Nope, didn’t use a travel agent or a tour company to plan our itinerary. Here’s how the process went:
- Picked a date – Frank was teaching a law school class until mid-December, so we had to wait until then. Of course we decided to stay for Christmas since it was so close to that. And then it was my 60th birthday in late January – wouldn’t want to miss that. So we decided that we would leave on February 1st, 2016.
- Pick a direction – Starting a vacation in February meant that we should head south of the equator. We had a number of friends who had second homes in Costa Rica. Our friend Jeff recommended Manuel Antonio, about an hour out of San Jose and on the coast. We bought a one-way ticket to San Jose, Costa Rica for Feb 1st. With that stake in the ground, we started to do some more research.a
- Found Top Destinations – We found a number of resources on the internet that helped. Trip Advisor and others listed top rated places in South America and also for each country. Asking Google, we found other top destination lists, including cities that were LGBT friendly. Also found lists that showed the cost of various cities around the world. We took all of the lists, and some of our own favorite dream destinations, and came up with our personal top list, for the Americas, Europe and Asia.
- Researched each Location – With an outline in mind, we dug in and started to do more research on each location, focusing primarily on South America. We plan to use Airbnb for most of our accommodations so reading reviews of apartments in each city gave us not only a sense of the cost for an apartment, but a feel for the desirability of specific neighborhoods.
- Priced Travel – Turns out it is cheap to fly within most South American countries, and crazy expensive to fly from one country to another. So expensive, that it really forced us to start limiting how many countries we might visit south of the border.
- Found Anchors – To plan a whole year is a little overwhelming. It is easier to find anchors to plan around. It is easier to plan six weeks between anchors than it is to plan a full year.
- We found a two-week cruise that sailed from Valpariso, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina on March 6th to March 20th. That solved some problems. It was a heck of a lot cheaper to take a cruise than to try to see that many cities by air. It provides us some pampering in the middle of our first leg. It got us to Buenos Aires, our primary target in South America. That also provided a definite date to arrive in Buenos Aires, so we booked an apartment for ten days there.
- We also found a two-week cruise that sailed from Santos Brazil to Barcelona Spain on April 10th. Now we just needed to plan the three weeks between arriving in Buenos Aires and our next departure six weeks later. Again, a definite date in Barcelona so another apartment locked in.
- Finally, we needed to be back in California for the wedding of Frank’s son on July 15th. And since we were coming back to the states, we included a visit to Frank’s mom in Philadelphia for the 4th of July. That made our first eight-week leg in Europe more manageable. We decided to fly from Paris, allowing us another date-certain, so we booked a great apartment in Paris for two weeks prior to flying to Philly.
- Talked to Friends – Planning is also easier if we can get friends to join us for a segment. Two friends are joining us for the cruise from Chile to Buenos Aires. Great! Two other friends offered to guide us around Brazil for ten days (Dave was an exchange student in Brazil in high school and speaks fluent Portuguese). The same friends, David and Dave, were already renting a house in the south of France for six weeks and asked us to join them for a week. That provides us yet another anchor in the middle of our first Europe leg. Yay!
- Outlined an Itinerary – We dropped our top cities into an Excel Spreadsheet, thinking we would do South America, Europe, Australia and Southeast Asia, and guessed at how many days we might want to stay in each, with a guideline of no fewer than seven days per location. Our rough plan was to stay in South America until it was warmer in Europe, then head across for the spring thru fall in Europe, followed by a dip south again next winter, to Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. With all of our cities and 7+ days in each, it wasn’t hard to fill in a year.
- Left Open Dates – With various anchors, we have also left some free time. Our first stop is Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica. We booked a place for the first week. That leaves us with nine days free before our flight to Ecuador. Our intention is to talk to enough fellow travelers the first week that the second half of our Costa Rica adventure will fall into place. Same thing with Ecuador. We have booked a place for the first four nights. After that, we have six days free before our flight to Santiago.
So that is how we approached it. The spreadsheet helped to conceptualize it. A few anchors helped to break it into chunks. A couple of cruises provides some pamper. A little unplanned open space makes it an adventure.