had a fabulous time. I stepped WAY out of my comfort zone – ate out alone, talked to strangers, left the resort, made new friends – and in the process realized that I’m stronger than I thought. Two of those new friends I made were a young British couple who were wrapping up a year of world travel. I thought it was very cool and I asked them a bit about it, but I didn’t really think anything else of it until later.

Later came in a couple of months when I got word that my work contract was about to end and it was ending sooner than I expected. That’s not normally a problem or issue as I’ve been doing contract work for more than three years now and I’m usually prepared and ready for a project to end. This time, however, is another story because I am a corporate recruiter. I work in a company’s HR department handling their hiring needs. The U.S. is officially in a recession now, though, and companies are more often than not downsizing and firing rather than making hires. This doesn’t leave a lot of work for someone like me, so I started thinking about what my plan would be.

I’ve been lucky and fortunate enough to have saved up a chunk of money, so my very first thought was to travel. Planning trips and then actually going on them are two of my most favorite things to do, but I haven’t traveled as much as I would have liked. I figured that if I was going to burn though my savings, I may as well get a once-in-a-lifetime experience out of it rather than sit at home in my apartment, worrying about the fact that I can’t get work.

So here’s my situation: desire to travel, enough money saved up, no relationships or work tying me down or preventing me from going on an adventure.

And so it begins. This is how my journey gets started.