Long-Term Travel: Planning

I’m taking some time off from my Adventures in Asia narration. Instead, I want to share some tips and information about our three-month trip. Hope it’s helpful to those of you interested in long-term travel

Where we went:

  • Malaysia – 2 weeks
  • Thailand – 2 weeks
  • India – 6 weeks
  • Nepal – 1.5 weeks
  • TOTAL: almost 12 weeks

Why we went there:

India formed the core of our trip, because my travelling partner’s extended family is from there and we wanted to visit them. We picked Malaysia because I have a friend there, Thailand because everyone goes to Thailand, and Nepal because I’ve long been fascinated by the Himalayan kingdoms.

Of course, those reasons shifted and expanded as we went!

How we were able to go:

My employer allowed me to put away a portion of my salary for two years before the trip, then take six months off and have that portion paid out while I was off. My travelling partner runs his own business, so he was able to free up three months in his schedule by overloading the several months before and after.

Of course, we were both very lucky. But we also met retired couples and people combining volunteering with travel. Long-term travel isn’t just for students and “gap years” anymore!

How we afforded the trip:

Asia is much more affordable for long-term travel (another reason we went), and we were able to sleep and eat in relative comfort without breaking the bank. NOT including flights and pre-trip spending (for things like vaccinations and supplies), we spent an average of $100 USD per day for the two of us combined.

For that price, we:

  • slept in clean two-person rooms in family-run guesthouses (not as polished as Western chains, but often friendlier and definitely cheaper)
  • ate in mid-range restaurants several times a day (breakfast was sometimes included in the room price)
  • took trains between cities, and auto-rickshaws/tuktuks within cities
  • paid for historical attractions, day tours, souvenirs, etc.

What we used as resources:

I chose the Rough Guides series of travel books, after flipping through several competitors at the bookstore. (In the past I’ve used Lonely Planet and Rick Steves.)

A Rough Guide is a backpackers’ guide at heart, so it emphasizes independent and eco-friendly travel. We weren’t looking to rough it in dorms (been there, done that), but the books had a good balance of budget and mid-range accommodation and eating options.

They were also very informative, with good city overviews, detailed info on historical attractions that often surpassed what we got on the ground, and extensive appendices for those who want even more information.

We did find them a little outdated — for example, they talked about Internet cafes but not wifi, and most of the guesthouse prices were out of date — but city information and attractions don’t change much.

I bought Rough Guides in ebook form, rather than paperback, for each of the countries we visited. Naturally, an ereader is a lifesaver for this kind of travel — I could never have carried four physical guidebooks plus a novel or two.

But the ebooks did have some disadvantages:

  • Many of the maps were too small to read, and at least on my Kobo, I couldn’t zoom in. We resorted to picking up (usually free) physical maps for many cities, then discarding them as we moved on.
  • It’s a lot harder to flip back and forth. You don’t have the physical cues that remind you where a piece of information was, and if you’re flipping between chapters, you have to wait for the new section to load.

In addition to the travel guides, we found these websites invaluable:

  • TripAdvisor – We started cross-checking every guesthouse between the guidebooks and TripAdvisor. Most had enough reviews that we could make an informed decision based on what was important to us (more about this later). We also used it occasionally for restaurants.
  • IndiaMike – This forum for travel in India is packed full of info. We used it to learn all about the Indian railway system.

How we planned:

We didn’t pre-plan complete itineraries for each country — we pre-booked the flights in and out of each capital, and not much else until shortly before we arrived. So we planned as we went, sticking to just a few days ahead, as much as we could. This was great because it let us be responsive to our own needs on the go.

The constricting factor was transportation. We ended up taking some internal flights in both Thailand and India, and lots of trains in India. Both must be booked in advance — at one point we had to hire a car and driver (not prohibitively expensive in India!) because the train we wanted was all booked.

So we couldn’t spontaneously decide to stay longer in a place once we got there…but we could (and did!) adjust a week or so ahead.

That’s all for now. If you liked this post, let me know, and in future I’ll talk more about what we packed, how we travelled, and how we survived twelve weeks in close quarters without wanting to kill each other!

Have you done any major travelling? What are your best tips for the planning stages?



5 responses to “Long-Term Travel: Planning

  1. That is absolutely amazing. I never thought I could possibly travel for 3 months while I was still holding down a full-time job. You showed me that possibility can become a reality with a little planning!

  2. Elizabeth, I’m happy to be an inspiration! Good luck with your travel dreams…

  3. It’s great that you managed to do that without quitting your job and taking up another (which is what I took advantage of three years ago to get in a trip longer than three weeks). But obviously it did take rather a lot of pre-planning for you to work it. It’s a great idea if you have a flexible employer! I’m certainly interested in hearing more.

  4. Ellen, that’s always the catch — if you have money (i.e., a steady job) you don’t have time, and vice versa. It’s tricky, but doable, to work around!

  5. You lucky girl!

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