These poor Americans with their one week of vacation..I could practically hear the thoughts and see the pity spreading across the faces of our new friends. My fiancé and I had landed in Colombia just a few hours earlier and had ventured into the balmy night air for a drink to celebrate our arrival. As is often the case with travel, it took little more than a ‘Club Colombia’ cerveza and a smile before we found ourselves huddled around a table, elbow-to-elbow with fellow travelers hailing from around the globe.
While conversations in New York often begin with questions of job title, living location and education, these backpackers cared only to know where we’d been, where we were going and how long we’d be on the road. Two of the girls had come from Germany and were on the last leg of a multi-country backpacking tour of South America, one of the guys was a sun-kissed surfer who was making his way down from Costa Rica to catch the best waves, while yet another was a soccer enthusiast hailing from Italy; we listened intently as our new found companions shared stories of treks through Brazil, adventures in Peru and surfing in Panama. Our table looked like a veritable United Nations convention with my fiancé and I representing the overworked and over-stressed Americans comically clinging to our 7 days (a mere 168 hours) of vacation time.
photo by Cody Badger via flickr
With thoughts of cubicles, fluorescent office lighting and dreaded excel sheets far from my mind, I let myself settle into the moment and fall in love with travel like I was pulling on a favorite sweater that had been gathering dust in my closet. I knew my love for globetrotting had reached a fever pitch in the past couple months but while I tended to wax poetic about one day traveling long-term, listening to these backpackers made me realize I had done little to back my words.
“Between saying & doing, the ocean is in between.” It was one of my dad’s packaged lessons so often served up in bite-size quotes for me to carry through life. As visions of hiking the Incan trail and taking a tour down the Amazon flashed through my mind, his words reminded me that the only obstacle truly standing in between me and RTW travel is myself. To serve as a promise (and admittedly keep myself on track) I began writing The Pin the Map Project to work towards the equally daunting and exciting goal of going from a 9-5 job to packing up my life in Manhattan and embarking on a multi-country tour with my would-be husband in 2016.
Although one of the big step towards planning my trip had been to save money—that less than glamorous stage that required me to confront and confess my spending habits – the first step had been to figure out where I wanted to go, when I wanted to go & how much it would take me for to get there.
Tracing a Path from New York to Nepal
Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia—when thinking about our global jaunt we tossed out countries like we were throwing confetti around, letting the destinations swirl around us in a flurry of promise and excitement. It wasn’t until we sat down and built a route did we realize each stop came with a hefty price tag that could mean the difference between leaving in 2016 and embarking on our global tour during retirement. Although many sites will tout their abilities to help plan RTW trips, few will offer the ease of Indie.
In collaboration with the travel community, Bootsnall, Indie is a tool that allows you to tweak itineraries—including travel by land and air—and get a rough estimate of how much you’ll pay to get from point A to point B, C and D. Routes can be built from scratch, zig-zagging across the globe, or can follow other recommended paths that can be customized to include other countries. While my fiancé dreamed of making the hike to base camp one of Everest, I lusted over the colorful street food of Vietnam and rice paddies of Indonesia; we turned towards Indie to help us visualize our trip.
Keeping the Weather in Mind
Admittedly, weather is something I don’t often consider when planning a trip—if predictions tell me the temperatures will be upwards of 70 degrees I will turn a blind eye to any reports of impending rain and commence day dreaming of coconut cocktails and white sand beaches. When planning a long-term trip, I’ve learned weather plays a key role in dictating the best time of year to pack your bags and help ensure you won’t be huddled up under a palm tree during a monsoon.
Once you’ve decided on a list of destinations and a tentative route, lean on guides like Lonely Planet to learn about the best season for each country you’re visiting. In my case, visiting Nepal and hiking Everest is best done in autumn while most countries in South East Asia enjoy a ‘dry season’ in early winter. Putting on my meteorologist hat and taking the time to read about high and low seasons helped take my route to the next level and provide a time frame for the trip.
Avoiding the ‘Visa Headache’
South East Asia happens to be one of the best regions to visit if looking to avoid mental breakdowns over visa hassles. While some countries require nothing short of your first child in order to get past customs, others (like Cambodia) ask for $25 in exchange for a 30 day visa. Most embassy websites will share the basic requirements for visiting their country and give you an idea of how much money you can expect to shell out at customs. Turn towards the travel community on Trip Advisor, Matador or Bootsnall to read about what to expect upon arrival and how to avoid those visa headaches.
Traveler Tip: Bring extra passport photos with you during your trip as most on-the-spot visas will require passport photos along with the processing fee.
Living on a Prayer and $50 Bucks a Day
Having just spent $40 on office snacks at the corner drugstore I can see the irony in trying to set myself on a $50/day budget while abroad. If I spend more than $50 while at home during a routine week, what’s to keep me in check when exploring a new country? The question tugs at my sleeve until I shake it off and remind myself that the island of Manhattan defies logic with its skyrocketing rents, over-priced restaurants and addictive convenience stores. Most of my travels reveal that while $50 in New York will only get me the boxes of cereal and dried fruit now cluttered on my desk, $50 in a country like Colombia or Laos can pay for a few nights of accommodations with change to spare.
Knowing your destination, avoiding scams and opting for authentic locales over tourist-trap restaurants can stretch dollars during long-term travels. With tours, day trips and other experiences– I imagine that some days I will exceed my daily budget but so long as South East Asia doesn’t have Duane Reade I can backpack long term with my prayers and plans.
Guest post written by Nikki Vargas. Check out her blog at The Pin Map Project