Over Plan, Then Go With the Flow…
For long term travellers, life is not just one big adventure story. For us, at least, it’s a series of smaller (but still long I guess) chapters we combine end to end. Sometimes we split them up with a return to home base in Australia. Others, like our recent Trans-Asia then Trans Africa stint simply transitioned as we went. But none of this can happen smoothly without a fair bit of planning. We are currently in the midst of one of those phases, and it got me thinking about the steps in the process. As a rule, we usually ‘over-plan’, so when we get on the road, we can ‘go with the flow’. I wondered what others do, but couldn’t find much on it when I searched.
In my recent eBook, “Get Away Worry Free: Pre-Trip Tips for Long-Term Travel” I went through a process of planning and organising your life BEFORE you head off on a long term dream adventure. Transitioning between adventures is much the same. Of course, it’s a lot less painful if you initially left with everything under control. However, there’s still a process to undertake. This process gets more complicated the more you have in your life I guess, but everyone usually has some treasured possessions and loved ones back home.
Let me remind you of what we have been doing for the last five years, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about a whole lot better.
In May 2010 we headed out from Australia (after visiting the family scattered far and wide across Australia!) to backpack through South East and Northern Asia for almost 12 months. For the most part, we were in warm climes, however when we hit Mongolia and then Korea, Japan and Taiwan as winter was nearing, we started to find out about cold. Much of this trip was spent catching up with former students whom we had hosted while learning English in Australia.
In May 2011 we settled in Vietnam for almost 12 months where we picked up work teaching English. At this point, we were planning some major “Transcontinental” travel through Asia and Africa.
April 2012 saw us take a flying visit back to see the folks, pick up a few visas anddeal with some administrative issues. We then headed off to do Trans Asia (The Silk Route). Shanghai to Istanbul in 6 months via Tibet, “The Stans” and Iran.. It was on this trip we decided we wanted to try cycle touring.
November 2012, saw us hop on a big truck and head off on a 10 month overland journey through Africa. We travelled West Africa through to Cape Town, then headed off to the African Islands of Mauritius, Madagascar and Comoros. After ten weeks, we flew back to the mainland and met up with our truck in Ethiopia to travel to Egypt via Sudan.
August 2013 saw us back in Perth preparing to ride bicycles fully self-supported across Australia. Six months and more than 7000 km later we arrived in Brisbane already preparing for another 12-month stint in Vietnam. I had already scored a contract to teach again, and Tim had enrolled in a CELTA course.
Here we are, four months out from taking a quick visit back to Australia to see family, pick up our cycling gear and head to the Arctic Circle. We are planning to cycle around 10,000 km through Scandinavia, the Baltic States, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and much of the rest of Eastern Europe. When the weather gets too cold we are heading for the Caribbean where we have lined up a yacht on which we’ll crew for 4 or so months until the hurricane season begins.
As you might imagine, we don’t just transition from journey to journey without some significant thought, especially since there are bicycles now involved. Here’s a quick peek at the list of things we go through at least 3-6 months (in some cases 18 months) before we head out.
We hit the bucket list and decide which part of the world makes sense. Some of the things we take into consideration include:
- Is it a logical step from where we’ll end up with the current journey?
- Are there trouble spots we want to avoid
- Can we touch on multiple things we want to see, do and experience.
- We aren’t big on the cold, so the start point will typically coincide with somewhere temperate at that time of the year. We then head in the general direction of the warmth (follow the sun!). For example, on the silk route we started in Shanghai and headed for Tibet and the Stans over summer. We visited the hotter parts of the region in Autumn and ended in Turkey before winter set in. In Australia, we started riding in September to get over the Nullarbor before it got too hot and to take advantage of prevailing Westerly winds.
We start signing up to relevant blogs and social networks and read as much as we possibly can to make decisions on what to see, routes to take and how others have done similar things. I still like to grab the free chapters in the Lonely Planet to assess the highlights and then confirm from other sources. Gotta love the internet.
Once we’ve decided our general direction, visas and passports rise to the top of the list. We used over 40 pages of our new passports travelling through the Silk route and Africa. Some visas we could only obtain back in Australia and thorough research told us many of them were much easier and cheaper to get in particular areas. We needed so many spare pages for those visas and the corresponding stamps; we had to get new, larger passports before we left. We already had that sorted before we left Vietnam and planned our route to minimise visa issues. As well as touching base with our families before heading into more dangerous regions, getting the visas was part of why we went home.
Transitioning from South East Asia to Europe, for example, requires a radical rethink of budget and mode of travel. We would require AT LEAST three times the funds to live like we do in Asia in Scandinavia. We adjust our expectations accordingly and pre-plan the budget side of things well in advance. Examples might mean cashing in maturing investments rather than rolling them over, making money more accessible and restructuring our accounts and cards.
In the case of Europe, we’ll be rough camping, utilizing our contacts from Warmshowers.org, Couch surfing, Hostelworld and Airbnb to reduce accommodation costs. Self-catering and cutting our alcohol consumption will also bring down costs. Not sure how that last one will go but we’ll try. We will virtually eliminate transport costs because we’ll be on bikes. When we transition to the Caribbean that will be a whole new kettle of fish. We’ll be pulling our weight on the yacht to keep costs down. Most meals will be self-catering as part of a group, and the boat itself will be our transport. It’ll still be more expensive though, and we have to plan that in early so we don’t get caught short.
(PS Sign up through the Airbnb link above and get $30 AUD credit towards your first booking)
Keeping up contacts and building networks takes effort. We have to make sure we:
- take note (and care) of all people in our lives now.
- keep our family and friends back home in mind and
- start setting up networks on our next trip.
Elderly parents, and significant family events like weddings play a big part in that thinking and can put an equally big dent in your budget depending on where from, and where to, you’re heading.
As we age, we take our health less for granted. Keeping up health checks is a must do. Some will be cheaper in some places but perhaps not so reliable. For example, we have to decide whether to have dental work done quite cheaply here in Vietnam or book appointments for when we arrive back in Australia. The latter is easier said than done, and many times more expensive than in Vietnam. The saving grace is that we will reactivate our suspended private medical insurance which includes dental when we land in Australia. We will buy our pharmaceuticals before we leave to cover us for at least 12 months.
Vaccinations also need to be assessed. Even if you have had the required shots in the past, many have expiry dates and need to be refreshed.
We also need to prepare our bodies for a relatively strenuous six months. We did the last bicycle tour on no training and rode ourselves fit. Alas, living the “good” life in Vietnam has well and truly reversed any of those gains. As of today we have around four months to get some semblance of fitness.
The perpetual questions…”What do we do with the stuff we’ve accumulated?” “What new stuff do we need?” When changing activities, travel modes or climates you will probably need to shed some gear and buy, or recover, other things. We have a list of things we never travel without but other possessions come and go. Should you give away, throw away, store, mail and store or keep carrying it even though you don’t need it (but will again someday!)? For us it all gets down to price and weight. If it’s light and expensive, it comes with us or gets mailed home. If it’s cheap, it gets dumped, preferably to someone who needs it. We address everything else on a case by case basis. Life has become more complicated with the bikes as we transition in and out of cycle touring across the globe.
We will probably buy much of the extras we need for the bike trip online. We’ll ship it to a contact in Norway, rather than Vietnam (NO WAY!!) or Australia and then have to carry it over. Updates in cameras and technology, however will be purchased duty free or online and shipped to Australia for trials before we head off.
Administrivia is my domain (Sharyn). I run a quick check of all our concerns to note the following:
Are things going to fall due or need to be dealt with while we are on the next leg of our next trip?
Is it better or easier to deal with them now or wait?
The kind of things I’m thinking of are tax returns, investment rollovers, maturing investments, bank loans, property sales, etc. I’ll be doing out tax returns before we leave Vietnam, arranging for deposits of investments that will mature later this year and instructing our personal bank manager on our requirements for rolling over investment loans. I’ll also pre-pay a heap of bills to minimise tax this financial year and free us up so we don’t have to worry about that kind of thing while we are cycling.
Just by staying in one place for an extended period we have created many ties. It’s important we start thinking about what we need to do to leave without losing a heap of cash or risk funds being unavailable.
In our case, we have:
- a contract on an apartment,
- contracts with our schools,
- a website based on Ho Chi Minh City, and
- quite a bit of money due back to us in Vietnamese Dong (deposits on apartments, contract bonuses, and final month’s salary.)
We need to decide what to do with funds accumulated here. The Vietnamese Dong is of ABSOLUTELY NO USE whatsoever to us once we leave the country, and it is not that easy to convert it back to hard currency or access banks here from abroad. We have ways of making it happen but do we convert it to AUD, Euros or USD and in what proportions? The exchange markets are shaky at the moment, and I’d prefer to spread out our risk. Not something you want to leave til the last minute.
As far as the website goes, I plan to have a heap of posts written and pre-scheduled before we head off, and I’m beginning to arrange guest posts as well.
9. Future, Future Planning
Believe it or not we’re even starting to think about what we’ll be doing after this next escapade. We’ve never had to make decisions that far ahead of time before, but having the bikes (with all that entails,) then transitioning to a tiny yacht has added complications. It means we have to decide where the bikes will end up in order for the next adventure not to suck up any more funds than normal. If we aren’t going back to Europe after the Caribbean, it will be pretty damn expensive to fly back just to collect the bikes. We have about four options at the moment that we’re evaluating, but we’ll need to make the decision by the time we finish riding around November. If we are going to rely on other people to take care of them while we’re sailing, we probably need to make it sooner.
10. Staying in the moment
Staying “present” is probably the hardest task of all. How do we stay engaged with the current experience while planning something new and exciting? Our minds are already drifting towards the freedom of cycling through the wilds of Finland, visas for Belarus and whether to head into Ukraine or not. But it’s important that we don’t forget where we are and what we’re doing here in Saigon. There’s still so much to do and see while we’re here. Good grief, my priority list is a page long. If we’re thinking too much about where we’re headed, we’ll might just forget to enjoy things here while we can.
So that’s what’s happening in our brains at the moment. Over planning? Maybe. But at least we know that when we touch down in the Arctic Circle, everything will be under control as far as we can manage it, and we’ll be “relatively” worry free. The rest is up to fate, and that’s where we’ll just go with the flow.
What do you think? Do you over plan or under plan? How do you organise your life when transitioning between trips? LEave your comments and advice below.
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