We leave home in a couple of days for our trip. The cars have been sold. Our friends who will be staying in our home are slowly moving their stuff into the garage and closets. The house is 90% packed.
Departure is getting close.
As we have talked about our trip with friends and colleagues, we have been asked several common questions. Herewith are some thoughts on these queries.
- “How do you pack for a year?” The short answer is, “lightly”. In our case, we have decided that we do not want the drama of lugging huge amounts of baggage around. We are doing carry-on only: one small piece of baggage and a “personal item” as they say at the airlines. Two of the pieces of luggage have wheels so that we can consolidate the four bags onto wheels for treks through airports and on sidewalks. All four pieces have backpacking straps for when rolling is inconvenient. Inside these bags are nestled about a week’s worth of clothing. We have endeavored to get quick-dry items, both because the dry quickly (we hope) and because they are generally nylon and therefore lighter and thinner. We all have ultralight down jackets for colder climates, but they will not escape the luggage for at least six months as we are starting out in hot places. Then there are the bulky medicine supplies, mostly doxycycline for malaria, but also several types of antibiotics and altitude pills for our time in the Andes. As a dyed-in-the-wool gadget guy, we are also carting along a lightweight computer, Kindles for all, GPS, a couple of cameras, and the associated cords, batteries, and memory cards. And the quart ziplock containing our liquids and gels. (How our lives and vocabularies have changed since September 11, 2001.) If we need anything that was not packed in the bags, then that is why they invented credit cards.
- “I am so jealous. How did you manage to do it?”I am afraid that I am not very gentle in my reply to this question. First, I question the premise – I suspect folks are not really jealous. Curious, perhaps. Certainly envious of avoiding work for a while. But I think that most people would far rather spend their time and treasure on other things than a year-long trip. Travel is very uncomfortable. Human nature seeks a sense of belonging to a place. All cultures have homes. And humans like to accumulate stuff. Long-term travel rubs human nature the wrong way in at least these two areas. So I think that my interlocutors are really quite satisfied to spend their resources on homes and cars and friends and family. All good things, just different than travel. The second part of this question (“how did you manage it?”) is a bit easier to answer. It is just about priorities. It takes a good-sized stash of cash to do such a trip. This is neither easy nor trivial. We have been setting aside since our kids were toddlers, 10+ years ago. While we have lived well, we drove old cars that we bought used. We have not landscaped our house. Both parents have worked, even when it might have been more fulfilling to have one be stay-at-home. I believe most of my associates could do such a trip if they made it a priority. There is nothing heroic in our ability to do this.And there is nothing wrong with those who choose different priorities. That is what makes this a most interesting world in which to live. Everyone has different goals in life, creating all the different people and societies that can make travel fun and interesting.
- “How do you plan such a trip?” Pretty much the same way you climb a mountain: one step at a time. Against the best advice of people who know better than us, we have planned our trip in some detail. We have all the transit legs planned and tickets purchased, as much as possible. While major airlines let you ticket 330 days in advance, some smaller airlines only ticket 6 months out. Indian trains allow booking 120 days before travel, and buses in South America generally do two months of advance sales. So when we depart next week, we will have all the transits planned up to arrival in Morocco next March, with the exception of some bus and plane segments in South America. The other area where we have planned in excruciating detail is our lodging. Some have suggested that it is great to travel without much in the way of plans. This gives you flexibility to go and see and do things that you learn about during the trip. We decided to take a different approach. We are staying in each place for more time (generally 1-3 weeks) to enable spontaneous exploration, but every night is booked through April. And the remaining nights will get booked over the next couple of months. We have convinced ourselves that all this planning is good because it lets us experience where we are instead of spending the whole year in a struggle to find accommodation and transport. We will see how it goes. The area we have not planned is the activities we will enjoy. That is where we have enabled ourselves to see what happens in each place and go with the flow.
- “How much does it cost?” While lots of people want to ask us this question, few are actually brave enough to do so. In the spirit of beating around the bush, I will leave this unanswered for now. We have a budget that approximates the price of three middling new cars, but it will be more interesting to see how we live with it. We are starting out in Asia which seems relatively inexpensive. Later we spend the Christmas holidays in Cape Town, at the other end of the expense spectrum. In general, the monthly budget is about one third lodging, one third food, and one third ground transportation and activities.
- “When are you coming home?” This one has a non-satisfying answer of “sometime next June.” You can only get airline tickets 330 days before the flight. That means that we cannot buy our homebound flights until about August of this year. We are leaving home with no specific, concrete plans to return. Sounds ominous when you say it that way, no?
Yesterday (Friday) was Susan’s last day at her school. She is a high school teacher. On Monday, we leave home. Lots to do and only two days to complete it.
Back to packing we go.