Have we mentioned lately that we’re having a great time? Here’s what we did to get ready for 13 months abroad.

1. Read a lot of books. Vagabonding by Rolf Potts is a must. There are various “taking a gap year” books, all from England, where the idea of a gap year is not so alien. These books unfortunately use pounds instead of dollars and misspell things all the time (colour? odour?) but have useful info nonetheless. Also, notably readable for Australia was Bryson’s Down Under. I read Ibn Battuta’s Rihla and Marco Polo’s Travels but not so much in the interest of trip research as getting into the mood of the thing.

Of course Lonely Planet is a good read, like sitting down with the dictionary sometimes but hey. For Fiji we got the Moon Handbook, the only time we’ve deviated from the LP orthodoxy – heretics! – and other travelers told us our Moon was more accurate than their LPs.

2. Quit our jobs. Self-explanatory.

3. Sell the house. Followed closely on the heels of 2. Huge thanks here to Tricia. We were fortunate too in the state of the market, which I understand has since seen a downturn.

4. Convince my brother to watch our pets. Adopt may be a better word, given the length of the trip. But we miss Kaya and Ivan!

Marc and Kaya Ivan, in repose
Marc and Kaya; Ivan in repose

And we want them back. Shout-out to Andrew, without whom all our careful calculations would’ve been moot: You have earned a lifetime of good karma. As long as we get, minimum, a 50% survival rate.

5. Get our finances in order. This is the biggest hurdle, the one many people trip over in planning big trips. This category requires subsets, so we will now switch to a letter system. I learned this in school.

a. Make a budget for each country. This may have been a big waste of time since we seem to have abandoned it completely. We spent months poring over travel sites, chatrooms, reviews, travelogues, etc. and plundering our local library for books and videos to draw an accurate picture of likely costs – but very quickly once on the road our calculations needed on-the-fly recalculating, and recalculating again, and again to the point where the original model was obsolete. But it was a nice idea. It was a very nice, colorful Excel spreadsheet.

b. Recruit a mail-minder and Generally Helpful Person (GHP) in the States to keep an eye on matters, including our car. Thanks Lisa’s Dad!

c. Settle, at least in the short-term, all loans.

d. Have a plan for taxes, which of course are filed by April 15 – when we’re scheduled to be somewhere in northern India. In the end we just set aside a day in which to hunker down and do it. Big cities are a comfort in this case since they ostensibly have resources for securely sending documents.

e. Back up everything.

6. Make a Master Itinerary. See “Trip plan”. You might say this was the first of many, many lists, only more comprehensive. This changed radically from week to week, if not day to day. It will consume you.

7. Immunizations! For Hepatitis A and B, you must start six months before departure to get in all three shots. A “Twinrix” shot to cover both is available. Also we got shots for: Japanese encephalitis, polio, meningitis and tetanus-diptheria. We took an oral vaccination for typhoid … Mmm was it good. We’re not headed for any yellow fever areas so we didn’t need to worry about that. All our shots are documented on a yellow International Certificate of Vaccination that no one ever asks to see.

8. Buy equipment and gear. Honestly after years of hiking and camping and liking the way we look in REI clothing, we had just about everything we needed and more. We sprung for a new tent that was too small and after Australia didn’t need it; we shipped it to Germany, maybe we’ll use it in Europe. We bought a state-of-the-art water filter that we never use (that may change in India), because it doesn’t filter out viruses. We recommend Chacos as the best footwear money can buy. Here are the things we really couldn’t live without (back to the letter system!):

a. Flash drive. Lisa’s dad gave us this right before we left and it’s been the most useful thing we have for writing and putting photos on the web, and as a backup for important documents. All you need is a USB port in a web cafe and you’re off to the races. Some cafes however block the USB on their computers; ask before sitting down.

b. A good sleep sack. Some beds out here on the road are sketchy, to say the least. We got silk … there’s nothing like sleeping in silk! Silk dries faster and doesn’t get as smelly as cotton, and you can get a pair of good Vietnamese sacks online for $10 or $15 each. (Go to Vietnam and you can get them for $4-$6 each.) Buy them large, they tend to come small.

c. Power adaptors for each country. Also keep in mind that many U.S. appliances can’t take the amount of power that comes through foreign outlets … this flummoxed us at first. We lost a good wall charger for our iPod out there … good man. Our first casualty. Read the fine print, and also try to get adaptors that have two prongs but take two or three, as many rooms will have only two-pronged outlets.

d. A good light digital camera with a big ole memory card. We were looking at lightness as well as quality of photos so we went with the Canon Powershot A710IS. We have a 6X zoom, which is great, and more features than Lisa, the Official Trip Photographer, knows what to do with.

e. Camp pillows. Those little pillows that fold down into nothing are indispensable.

f. Locks. We have three and we use them all the time. The kind with a retractable cable is great for battening down bags.

g. A good long book you have no hope of ever finishing. Mine is the abbreviated paperback of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. I don’t think I’ve even looked at that thing for three months – but I’ll be damned if I’m going to throw it away. But if I did I wouldn’t have any problem finding a good book in exchange; book stores and exchanges are ubiquitous.

h. Headlamps. Petzl has a huge line of options. If you’re not hiking the Appalachian Trail you really don’t need to worry about weight … worry instead about battery life and brightness.

i. Umbrella. Not for the rain, for the sun. Lisa carries her “sunbrella” everywhere and it has saved her delicate constitution from the ravages of the tropical sun. This is something you’re more likely to buy once you arrive somewhere; you can get one in Asia for a couple bucks. Likewise, get a good hat. Lisa just lost her dollar store straw hat – after six months, I figure she got her money’s worth – but is now hopelessly roaming the markets in search of a replacement.

k. Layers: fleece, silk long underwear and a raincoat. Even in the hottest places it can get cool at night; fleece and silk undies are lightweight and good at higher altitudes. And a good breathable raincoat, such as Marmot’s Precip, the universally acknowledged king of the market, is indispensable.

l. Spare bags. All kinds of bags, especially Ziplocs for odds and ends and electronics. Also, a spare duffel or other big bag to cover your pack for airports and dusty bus rides.

m. Medical kit, including sterile syringes in case you find yourself damaged in the middle of nowhere. We haven’t needed the syringes (knock knock) but the medical kit has been there for us when we most needed it – like when I need a bandaid for my owie. Also we carry antibiotics, which can be difficult to procure in Asia and India.

n. Wow, this list is getting long. See what I’m talking about?

o. Hand cleansing gel. We use it all the time. Magic stuff.

9. Last but certainly not least, we said goodbye to family and friends, a process that took us across the country on a sad but exciting farewell tour. We miss everyone very much and we can’t wait to see some of you in Europe this June, and the rest back in the States (we never called it that before going abroad) in September! Ciao!

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