I have tried to trace back my insatiable desire to see the world to a certain event or place in time and I have continually come up empty handed. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with the world. Different cultures, foods, religions, physical appearances, natural landscapes, foreign languages… all of it holding an everlasting vice grip on my curiosity.
Halong Bay, Vietnam
As a child, this curiosity was engaged by my family, planning yearly trips to international destinations as well as supporting my desire to enroll in a foreign exchange program at 17 with Rotary International. In college, I studied French & Spanish and lived in Paris for 6 months. Post college, I’ve continued to add stamps to my passport, soaking up new languages and locations. Working in corporate America and being confined to a mere 2 weeks of paid time off had certainly limited my abilities to add more international destinations to the docket, but the burning desire to see more and experience more continued to persist.
Two years ago, I decided that it was time to get serious about my plans for an extended trip and I began developing my plan. I knew I wanted to travel for a longer period but I wasn’t sure how to sustain it financially. I also wasn’t sure I was ready to detach from the safety net of a steady recruiting position.
The first part of the planning was simply me making a decision to see a certain number in my bank account before quitting my job and setting out on a global jaunt.
The second part of the planning was deciding where in this expansive world I wanted to visit.
As the universe would have it, a few different signs were presented that led me directly to Asia.
Little India, Singapore
The first was a conversation I had with a friend about an elephant sanctuary in Laos - it was intended that we would go there together for a shorter trip and that would be my first foray to Asia.
The second sign came in the form of a book that I stumbled upon at St. Vincent de Paul. I was drawn to the golden spine on the shelf as well as the exotic sounding title of Shantaram. Without knowing what the book was about, I opened to the inside cover and noticed an inscription. A friend, welcoming a couple to Bombay in March of ___. How appropriate. It was March of 2019 when I discovered the book, and the inscription was from 10 years earlier. I scratched my head and pondered the journey that this book had taken to go from Bombay (Mumbai) India to little ol’ Hartford, WI. I declared that it was no coincidence that this book had ended up in my possession. After all, India had always been on my radar thanks to my love of yoga and spirituality.
Ok, so it was declared that Asia would be the general region. Great!
Next up, the job.
I grew up in a household that pontificated on the idea of always having a job, or if not, having one lined up. Financial security was a big topic of conversation and the idea of not having income scared the hell out of me. I spent the better part of 2019 overcoming fear of leaving a steady, conventional recruiting job and putting more faith in myself as a professional photographer. That was hard, guys.
As the months passed, I continued to plug money into my bank account and started to be more vocal with close friends and family about my intentions to travel… however, at that point, I was focused on a departure for the end of 2020.
Hoi An, Vietnam
By late summer of 2019, the internal urges were growing louder and they soon became nearly impossible to ignore. My soul wanted out of a desk job and into adventure and entrepreneurship.
By the end of October, my bank account goal had been surpassed and the universe’s nudges to quit my job were incessant. I couldn’t make excuses anymore. The criteria I had set for myself was realized and it was time to shit or get off the pot. I resigned from my recruiting job on October 31st and from there, the planning accelerated. Instead of heading out on my world tour at the end of 2020 as I had previously hoped, it seemed that the stars were aligning for a departure the first quarter of 2020!!
Initially I was set on traveling entirely solo but as luck would have it, one of my girlfriends had also been planning a trip. Our paths crossed on the topic and we quickly decided to do the large majority of the journey together. From there, it was time to research Asian destinations that would make their way into our itinerary.
Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Now, admittedly, ever since seeing Eat, Pray, Love, both Bali & India had been on my list so I knew for certain that I would need to be visiting both of those locations. Asia is a really interesting continent, in that it is relatively easy and inexpensive to jump from one location to another. This was both exciting and daunting considering that Asia consists of 48 countries. It is also the largest and most densely populated continent on the planet. Oy vey!
Ok, so knowing that both Bali and India would play a part in this adventure, it was necessary to decide which one to see first and plan the route from there. I landed on Bali first.
India is huge. It is a freakin’ sub-continent for crying out loud. My thought was that I would ease into Asia by visiting Bali and be better adjusted to Asia by the time the India leg of the trip rolled around. (Everyone says India is like no other place on planet Earth… chaotic, stinky, colorful, vibrant, aromatic, spiritual, scenic, multicultural, etc) Bali seemed like a location that I could navigate confidently on my own, as Hannah would not be meeting up with me until several weeks later. It was important for me to do a portion of the journey solo in order to build confidence and trust in myself as a world navigator. So, the first three weeks I would be alone, and the following 2.5 months, I would be roaming Asia with my gal pal Hannah.
Here is the rundown of each location and what drew me to them in the first place:
Bali, Indonesia: Lush green vegetation, vegan food and fresh juices, yoga & spirituality.
Lombok, Indonesia: Neighboring island to Bali and significantly less touristy, gorgeous natural landscapes and fabulous Indonesian beaches.
Singapore: Originally overlooked, but so happy to have added this modern, island nation to my itinerary. In all honesty, I kind of went in blind to Singapore but as soon as I arrived, I quickly realized what an awesome location it is. Singapore is very clean, very efficient and very safe. It is home to amazing cultural diversity and a rich food scene.
Thailand: Elephants. Waterfalls. Food. (Beaches, lots of people flock to Thailand for the beach scene and in hindsight, I wish that I had visited some of these locations too.)
Cambodia: Angkor Wat. Island life (Hannah wanted to do some scuba diving off of Koh Rong).
Vietnam: Food. Natural landscapes including Halong Bay & the Hagiang Loop. Culture.
Sri Lanka: Gorgeous landscapes including mountains, tea plantations, and beaches. Lots of hiking. Safari.
India: Yoga. Food. Spirituality. Beaches. Taj Mahal. Culture.
Haji Lane, Singapore
Of course, I’ll dive into each of these locations and subsequent cities in future entries. Each draw was simply a starting point for our research of each country. From there, we broke it down further by city and points of attraction as well as routes and modes of transportation (of which there were PLENTY).
(You may notice that Laos didn’t make the final list - unfortunate circumstances with my friend’s friend resulted in not being able to visit the aforementioned elephant sanctuary. Luckily, I was still able to experience elephants in Thailand. Laos, I’ll be back for you at a later date!!)
Outlining the above destinations was truly only the first piece of the puzzle. The reality of the trip set in as soon as I hit “Complete Purchase” on my one-way flight to Bali, Indonesia in December. When the confirmation hit my inbox, a flutter of irrational excitement set in and the gloves were off. I was heading to Asia for 3 months!!
The planning that ensued was fast, furious and exciting!!
Step one: Decide you want to travel.
Step two: Do whatever it takes to GO!
How do you typically land on a destination when planning a vacation or trip? Do you give the globe a spin and blindly point a finger at wherever it lands? Do you take the advice of others into consideration? Share with me!!
What questions do you have? Stay tuned for more entries on planning an extended international trip!!