When we decided to spend 2019 as our first full year of travel, we agreed to leave the U.S. as close to January 1 as possible and return in June to visit family. So that gave us five months for our first “trip” in 2019.
During our three big vacations in 2014, 2016, and 2018 we visited parts of Europe. To start 2019 we were excited to visit new places! But where to start?
To get the conversation going, I reread the book, “The Adventurer’s Guide to Destination Choices – Guatemala, Mexico, Thailand, USA” by Billy and Akaisha Kaderli. I recalled that this book does an outstanding job of comparing each of those countries to the U.S. for a quick and easy introduction to each place. It also makes Guatemala, Mexico, and Thailand sound very appealing! So I decided to choose between Central and South America or Southeast Asia for our first trip in 2019. With that, my research project was underway!
My next step was to go back and reread the various blog posts from Firecracker’s Let’s Go Exploring Series! This is my absolute favorite travel blog. Firecracker’s posts give me a really good sense of what it would be like to visit the places she’s writing about. Oh and by the way – Alison and I love the Millennial Revolution website from FIRECracker and Wanderer. These guys are obsessed with FIRE, investing, and traveling just like us. And their content is not just informative and interesting, it’s also hilarious and fun to read. If you haven’t been through the Millennial Revolution website yet, you are missing out!
While reading FIRECracker’s blog posts I noted mention of Nomadic Matt, so that was the next place I went for more research. Nomadic Matt’s website is full of travel guides with a lot of detail on costs and things to do in each location. The two regions we were considering are both very well covered on his site, with descriptions of a wide variety of different cities in each country. His posts gave me a lot of data to work with.
Since every place I read about sounds fun to me, and we have all the time in the world right now, I just needed something to tip the scales in one direction or another. Should we leave North America and head down to Central and South America? Or should we cross the Pacific Ocean and head to Southeast Asia?
By that point in 2018 the walls of our condo in Seattle were covered with maps! We had a lot of artwork that we loved, but we were so interested in travel that more and more of our artwork was getting tucked behind our bar so we could collect maps and dream about future travel plans. We had a map of Europe on one wall that we had been decorating with dots and routes from our big vacations.
We also had a map of the world on another wall that we were adding new ideas to for 2019. And we had a bunch of smaller maps of specific regions and countries we were interested in. We had added transparency sheets to the maps (nerd alert!) so we could draw routes and stops to different ideas without permanently marking up the maps. So I walked around the condo looking at all of the maps, and I noticed there was a whole wall of Southeast Asia maps but only one showing Central and South America. Aha! Kind of a clear sign right? Duh. We were off to Southeast Asia!
With one region to focus on I was excited to dig deeper into the next round of research (yay!). I reviewed the Travelfish website next since that website is focused specifically on SE Asia. It covers the countries of Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Travelfish content includes a lot of great information about things to do, average costs, weather conditions, and safety in each of those countries. I knew 5 months was not enough time for us to slow travel through all of those countries in one trip, so I would need to narrow it down and pick some favorites.
I also read through the country-specific information available on the U.S. State Department’s website. I’m not willing to be afraid to travel to other countries, and I don’t mind traveling to places that are a bit unsettled. After all, I know what kind of craziness goes on in America (don’t get me started on that topic). I am always on a mission to have too much information (if such a thing is possible) so reading through the information on the State Department’s website helps me feel more informed. I just love doing research!
Since there is life beyond the interwebs we also talked to a bunch of our friends about their previous trips to Southeast Asia. We knew a bunch of people who had been to Thailand before, and a couple others who had been to Vietnam. We also have a friend who lived in Cambodia for a few years who is full of great information about Cambodia. And Alison has a friend she worked with for more than 20 years who was born in Vietnam and has a sister who still lives there.
The last thing I was considering was where I wanted to be for my birthday in May. On Alison’s birthday in 2014 we were in Edinburgh, and on her birthday in 2016 we were in Paris. So I went back over to the world map again and decided pretty quickly that I want to be in Japan this year when I turn 45. That seemed perfect for this trip since Japan is “on the way home” to San Francisco from Vietnam.
At last, we had a general plan for our first 5 months in 2019!
- Fly to Singapore to start (it’s a fabulous hub for the region)
- Travel north through Malaysia
- Visit a couple of islands in Thailand
- Get a first look at Cambodia
- Head back to Thailand to visit Chiang Mai
- Jump over to Vietnam
- Fly east to Japan
And within each country we still have a ton of flexibility to pick the cities we will stay in and the durations for those stays. We enjoy being obsessive planners after spending our careers coordinating projects and teams, so now we get to learn how to “chill out” and be more spontaneous. Being spontaneous is harder than you’d think for us!
So now we are practicing being flexible as we keep adjusting our travel plans along the way. Spontaneity here we come! Maybe…