Nothing like waiting until the last minute to get everything ready to go. I am not normally like this. I tend to have my bags packed days before I leave. But this trip has proven to be harder to prepare for than I anticipated. So it is 8:30 pm, and my sister is picking me up at 10 am tomorrow, and I still have much to do before I leave for seven weeks.
Many people have been surprised when I told them that I have planned a trip for seven weeks. I didn't win the lottery, do no have an overly generous employer (well, maybe I do since I work for me!), and I don't have staff to back me up while I am gone. But you only turn 50 once, and there are still so many places that I want to go!
This trip planning started over a year ago. My older sister and I are what are considered "Irish twins" - we were born within a year of each other. In our case, we were actually born in the same calendar year - she was born in January and I was born in December. When we turned 40, we celebrated the milestone with a trip to Antarctica. It was a great trip so we decided that we would do something big for 50.
We go the idea that we would go "Around the World". Each of us had read stories about people who had done such a trip, so we settled on the idea, but never really did much about it.
In January, 2016, my sister started doing the research for our trip. She's a professor and very organized so I let her put the big picture together. It's fair to say that she quickly experienced sticker shock. Going around the world is bloody expensive! And really involves either a significant commitment of time or the desire to spend a lot of time moving from place to place. We started to look into other ideas.
Since I work for myself, I wanted to spend the whole summer on this trip. My sister decided that she really only had a month available to travel. So we decided that I would do some independent traveling on the front end and the back end, but we would meet in Indonesia and then go to Central Australia together. It felt like a plan was coming together.
Since we were looking at traveling to Australia, I considered going to New Zealand at the start of the trip. But our summer is New Zealand's winter, which would mean that I would have to pack for multiple seasons. Not easy when you are trying to travel light.
The next option was Thailand. I have been to Vietnam and Cambodia, but I have not seen Thailand. A friend was initially considering joining me for this part of the trip, but we definitely had different ideas about how to do this portion of the trip. She wanted a tour and I wanted to wing it. And as our planning progressed, I realized that family issues were going to make her travel difficult, so I decided to go it alone.
I really don't mind traveling by myself. The first time I ever went abroad was to Ireland for one week by myself. Since that trip, I have traveled by myself to Costa Rica, Vietnam, Cambodia, and done a semester abroad with lots of solo trips mixed it. I find that being by myself often makes it easier to meet locals.
When my job was eliminated in 2013, I took advantage of a severance period and took on international volunteer trips in Ecuador, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. These turned out to be amazing experiences where I had the chance to learn about the local culture and meet people from all over the world. I have learned that international volunteering is a great way to travel solo.
With this in mind, I reached out to the agency with which I have volunteered before - IVHQ out of New Zealand - and found a volunteer project in Chiang Rai on the northern border of Thailand. I have a few days in Thailand before I start volunteering so I will spend 2 days in Bangkok before I fly north. My volunteer project will last a week, and then I have five unplanned days in Thailand before I head to my next location.
I will meet my sister in Jakarta, Indonesia. She is in charge of this part of the trip so I don't really know what we have planned. It looks like we have 2 1/2 weeks to get from Jakarta to Bali, with lots of places to see along the way.
When we leave Indonesia, we will head to Central Australia. My sister was an expat in Australia, and saw much of the country. But she never made it to Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock). We will spend some time in Alice Springs and traveling through Australia's Northern Territory.
When we leave Australia, my sister heads home and I will head to Zambia for another volunteer project. Why Zambia? Why not? I have heard that Victoria Falls, which is near Livingstone, the town in which I will volunteer, is a spectacular site. So I will spend a week volunteering and then a few days in Victoria Falls before heading home.
With travel time, I will be gone for seven weeks. It's a long trip, but I cannot wait! And, as an aside, because of how my flights work out, I will be flying "Around the World"!
Happy 50th birthday to me!