Constructing a Journey

You might be asking yourself, out of all the places one could visit, how (or even why) did we decide on the ones you see on the Our Journey page of our website

Deciding where to go

We started with places we’ve always wanted to visit and listed things we’ve always wanted to do. Places included countries (Vietnam), cities (Budapest), or even individual sites (a place where something happened as opposed to “tourist sights”). We also included places recommended by friends and places we learned about from books and travel websites and blogs.

This list got to be hard to manage, so we just listed all the countries involved. This gave us a rough list of 60 countries we wanted to travel to over the next several years.

Then we had to determine when, during the course of our multi-year trip, we would get to them. We applied a couple of criteria to decide this:

How badly we wanted to go

For example, when Linda and I first met, I was living in California and she was in Minneapolis. I moved to Minneapolis to be with her and our plan was to get married and start our new life together by taking a trip around the world, starting in New Zealand and ending up back in California, where we would look for jobs. But I got this great job offer in California which included moving us there, and New Zealand became a we’ll-do-this-in-the-future adventure. And while we have traveled to a number of places since then, New Zealand was not one of them and New Zealand became a definite place to go to the first year of our trip. Similarly, I have always wanted to travel on the Trans Siberian Railroad, so that too was a first year priority.

We decided to structure our trip around the places we always wanted to go. The first leg would include Auschwitz-Birkenau (Krakow, Poland), Berlin, Machu Picchu, New Zealand, Vietnam, the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and Spain. We would leave the U.S. on June 28th and we wanted to return back to the U.S. to see family and friends sometime in November, 2016.

Of course it didn’t quite happen that way. It took us more time to get ready to sell our house than we had thought, and then we decided to spend some time with Linda’s family in Scottsdale before we left. So we ended up leaving on July 29th and going to Kaliningrad, Russia for a jazz festival that had intrigued me when I first found out about it.

We expect one of the themes of our trip will be, as Allen Saunders (misattributed to John Lennon) said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

While we didn’t plan to have a fixed itinerary, we needed to get some idea of how long we would be spending in each of these places. This meant learning enough about these places beforehand.

How long we might spend someplace depended on what we really wanted to see and experience in those places. For example, in Peru, besides the “obligatory” trip to Machu Picchu, we became fascinated by the Islas Uros, the floating islands built entirely with reeds, street art in Lima, and a host of other places we really wanted to see.

But besides history, culture and natural beauty, we are both passionate about art and architecture (with a special interest in street art) and that also influenced what we wanted to see or do. Our passions will probably be different than yours, both in terms of content and order or importance. Yours may be adventure, or, like one of our friends, tribal cultures.

So I used the Internet to find out as much as I could. I found websites that could give me basic knowledge, sites that were online versions of traditional guides, and hundreds of travel bloggers. The amount of information was overwhelming, and I finally whittled down the list of sites and travel blogs to a few I really like.

But we didn’t just use the Internet; we also spent as much time as we could talking to people who loved to travel and had been to these and even other places (this is how Bhutan moved up the list to land in the first year). We talked to friends and friends of friends and anyone we met along the way. When I was talking to someone in the UK about SIM cards for our phones, we started talking about my trip. It turned out she was from Poland and that if I was interested in street art, we needed to go to Łódź.

By using the Internet and talking to everybody and anybody, we added more detail to the destinations on the list. For example, when we found out about the Festival of Lights in Berlin, we completely rearranged our trip. I had once seen a remarkable exhibit on Genghis Kahn, and when I was learning about the Trans Siberian Railroad I found out that one branch ran through Mongolia, so we added a two week stopover there.

While we didn’t plan to have a fixed itinerary, some of the places we were going to did require planning and itineraries far in advance — the trip on the Trans Siberian Railroad, for example, and our trip to Bhutan. This did restrict our freedom to wander somewhat, but we felt that it was worth it in order to do those things. I scoured websites, talked to people, worked with guides, and got those firmed up way before we left. For the rest of the places, we would plan what we would do on the road, generally right before we went there (hotels, for example) or while we were there.

Best time to go

Linda was born and raised in Hibbing, Minnesota and hates the cold weather. So we would follow the warmer weather. Europe after mid October could be cold and January through April is really hot and humid in Bali. I found a couple of web sites that really helped and I also did some Google searches on the best time of the year to visit a place.

Filling in the blanks

At this point we had a basic framework for the 17 months or so — a few places we were definitely going to and some idea of about how long we would be at each of those places. Now we needed to fill in the rest of the trip. We used a couple more criteria to do that:

Physical proximity

For example, since we were going to be in Poland to see Auschwitz, and we wanted to return to Prague and also wanted to see Budapest, we grouped all the Central Europe countries together. Southeast Asia became another chunk. Within each chunk, if it really made sense to do things in that order, I made sure that we could actually get from one place to another, albeit not always easily (there were also some visa issues I had to take into account). I created custom maps for each chunk (see Create and edit your custom maps).

Why we wanted to go

For every place other than the “I’ve always wanted to go there” destinations, how important it was to go there depended on what we really wanted to see and experience in those places. So it was back to some of the websites I had found before. For example, we had been in Prague before, and we collect art glass, so we wanted to return there. But as I was learning about the Czech Republic, I discovered Brno. I found more websites to use including some that focused in on a specific region. I also found that many countries and cities had official websites and I bookmarked them.

How long we could stay

As we planned our trip, I began to discover how important it was to understand the visa requirements for the countries we wanted to visit. Besides having to make sure we had the right visas, we had to know how long a visa would allow us to stay in a country. We used two websites to help us with that. The first was the U.S. Department Of State website, Get Help in an Emergency, which was actually much more than the title implies. It describes the visa requirements for a country with links to be able to get more detailed information. The other was Visa requirements for United States citizens.

Out of the fog a plan emerged

What came out of the many iterations was the journey you see on the Our Journey page. Yes, getting this far was a big step, but how were we actually going to travel with no set itinerary and no reservations? You can see how we are going to do that on the Traveling on the Road page.

But of course, this list was only for the first 17 months of our trip. As we travel, we’ll not only be changing this list, but adding more places that we plan to travel to in the future. I’ll update the Our Journey page and post those updates as well.

By this point, I had also developed a set of websites (including official tourist websites) and travel blogs I really liked. Some of the websites I used also had apps, and I downloaded those that were useful and put them all in a Travel folder on my iPhone. Since we would use these websites when we arrived someplace, to help us decide where to go and what to do, rather than having to figure out each time which sites to use, I grouped them together into folders.

I also had information I had gotten from friends, and friends of friends, that I saved in a document with a section for each destination. Later, I realized that using the Evernote app on my laptop and phone I could make some of the things we’ll need to do on the road much easier, so I created notebooks and groups of notebooks.

It wasn’t as methodical as it sounds

While it may appear this was a methodical, well-organized process, it’s an illusion that only appears that way in hindsight. For example, we didn’t assign weights to destinations and create our plan using some kind of algorithm. It was like writing a book or creating a piece of art. We kept working at it until we knew when we were done — when it felt right.

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