My article with tips on making world travel affordable

For those seeking to make world travel affordable, you might consider eliminating expenses at home, being flexible in your destinations, skipping the travel agent for flexibility in booking flights with discount airlines, securing large frequent flier mile sign-up bonuses with travel credit cards, and using certain booking services to save on lodging.

My article appeared in the Mount Holyoke Spring Quarterly, which is dedicated to international stories. If you care to read the issue, click HERE.

Miraflores, Lima and that Guilty Feeling

As a world traveler, lover of art, and mother, I feel that I failed Central Lima. Elise and I were holed up in our hotel there for two days – venturing out only for a quick meal in the mall next door. We could have and should have visited the Museo Nacional – or at least strolled the 2km between the main plazas, but a combination of fatigue, noise aversion, and having read that Central Lima was not the safest place to wander put a temporary dent in my Wanderlust. We did, however, manage to get a few impressions of the suburb of Miraflores. We took in the splendid views of the Pacific Ocean from a hillside mall, lunched on sushi and yucca fries near the sidewalk art gallery at JFK Park, and bought our bus tickets to Ica/Huacachina, as well as art supplies for Elise (she was in heaven – Miraflores was ground zero for art shops!)

We also sampled delicious Peruvian caramel and pecan chocolates. If we happen upon another store selling the same treats, my Christmas shopping for my entire family in the US will be done.

On our way to the pre-Incan Huaca Pucllana ruins, we came upon a tiny princess in white. We applauded her fancy dress and gave her a coin to celebrate her special day. (It wasn’t exactly clear to us what that day was, however. She was too young for First Communion, but might have been flower girl.)

We were too late to take a tour of the ruins, but were still able to see how the handmade adobe bricks were carefully shaped and stacked, which helped protect the structures against seismic activity over the past 1,500 years.

Alas, when traveling one cannot See Everything. It is important to know what one loves and values and focus on that. I am much happier on remote islands or in mountain villages than in most big cities (and Elise seems happiest anywhere she can swim, lol). It may seem odd – even though we are traveling for a year, we don’t actually have infinite time on our hands and I don’t want to squander time in places that don’t excite/inspire/spark the imagination. Next time we need to pass through a big city, I’ll make sure we either hit the museums and noteworthy neighborhoods or move on quickly to our next destination.

Rabies Vaccine Shortage in Berlin!

Given that some of the countries we’ll be visiting are affected by tropical diseases, we’re making sure our basic vaccines are up-to-date and are getting the full range of travel vaccines, including Yellow Fever, Japanese Encephalitis, Typhoid, Hep A/B, and Meningococcal Meningitis. Unfortunately, our vaccine schedule got thrown off by a week, because the Tropics Institute had no rabies vaccine for us thanks to a shortage in Germany, so we were on our own to find six does (3 for each of us) at local pharmacies. Luckily, the knowledgeable and efficient staff of Apotheke Reichsstraße 100 came through for us.

Even without having to hunt down our own shots, getting the recommended travel vaccinations is a big undertaking, requiring a consultation with a doctor, weekly trips to the Tropics Institute, the shots themselves (most are OK, but Hep A/B really hurts!) followed by two days of no exercise so that the body can produce anti-bodies, not to mention the increased aluminum exposure. (Fortunately, the rabies vaccine, which has the highest number of doses, contains no aluminum at all, nor does Yellow Fever.) The expense is also not insignificant: 1150€ total, and after insurance, 800€ out-of-pocket. That said, it’s totally worth it if it helps us avoid infection with symptoms ranging from headache, fever, and chills to diarrhea, constipation and vomiting to intestinal bleeding, swelling of the brain and coma – and worse.

But there are other diseases for which we cannot get vaccinations. Ebola and Avian Flu are still out there, as is Dengue. Outbreaks of the plague have been reported in Madagascar. (Just great.) Zika is still present throughout South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. Then there are lesser known diseases with fun symptoms, such as Chagas disease, which can cause a purplish swelling of an eyelid (not both, just one) as the number of parasites swell in the blood.

Of the 40 diseases on the CDC’s Travelers’ Health site, 15 are caused by person-to-person contact (coughing/sneezing/blood/fluids), 11 by contaminated food or water, 10 by mosquitoes, 6 by insects (fleas/flies/ticks/bugs) and 3 by animals. We are vaccinated against only 15, so we’ll be very careful to prevent infection by practicing excellent sanitation, filtering all water including when we brush our teeth, avoiding raw or undercooked food, and avoiding contact with sick people and with animals (although we’ll have to make an exception when we volunteer at an elephant rescue in Thailand). To ward off mosquitoes and other insects, we’ll wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, sleep under mosquito nets, and use effective insect repellant.

Some friends and family may believe that all of this is too much work, but, in my view, we face risks no matter where we are in the world, and with careful planning and good habits, the rewards of world travel far outweigh the risks!

 

Land of a Thousand Lakes: 4-day Kayaking Trip with Kids in Germany’s Enchanting Mecklenburg Lake District

Instead of celebrating my birthday with the usual inebriants and calories at place with fixed GPS coordinates, I decided to invite friends along on a 10-lake, 46-kilometer kayaking tour in the Mecklenburg Lake District, known as the “Land of a Thousand Lakes”. Nearly 700 square kilometers of forest, marshland, meadows, and meandering waterways – with the occasional osprey and white-tailed eagle circling overhead, it is one of Germany’s most beautiful and tranquil regions.

Initially, five families had planned to join us, but when we discovered that camping was no longer optional since the guesthouses along the route were fully booked, the dads – not the moms! – balked, and, one by one, backed out. So in the end, it was Girl Power: my German friend Saskia and her two daughters, my 9-year-old daughter, Elise, and myself. I booked a two-seater touring kayak (90€ for 3 days) and she a three-seater canoe (81€), as well as a tent and sleeping mats. Our starting point would be Kanatu Canoe Rental in Priepert, 100 kilometers north of Berlin.

On Day One, under overcast skies, we drove 1.5 hours over highways, through small towns, and past endless fields ablaze with bright yellow rapeseed, which somehow reminded us of the poppy fields of the Wizard of Oz (I hoped not a bad omen). When we reached Kanatu, we faced the daunting task of squeezing all of our food and gear into waterproof containers. Saskia opted to stash hers in giant plastic kegs and dry bags, while we stuffed ours into the waterproof compartments in our kayak. Meanwhile, Elise and Aleyna tested out the walkie talkies.

We were then given laminated maps of the lakes. I had already doctored one in Photoshop that I’d found online with our proposed route and saved it to my ipod, but in that moment, I had a pang that I might not be able to accurately judge distances on the water and cause us to get lost. The attendant told me to look at the shape of the waterways, noting that, where our first lake narrowed to a thin waterway, the second lake began. “OK”, I thought, “shapes I get!”, but patted my bag to make sure my compass was still there.

With the gear finally stashed and life jackets on, we pushed off from the dock, only to bounce off it a few times, and then spin haplessly in a circle in the tiny harbor. Our friends fared no better, as they had to learn to synchronize three paddlers, and their canoe lacked a kayak’s pedal-controlled rudder. Eventually, we managed to straighten ourselves out and make our way through the canal to our first lake.

Grosser Priepertsee, Wangnitzsee, and Finowsee

At roughly two kilometers long, Big Priepert Lake is actually quite small, but the wind was so fierce that, despite furious paddling, it seemed like we would never reach the opposite end. About halfway through, our friends got blown straight into the reeds, shrieking and shouting. Elise and I laughed so hard that we almost careened into them. Then, out of nowhere, a steely-eyed swan charged at me and Elise like an attack dog, forcing us to paddle even faster.

Elise waved her arms to let Aleyna know that she was calling her on the walkie talkie. “Aleyna! Did you see that swan?” “Fzzz…can’t…fzzzfzzz…you…fzzz” crackled through the receiver. “Aleyna, I can’t hear you!” “Fzzzz…you…fzzz…” came the response. Elise sighed, “OK, BYE.”

By the time we rounded the bend into mercifully windless Wangnitzsee and floated the half kilometer through tiny Finowsee, we’d all gotten the hang of paddling. We passed beneath a wooden bridge and were delighted to discover that we’d reached our first destination: Fischer, a lakeside restaurant offering smoked fish, fish soup, potato salad, beer and ice cream.

Most of the fish was caught locally, such as eel, perch, pike and carp, but North Atlantic and Pacific saltwater varieties such as mackerel, halibut and salmon, were also available. And, sure to please any German in search of comfort food, there were three varieties of potato salad – house, mayo and bacon.

Groups of paddlers and motor boaters sat on the picnic tables outside with plates of fish and potato salad and tall mugs of beer. Two of the men I spoke with had been coming to the Lake District every year for nearly 20 years. After a few rounds of beer, they got back into their tiny boats with old-school wood detailing and lace curtains, and chugged away side-by-side, continuing their conversation. Meanwhile, the kids got into mischief, nearly tipping over on a picnic bench, and Aleyna ran into the reeds where her feet plunged into the mud.

Drewensee

By the time we hit Drewensee, it was clear that we wouldn’t make it to the campsite in Wustrow we’d planned to overnight at until well after sundown, so we headed instead to nearby Campingplatz am Drewensee, a campsite with clean showers and a bank of hair dryers, which we put to good use drying Alenya’s sneakers and socks. They charged the going rate for camping: 7€ for adults and 5€ for kids. The kiosk sold fries and sausage, and the camp shop had snacks and beer, as well as a sign-up sheet for breakfast bread rolls, or Brötchen.

Having only managed a meager seven kilometers that day, it was also clear that the 46-kilometer route was too ambitious for two moms paddling with kids, so we decided to skip Rätsee (awwwww!) and to give ourselves an extra day to complete our route.

Elise and Aleyna walked side-by-side around the campground talking to each other on the walkies talkies. Meanwhile, Saskia and I got to work setting up our tents while swatting at giant mosquitoes. My tiny, ultralight tent took just a few minutes, but her rented mystery tent required more tinkering. By the time we’d unfurled all the fabric and inserted the poles to raise it up, it was like a massive UFO rising from the earth. One could stand up straight in the main chamber, and the vestibule alone was more spacious than my tent. Although I’d go for ultralight, backcountry camping any day over “glamping”, I had a moment of tent envy as I curled up next to my daughter in our little cocoon.

Havel and Schwaanhavel

In the morning, we made coffee with my tiny camp stove and feasted on the Brötchen we’d ordered with marmalade and hazelnut spread.

We then packed up our gear and started paddling, first southwest on Drewensee and then northwest on the narrow Havel waterway. It was there that we discovered both the delights and drawbacks of motorized boats.

Some were charming wooden houseboats that purred by slowly (rent one license-free(!) at www.floss-mieten-mecklenburg.de), while others were speedboats that shattered the tranquility and caused big waves. On that particular day, however, a number of the houseboats were occupied by groups of young men celebrating Father’s/Men’s Day by blaring music through maxed out speakers, shaking their butts, and drinking beer through funnels. The girls were scandalized to see one reveller peeing into the river.

“Elise, did you…fzzzfzzz…fzzz?” Aleyna asked through the walkie talkie. “Aleyna, don’t talk so close to the microphone!” Elise shouted. “ELISE! Fzzz…and…fzzz!” Aleyna shouted back. “I. CAN’T. HEAR. YOU. BYE.” Elise groaned, and shoved the walkie talkie back in her pocket.

Father’s Day, it should be noted, is different in Germany. Here, it’s like a mini, mobile Oktoberfest, where men head out with a group of their friends to get rip-roaring drunk, often pulling little wagons packed with booze and food. Despite the unsurprising increase in injuries, fights, and traffic accidents, the courts have quashed efforts by cities to impose public drinking bans on the holiday, since, as Spiegel Online reports, such efforts “violated the constitutional right to freedom of action in a country where beer drinking is part of the national culture.” It would appear that Germans do not need to fight for their right to party.

Fortunately for us, no motorized boats were allowed on the next stretch of our journey: the enchanting Schwaanhavel, a three kilometer meandering stream with forest on either side.

You could reach out and touch the soft moss on the riverbank or run your hand through the flexible, tall grasses. There were tiny tree stumps in the water with tufts of grass growing on top like quirky hair. We often had to duck beneath branches or bear off tree roots with our paddles to navigate through particularly narrow sections. I learned the German word for bearing off, as Saskia repeatedly called out “Abstoßen!”, or, when things got especially tight, “ALEYNA! ABSTOßEN!”

Where the trees formed a thick canopy overhead, it was like floating through a dark tunnel (somewhere near Hogwarts, perhaps), and a fellow kayaker warned us that spiders  tended to jump from the trees. At one point, we passed a partially submerged carcass of a wild boar with three green ribs visible above the surface of the water. But mostly, it was simply breathtakingly beautiful and tranquil and I would have gladly traded two or three of the lakes for more time there.

Plätlinsee

The narrow Schwaanhavel opened up wide as we entered Plätlinsee. The air was incredibly fresh and the sunlight glittered on the surface of the water. Elise shouted gleefully, “Mama, look! There are jumping fish!” But soon, the need to find a restroom for Elise became my sole focus – not an easy feat in the middle of a four kilometer-long lake bordered by nothing but marshland as far as the eye could see. Had she tried to step out onto the shore, she would have sunk deep into the mud. So I pushed my muscles to their limit to get us to the campsite at Wustrow as quickly as possible.

We zipped past fishermen in their boats and a tiny, charming island – though one ringed with reeds with nowhere to dock, unfortunately. As we neared the campsite, Wustrow’s church tower came into view, as did as a row of weathered, wooden A-frame houses right at the water’s edge.

At the dock, a fellow paddler gallantly offered to carry our kayak the 150 meters to the campsite on his portage-wheel while I took a grateful Elise to the restroom.

Wustrow

The campsite Kanuhof Wustrow had a friendly vibe, with its brightly painted A-frame structures, row of little grills, and grassy field for tent camping. We paid the fee (adults 7€/kids 5€), set up our tents, and headed out for dinner. Along the way, a group of inebriated Father’s Day revelers in matching red t-shirts spilled out of a horse-drawn buggy clutching bottles of beer.  A few of them tried to entice us to join their entourage, and seemed befuddled when we declined.

We discovered that Wustrow, a town of about 700 inhabitants, had a local store, a church, a tiny beach, and a few restaurants. We settled in at Kaminhaus Paksi’s sunny terrace and ordered vegetarian sausage and tofu pasta and rhubarb spritzers. The ambiance was pleasant and the drinks refreshing, but the vegetarian fare fell short of expectations. Luckily, the ice cream sundaes made up for it, and the kids left the restaurant in good spirits. Back at camp, however, the mosquitos forced us into our tents, where we decided to make an early night of it. By then, my arms were throbbing from the strenuous paddling earlier in the day. I took inventory of our stash of meds, which included antihistamines, mild Ibuprofen, and – score! – painkillers left over from Saskia’s dental surgery. Oh yes, I slept well that night.

The next morning, we discovered that our boats were covered in dozens of snails and slugs. The snails were easy to remove, but the slugs, I discovered, were Code Red for anyone with tactile defensiveness.  They left thick streaks of Vaseline-like slime on my hands, causing a lurching in my gut, so I had to resort to using wet wipes to grab hold of them and deposit them gently in the bushes.

With all the critters gone, we pushed off from the campsite’s tiny dock on the western side of the property, eliminating the need for portage.

Klenzsee and Gobenowsee

The waterway to Klenzee was filled with waterlilies and bright yellow flowers, as well as mint green ferns that glowed in the dappled light.

We passed a row of tiny cottages at the water’s edge. I spotted a resident sunbathing on her porch, and pulled up close enough to ask whether it was possible to rent any of the properties. To my delight, she said that the first two were listed on airbnb (check availability via airbnb.de under Klenzsee, Wustrow, Mecklenburg Vorpommern).

On Gobenowsee, it appeared as if nearly all of the kayaks had tiny sails attached to them. What fun! And how practical for those with tired arms! I made a mental note to inquire about renting a sail next time.

Labussee

When we reached Labussee, Aleyna called Elise: “fzzz…are we…fzzz?” “What?!?” Elise asked. “Where…fzzz…we going?!” “Aleyna, I can’t HEAR you!”

I steered our kayak toward them until we were close enough to pull our boats together. We shared snacks and powwowed about our next destination. On the one hand, there was the campsite and fish restaurant in Canow just a kilometer away, and on the other, there was Biber Ferienhof three kilometers away, which we’d heard had a new chef and organic menu. Our arms were tired, so we decided to check out Canow first. Unfortunately, the closer we got, the more it started to resemble a fraternity mob scene with drunk young men and long lines for food, so we decided to paddle the extra three kilometers to Biber.

Biber turned out to be a marvelous, sprawling, rustic farmstead and campground. There was a five hectare field for camping with a sheep corral in the middle, a cluster of small vacation cottages, a restaurant offering regional, sustainable, organic fare, a camp store, sandy beach, and a trampoline for the kids.

We immediately felt at home and were glad that we’d traveled the extra distance. While we set up the tents in a pleasant spot near the water’s edge, Elise and Talia hid together and called Aleyna on the walkie talkie, pretending they were kids from school and even Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. The staticky connection and their surprisingly good impersonations had poor Aleyna fooled. She chatted away with them, asking questions and expressing amazement that they had reached her. But then she caught them in the act and ditched her walkie talkie and stormed off. Even after we went to the restaurant, she sat off by herself until she was able to forgive them for having tricked her.

From our table on the terrace, we watched boaters and kayakers pass through the Diemitz Lock. Given the brand new menu, newly-constructed dining hall, and the sharp increase in the number of guests over the holiday, the service was a bit chaotic, but their homegrown specialties were delicious. Talia raved about her organic steak, made from Galloway cattle raised in fields on the farm. The vegetarian fare (seitan and chickpea curry), on the other hand, was, once again, a bit disappointing.

The Baltic Sea and the Mecklenburg Lake District were once the top two vacation destination for East Germans. After reunification, the number of visitors started to fall, as (former) East Germans, or Ossis, exercised their new-found freedom to travel to places in the West, but numbers are rising again. That said, roughly 95% of visitors to the Lake District are still from the former East, so it’s not surprising that local customs and services differ in some ways from those of, say, Berlin or Hamburg. The uninspired vegetarian cuisine may be an example. More worrisome, however, are the attitudes towards foreigners. According to the Berlin Institute, aversion to migrants is more pronounced in the East than in the West, largely due to lack of experience living with foreigners. Indeed, my friend Saskia, whose husband is Turkish and daughters half-Turkish, told me that she would worry about moving to the East. The hope is that, over time, with more exposure to foreigners, attitudes will improve.

Early the next morning, when I unzipped my tent and peered outside, the campground had been transformed into an otherworldly dreamscape – a thick layer of glowing mist covered the grounds as far as the eye could see, blurring the contours of the tents so that they looked like abandoned hobbit dwellings. As I made my way up the hill to the showers, I was amused to see a dew-covered electrical fence sparking in places. As a citizen of litigation-happy USA, it was a novel treat experiencing something a little “dangerous” up close.

Thanks to the well-stocked camp store, we added arugula-tomato and mango-chili spread to our now standard breakfast menu of Brötchen, marmalade and hazelnut spread. After my throbbing arms, the second official injury of the trip occurred then, as I stabbed my finger with my Swiss army knife while slicing a Brötchen for Elise. The third would be my inflamed, purple-red ears at the end of the journey, burned both by the sun and reflection off the water.

After breakfast, the girls headed to the beach, where they jumped off the dock  in spite of the chilly water, and paddled on a tiny, alligator-shaped kayak. In the meantime, I noticed that Saskia had become an expert in taking down her tent and compressing her gear so that it fit neatly in the stuff sacks. We talked about how pleased we were that our daughters were spending time in nature, blissfully free of online games. I realized that I could not have asked for a better birthday celebration.

Out on Labussee, the sun was pleasant and mild, and there was not a cloud in the sky. As it was our last day, I felt less pressure to keep up the pace, and so I let Elise put her feet up and her head back, and just bliss out.

But before long, I realized that I’d lost sight of our friends. I immediately thought of the now maligned walkie talkie, but then recalled that I’d stashed it deep in the bowels of our kayak. I tried Saskia on her cell, but only got voicemail. Despite my shape training at Kanatu, as I scanned the shoreline, I couldn’t make out which indentation was our next destination, so we paddled like mad to the closest one, shouting “Saskia! Talia! Aleyna!”, only to discover that it was the wrong spot. Eventually, we reached the entrance to Canow Lock, where we found our friends waiting for us. Instead of a look of relief or even impatience on their faces, there was shock – they had just observed a topless woman with a pronounced boob job and excessively injected lips speed by in a motorboat.

Canowersee and Pälitzsee

When we reached Canowersee, a row of conventional houses with landscaped yards came into view along the shore. In another context, I would have found them pleasant, but after four days of unspoiled forest and marshland and the occasional rustic cottage, they were as jarring as a strip mall. Elise’s reaction was different – she loved their tiny docks, and the fact that residents could go swimming any time they wanted.

At Small Pälitzsee, we saw a bunch of kids jumping off a long dock into the water and decided to explore. We’d happened upon Campingplatz Canow am Kleinen Pälitzsee, a campsite with spots for tents ideally situated on a grassy ridge at the water’s edge, and a large area further back for long-term camping.

As we strolled past the campervans with their little fences, table and chairs, potted plants, mobiles, and other markings of long-term camping, we felt like intruders into a bizarre, movie-set world. We returned to the dock, where the kids had their most enjoyable swim of all, and I cooked dinner with my tiny stove. As I handed Saskia her organic quinoa and beans on a camping pot lid that doubled as a plate, the handle gave way and the food fell in a clump into Aleyna’s upturned baseball cap. After a good laugh, I returned the food to the plate and then rinsed the hat in the lake and hung it up to dry – as one does while camping.

Lock Strasen and Ellbogensee

When we reached Lock Strasen and Hotel zum Löwen’s sunny, welcoming terrace restaurant came into view, I regretted having cooked and made a mental note to pay more attention to the location of eateries along the way. Moments later, a monstrously large motorboat had made its way in front of us in the lock, and to our surprise, allowed us to hold onto a rope for a few minutes so that we were pulled along at what was, to us, a dazzling speed.

We had finally reached the last lake in our tour, Ellbogensee (Elbow Lake), which looks like an arm bent at the elbow. With only three kilometers to go, Elise and Aleyna proposed a race, but we soon fell behind as our four arms were no match for their six.

Relieved of the pressure to compete, I steered us towards a cluster of tents in a sun-splashed grove across the lake, and asked a man lounging in a hammock the name of the campsite. He said that they were “wild camping”. When he saw my look of surprise, he quickly added, “It is allowed.” I’d heard that wild camping was illegal except in emergencies, in which case one could camp only from dusk to dawn with no fire. The guy looked like he was in the midst of the best vacation ever, not an emergency, so he may have been occupying a coveted bivouac site – an exciting prospect for us wild-camper wannabes, and one that got us to thinking about our next trip. I thought that we might try wild camping during the 5-6 or 7-10 day loop through glorious Müritz National Park. In either case, we’ll be sure next time to have extra sunscreen, a complete map of recommended restaurants, and perhaps also cheerful, tiny sails to add a little wind power to our Girl Power.

Route options

  • Visit kanatu.de and click on Kanu-Touren for a list of 1-10 day kayaking tour options with helpful, interactive maps, or Kanuverleih Pack & Paddel with detailed itinieraries for 1-12 day tours.

Getting there from Berlin

  • Drive 1.5 hours north to Kanatu Canoe Rental in Priepert via A100, A111/E26, B96, MST12, or travel one hour by train from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Bahnhof Fürstenberg, and then 14km by taxi to Kanatu. Other starting points include the kayak/canoe rentals listed below.

Kayak/Canoe Rentals

Accommodations

Gearing up

Our entire lives will be on our backs while we travel round the world. As we are a mother-daughter team, we won’t have a strong guy to help carry the load. That means that each item we bring must not only be ultralight, but also multifunctional and high-tech. e.g. fabrics that breathe, dry fast, repel moisture, and keep us warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm, such as Merino wool and bamboo. We’ll also be trekking through Zika territory, so we need tops, pants and hats that are anti-mosquito. RE shoes, we each get max 2 pairs: a sturdy, but lightweight trekking shoe, and an everything-else shoe. I’ve already ordered mine – a surprisingly sleek pair of black Teva’s – which will be my beach, shower, and “dress up” shoe, lol. Besides my slim laptop and mirrorless camera, our camping gear will add the most weight to our packs. I tallied the weight of our existing ultralight gear to the ounce and discovered that I could shave off 4.93 pounds by replacing it with the newest (crazylight!) gear – but at a cost of around $431 per pound shaved. This means that, if you are a manufacturer of such gear, we want YOU to sponsor us! Here’s looking at you ZPacks and Englightend Equipment!

Choosing Travel Destinations for a Round-the-World Trip

If you were planning a round-the world (RTW) trip, how would you choose your destinations? For me, this is the most exciting part of planning for our upcoming one-year RTW travel adventure. But it can be a bit overwhelming – after all, you’ve got the whole world from which to choose.

Bucket List: It’s easiest, of course, to start with one’s bucket list, regardless of how difficult or expensive the places may be to reach. Currently at the top of my list are Madagascar, Tanzania, Peru, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Fiji – not exactly neighboring countries, but all doable on a round-the-world itinerary.

–>To connect the dots on your bucket list, you might try the easy-to-use flight tool at indie.bootsnall.com, which shows your path around the globe as you input your destinations, and then finds flights.

But what if you don’t have a bucket list? Or have only a very short one? Thinking about the following categories and criteria could help you identify contenders for your trip:

Worldwide vs regional focus: Is your goal to get a broad overview of the cultures and geographies of the world, or to explore a particular region in some depth? In our case, we plan to continent-hop from South America to Asia, Africa, and Australia to get a taste of those places so that we know where we might want to spend more time in the future.

–>To help gather ideas for our route, I’ve been using Google’s fun Explore Destinations tool, which shows a handy map of flight options and fares from any city you input.

Budget: If you have a limited budget, you could choose the places that allow you to live like royalty on what you’d normally spend in any given day back home. In Asia, these include places such as Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, and India; in South America, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru; and in Africa, Morocco and Egypt. Conversely, if you have a large budget, you could gather ideas in Afar, Global Living, or Elite Travel Magazine for the globe’s most luxurious destinations.

Interests: You could build an itinerary around your interests, such as food, nature, architecture, eco-tourism, beaches, and the like. In our case, seeing the places Elise’s late father spent his childhood as the son of a UN geologist is a key interest area. Another is animals, since Elise loves them so much she wants to be a veterinarian. So, I’m looking at Thailand’s elephant rescue center and countries with unusual animal life such as the Galapagos Islands, Komodo Island, and Australia. Also high on my list are places of insane natural beauty or charm and epic beaches and treks.

Best of Lists: Once you’ve identified your interests, you might try searching Best of lists to refine your choices, eg “Best Beaches in the World” or “Top 10 Hikes in the World”. I tend to look at the rankings from Lonely Planet, Trip Adviser, Rough Guides, National Geographic, and Conde Nast. When a destination appears on multiple lists – as do Matira Beach, Bora Bora and the Milford Track, New Zealand, for example – I earmark those places for closer review.

Seven Wonders: For the ultimate natural wonders, underwater wonders, ancient and modern monuments, and even cities and feats of engineering, you might take a look at the various Seven Wonders of the World lists. I’m considering places on the Natural Wonders list, such as Ha Long Bay, Komodo Island, Iguazu Falls and the Amazon Rainforest, as well as Monument Wonders, including Machu Picchu, Taj Mahal, and the Great Pyramids.

Holding Bin: You might also keep a separate list of places you’d love to visit, but which require monitoring due to safety concerns, logistics, weather, or expense. For us, as much as we would love to see Petra, Jordan is on this list, given ongoing unrest in the region, as is Fiji, because our window to visit may coincide with cyclone season.

As I went through this list, eight countries emerged as clear winners! Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Madagascar, Tanzania, Thailand, Vietnam and New Zealand all ranked high on nature, animals, and insane natural beauty. Ecuador and Argentina are also two of the places where Elise’s dad spent his childhood, Peru has Machu Picchu, and NZ the Milford Track. Japan, Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Australia also meet many of our criteria. Now I just have to figure out when the weather is best (i.e. mid-high 70’s, no monsoons) in each of those places, as we want to follow the summer. More on this topic in a later post!

2017 tips for saving on flights

save $ on flights keyboard

According to a new report from Expedia , you’ll save a lot of money on flights by following these tips:

  • purchase tickets on a Sunday vs Friday to save as much as 11% on domestic US travel and 16% on travel to Europe
  • book 21 days in advance to save as much as 30% over waiting until the last minute
  • include a Saturday night overnight for savings of up to 57% (particularly in Southern Europe)

The study also ranked the top destinations for 2017 based on growth in the previous year: #1 was Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba (53%); Da Nang, Vietnam was a close second, followed by: Zhuhai, China (41%); Cusco, Peru (39%); and Santiago, Chile (38%). Cities in Uruguay, Iceland, Panama,  Russia, and Mexico City were other mentions.

Read more: http://www.budgettravel.com/feature/air-travel-booking-secrets-for-2017,69356/#ixzz4WJ5L2vqW

 

World Travel Books

travel books

Oh joy! My travel books have arrived. I immediately tore into “The Rough Guide to First-Time Aournd the World” by Doug Lanksy. Most of the book is solidly practical information on transport, budgeting and safety, but he also provides some inspired ideas, such as take a cookery course to learn to make one great dish from each country; travel by freighter, which rent out cabins larger than cruise ships’, and stay somewhere unusual like a cave hotel in Turkey or ice hotel in Sweden. He’s also quite funny, sharing embarrasing stories, such as the time he broke his ankle in Bangkok while he had amebic dysentery, which he describes as “a tragic combination of constantly having to go to the loo, and never being able to get there quickly enough.”

Bucket list

Oh, what joy it is figuring out which countries to visit on a round-the-world trip! This list will surely change over time, given additional research, world events, and budget planning, but here’s an intial stab:

SOUTH AMERICA: Argentina, Chile, Ecuador (the 3 countries Elise’s Dad lived in when he was a child), as well as Brazil, in honor of Elise’s half-sisters’ heritage

AFRICA: Namibia to photograph the Skeleton Coast, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania/Zanzibar, Madagascar

MIDDLE EAST: Israel, Oman

CENTRAL ASIA REPUBLICS: Uzbeckistan

ASIA: Japan (where I lived for 3 years after college), China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka (perhaps instead of India, which I’ve visited twice already)

SOUTH PACIFIC: Australia, New Zealand for epic treks, Fiji for blissful tropical relaxation…and…the island nation of Yap, which I’m obligated to visit because I swore as a teenager I’d go wherever my finger landed on the globe. Lol, when else but during a world trip will I be able to meet this obligation?

That’s 19 countries – already 3 more than what a round-the-world ticket covers, so I will have to put a lot of thought into making adjustments to this list over time.