We keep thinking of something a retired marine biologist said to us in New Zealand: that the Internet will someday eliminate any need to travel globally, or even hemispherically; this is a good thing, he said. Someday soon people will satisfy their curiosities on the web, sparing the world the expense of their travel.

I hope he’s wrong (though I agree fuel costs are a troubling adjunct to exploration). He may be right: but he had no answer for my reflexive response: yes, I said, you don’t need to go there to see what the pyramids look like — but how do you know how they smell? how they feel when you run your hands over them? That irritated our friend, a very respected man in his field.

He is a wise man in many ways, but his opinion in this flies in the face of everything we believe — in our trust in the power of knowledge that comes with encounters with the new and the strange. It may just be the ruminations of man whose traveling — and he did much of it in the course of his career — is ended; it may be an effort to predict the future by someone who spent a lifetime striving to anticipate arguments against his work, and developments, technical as well as philosophical, that would affect it. But it seems shortsighted and we cannot reconcile it.

Anyway, if it’s true no one told the Germans. They seem intent on populating the world with guidebook-toting mountain men and women. The Australians, too. And the English. The Dutch are out here in force, and we seem to meet more and more Italians as we go. Did I mention the Japanese? Don’t forget the globetrotting Canadians.

***

Fox Glacier
Lisa and Marc in ice cave on Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Our trip was two years in the planning. Half of that was because we twice put it off for months at a time – once because of failure to calculate climate difficulties, especially India’s monsoon season, and the other because as the date of departure approached we got cold feet and invented work-related reasons not to go.

Finally we couldn’t stay any longer without permanently losing face with the friends and family to whom we’d bragged incessantly about our “impending” world trip. In the last few months the time flew by, hastened by the awesome load of preparations necessary for peace of mind and wallet (see “Trip prep”). But all along we had the same basic framework to the trip, based on very early determinations about where we most wanted to go.

New Zealand was at the top of the list. Originally our trip began there. Only after we consulted a travel agent, Bernard, from whom we purchased our “round-the-world” tickets, did we insert a three-week preamble in Fiji. Bernard, not incidentally, was to have more critical input on the logistics of The Plan; more on that below.

So, after much wrangling and fretting and research of climate and other variables, we narrowed down our plan to the following itinerary:

Fiji for three weeks
New Zealand for two months
Australia for two months
Southeast Asia for two months
India for two months
Europe for four months

Yes, very vague. Not an accident! Our studies after all included the anecdotal experiences of friends and strangers from the web, and the philosophical rants of unsatisfied members of our own demographic, all indicating one golden rule: Stay flexible! Because the best adventures are often the unexpected ones.

For Fiji and New Zealand, however, we had lots of time and we used it to make necessary reservations and bookings. For example, if one wants to hike the Milford Track on NZ’s South Island one must book it many months in advance. Milford was one of the highlights (so far) of our entire trip. Same goes for the Abel Tasman Track, also on the South Island, and the two resorts at which we stayed in the Yasawas in Fiji.

Lisa and Marc on Milford Track
Lisa and Marc at the end of Milford. She’s actually holding me up I think

Working on the theory, then, that Australia was too far off to outline in detail, we left the planning of it to the latter stages of New Zealand – and that has been our working model for all subsequent destinations. This has advantages – the aforementioned flexibility, an ability to roll with the punches, a willingness to take challenges as opportunities – and disadvantages. The disadvantages are missing out on things that require extra advance booking (doesn’t happen often: for one, we’ve never once been without accommodation because we failed to book ahead: there’s always a place to sleep), and a tendency to stumble into situations with little cultural understanding, little education, know-how, savoir faire. Mostly this just results in bruises to the ego, and we’ve found those heal quickly.

Adjustments

“Round-the-world” tickets give you little more than a means to reach a place and the insensible, irrational need to maintain a fixed date in your schedule.

The ticket dates are of course flexible, at little or no charge – but for some reason changing those dates for whatever reason has been something we are loathe to do. We have done it, more than once, but we hate it. Maybe there’s a comfort to having one permanent, unchanging thing in a life that is at all other times transient, impermanent.

Whatever. The logistical problems remain: Once you get where you’re going, you have to figure out how to get around for the next two months, or however long you plan to be there. For us – and it makes me cringe a bit to say this – since we had the money we resorted to the most expedient means: we took unplanned domestic flights, and we rented cars. We don’t apologize but we also don’t offer our methods as an example to others.

However, if you are so inclined, domestic flights are often quite cheap, and always convenient compared to slogging for days on a bus or sleeping on a wooden plank on a train. Only in New Zealand (so far) have we not taken at least one domestic flight … in Asia and India we have taken or plan to take quite a few.

Important note: one thing that made this, and all other aspects of The Trip, more difficult than expected has been the steady deterioration of the dollar among world currencies. It was shrinking when we got to Fiji, had shrunk considerably and would shrink still more in New Zealand, and was at its worst in memory in Australia. Significant shrinkage. It was still strong in Asia but not as strong as it had been: in Thailand, for example, the dollar had recently been equivalent to 41 baht. When we arrived it was down to 35. This in a country that had just had a coup d’etat, something that normally rattles markets and casts economic indicators into doubt.

It is impossible to say how long this downward trend will continue. Friends we made from the UK, conversely, were having a blast: never has the pound been stronger. As they didn’t fail to keep reminding us.

Bernard

One last note: listen to your travel agent, advisor, whatever you want to call him or her: the guy (or gal) who sells you the tickets knows a thing or two about travel. Bernard from ATM Travel in San Francisco was very helpful (understatement) – and not just in getting what we want, but in enhancing it and our understanding of what the trip would entail. We added Fiji per his advice, and we turned a boring Sydney-to-Bangkok flight into a Sydney-to-Singapore flight followed by a train odyssey through Malaysia and southern Thailand. Much better, thanks.

But also – listen to other travelers. Our itinerary has changed countless times because of advice or warnings we got from strangers we met on the road; likewise we have imparted reams of (hopefully) good advice to others. You see, we’ve learned a thing or two out here. And we quickly realized that we could learn even more by tapping the brains and exploiting the loneliness and frequent drunkenness of the road-savvy. Our agenda has improved immeasurably as a result.

So far, so good.

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