Where are we going again?
We inadvertently started our career break and gap year travel planning sometime after we met in 2009, taking long walks together around Sydney and talking about the places we wanted to see. We agreed that we just wanted to travel to explore places and ideas without answering work emails or calls along the way.
What started off as a fantasy to travel around the world crept into our thoughts regularly until one day we actually started thinking about what we needed to do. The talking and walking progressed until 2012 when we found ourselves getting married in Bali with a honeymoon in Borneo on a one month trip. It was almost a test for us to see if we enjoyed long-term travel. When we returned to Sydney we began to seriously start planning financially and logistically. We were determined to make the fantasy into a reality somehow. Now it was time to put the plans in our heads to paper.
Gap Year Travel Planning Questions
We had some questions we had to ask ourselves for our career break and gap year travel planning purposes:
- Budget: What budget do we commit to for a one-year trip? Answer
- Length of Time: What if we want to extend?
- Destinations: Wait, where are we going again?
- Mode of Travel: Planes, trains, automobiles – which one and when do we use it? Should we get round the world tickets or book as we go?
- Method of Travel: Traveling fast or slow?
1. Budget: How do you budget for a trip if you don’t know where you are going or what you might do when you get there? That’s right, you guess. With this type of long-term travel planning, we had to set a budget in an educated guess sort of way. We took a spreadsheet (yep, boring) and we put some rough estimates in for flights, trains and other major costs for the trip. We also put a cushion in for flights and accommodation using estimates in the middle rather than the cheapest or most expensive. I’ll explain the process we used to calculate flights a little further down in the post (round the world vs. picking our own flights).
- We came up with costs for flights to get us from Australia, where we started, to the edge of western Europe, from Iceland to the US (New York), and then we thought we would wait until later to decide on where we would go from there. To be safe, we estimated based on the US to Central or South America, then costs on getting from there to Asia, then back to Australia. We then cushioned further on the basis that there would be numerous flights within each continent.
- For accommodation, we roughly estimated based on a daily rate we averaged from multiple countries using accommodation like AirBnb or average 2 and 3 star hotels. You may be thinking hostels or camping for yourselves or resort living (if you have the cash) for a year. Our budget is squarely set in living in places we considered relatively safe and clean, meaning we wouldn’t splurge but we had someplace where we didn’t feel the need to keep a night watch.
- Then we guesstimated daily food/drink costs, personal items, purchases. This number we guessed on thinking we could live a year without degustation menus at the trendiest restaurants, and with cheap wine, and if we got desperate, ramen noodles and potatoes.
- We also built the budget based on a best-case scenario where we could extend our career break if we kept under our budget. So basically we over-budgeted to make ourselves feel better when we go under the budget and we can think about extending the trip. Good motivation for saving money!
2. Length of Time: We initially budgeted for a one year trip but we thought, hey if we can keep going, why not? So even though we thought of one year, we were already secretly budgeting for 1.5 or 2. Or more. Depending on if we enjoyed the lifestyle and were able to live 24/7 with each other (more on that later, but yes we have managed it very well. I thought for sure she’d get rid of me already…)
3. Destinations: We listed all the places we wanted to go on a spreadsheet. This was a travel planning exercise for us to list the places we both already agreed to go and the places that we might want to visit that we hadn’t really discussed. From there it was about logistics. For instance, if we decided to go to every country considered “Eastern European,” how hard would it be to get around and where would we start then in “Western Europe?”
When we looked at all the places we listed, it became a bit of logistical nightmare and our travel budget would have gone up significantly. We took our initial list and pared it down to a more manageable size. So we took the list of 50 countries and narrowed it down to about 49. This number, of course, was also unrealistic so we figured we would adjust as we went, knowing we would not get to see them all. No reason to be greedy! Have to leave some for the future and all that. Also, some countries are bigger than others so we had to think about regions that we wanted to see, possibly a theme (hiking, biking, walking around, museums). We some of our plans out the window once we started and pretty much did our travel planning and booking on the fly, while adhering to budget of course. We’ll get to that later. This method allowed us a more flexible plan as we went and it worked out very well.
4. Mode of Travel or “Round the World” vs. “On the Fly”: This is where we had to do quite a bit of research of front to save ourselves money and stress down the road. We had to decide whether to invest in an Rround the World ticket with a travel agent or airline or to just book some flights ahead of time and then manage the rest as we went. A couple things we had to consider while we researched:
- Visa restrictions: Some places want to see that you plan on leaving when your visa is up including an itinerary or ticket that shows you have booked your transport out of the country or region. In other words, some of our travel we booked in advance to show authorities we didn’t plan on illegally immigrating, say to a vineyard in France.
- Booking in advance: We all know that flight prices are highly volatile, so did we want to struggle to find a last-minute offer and risk some horrendous airfare, or did we want to find the best deal for now and not stress about it later. This brought up other questions like “Do we get fully or partially refundable tickets in case we change our minds” (Yes, on occasion) and “Can we afford first class?” (Absolutely not).
- How many destinations did we want to commit to visiting?
After all of this research we decided that we would struggle with the Round the World tickets. We would have had to pick an airline or group (like OneWorld) and then we would have to make some questionable logistical decisions on how to get from South America to Asia without going backward into the US. We didn’t want to go to Africa on this trip so it made the Round the World tickets a little more challenging.
Round the World tickets generally stated that we might have difficulty backtracking if necessary or it may drive up the cost of the ticket substantially. There are a number of sites where you can find more info if you are looking for this type of ticket.
We chose to go with the initial purchase of tickets to get from Australia to Europe, then from Europe to the USA. We would keep looking for deals as we went along to keep us flexible and budget friendly.
Update: For our purposes, and for little if any additional costs, we were able to purchase flexible tickets to get from Australia to Europe via South Korea and Turkey, from Finland to Iceland to New York and then later from Florida to Nicaragua. From there we booked tickets from Costa Rica to Thailand, smaller flights around the region, and then from Indonesia to Finland (to visit family) and then back to Australia. This would have been pretty much impossible with a Round the World ticket and we did it for a little less than what those would have cost. More on those tickets later, but for now, in March of 2014, we had purchased tickets to Istanbul, Turkey from Sydney, Australia, stopping over in Seoul, South Korea.
5. Fast or Slow Travel? We hadn’t really discussed our travel as fast or slow when we were planning the trip. In our minds, we wanted to travel through as many countries and see as many places as we could in roughly seven months and then we wanted to settle into more of a routine for the last five months. Meaning we would travel like maniacs until we got tired of it, and then we would stay somewhere longer to develop some structure around our lives to allow us to pursue other interests like this blog, Eeva’s online projects and my book. So using the current terminology, we traveled fast for the first six months and then we slowed down after that, taking more time in each place.
I think in the end we found the right career break gap year travel planning balance that catered to our desire and curiosity to see everything in the world and to also sit in one place more than a few days to accomplish our personal goals.