NB: The info here is from early 2008, as part of the series on my 2008 RTW trip. Some of the information might not be relevant any more.
It seems rather ironic now, but the very first time I used my own money to travel abroad, I did it on a trip that would eventually take me to over a dozen countries! Once I decided to travel around the world, the possibilities were endless and confusing. Where should I go? Where will I stay? What will I do there? What is there to see? Will I be bored? Will I run out of money sooner than expected?
Initially I thought that time was not my concern, that I could choose as many places as I wanted. But the more I researched, the more I realized that it wasn’t so. Travelling to lots of places at a breakneck speed is all well and good if you’re travelling for 2-3 weeks but doing so in a longer trip would quickly lead to burnout.
Choosing the destinations: select, eliminate, repeat!
The more I read, the more I wanted to see. It was confusing, but it was a challenge. The first thing to do was to decide on a budget and then figure out where and how. I had barely started planning and I already had well over 40 countries on my list. All beckoned me, but obviously I couldn’t see it all. Then began the process of elimination.
South-East Asia: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos…
South-East Asia was the starting point of my travel dreams. The region has some fascinating history, and amazingly cheap travel. As you will see later, I never quite made it there! But that’s the whole idea with travel planning. You have to be flexible and go with what comes to you instead of trying your damnedest to get somewhere.
I had lots of friends living in the US at that time, not to mention my brother who was living in a city near Chicago. One of the ways of keeping travel costs low is to go where you know people. So USA fit in quite nicely into my travel plans.
West Africa: Morocco, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso…
The first time I heard of Senegal was when I came across the famous Paris-Dakar rally. I read some other travelogues of people over-landing in West Africa, and it seemed so remote, so exotic and so fascinating that I absolutely had to include it in my trip, even if only to say that I’ve been to Timbuktu. I had already learnt a bit of French, and French is the popular second language in the entire region, so that would be a bonus! But getting there directly would be expensive. I had to go via Europe.
Europe: France and Spain
Travelling around Europe wasn’t very high on my list, but I wanted to visit France for the language and Spain for taking the ferry to Morocco. I was also very interested in Spanish language and culture, so I thought while I was there I could pick up some Spanish! And Spanish would open up a massive chunk of the Western Hemisphere as well!
And so I thought of visiting South America. Once I started researching Spanish study options, I “discovered” Guatemala and Ecuador, two of the world’s top destinations for learning Spanish.
The Middle-East: Iran
I would never have thought of going to Iran on my own. But then I ran into Mohammad Tajeran in Jakarta. He showed me some amazing photos of Iran and in general spoke so highly of the place that I decided to include Iran in my plans. From there I could go onwards to Turkey and Europe or downwards into Syria, Jordan, Egypt etc.
Australia and New Zealand
Australia and New Zealand seemed fascinating: The beautiful cities, the rugged outback, the natural beauty of New Zealand, not to mention the Milford Sound trek all just seemed too good to miss.
Korea and Japan
I have always been attracted to the region. These two were the last remaining “expensive” countries on my list. And thanks to a cheap flight deal that I found I thought of making short stops of a couple of weeks each in both these countries.
Now, one of the first decisions of an RTW trip is whether to go eastward or westward. In my case, the decision was made for me. I had to be in the US for my brother’s graduation by May. As I planned to leave India in March end, I would have just over a month to get there. So there was no point in starting with my primary destination: West Africa. I would go eastward, cover a couple of places in Asia and then head on over to the USA.
Next step: Figuring out a budget for the entire trip.