This post is about our methodology in planning and saving for the round-the-world (RTW) trip I mentioned last week. It's probably not that interesting to those not currently daydreaming of a similar excursion. And it's probably pretty boring even if you are so consider yourself warned.
Kristin surprised me last Saturday by asking if I had a few hours to talk about the trip and my timeline idea. I essentially had the week off, which left me with plenty of time to read, research, and daydream about the RTW trip we're planning and was glad Kristin wanted to start working on what I've been calling our timeline.
Despite my use of the word in our original conversation (and my resulting blog post) I'm keenly aware we can't actually go "everywhere". Not in one trip, at least. And probably not in one lifetime, for that matter. But before we started culling locations from our wishlist of destinations I thought it would be good to map out the times of year that are best to visit various regions. I'm not talking about making sure we're in Spain for the Tomatina or in Rio de Janeiro in time for Carnival, but rather that we're not trying to trek in Nepal in winter and not trying to hike to Angkor Wat during monsoon season. I'm much more concerned about when you don't want to be someplace than when the it time is to be there.
So I opened that most boring of programs, Excel, and listed a year's worth of Mondays across the top, starting with the middle of September 2012. And then began listing countries and regions we have an interest in down the first column. We began with our North American leg which we'd like to frame around ferry travel to Alaska and a trainride across Canada. The main concern here, as far as our timeline is concerned, is hitting Churchill Bay in northern Manitoba between mid-October and mid-November so we can see the polar bears. From there, we plan to continue on east through Quebec City to the island provinces and eventually down to New Jersey to visit family before heading to the United Kingdom.
When it comes to Europe, we're rather indifferent towards when we need to be there. On one hand, I really want to do some hiking in Switzerland or at least a lengthy mountain drive through the Austrian Alps and it would stink to miss that because we're there in January. But, on the other hand, Europe is damn expensive and it'd be better to be there in the off-season when it's much, much cheaper. Not to mention we could always go snowboarding. Whatever.
So we decided we could skip over Europe for timeline purposes and, instead jump to the two big "must dos" on our list for that part of the world. The first of these is to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro (or nearby Mt. Kenya; it's supposedly very similar and less crowded) and see the game migration in Ngorongoro Crater and the second is to travel the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Moscow to Beijing. Wouldn't you know that one of the migration periods is between December and February (also a good time for climbing) and that the trains don't start running on the Trans-Siberia line until mid-May? This works out perfectly. Assuming we land in Scotland in early November, we'd be able to leisurely make our way through western Europe down to Spain and Portugal, ferry across the Strait of Gibralter into Morocco, check out the Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert, then fly over to Nairobi to climb in late January. From there, we can head to Egypt, ferry across the Mediterranean to Greece and then thread our way back up through eastern Europe during the spring to make it to Moscow in time for the train trip. Speaking of which, the Trans-Siberian trip would likely be the one and only package deal we purchase well in advance of the trip. I've been eyeing packages like this one for years.
So that would put us into Beijing in mid to late June. Just in time for monsoon season in southeast Asia. Crap. Oh well, we've got five years to figure out what to do next (although Kristin's suggestion of waiting out the monsoon season in New Zealand and Australia before hitting southeast Asia might prove useful.
Anyway, so that's where we're at in our "macro-level" planning for the trip. I know it's so far off and that it must be rather comical to read, but I think this was a useful exercise. If for no other reason than to drive home exactly how mammoth an undertaking this will be and, more importanly, how expensive it will be. Even by staying in hostels and eating primarily in markets (hepatitus shots, anyone?) the transportation fees, gear, and not to mention visas will certainly add up. And for every $1 meal we eat in Africa or Asia, I'm sure there's going to be a $20 meal had in Europe or North America. Taking into account all of this and the occasional splurge on a nice hotel or excursion, I imagine we'll need to save up $28,000 to $35,000 for the two of us to do this trip. Gulp.
I've been reading a lot on travel forums for saving ideas and it seems that by and large most people employ the method we've already been using -- they make monthly auomatic deposits to an ING savings account. Our account with ING is currently fetching 4.30% interest and there are no fees. Since we don't want to spend this money and we also don't want to risk losing any of it while investing, we're going to take advantage of ING's line of CDs and periodically dump a large portion of the money into a 9- or 12-month CD to get an extra 1% interest out of it over the regular savings account. Additionally, we also have a "Keep the Change" account with Bank of America that automatically rounds-up each purchase we make on our debit card to the whole dollar and dumps the difference into a savings account. Sounds petty, but we had over $300 in that account in less than a year. And we never missed it from our checking account. We keep that up for another 5 years and it will cover the airfare to Europe for the two of us. And then some!
As fine as this all is, we naturally have to put aside more money than we have been each month and that leads us to making changes. Kristin, being the rare female who hates shopping and seldom goes out with friends, has nowhere to make any cuts. She has her gym membership and a gum/chapstick addiction that I find rather amusing at times, but she's pretty frugal. Me, on the other hand, spent a few years as a consumerist whore and have plenty of things around the house to sell. I've also cut back on my trips to the coffee shop (just once a week now) and am cutting back on my weekly bar tab at Redhook Brewery after my Thursday night bike rides. I've made these rather small changes so we can put an extra $50 or so a month into the savings account under the premise that every little bit will help. And as I continue to sell things I haven't used in years, I put that money into our travel savings as well. It will be really nice next year when one of the cars is paid off and we can really up the monthly savings.
So that about sums it up. We feel really strongly about how we'd like to spend the first half to two-thirds of the trip and we have a financial goal concerning how much we need to save to make it happen. And that's what this is all about really. If we don't make these goals right now then this whole conversation will be for naught. And then I'll be embarrassed and depressed and would have wasted your time reading this stuff. And nobody wants that.
I received a package from my sister today -- an early birthday present -- and in it was a little something extra to help us stay motivated for the trip. It's a small metal sign on a chain that I immediately hung near the front door. The sign reads "There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."
I like that. I like that a lot.