Planning your journey is both fun and stressful. It’s also really important to your budget that you do it right. Time is money when you travel. Don’t waste either. Here are few keys that should help.
- Three Month Legs – Last year I planned an eight month journey through Southeast Asia. I felt like that was enough time to really see each country. Now Southeast Asia is one of the coolest places on the planet. There is a ton to see and do. It’s naturally beautiful. The people are really nice. The culture and history are fascinating. And the food… OMG the food is awesome! But even with all that going for it, I still felt like I was in a rut after three months. I named this condition “Temple Burnout” because all the incredible temples started to seem the same (This also applies to Cathedrals in Europe.) When you go to El Nido on the island of Palawan in the Philippines, then go to Khao Phing Kan in Southern Thailand and you say, “They’re kinda the same” you know it’s time to change the scenery. You are just not getting enough out of your journey anymore. The longer you stay, the worse it will get. So don’t waste your money and time. Bail and head someplace completely different… like Morocco or Norway! The great thing about being a Nomad is that you can always come back next time around the world and see incredible sites with fresh eyes. I like to break the world up into three month journeys or legs. You can create your own legs by selecting a country that you want to visit, listing the cities with the number of nights you will stay (I use nights instead of days because I track accommodation costs to create my budget.) Finally, add up the nights, then expand out to the next nearby country and its cities until you fill up ninety days. Southeast Asia is a leg. The UK, Ireland, Scandinavia and Russia are a good leg. Central and South America are a leg. India, The Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh are a leg.
- Continent Jumps – Jumping from one continent to another is expensive and the long flights are exhausting. Avoid continent jumps within a three month leg unless the jump is fairly close, like Northern Africa to Southern Europe which is only a one to two hour plane flight.
- How Long – One of the most frequent questions on travel forums is “How long should I stay in a particular city or country?” It is actually pretty simple. To decide how long I want to stay I make a list of the sites and attractions that I want visit then calculate how many days I will need. I do not stay longer that is required to finish my list. I rarely stay in a city one night because it is just too exhausting and a waste of time to pack and unpack for a one night stay. Two nights is my usual minimum, but I rarely stay more than five nights in any city. Even Paris, Rome, London, Bangkok, Istanbul, Beijing, New York and Tokyo don’t merit stays beyond a week. I know a lot of travelers like to stay longer and “get to know the people and the culture.” The thing is… you would really need a lot longer than a few extra days to get to know the people and culture. Homestay, where you actually live with a family, is a great method of getting to know the people and culture. Being an exchange student and study abroad programs are also great if you are still in school. I am all for long stays in foreign countries, but I think it’s better on your second or third visit to a country not your first. I lived in Mexico for two years and Thailand for five months, both stays were very fulfilling and I really began to understand the people and cultures. The world is a big place with 195 countries. If you stop and spend two or three months in each and every country, you’re going to die of old age before you see the everything. Go around the world a couple of times to see what’s out there and what you really like. Then pick a country and park yourself for a couple of months living with the locals. Maybe even do some charity work and give back. Something strange happens when you become a nomad. After you see something great (the big “WOW” as I call it) you become really anxious to see more. It’s like a drug that you can’t live without. You become bored if you stay in one place more than a few days. There are just too many great things to see in the world to spend too much time hanging around. You can rest when your dead.
- Research Your Airline Hubs – Pull up RyanAir’s website and look at their route map (https://www.ryanair.com/us/en/cheap-flight-destinations). Ryanair is one of Europe’s largest and least expensive airlines. On the map you will notice that their main hubs are in Dublin and London. If you fly into London’s Stansted Airport, you can catch a flight all the way to Budapest, Hungary or Fez, Morocco for only $29 US. That’s cheap by anyone’s measuring stick. Most airlines operate off the hub system and you can save a large pile of cash flying into many of these hubs. Warsaw, Poland is a major hub and one of the least expensive cities to fly in and out of Europe. Bangkok, Thailand is also a major hub for several airlines with connecting flights throughout Southeast Asia. Use airline hubs for your major jumps between continents and countries. Wikipedia has a section on international hub airports (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hub_airports).
- Book Ends – Start with the beginning and the end of each journey or leg, then fill in the middle. On my last journey I knew I wanted to see Florence, Italy and Marrakesh, Morocco. I was in Phuket, Thailand when I made the decision to jump to the next leg. I had a hard out date because my daughter was getting married in Bend, Oregon on June 11th and I wasn’t going to miss that. So, I looked for flights from both Marrakesh and Florence. Florence was by far cheaper, so I booked my flight for June 1st back to the US. Next, I looked at flights from Phuket to Marrakesh. They too were ridiculously expensive. I decided right there and then that Marrakesh was not going to be my starting destination and I began searching for alternatives. I settled on Cairo, Egypt. Hey, the pyramids and the Nile… why not, right?! My bookends were set. Now, I looked around both Florence and Cairo for places to visit. I decided on a hook-shaped journey; Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Portugal, Spain and finally Italy. A three month leg with a natural flow (except for Jordan which was out of the way, but featured Petra, a really big “WOW”.)
- Booking Your Journey – Don’t plan and book too far in advance. Your mood will change as you travel through different countries. Southeast Asia, India and Central America may deliver too much sun for any one year. That’s right. I said it. Too much sun! Some nomads love chasing the sun. Me, I like to mix it up. Sure, I love the sun, but I also like the changing colors in Autumn and the crisp morning cold after a snow fall. (Too much sun makes Big D a dull boy.) Plus, what if you meet someone special that you want to hangout with for a few extra days or even weeks? It can be really expensive to cancel prepaid hotel rooms and discounted flights. So here is what I do. I have a general plan of which continents I want to visit one year in advance. I plan my next leg as I start my current leg. Ninety days before I want to begin my leg, I book my bookend destinations’ flights. Booking flights ninety days in advance is usually the cheapest way to buy airline tickets. If there is a particular section of the journey that requires a long flight I book that too. I don’t worry about accommodations at this point unless it is tourist destination during high season. Hotel rooms and hostels should be booked 7-30 days before your planned visit. I don’t worry about trains and buses until I actually arrive at my destination, unless it is a train that is super popular with tourists like the train from Oslo and Bergen, Norway (one of the most beautiful train journey’s in the world and another big “WOW”. I rarely book tours or attractions ahead of my destination arrival unless it is high season and I know that the tour or attraction has a tendency to book up.