If you missed it, start with 5 Months Abroad: Why We Did It.
Since we’ve covered why we decided going on a 5 month adventure was important to us, let’s get into how we did it. This will be broken into several posts, including planning (this post), philosophy, and money.
We hear the questions often: How do you go about planning 5 months abroad? Didn’t that take a ton of time?
We did very little planning before leaving for our trip. We planned the shell of our trip, which were our main flights.
Nashville to Seattle
Seattle to Phuket, Thailand
Phuket to Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok, Thailand to Kolkata, India
New Delhi, India to Tel Aviv, Israel
Amman, Jordan to Athens, Greece
Paris, France to Nashville, TN
And our first night’s hostel was booked. A place near the airport in Phuket, including a free transfer since we were getting in after midnight.
It didn’t even take a week before we regretted our 3rd flight: Phuket to Bangkok. This was a flight we didn’t initially have planned, but our inexperience got the best of us. We were in Seattle and panicked over how we would get to Bangkok from Phuket for our flight to Kolkata. We couldn’t get a clear answer online, and I found cheap flights, so we went ahead and booked them. It would leave us 3 days in Bangkok before flying to Kolkata.
Phuket is in southern Thailand, with beautiful beaches and amazing food. After a few days, we were getting the itch to explore more of Thailand. We wanted to go to Chang Mai and maybe over to Burma and Laos. But since that Phuket to Bangkok flight was booked already, we had to be in Phuket on that date no matter what. It wouldn’t have made sense to travel around very much, just to return to Phuket for our flight up to Bangkok.
Also, once we were on the ground, there were tons of travel agencies selling bus tickets to Bangkok for next to nothing. Fear of the unknown got us. This was our first lesson in proper traveling.
In the future, we plan to book our flight to where we’re going, and wait to make decisions about other flights (even the return flight home) once we’re on the ground.
The Internet’s an incredible tool to learn a ton about where you’re going before you even get there, but it only takes you so far. You can never fully know what you’ll want to experience (or not experience) and for how long until you’re on the ground.
When we got to Kolkata, we were initially thinking we’d be there for at least 3 weeks, then train over to New Delhi and fly out of there. After about a week and a half, we had met so many people who had loved other parts of the country, and we really wanted to get out and explore these regions we’d heard so much about. So we changed our plans, bought train tickets, and zig-zagged our way across the country to Delhi.
After what seemed like an eternity riding a bus up the mountains into Nepal (ask about that sometime…broken windshields, people throwing up next to us, the whole nine yards), we finally made it to the mountain town of Pokhara. We were so excited to breathe in the fresh air for a few days, then take a bus over to Kathmandu. Our first day, this couple walked up to us and asked if we were planning to go to Kathmandu. They had ridden their rented scooters over from Kathmandu, and ended up purchasing a motorcycle in Pokhara with no way to get their scooters back to Kathmandu.
“Would you be up for riding our scooters to Kathmandu for us?”
Jessica and I looked at each other. Two seconds later, Jessica said “Absolutely!”
There are countless stories we have like this. If you’re going to take a trip like this, don’t lock yourself in to an itinerary before you experience being on the ground. It also lessens the stress of a deadline. There’s nothing worse than being locked into a place you don’t like, having to move on from a place sooner than you wish, or missing out on the opportunity to ride scooters across Nepal.
Right now, we’re on a train to a town near the beaches of Normandy, France. We have no idea how we’ll get to the beach from the train station, but since it’s close, and it’s a popular destination, we’re confident there’ll be plenty of options once we arrive. This has been a great way of enjoying the journey and not worrying about the destination. “It’ll all work out” is a life motto I learned from my dad, and more times than not it absolutely does.
In our experience, people are friendly and want to help you get where you’re going. Just ask.
This isn’t to say we have no plans when we arrive places, because we definitely do. We almost always book our hostel our guesthouse a day or two in advance. And we use our journey to read up on the next city we’ll be in. We’re definitely finding the “must see” list is getting shorter and shorter, and our desire to experience the various cities and countries and their culture has taken a prominent position.
For us, Lonely Planet eBooks have been a great tool to get a rough overview of the city or country, as we haven’t wanted to pack books and carry them. Pulling the books up on our iPhones has worked perfectly. Also, TripAdvisor is perfect for finding a good meal and a clean room. Other than that, just use your intuition. As far as housing is concerned, a combination of HostelWorld, AirBNB, and Kayak were used.
The 2nd most popular question we get has to do with what we packed for our trip. In short: very little.
We brought 1 backpacker’s pack with all our clothes and toiletries in it. And one school size backpack for our laptop, camera, etc.
We each have 2 pairs of pants, 3 shirts, and a few undergarments. We also have down jackets that are stuffable along with a waterproof jacket in case of inclement weather. Ladies: Jessica brought one must have hair product, mascara, and blush.
And that’s it.
If you’ve never learned the art of doing laundry in the shower (I surely hadn’t), this sort of travel will make you very close with the concept. It just becomes a part of the process.
We have found that, for us, we packed the perfect amount of stuff. We heard from people over and over and over: don’t pack too much. You’ll wish you didn’t have so much stuff. DON’T DO IT!
Jessica and I only packed tennis shoes and flip flops. Perfect for the warm weather. Terrible for the cold here in Europe. We met a super friendly guy in India who was getting rid of his boots he had only worn once for a trek to Everest base camp. Lucky for me, we wear the same size! When we got to Bulgaria, it was just too cold and we found a pair of boots for Jessica. We have our tennis shoes tied to the back of our bag and wear our boots every day.
We packed light, and we haven’t found ourselves in any predicaments so far. Of course we’re both excited to see each other in different clothes, but it’s just one of the sacrifices you make.
If you’re going to plan an extended trip like this, keep your itinerary as open as possible. Keep you bags as light as possible. When it comes to planning, that’s our biggest advice! Trust the process and learn your own rhythm along the way. If Jessica, the prototypical over planner can do it, you can too. Trust the process! It’ll all work out (more on that in the next post).
If you have any questions, comment below!
Up next: 5 Months Abroad: How We Did It | Philosophy