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Frequently Asked Questions, Tips, and Help

FAQ

Need some planning advice for your trip? Or are you just curious to find out the cost of 16 months of travel? Whatever your motivation, here are Tim's answers to our most frequently asked questions.
  1. How much did this cost you and what will it cost me?
  2. What immunizations did you get?
  3. What visas did you need?
  4. Where did you purchase your tickets?
  5. Where did you stay?
  6. How did you build your website? Did you carry a laptop?
  7. What started your trip?
  8. Is it safe to travel these days?
  9. How did you two travel together and not kill each other?

How much did this cost you and what will it cost me?

Thanks to my anal record keeping, I can tell you to the penny. Sixteen months of travel cost me $18,650, plus an additional $7,732 to cover my home expenses - film processing, shots, insurance, storage, etc. So all together I spent $26,382, or roughly $54 a day. Michelle's budget was considerably less, as she completed her travels three months earlier and didn't go through expensive European countries. Take a look at the line-by-line budget.

More importantly, how much will your trip cost? That really depends on where you are going and how you like to travel. I backpacked on a budget through developing countries, but I also went through Europe and the South Pacific - both topping the list of expensive destinations. I stayed in basic accommodations and self-catered when I needed to, yet enjoyed beer with dinner and spent hours in internet cafes writing for the site. So although I was a budget traveler, I was a comfortable one.

My pre-trip planning turned out to be much more accurate than I imagined - my estimate of $26,529 was only off by $147, or about half a percent! Though I probably couldn't produce such a result again if I tried, you can probably come up with a fairly accurate picture if you follow my few basic steps:

  1. Plan your route: Use resources such as LonelyPlanet.com for destination information. Read travel books in libraries and bookstores, post questions on travel related message boards, and check out itineraries on Round the World tickets. Make sure to read about the best time to visit each destination, as you don't want to be stuck at the beach during a monsoon.
  2. Determine length of stay: Of course you want the flexibility to change your plans while you are on the road, but make up a few dates to start with.
  3. Determine a per diem: How much does it cost to live in each country per day? LonelyPlanet.com lists these numbers pretty accurately and suggests ranges from bare-bones up to mid-range travel. For example, "If you stay in hostels or private rooms and self-cater, you can get by on as little as $X per day, but if you choose to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants you should expect to pay at least $Y and $Z."
  4. List your continuing expenses: Make a list of the monthly bills - health insurance, travel insurance, car insurances, loan payments, monthly bills, and storage fees.
  5. Add on your one-time expenses: What do you need to start the trip? Travel gear, pre-trip shots, malarial prophylaxes, film costs, visas, air tickets, and moving expenses all add up.
  6. Finally, make sure you have enough money in reserves to start you life over when you return home or to provide for emergencies!
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What immunizations did you get?

Enough shots so that I felt like a pin cushion!

Suggested immunizations depend on your destination. It is always a good idea to update the ones you may already have: Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis (DTP), Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR), and Polio (IPV or OPV). But if you are heading for developing countries, it would be wise to seek the advice of a medical center or doctor who specializes in travel medicine.

At the very least, you should get immunizations for Typhoid, Hepatitis A (two shots), and Hepatitis B (three shots) - allow plenty of time for the last, as the full three-shot cycle for Hepatitis B takes around six months to complete. Your travel doctor may also recommend Yellow Fever, Meningitis, or Rabies immunizations. I received all of the above except for rabies. Thankfully, I never needed the rabies shot, but we had a close call when a gang of wild monkeys chased us through the jungle in Indonesia.

You may also need malarial prophylaxis for tropical climates. Different malaria drugs are required for different parts of the world. A travel doctor can best prescribe the malaria pill best suited for your destinations.

Check out the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) Travel website for specific country-by-country information on malaria, travel health, outbreaks, and suggested vaccines.

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What visas did you need?

We started our trip with Indian visas in our passports. Everything else we bought on the road - purchasing our visas for Laos and Vietnam in Bangkok and our visas for Cambodia, Nepal, and Turkey on arrival.

This information changes often, so it would be prudent to check your foreign entry requirements with the U.S. State Department website if you are an American citizen, or with the foreign embassies in your country.

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Where did you purchase your tickets?

We considered purchasing a Round the World ticket from the Star Alliance, but chose not to for two reasons. First, travel must be completed within a year - and we planned to travel for 14 to 16 months. Secondly, their program does not allow returns to the originating country once the trip is underway - and we planned to fly to Hawaii from Panama.

Instead, we went to AirTreks.com and purchased multi-stop tickets on various carriers instead of one huge ticket. So we bought:

  • DC -> Panama City -> LA on Continental
  • LA -> Honolulu -> Samoa -> Auckland -> Singapore on Air New Zealand
  • Singapore -> Bali and Jakarta -> Kuala Lumpur on Malaysian Airways
  • Bangkok -> Ho Chi Minh City -> Bangkok on Vietnam Airlines
  • Bangkok -> Kathmandu -> Delhi on Royal Air Nepal.

(We did up changing this all around, but this gave us a good start. In fact if you are shopping for a ticket, I'd recommend checking out AirTreks.com for no other reason than to play with their trip planner. We had fun with it.)

Our itinerary left us in Nepal, which broke our trip in two and prevented our return flights from expiring after the first 12 months. Our plan was to buy the second half of our journey with AirTreks while on the road, but we found it much easier to purchase our tickets locally instead. Buying piecemeal gave us the freedom to be spontaneous and seemed surprisingly less expensive in Asia. Of course it also had its drawbacks, as we were stranded in Kathmandu for an extra week when we couldn't find an affordable flight out on our preferred date.

Having purchased airline tickets both ahead of time and on the fly, I find it hard to recommend which way is best. I'd say planning is more important in the developed world, where advanced purchases seem to make all the difference. But in Asia, deep discounts are offered to local agents. You can find deals that wouldn't be offered at home. Choosing one way or the other, I'd lean towards maximum flexibility - I'd always prefer to make my mind up as I go along.

Check out these two resources explaining airfare options:

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Where did you stay?

As budget travelers, we stayed anywhere that was cheap. We found our lodging through touts, word of mouth, and relied heavily on our guidebook's suggestions. Every country had something to offer. Here are a few examples:

  • Panama: With friends
  • Independent Samoa: In an open beach fale - no walls
  • Southeast Asia: In lots of budget guesthouses - from $5 a night beach bungalows to a room we rented in Chiang Mai for $72 a month
  • India: In cheap family run hotels, around $5-10 a night
  • Nepal: In lodges while trekking, at less than $2 a night
  • Europe: In pensions, rented rooms with local families, and of course, youth hostel dorm rooms
  • Turkey: In a 2,000 year old cave converted into a cozy room
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How did you build your website? Did you carry a laptop?

We subjected our backpacks to the worst on this trip. They were drenched by downpours, caked in mud, and trampled on. We left them in places that were less than secure, such as open-walled beach huts, Indian trains, and dodgy hostels. We were already carrying a lot of camera gear, gadgets, and audio recording equipment. The last thing we wanted to do was worry about an expensive laptop.

So we built TheTravelYear.com as a database-driven site, one that can be updated from text to maps with a simple internet connection available in any web cafe. This eliminated the need for a mobile computer or any programming while on the road - just type and go.

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What started the trip?

In 1997 I spent a month backpacking around Thailand and had the opportunity to talk to several long-term travelers. Long-term travel isn't typically something Americans do - they are generally too concerned about career and family to take off a year bouncing around the globe, so it was the first time I'd met people with that much freedom. I returned home and found myself dreaming about such a trip.

At the same time, I felt stagnation from working and living at home. I had a good job as a computer professional, a nice place to live, and enough money to enjoy life, yet I found myself waking every morning to the same routine. As it became clear that I needed a change in my life, the seed from Thailand kept growing, urging me on to travel.

At the end of 1999, Michelle and I were working for an internet startup company that was having financial problems. On the eve of the year 2000, we started talking what if... "What if the company goes bankrupt?" Would we travel?

The very next day, on New Years 2000, our company went bankrupt. It was our personal Y2K and a clear sign that it was time to leave.

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Is it safe to travel these days?

People asked us the same question before we left, before 9/11. I'd still say the same thing - I live in Washington, DC. I live in America. We have one of the world's highest murder rates. Leaving the country could actually be safer.

Of course, it pays to read the news and keep abreast of local events when you are on the road. The US Department of State maintains a frequently updated list of Travel Warnings. They even have a handy mailing list that you may want to subscribe to. Giving out advice in the land of lawyers can make the State Dept. a little over-cautious at times. Look for a second opinion from a nation of travelers, from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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How did you two travel together and not kill each other?

Because I'd worked with Michelle for over six years before our departure, I had a fair idea that our travel styles would be similar - that we both deal with stress and problems in the same way and that wanted to travel at the same pace. All the same, we made it clear before leaving that one of us could ask for time away and that the other would have to accept it with no questions asked. Surprisingly, neither one of us needed to resort to such measures. I guess we were lucky.

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