I sat for some time with the notion of swapping our plan for a year-around-the-world for a year-around-Italy. Ultimately, I realized that my desire to change the scope came from having a really, really rough week. The very edges of my comfort zone chafed. I craved the familiar like a child craves her threadbare blanket.
Given that, of course it felt daunting to imagine landing in some nameless, cold city in Argentina and having to figure out how to get money and food. When I feel off-kilter, I need to get safe and happy, into a bubble of security. Which Italy, for me, is. It’s my happy place. Just listening to Italian words wash over me rinses away the stress lines around my eyes. So the thought of carefree drives from region to region, sampling variations on a theme, dipping my toe into the Adriatic, tempted my heart.
But now I’m feeling myself again and find that I’m eager for a global adventure. Thank heavens because the alternative would have put me at odds with one to three members of my family. It’s good to be equally yoked to our journey.
The emotional detour, though, made me realize that my mood is going to impact my experience and I can’t count on being positive and optimistic all the time. I can’t count on my husband and family being positive and optimistic all the time. I expect there will be many moments when I think, “why in the world did we think this would be a good idea?” I hope I can remember that that’s a sign to nourish myself until I feel steady enough to look the world in the eye again. If i forget, I’m counting on you to remind me. :)
So the round-the-world thing is happening, and it’s time to start thinking itinerary. A tentative one, to be sure, but we need to start considering what’s important so we can make our priorities fit. Well, our priorities for now. Obviously, if this little sojourn into backpedaling is any indication, we may be well change our minds. Who knows? Maybe halfway through we’ll realize this globe trotting is for the birds and decide to settle in…who knows (again!).
That being said, we’ve taken into account our initial wish lists, flight costs, tourist flows, and weather/seasons, to create the following itinerary. Months are approximate, as we’re mostly traveling on 28 day cycles to get the Airbnb discounts, but some places we’ll be a little longer, while a few a little shorter. We had initially thought we’d put in some four day trips in between our month-destinations, but Keith and I crunched the numbers and that just doesn’t make financial sense. I like the idea of keeping it simple, anyway. We’ll have more brain space to sink where we are; less transitions is probably better for our serenity, as well as our pocketbook.
July: Scotland. It has always been so. We hear it’s ideal in the summer, and I still maintain it’ll be a beautiful place for us to gird ourselves for the journey ahead. Lots of walking, dreaming, reading, and walking some more. Where in Scotland? Still haven’t figured that out. Somewhere scenic and I’d love some water nearby. If you know a town…
August: Serbia. Summer is apparently a wonderful time, weather-wise, to visit Serbia, and they get so few tourists, we won’t run into the problem of high prices and too many travelers that we would in other summertime European destinations. I originally thought we should go to Serbia on our way out of Europe, seeing as it’s so far east, but as it turns out, it costs the same to fly there as pretty much anywhere else on Ryan Air, about €30,00. Actually, Ryan Air doesn’t fly to Serbia, so we’ll either land in Hungary or Bulgaria and train into our final destination (I have some cities and towns I’m looking at, but am happy for direction if you have some).
It must be said, though—I’m having a devil of time figuring out if my notions about Serbia are wildly inaccurate (I couldn’t even get Squarespace-sponsored photos of Belgrade for this post! People seem to not upload Serbia photos, which can’t be good, can it?), so Keith is worried that this bug in my ear about Serbia is smoking something. Will we swap Serbia out for another Balkan country or someplace else in Eastern Europe? Maybe… But at the same time, a friend suggested that for one of our months we spin the globe and stick our finger on a place and go there. No TripAdvisor, no forums, no FB groups, no expectations. There isn’t enough wiggle room in our itinerary to do a destination lottery, but maybe Serbia will be that equivalent?
September: Paris. September in Paris. I’m giddy at the thought. Keith and I played a little game where we thought of where we’d go if we went to four countries for three months each. Paris made both of our cuts. Siena’s too, when we asked her. Gabe just sighed. He does not love Paris. I have no idea why, he didn’t express any negative feelings when we visited. I think he’s scared of all the cheese Siena and I will no doubt have clinging to our fingers. He’s right to be worried. There will be much cheese.
<mini-trip> Belgium. When Gabe saw the list, he expressed disappointment in the lack of Belgium. I had no idea it was so important to him. But I have a deep love for Ghent, a city I spent one day in when I backpacked through Europe eons ago (that Van Eyck altarpiece… plus super-friendly people, I had long conversations with one stranger on the steps waiting for a museum to open and another with a stranger who helped me affix a stamp to a letter to Keith I’d already dropped stamp-less into the mailbox) so I thought, let’s see if we can put 1-2 weeks in Belgium (probably Ghent, to break up the succession of major cities) on our way to…
October: Amsterdam. Originally this was supposed to be Seville and then Amsterdam in November, but I realized it was fiscally dumb to fly to Seville when we could instead train to Amsterdam. Plus, we’ll be in the Netherlands for better weather (and still shoulder/off season). Besides, we can stop in Belgium on the way. We had wanted to be in Amsterdam for the election, and maybe we will be… we may depart right afterward November 3rd for…
November: Seville. But you already knew that from the above paragraph. It’s one of the few repeats on our list, along with Paris and possibly the Italian ski section. We wanted at least three Spanish speaking countries so I can brush up my language and Gabe can use what he’s learned in school and Siena wants to pick up another language as well. So we may be attending a language school here. If we have time what with all the tapas. Funnily enough, I had assumed that Spain was going to be one of the expensive countries, but then I remembered that when we visited during out year in Italy, it was the least expensive trip we took.
December: Skiing in Italy. Probably Moena or a nearby town, as the location can’t be beat for skiing, and gives us plenty to see and do and admire and eat when we’re not skiing. This is probably the month Keith is looking forward to the most. I, for one, would love to visit Moena in the summer, but I also love the idea of my family with red cheeks and snow clinging to their eyelashes as they wax rhapsodic about glorious bowls (whatever those are). I expect I’ll get lots of writing done in December! This is also a time I’m hoping Nicolas comes to visit. Note: There is a real chance we’ll swap this with our January plan, depending on predicted snow. I’d love Christmas in the Dolomiti, but if that doesn’t happen, I’ll roll with it.
January: Turkey (or Jordan or Israel, or a combination, depending on political matters and how we feel). Turkey is my preference here, not just for breakfast reasons, but also because it’s a place I’ve long been fascinated by. We need to do more research though, as I think January may be an awful time, weather-wise. I’ve heard southeast Turkey is better, we’ll have to see.
February: Thailand. Maybe Vietnam. Though really all we know is that February, March, and April are all Asia. We’ll do best (cost-wise) flying in and out of Thailand and Tokyo, so the order of these may well change, with those poles in place. All that said, if we do include Thailand, we’re picturing maybe a big town toward the Lao or Cambodian border. We loved Bangkok and the island we visited in the Bay of Thailand, but neither of these for a month. Hitting Asia will be an adjustment, we want something on the quiet side, especially if this is first on our Asia train.
March: China. This will likely be the middle month of our 3-month Asia extravaganza, to take advantage of regional airlines. Here’s the deal, though. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but China is HUGE. The kinds of experiences we can have are crazily different, and that make it complicated. For one, the place Siena really wants to go is Xi’an. She studies Mandarin in school and says that Xi’an is one of the oldest cities in China. I like the idea because it was on the Silk Road, and I really, really want to go to a city on the Silk Road (also, full disclosure, I fell in love with Xi’an Famous Foods in NYC). The thing is, I’m getting the sense from my reading that while Xi’an does have fascinating bits, it’s a little underwhelming considering it was the capital of China. I’m getting an industrial vibe which could be complete fabrication on my part, trying to read into too-little information. But, we may be best served by going elsewhere and visiting Xi’an for a long weekend. I thought of maybe taking a week in four different places in China, but Siena advocated away from that. The whole point is to sink into place and she doesn’t feel like we can if we are on the move constantly. Maybe we can stretch our China part a little and take some time on either end to travel and spend a chunk of time in one place. I’ve heard good things about Kunming and Ningbo, as well as Yunnan province. All I know for sure is that we’ll be limiting our trip to Mandarin speaking destinations because Keith and I are super excited to hide behind Siena for a change… how fascinating it will be to have her be our family communicator! I’m sure her skills will be modest, even after taking AP Mandarin, but it will be leagues beyond our own. She literally winces when I say her teacher’s name. Even when I practice to myself a few times before working it into conversation. Oh, no… I just realized…in China, we will be embarrassing our teenage daughter like never before. He he, I can hardly wait.
April: Tokyo. We may swap Thailand and Tokyo, depending on how flights look into and out of the airports at the time we’re booking flights. We have friends that recently went to Tokyo and said that they loved exploring the neighborhoods, that they found the adherence to order fascinating and anxiety-reducing, and the food surprisingly affordable (as long as it wasn’t fruit). I’ll be curious to see our perspective. I’m thinking this might be the location we put Gabe in International School as it may be an ideal way to find a community.
May: Cape Town/Botswana/something else in Africa (maybe a beach? Mozambique?). This one is a departure as we’re planning on moving around rather than settling in one spot for a month. The timing of this month includes some serendipity, as backing up from the end of the trip, I knew May would fit best for southern Africa, and then found out that May is the end of the rainy season (making it amazing for Victoria Falls and also for watching animals who come and drink at the water’s edge), the weather is divine, and the costs are low because it’s not December or summer when tourists tend to descend. The safari thing is a bit complicated and I’ll tell you why… Keith is not on board. I wasn’t either for years, I didn’t understand the appeal (why not just watch a Planet Earth video?) until I talked to friends about the nature part of the safari—the smell of the earth in the morning, the stars and night, the 360 surround-sound view. Keith still wasn’t sold. Turns out he finds the whole “white man comes to Africa to be served martinis and be driven around” pretty distasteful. Luckily, one night when we were downtown having dinner and were discussing this, he looked up and said, “and here come people who can tell me how wrong I am.” It was friends of ours whose experience was actually the one that changed my mind on safaris. Here’s what was great. They didn’t tell Keith he was wrong. They told him he was totally right—even the kids were nodding along. The said they went on safaris in three places, two of them had the very vibe Keith feared. But Botswana was different. It has such an environmental agenda that that becomes the unifying force.
That helped. Keith agreed it could be fun. Then last week we went to a party and met a guy from Zimbabwe. When we mentioned wanting to go on safari he got the bit in his teeth and took off. He said (and I’m toning down his colorful language here, since this is a family program) you don’t “go on safari”. Like some white man expecting the natives to serve you and being chauffeured around as if money buys royalty rights and you are taking over Africa. (“THANK YOU!” Interjects Keith as this point). No, Keith’s new best friend goes on. Here’s what you do.
If you want a transformational experience, if you want to do it like it’s supposed to be done, you “go out into the bush”. You drive around and explore and you put up your tent where you want and you laugh at the suckers paying $2,000 a night for the privilege of having somebody else light their campfire. Maybe you rent a campervan instead (he cedes, a nod, probably, to our appearance which does not scream “savannah tent campers”). You live close to the earth like you’re supposed to and at the end of a week or so, then you go to Cape Town for a spot of luxury. In Cape Town, that luxury fits. In the bush, NO. It’s by no means part of an authentic experience.
Keith is super excited about a DIY safari. I’m not. I feel like I want someone with us who can say, “Oh, this kind of water lily means that there are hippos in the area, so we should get to safety”, like before the hippo is charging us. Or, “There were hyenas here Tuesday, so there should be giraffes there today.” You know. Somebody who knows stuff. The older I get, the more I realize I don’t know.
Though I did ask on the Road Taken Facebook page if anyone knew about this DIY possibility (since I had literally never heard of it before), and Sarah said that she knows people who got detailed maps and a truck from a tour company and had a wonderful few weeks in Namibia.
Clearly, this Africa section should have been its own post. Suffice it to say, you should hear our dinner time conversation nowadays. It’s lively, for sure. I wonder how this will play out. I’m sure our parents do, too.
June: Argentina, or some south American country. We initially picked Argentina because we wanted to take a side-trip to Antarctica, but then I found out that those cruises (the least expensive way to get there) started at $6,000 a person. HA HA HA HA HA HA. No. We’ll have blown our cash reserves on safari (or maybe not, if we '‘go out into the bush”). That will have to be adventure enough for us. We met a guy at a party (same party as the guy from Zimbabwe, wow that party was peopled with fascinating guests) who lived in Brazil for years and he said the problem with our itinerary is that June in South America is cold, and anyplace will get dreary after awhile. He suggested moving around a bit to keep our spirits up. Buenos Aires, Santiago (not Brazil for us, as we want it to be our second Spanish month)… we could ski (Keith is all for that), so that’s something to consider. The guy we met actually advocated for us to make Mexico two months and come back to South America when we can enjoy it. So I suppose this is the weak part in our plan.
July: Mexico. We originally had Cuba on our list. But after spending time in Nogales for my sister’s wedding, Siena and I realized that it was ridiculous that we’d spent so much time on the border, and hadn’t explored Mexico (well, Keith and I did with Nicolas when he was tiny). Perhaps we were drunk on tamarind, but we decided a month in Mexico would be a wonderful way to cap off our year. Especially since the chances are high that my family will join us. July, as you might guess, is a wickedly hot time to visit Mexico, but I discovered that going inland and highland makes for a temperate climate. I narrowed my search to San Cristobal and Oaxaca. The guy at the party I wrote about in the last paragraph (who also lived in Mexico for years) suggested that being the end of our trip, Oaxaca might be more pleasant as its a bit more user friendly. It’s certainly less expensive to get in and out of, Oaxaca to Charlottesville is (depending on the month), just $320. Which begs the question—why have we not gone there already?
We are super excited with this itinerary. Putting the destinations and timeline down on paper make the whole thing seem real. We can picture our year now, in a way we couldn’t when the plan felt like bingo tiles swirling in a hopper. Yes, those winning squares could change, and in fact they should change, as otherwise it means we’re being overly tied to early preconceived notions. But whatever the backdrop is for any given month, we have a sense now of being connected to our adventure…together.