I thought when I started planning that a year would seem like all the time in the world ... how could I NOT go everywhere I want to go, do all the things I want to do, when I have a full 12 months to spend my time however I choose? (without ever having to set foot back in the office)
Well, I was wrong.
Oh, I don't mean that 12 months isn't a lot of time - and that I'm not very grateful to have the time, opportunity and money to be able to do this. It's just that, the more I research, the more things I find that I'd like to do and more places I'd like to go!
I've gotten some easy stuff figured out ... like a trip out west to visit my sister (on the train), down to Wyoming to ski for a week, and a week or so to laze around in the sun (I haven't actually booked that yet, but it's coming soon - probably Key West). But the "big trip" is harder - I've realized that I can't actually go everywhere, and that picking any one place to go means giving up something else.
And then there's the safety question. Much as this irritates me, it is just not as easy -- and in some cases, downright dangerous -- to travel to some parts of the globe as a solo woman. Particularly as a (relatively) rich, Western, white woman -- I have learned from experience that those characteristics invite harassment and too much attention in some countries, as there is a prevailing stereotype about Western women and their loose sexual mores that is only reinforced if you have the temerity to be travelling without a man. But there are places where it could go far beyond harassment, and much as I might rant about the fact that women "should" have as much freedom to travel where they want as men, I have no desire to pay for that freedom with my health or my life.
So there will be probably have to be some compromises in the way I travel if I am going to go to some parts of Africa, or to the Middle East, for example.
And then there's the question of timing -- how do I balance out all the places I will go in a year so that I don't end up in India during the monsoon, or hiking the Inca Trail in knee-deep mud, or fainting in 50 degree Celsius temperatures in West Africa? The "best times" to go various places don't seem to line up in a logical order for a round-the-world trip, and they will too often coincide with peak tourist season and make travel that much more difficult.
So here's the current thinking ...
A week in Key West, immediately after leaving work on December 9th. Possibly with a friend, although he is juggling family commitments and may or may not be able to go. This is where I get to unwind from work, relax, de-stress and leave the office completely behind ... so that I am recharged for the next year.
Train out west to see my sister in Vancouver. Then to Jackson Hole to meet up with a friend from England to ski for a week -- tried to figure out how to do Toronto-Vancouver-Jackson Hole-Toronto entirely by train, but the U.S. rail system makes it difficult. I eventually gave up and booked flights, except for the Toronto-Vancouver leg.
West Africa, for about late January to March (10-12 weeks). Timbuktu a must, everything else is a bonus. May include a short volunteer stint in Ghana. This is when West Africa is dry and not yet too hot -- but as it's not yet a big tourist destination, I'm not expecting to have to fight with hordes of other travellers for transportation or places to stay.
South America, for about 3 months (till June or July). Had originally thought about doing this first, but the rainy season in Peru -- which makes for oceans of mud along the Inca Trail -- is roughly our winter, so as Machu Picchu is one of my "must see" destinations in South America, I thought I'd better plan to be here when I'd actually enjoy the hike. And before peak season in July and August -- I'd rather not have to share the trail with hundreds of other people.
Round the world! Beginning in July or so ... Fly to London for a short visit, then over to Istanbul (skipping over the rest of Europe as I've seen most of it in previous trips, and one big backpacking trip back in the '90's). Overland from Istanbul to Kathmandu, as I am fascinated by stories of the old "hippie trail" of the '60's and '70's -- you may or may not know this, but I am really just a wanna-be hippie at heart, and if I'd been born a couple of decades earlier, I would definitely have been one of those intrepid travellers going off to find herself in Asia (and yes, probably doing too many drugs along the way, but we won't go into that. I don't plan to do that now!!)
How to do this is the question -- it's not an easy part of the world to travel (particularly, again, as a solo woman), and I'm not sure I'd want to go through Iran or Pakistan. (Afghanistan is, of course, completely out of the question.) The alternative -- going through the other 'Stans (Uzbek-, Kazakh-, Turkmen-, Tajik-, and Kyrgyz-) -- is more appealing, and probably safer if not easier. This might mean hooking up with a group to travel, rather than trying to navigate entirely on my own.
From Kathmandu, down through Southeast Asia (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia) to Western Australia, and from there island-hopping in the South Pacific on my way home -- actually, by then, it would probably be just one island (no hopping), as this is a lot to try to pack into six months.
This year is going to fly. So are the next two months, as I attempt to figure out all the practical details. Would love to hear from any of you who have attempted long-term travel -- what are your tips?
p.s. And if you know anyone who needs an apartment for next year, I may be looking to sublet. Not sure yet what I'm going to do with it, but as it's a great deal (and I love the neighbourhood), I'm loath to give it up entirely. I also hate apartment-hunting, so would love to avoid that when I come back!