When we tell people that we quit our jobs to travel the world, the first question that we get is where are you going?
Determining Where to Travel
Andy and I had discussed where we would want to travel during our trip. We knew that it would be most cost effective if we were able to stay in the same region for the bulk of the trip. After doing some digging we settled on Central/South America.
We chose Central/South America because:
- We could avoid winter by traveling to the southern hemisphere
- In general, it is a pretty inexpensive place to travel
- It is off the beaten path, not a lot of people travel there
- There are a lot of cool things to do
Selecting Our Route
From doing some research on how to plan a round the world trip, the easiest way to start is to determine the places that you HAVE to see (known as pillars). Once the pillars are selected, you can back into the best routing to get from point A to point B.
- Belize barrier reef
- Machu Picchu
- Salt Flats of Bolivia
- Galapagos Islands
- Iguazu Falls
There were other places that we wanted to see on our trip as well, but these were our non-negotiables. I spent quite a bit of time on Rome2Rio which gives both routing and pricing to get from point A to point B. The transit options range from trains to busses and ferries to flights.
We wanted to start our trip in Belize. It is the northernmost point on our trip, the currency is the US dollar and everyone speaks English. We know that as we travel more that things will continue to get more and more challenging. Starting in Belize gives us a week to dip our toes into long term travel without having to dive in head first.
As I started to plan our route through Central America, I read a lot about the political situation within Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Choosing to avoid putting ourselves in any danger, we opted to fly from Guatemala directly to Panama. Typically these flights go for $700 each ticket, well outside of our budget. Luckily we were able to purchase tickets with 10,000 United Airlines miles and $7. Without the use of miles, we may have had to start our trip further south, shortened our trip or cut out some of our more expensive destinations to avoid going over budget.
I hit another wall when I tried to route us from Panama to South America. I had never heard of the Darien Gap before planning this trip, but quickly learned there is no overland travel between Panama and South America. This left us with 2 options – fly or sail. After looking into the sailing trips, we knew that was the direction that we wanted to go. It was off the beaten path and an adventure in itself.
Once we hit Cartagena, Colombia, our trip becomes quite fluid. We want to stay flexible throughout as much of the trip as possible. We know that there would be some cities that we will love and want to spend more time in, while others we may want to leave quite quickly. There is a rough routing of where we plan to go, but this is very dynamic and will likely change several times throughout the course of our trip.
Our rough itinerary for Central & South America
Caye Caulker, Belize
Santa Elena, Guatemala
Panama City, Panama
San Blas Islands, Panama
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Amazon Jungle, Peru
Lake Titicaca, Peru
La Paz, Bolivia
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Patagonia (Chile & Argentina)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Punta del Este, Uruguay
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Iguazu Falls, Brazil
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Expanding the Scope of Our Trip
When Andy and I were pulling together our pillars for the trip, we started to get sad that there were other things in the world that we wanted to see but wouldn’t be able to experience on this trip.
- African safari
- Great pyramids
After a little digging, I found a sweet spot in the United Airlines award chart. Flights from Brazil to South Africa are only 30,000 miles – that’s only 5,000 miles more than a round trip domestic flight! Since we there wasn’t a financial burden to get to Africa, we were able to expand the reach of our trip to include both Africa and Europe.
Our rough itinerary for Africa & Europe
End of January & February
Cape Town, South Africa
Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
Determining the Timing of Our Trip
Our biggest variable was one outside of our control. In order to begin our trip we had to close on our condo and quit our jobs. Once we had the offer we were relieved, but until our buyer secured her mortgage, we were cautious with getting too far on planning. As things fell into place with the sale of the condo, we were able to move forward with our planning as well as give our notice at work.
Since we are going to be gone for 7 months, including the Holidays, we knew that we needed to see our families before we left. Knowing this, we gave ourselves 2 weeks to tour the US to say goodbye to everyone before we fly out on our trip.
To get a rough timeline of the length of our trip we leveraged an electronic calendar where we could estimate how many days we would be in each location. While this isn’t an exact science, it got us in the right ballpark. We modified this calendar several times before we got things right – fitting both our budget as well as the right amount of time (but not too much).
We plan to spend at a minimum 3 days in each city and some up to 2 weeks. In order to keep our trip as flexible as possible, we only have a date that we need to leave South America to fly to Africa. The rest of our time within South America can shift as we need it.
Estimating the Cost of Our Trip
Coming up with the cost of a trip like this can be tricky. It could cost very little if we chose to stay in the cheapest hostels and opted to get around on the least expensive busses which are not known for their safety. In the same respect, it could cost a fortune if we stayed at the nicest hotels and opted to fly everywhere. We needed to do something in the middle.
I did some research online about the actual costs of a trip and the numbers were all over the board. From there I knew that I had to move to a WAG (wild ass guess) method.
I estimated what I thought several categories (lodging, food, transportation and miscellaneous expenses) would cost us in each city. The lodging and transportation numbers were reflective of actual costs that I had found online pretty easily. The food and miscellaneous were tricky to estimate but I did the best I could.
Once I had the totals plugged into excel, I bumped up each number a little bit, knowing that I would rather be over-prepared than underprepared. I then took those numbers and added a 25% overage – this is my worst case scenario number.
Fortunately, my totals were in line with what we expected and had saved for. If we had gone over, we would have had to cut down the length of the trip or remove some of the more expensive cities.
Stretching Our Budget
Previously when we have been on vacations, our time is worth more than our money. We often times splurge to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. This trip is the exact opposite; we have a ton of time and are stretching our money as far as we can.
To help stretch our money, we plan to:
Take a bus instead of flying
Since many of the countries that we are visiting are less developed, airline travel is not common and quite expensive. This means that we’re going to be traveling like the locals do, taking the bus. While your mind may instantly go to Greyhound, that is not the case in South America. Many of these busses are quite luxurious – offering business class service which includes 180 degree lie flat seats, meals and in some cases even wine!
The travel times on busses can be quite long. Some of the routes that we are taking are up to 24 hours in transit time. Our hope is that if we splurge the extra few dollars for business class seating, it won’t be too bad. Plus we will be saving the cost of a night of lodging, get to experience the local culture and see the country as we drive through it.
Cook our own food
One of our lodging requirements (whenever possible) is access to a kitchen. An added bonus is if our accommodations also include free breakfast. Both of these will help us keep costs in check as we won’t need to eat out quite as much.
Neither Andy nor I are huge foodies. Our preference is to eat inexpensive local fare over a gourmet restaurant. Not only will this already established preference help our budget but it will also help us immerse ourselves into the local culture.
Stay at inexpensive places
We have accounted around $50 per night for our lodging. If we can find clean, centrally located accommodations for less than that, we will always book the cheaper accommodations. We know that there will be times where we will have to go over budget and this will help us build up a buffer for those instances.
Since one of our requirements is having access to a kitchen – most hotels are out. We are primarily searching through Airbnb and Hostelworld to find our accommodations. Being older and married, we are opting to get our own private room instead of shared dorms but are open to sharing bathrooms with other travelers should that be a requirement to get a well-priced room.
It is hard to believe that everything we set into motion is falling into place and that we’re actually taking this trip! It is hard to believe that a little less than 3 weeks from today we’ll be celebrating our 1 year anniversary on the beach in Belize.
I can’t imagine doing this journey with anyone besides Andy by my side. Not only is he a whiz when it comes to directions, something that I struggle with, but he also has a way of calming me when I start to panic. While I am sure we’ll have our struggles of being together 24-7 for 7 months straight, I know that we will come out of this stronger than ever.
We have a few friends and family members who are journeying out to meet us while we are on our trip. I’m already excited that there will be some familiar faces when we’re on the road, especially after going so long without seeing anyone that we know. I truly believe that our favorite part will be sharing the unique experience of our extended trip with them, even if it is only for a short period of time.