I've been meaning to put together a FAQ list since before I even left the country in 2006. I'm always meaning to do lots of things that never actually happen, but I'm following through this time so that I don't have to keep answering the same email question five times a day. Enjoy!
Q: Who are you, and why did you spend a year traveling the world?
A: My name is Sarah Lane. I had been working in television for about ten years when I decided I needed a break. My husband (who also had been working in television for about ten years) needed a break too. So we both quit our jobs as television hosts (most recently, on the same show), put our belongings in storage, stuffed our backpacks, and headed out in search of the meaning of life.
Q: Did you buy one of those round-the-world plane tickets?
A: No, although a lot of other travelers do. We had specific locations in mind before the trip started, and it just made sense for us to go through a travel agent and get exactly what we wanted, rather than have restrictions such as only moving east-->west, or using a certain airport as a hub. We used a company called Airtreks, which specializes in world travel. I'd recommend them to those who have specific itineraries, but it's definitely not your cheapest option. Airtreks will also allow you to change the date of your plane travel (either for free or for a low sum, depending on the airline), which is great for flexibility, but in my experience doing so is a huge hassle and best avoided if possible.
Q: What did you pack for a year on the road?
A: As little as I could. We were visiting mostly warm climates (or at least warm for that time of year), so I got away with a few t-shirts, a couple of tank tops, one pair of shorts, two skirts (one long and modest, one short and beachy), one pair of jeans, one pair of non-denim pants, a hoodie, two pairs of socks, a pair of flip-flops, and a pair of hiking boots. When I got cold, I bought cheap hats and scarves and left them behind when I got warm again. As for undergarmets, I packed what I would normally need to get through a week, and I'd recommend that to anyone else too. Getting your clothes washed throughout the world isn't difficult, but realistically you're not going to want to do it more than once a week, especially if you're moving around a lot. And it goes without saying that nobody should have to recycle their underwear.
Q: What about washing your own clothing? Couldn't you do that if you had to?
A: Depends. In some areas of the world, water shortages are a real problem, and hotels often forbid you from washing your own clothes in the bathrooms because it drains their supply. I'm sure you could sneak around them, but it's not really worth getting into a fight with the manager if you get caught. Also, you'll be hard-pressed to find Woolite or an equivalent anywhere, so you better bring a lot of it with you from home. However, getting your clothes washed, dried, and pressed is usually extremely cheap, and I always found it more satisfying than trying to do it myself, plus I didn't want to lug around my own detergent.
Q: You updated blogs, photos, and video podcasts from the road. How did you do all that? What equipment did you use?
A: 1 15" Macbook Pro
1 Sony HDR HC1 video camera
1 shotgun mic camera add-on
1 wireless lavalier mic
1 Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT
1 Nikon Coolpix 5200
1 USB memory card reader
-How we maintained our blogs:
We wrote out everything on the Macbook first. Not only does this keep you from having to spend a lot of time and money composing your blog entry while sitting at an internet cafe, but you also have local copies of all your stories for reference. When the blogs were finished, I'd transfer them to the memory card, along with any accompanying photos, and do the rest online from within Typepad at an internet cafe. Once in a while I'd find wifi and be able to skip the memory card step, but not very often. Connection speeds were often slow, which made uploading the photos extremely cumbersome either way.
-How we created our videos:
We shot all our video onto miniDV tapes (which were easy to find when we needed more). We shared the wireless mic for our two-shots, but we could usually get away with just using the shotgun mic around town. We then imported our footage into the Macbook, and edited our podcast episodes within iMovie.
Once edited, we'd import the podcast file into Garageband and add music tracks. Some of the music we used came from pre-bundled tracks, and some of it we composed ourselves pretty easily.
When the podcast episode was completely finished and compressed, I'd FTP the file to my website using Transmit (my fave FTP client for the Mac). This was tricky at times because I'd have to go looking for a way to get the Macbook online, and outside of metropolitan areas, internet access can be very archaic. In theory, I could have just transfer the compressed video file and updated webpage data onto my memory card and used any old Windows machine to upload everything, but I preferred to use my Macbook as a hub whenever possible to keep everything straight.
As for photos, the Canon obviously took better pictures, but sometimes we didn't feel like carrying it around in a backpack. The Nikon was small enough to fit inside my purse, and I never left home without it. Between the two cameras, we were totally covered and managed to take about 10,000 photos.
Q: Wasn't it dangerous to bring all that expensive equipment with you across the world?
A: Yes, but we felt that we needed all of it, so we were careful. Nothing of value ever went into checked baggage on a plane, or baggage that was out of our sight during bus/train rides. When we left the equipment behind in a hotel room, we put everything into one bag, sealed it with a wire mesh and a lock, and then attached it to something heavy, like a bedframe or an armoire. The equipment could still have been stolen if someone was determined enough, but it would have been a big project.
The laptop came in handy in a bunch of other ways. If we were tired or sick, we could watch DVDs in our hotel room. I could adjust the levels of my photos before uploading. All our notes could be jotted down in one place. I could answer all my email off-line and then send it all in a bundle when I found an internet connection. Many backpackers consider carrying a laptop kind of unnecessary and over-the-top, but I wouldn't do it any other way.
*Full disclosure: on our second-to-last day of the entire trip, our video camera was stolen out from under our nose at a busy cafe in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This was completely our own fault. We were close to the finish line, we felt safe, and we let our guard down. Never let your guard down. It can happen anywhere.
**The video camera was insured, so we really didn't lose any money. Don't even think about taking a big trip with a lot of expensive equipment without covering it under travel insurance. Murphy's Law is global.
Q: What was your favorite place from the entire trip?
A: If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that... But seriously, I don't have a single "favorite" spot that stands way apart from the rest. I've seen too many places that were fabulous in their own unique ways. I couldn't possibly compare Moscow with Phnom Penh. However, I obviously have some highlights: St. Petersburg was wonderful. My favorite beaches were in Vietnam and Lombok, Indonesia. I loved the entire country of Laos. I adored the town of Bundi in Rajasthan, India. I think Santorini is world's best honeymoon spot.
Q: Was there anywhere you didn't like, or somewhere you wouldn't recommend?
A: No, but that's just because I never consider a place a failure if I end up not enjoying myself. The experience of having been there and knowing first-hand that I don't like it makes it worthwhile for me. Without getting too preachy, I think that's the attitude you need to adopt when you're doing a world trip, or else you'll get bogged down in all those inevitable cultural differences and drive yourself crazy.
That said, I think if I had to warn anyone about a destination, it would be India. I both loved and hated the place for a million different reasons, and although I'd definitely go back someday, I just don't think it's for everyone. The culture shock is pretty strong. So, there's that. Do your research beforehand and don't let me scare you away!
Q: How much money did you spend altogether?
A: For two people, we spent about $25k over 11 months. The biggest chunk of that went toward plane tickets (about $16k door-to-door). We stayed in budget accommodation, but always spent more than the absolute cheapest option. For example, we never shared a dorm room or shared a bathroom with anyone else. For us, the privacy was worth the extra few dollars spent. I also opted for air-conditioning if we were in a very hot, humid place, but you'll often pay double for that luxury. Most non A/C rooms come with ceiling fans, but even then the temperature can be uncomfortably hot, depending on windows and air flow. Also, you get more for your accommodation money if you're in a pair, since double rooms are never twice as much as singles. Food isn't a huge money concern. You can always get cheap food if you're not a stickler for culinary excellence, and sometimes it's still really yummy.
Q: Did you ever get sick?
A: Yes. Both of us were ill in India on a few separate occasions, but only for a day here and there. Ours were the typical stomach issues where you have to stay near a bathroom, but aren't going to die. We did meet several other travelers in India who had contracted more serious illnesses, some requiring hospitalization, so we consider ourselves very lucky. My advice is to always drink bottled water, never eat any food that looks dirty, has been sitting out for a long time, or might have been washed with contaminated water, and apply hand sanitizer liberally.
Q: What about medication?
A: We bought along a year's supply of Doxycycline, an antibiotic that can be used as an anti-malarial. About five months into the trip, I developed a terrible skin reaction and abandoned the Doxy. I opted not to replace it with another malaria medication because I was having pretty good success not being bitten by dutifully applying mosquito repellent every day. However, some doctors advise against this because malaria is such a serious disease. I'm not a doctor, and I can't tell you what's best for you. I can tell you that an anti-malarial called Malarone seemed to be the favorite among travelers because of its lack of side effects. I had never heard of it beforehand. It definitely wasn't recommended by my former doctor. I'm not sure why.
As for other drugs, we had a small supply of Ambien that came in handy for sleeping on long, uncomfortable, overnight bus rides. Once that bottle was tapped, we roughed it with earplugs and pleasant thoughts, which didn't always work.
We also brought along an antibiotic called Ciproflaxin for general ailments. Our doctor recommended taking it along, just in case, but we never really used it.
Q: What about souvenirs? Did you carry them along, or ship them home?
A: Some travelers end up buying an extra duffle bag as a place to put all of their purchases, and carry that around with them until their trip is over. We opted to ship everything we bought and spare ourselves the inconvenience of extra luggage, which was often mandatory (we couldn't have carried along the living room rug we bought in Turkey even we had wanted to). However, shipping cargo can be sketchy. We sent home a package from Vietnam that had to be destroyed upon arrival in Oakland, CA, after the company demanded over $1000 in customs import fees. We had no way of knowing that would happen beforehand, and didn't get our money back. My advice is to avoid any private shipping company that isn't Federal Express or DHL. You'll pay a lot more to ship through a big name, but the peace of mind is worth it. You can also just stick with post offices, but your package may take months to get home. If expediency isn't important to you, this is usually a cheap and safe bet.
Q: Anything else you want to tell us?
A: Um, not really. But please remind me if I missed an obvious question, and I'll be happy to add the answer to this post.