Many of you at home have asked us to describe our “normal” day on the road. This is an impossible task, because there is no normal day. There isn’t even a normal week. We piece together different forms of travel for different parts of the trip. I will elaborate later, but by means of travel, I do not mean mode of transportation–I mean the whole shebang, the complete travel experience. At times this creates problems as we have to adjust from one routine to establish another, but on a whole it keeps the entire trip free and new. To understand what I mean, here is our list of different approaches to travel.
Phase 1 American tourists on a self-guided rapid exploration – New Zealand and the first week of Australia.
During this time we were our own travel agents. Since we were in a hurry to see things, we were in constant motion touring these two countries in a camper van and a minivan respectively. It was a great way to jam a lot of cities, sites, and activities into a small amount of time, but at the end of it we were more tired than when we began.
Phase 2 Australians on Holiday – Next 3 weeks of Australia – We spent a 3 lovely weeks in Caloundra just hanging out by the beach, much like an average Australian family on holiday. We factored in some activities but most of our time was focused on relaxing, doing school work, and meeting people.
Phase 3 Backpackers – 3 months in China and Southeast Asia – When we all went to REI and picked out our backpacks, this is the kind of travel we had in mind. We moved from place to place but at a slower pace than in Phase 1. When things felt right in a city, we stayed longer then we planned, e.g., Beijing, Hanoi, Saigon. When things didn’t go well we just packed up and left, e.g, Xian, Mui Ne. One of the highlights of this form of travel is the many new friends we made along the way. The low point however is the number of days we had to sleep in our mummy sacks for fear of catching something from hotel bedding. There is a way of avoiding this, which we use whenever the budget allows: bumping up to Flashpacker level. Flashpackers travel independently and spend just enough money to avoid bugs and have their own bathroom. Whenever things get too rough on the accommodation front, we throw in a stay at a Sheraton using our Preferred Guest points. A little luxury never hurt anyone.
Phase 4 Volunteers – 3 1/2 weeks in Chennai, India – 3 1/2 weeks teaching, playing and living with kids. Our rambling ways were put on pause as we lived in the volunteer home/preschool. Trying to overcome the massive culture shock India imposes on Westerners, we stayed close to home and tried to acclimatize ourselves gradually. We were so glued to the home that we didn’t even have time to go and explore Chennai or Mamallapuram (the Unesco World Heritage site 50k down the road). Oh well…next time.
Phase 5 American tourists on a travel agent-guided exploration – This is the phase we are in right now. In general we avoid travel agents and prefer to set our own itinerary and make our own arrangements. India is so overwhelming in its size and cultural differences that Anne decided she would turn the details of our non-volunteering phase over to an agent in Delhi who came highly recommended. She gave him a list of cities we wanted to visit and things we wanted to do, and he magically turned them into an itinerary complete with hotels, a few activities, three flights, a train ride, and some drivers. Doing so came at a price, and much like when building a house, the specified budget fell by the wayside. (Fortunately we were under budget throughout Asia, because we’re making up for it now.) With the arrangements worked out and a driver to whisk us from place to place, our pace has picked up significantly. We are seeing one city a day and covering a lot of ground. As a result we’re exhausted and will probably put the brakes on in South Africa.
I personally like the backpacker form of travel the best. I don’t mind the smells or the bugs, and I think the pace gives you more insight into a place and its people. The rapid exploration phases check more things off the list and generate many more pictures per day, but the speed wears the family out and tensions build as we focus more on getting to the next place than enjoying where we are. It also costs much more per day because as we’ve learned: motion=money.
I polled the rest of the family and here is what they like best:
Anne – Backpacker…ok Flashpacker (she has a thing about cockroaches)
Dax – Holiday
McKane – Volunteering
Kieran – Self-guided exploration
Asher – Self-guided exploration
I guess with that tally we will keep mixing it up. We still have a number of phases left, and I can’t say with any certainty which of the upcoming countries will fit in each category. I assume we will go back to being backpackers in South America, take a bit of a holiday in South Africa, and have spurts of rapid exploration in Eastern Europe. No matter how it turns out, it’s been a great benefit of this trip to learn we can do it all. Previously we were very good at rapid exploration. Our standard two week vacations (17 days with weekends and holidays) were always a rush to see as much as possible. We would throw in a couple of beach days to try and relax, but many times those days became the casualties of some other interesting temple, museum, or architectural wonder we needed to hurry and get to. It’s hard to imagine how we’ll ever travel in two-week windows again, but there’s a good chance we’ll bust out of our traditional mode and take more time to smell the roses…or the incense.