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Let’s suppose you’ve taken the plunge and committed to A Big Trip (3+ months).  Chances are you have some idea of where you want to go: Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia are popular destinations for long-term Western travellers. You probably also have the when pretty much covered.

To ensure that your trip turns out to be all you had hoped it would be, it’s time to also start fleshing out the who, why, what and how of the trip.

I’ve come to the conclusion that solo travel scares the wits out of people for two equally compelling reasons: all the what-ifs you’ll have to figure out on your own if there isn’t someone to muddle along with; a sense of discomfort in being alone. Maybe also a fear of being perceived as a loser with no friends.

Many people will jump on the opportunity to travel with someone, anyone, just so they can make the dream trip happen. Travel will put a lot of stress on you and your relationship with your travel companion(s). Think long and hard before agreeing to travel with someone.

Have a contingency plan in case your travel companion(s) bail on you. This last bit of advice holds for families planning to travel with teens ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

penshaw monument

Penshaw Monument, England  – We visit a lot of heritage sites on our trips

Not to be age-ist but I see many young people embarking on a big trip out of a sense of obligation. That said, there is an older minority of reluctant world travellers: parents who feel a duty to take their kids to another country. While travel is a mind-expanding experience, there are lots of other ways to achieve personal growth. Be honest with yourself about why you want to travel.  You don’t have to justify your reasons to anyone else.

The “what” aspect is closely tied to the why.  What do you want to see?  Think about the things you enjoy doing and are passionate about.  In your daily life, what are the things that mean the most to you. What do you dislike or have no interest in doing?  What causes you anxiety?

For me that would be:

  • Passionate about: heritage conservation, art, architecture, learning
  • Daily life: walking, biking, cooking, homeschooling, writing, puzzles
  • Dislike/No interest in: Roller coasters, crowds, standing in line
  • Anxiety: Cliffs

Thinking about the what will help you determine the activities that will shape your trip: volunteering to rebuild stone walls in Wales versus taking a painting course in Provence versus renting an apartment in Tokyo for a month.

zombies come to wales

Ancient stone walls are everywhere in Wales

Now that you know why you’re going and what you want to do (the who is iffy up until the day you return!), you can think about the how.  Most travellers start with the how.  Big mistake.

Typical scenario: Everybody’s taking a gap year so I better do that too.  I don’t have a lot of money so I’ll backpack and stay in youth hostels.  Sarah and Jessy are kind of flaky and sometimes get on my nerves but they’re going to Thailand just like me and they’ve offered to have me join them.  Plus they’ve already done all the research and planning.

Stop right there!  Even if you already know who you’re travelling with, each person should write out for themselves, the whys and whats.  Only then can the how be determined.

In our case, we will be backpacking around Asia, moving from place to place.  This is the same thing we did in 2014.  Then, we will lease a van and drive around Europe for a year or so.  Also, same as what we did in 2014.

pink poppy

Staying put this year means we get to enjoy a lot of local beauty.

Pondering the whys and whats, we will be doing some things differently this time.  Most notably, in Europe, we plan to stay put for a month at a time in most places.  This will allow us to save money on accommodation/gas, alleviate stress associated with constant moving, reduce pressure on our single driver, and encourage us to immerse ourselves in a place.

We’ll also establish ourselves, after we’ve returned the van, in a city where we don’t need a vehicle.  Then we’ll use our home base to occasionally venture further afield using discount airlines such as RyanAir.  I can see us based in Munich and jumping on seat sales to visit Morocco, Greece, Estonia, Poland…