I went out for dinner the other night with some old school friends – friends from my school days, not old people – and for the first time I was asked “How do you actually plan for a trip like that?” It did occur to me, as I wrote my last musing, that planning for a trip like the one we’re about to do would be enough to stop some people from ever starting. Not necessarily because it’s such a big undertaking, but because they wouldn’t know where or how to start. I hope this helps…
Matt and I worked in outdoor education for quite a few years and both of us at different times had the responsibility of coordinating what was, for want of an easier way of explaining it, a mobile MASH unit. A little town of tents complete with mess tent, communications tent, gear tent, food storage and a small collection of personal accommodations. The unit – or base camp as we called it – would be set up in a remote area and would became an operational base for outdoor education programs for a few months. Hundreds of school-aged children would often pass through one base camp in those few months and their food, gear and welfare, in addition to that of the other staff working for the organisation, was the responsibility of the coordinator. The planning for all of this would take 4-6 weeks and involved many different aspects, the details of which I won’t bore you with here. The reason I mention all of this is that I think planning, organising and coordinating an event involving so many people, so much gear and food over so much time, meant that we learnt the most important thing – you just have to start. One step at a time things will happen and the job will get closer to being done. Like running a marathon – one step at a time! We both found the strategies that worked best for us – Matt liked butcher’s paper, I preferred lists – but systematically each task would be completed until they were all done. This experience meant that we had some ideas about how to approach the planning of the trip. I certainly knew that my lists were going to get a whole lot longer before they got any shorter!
At the start of last year – 2013 – we pulled out our enormous Times World Atlas and worked out a basic route plan. At that stage we didn’t have any idea of visa restrictions or time frames, and we actually thought we would be driving a car! (we ditched that idea). Being pretty happy with our initial route, we tried to work out a rough budget. Scouring travel blogs for what other travellers spent in certain countries, trying to find costs for the Trans Siberian Railway, flights to Dili from Darwin – it was rough and ad hoc, but it gave us an idea of how much money we would probably need if we were to be away for our desired 18 months.
We pottered along, having chats about the trip over a glass of red on a Saturday night, every now and then. When it got to July, we started to take things a bit more seriously – we had less than 12 months to go! We applied for the girls’ passports and started to have more regular ‘planning meetings’ – what could we to do this far out? Matt unrolled his beloved butcher’s paper and we put it all down. A mind map; a brain dump. Everything we could possibly think of that we would need to do for the trip, we wrote on that piece of paper. We had sub-headings – Pre-departure; Money; Gear; Travel Logistics; Travel Experiences; Work; Return. We wrote detail that seemed far too irrelevant at that point, but we got it out of our heads and onto the paper, which was then stuck to the wall next to my desk. Lots of points were added before anything was crossed off!
After the Summer holidays (2014) I saw my last little one off to school and I started planning with a vengeance. I bought a notebook and started writing lists. Matt and I had weekly planning meetings where we updated each other on what we had found out/thought about/added to the butcher’s paper. We designated tasks – Matt was responsible for technology, education and finances. I was responsible for logistics, gear, pack up and exit plan and everything else. Of course Matt was (and is) working more than full time, trying to manage extricating himself from his business at the same time. I started looking at visas – length of stay, application requirements, length of validity, application location – because we needed to know how long we could stay in each country and when we needed to apply for each visa. Before we get to Europe, where Matt will require a Schengen Visa but the girls and I have British passports, we pass through 10 countries, all with different visas. Finding the correct information was frustratingly difficult. The official immigration websites were not always the most up-to-date and often contradicted recent information posted by many seasoned travellers on travel forums or blog sites. It took over a month to put together a spreadsheet (!) of all we needed to know about visas. As it turned out, we could only apply for two before we left – Matt’s partner visa to enable him to work in the UK, and those for Indonesia.
After we knew what we had to do for our visas, the rest really has been loads and loads of little bits of organising. To be honest, I haven’t actually looked at anything to do with travelling for weeks – it’s all been about getting out. Packing our camping gear, packing our clothes, finding the right travel bags (One Planet rules!), getting the house ready to be rented, packing up the house, starting a blog, learning about the Australian curriculum and what resources we’ll have access to. We’ve seen a lawyer to organise Wills and Powers of Attorney. We’ve had vaccinations and eye tests and health checks. We’ve fixed the cracks in the hallway, sold some furniture, organised electronic insurance renewals, found a lovely new bed for the dog and I could go on….
But I won’t.
In less than 3 weeks we’ll be driving out. There will be some things that we can research and organise on the road, but they will mostly be travel related – booking flights from Darwin, where to stay in Dili, proof of onward travel etc. By then, though, just about everything on my list will have a red line through it.