Yohan and Dolina on long-term travel

The numbers could speak for themselves: a year-long trip covering 54,000 miles, 20 countries, and five continents. But we all know that’s only half of the story. What about the surprises, revelations, and just plain odd moments along the way? Thankfully, the pair who recently returned from this adventure—Yohan and Dolina—have documented some of the details in their website. It’s pretty cool—besides giving a run-down of their trip through blogs, photos, and videos, it includes sage recommendations for packing and reading.

Dolina was kind enough to answer a few questions about this RTW trip from their home base in Austin.

What was the impetus for the trip? And how long had you been considering it?
We had been talking about long-term travel for years. Although in the beginning I think we imagined that we would “move” to a European country for three to six months rather than travel (almost exclusively) in the developing world for a year. In the end, what made the trip a reality was the realization that we weren’t that young anymore (I am 35, and Yohan will be 40 in a couple of weeks), and at some point in the not-too-distant future we might not want to or be able to drop everything to travel.

Were your dates and locations set in stone, or did you allow for changes along the way?
The trip was a combination of structured dates and flexibility. Essentially we planned the trip in regional segments. In large part this was because we used airline miles for our long-haul flights. The prearranged mileage flights were a very useful framework to plan the trip around.

There were also times when this loose organization freed us to change our plans if we weren’t having a good time. For instance, we arrived in Morocco in January from the US via airline miles. Our original thought was after Morocco we would continue on to Egypt, and on to Jordan to catch our flight to Mumbai in late March. However, we found Morocco to be difficult and we had heard that Egypt was going to be more of the same. So in the end we gave ourselves a “vacation” from our vacation. We decided to save Egypt for another trip and spent three weeks in a rented apartment in Florence, Italy before heading back towards Jordan this time via the once glorious “Toros Express” train from Istanbul to Aleppo, Syria. We loved Turkey and Syria, and they are two countries that we hadn’t truly intended to visit.

One destination that we intentionally kept open-ended was India. Knowing that India is an amazing place with more than we could ever see, we wanted to stay for as long as three months. However, we also knew that India is an incredibly difficult place and we weren’t sure how long we could handle it. I had a sense of what last-minute flights to Bangkok would cost from India and so we decided to wing it. Sure enough, after about five weeks we were exhausted, so we made flight reservations as well as travel arrangements with a travel agency for our last two weeks in Northern India.

For us having a basic framework of “milestone” flights gave us the confidence to be flexible along the way.

What came as the biggest surprise on the trip?
Two things were equally surprising.

First, as an American who had traveled extensively (and exclusively) in Europe, North America, and the Caribbean (only encountering the developing world in Mexico and some spots in the Caribbean), I was really astonished at how inexpensive travel can be. From bus trips in many countries (with and without chickens) for a dollar an hour to the price of lodgings and food. Most of the world is an incredible bargain for a middle-class American on a budget.

Secondly, I was astonished by the impact that America has on the world from an economic standpoint. From a country like Ecuador that uses the US dollar as official currency, to all of the many places where the dollar is the unofficial currency. People everywhere rely on our financial strength, and when that strength suffers they suffer. Of course I understood this in theory, but seeing it up close was really humbling.

Are there any unexpected ‘must-have’ items that you’d recommend as a necessity for a RTW trip?
I don’t know if it was really unexpected, but for me the “must have” item was my husband Yohan. Having a travel companion to share in the joys and difficulties of the trip was really more important than anything else.

However, if you are interested in gadgets I have two: first, my laptop; and second, our “Steripen” (UV water sterilization device). It is easy to use, compact, and runs on the same rechargeable batteries as our camera. The Steripen really cut down on our use of disposable water bottles, which is a critical issue in places that don’t have waste disposal facilities (much less recycling).

Any advice for others wanting to travel abroad for a year?
Save your money and GO! It was the single most rewarding thing I have done in my life thus far…and it wasn’t hard. The people of the world are generally good and decent people and would love to meet you.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | December 17, 2008
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

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