Planning destinations (and the order of destinations) of a big trip like this is daunting, especially when there are only a very few places we have no interest in going! Between the weather, events, costs, high/low season and proximity to each other there area a million factors to use to decide. Also having to learn to remember that some seasons are opposite and in many countries the designation of spring/winter/fall/summer is meaningless – rainy/wet is what matters. For those curious this is how we narrowed it down, with a big caveat most of it may still change!
Also many ask: you only book a bit at a time to both leave room for changing your mind and because you can’t truly book flights or most hotels a full year in advance (airbnbs are different in that regard).
1)BrainstormingWe told the kids about this trip about 18 months before our planned departure and started having a few conversations about what they would like to do. We made a huge list of things to do and places to see in a google sheet, and even categorized by what sort of item it was: scenery (glacier), experience (hot air balloon ride), specific location (Dubai). Our idea was to sort and help us make some decisions. Spoiler alert: this wasn’t useful and we never looked at it again. (We do have a nice chart of the summary data though, made by Jack!). It was useful to get some ideas on paper and get the kids engaged in thinking about the trip.(Pre-pre planning we had a map on the wall near the kitchen table. We used sticky-dots for people to put on places they wanted to go on vacation, color-coded by person! This has inspired kids to think about their interests in the world for a while).
2)Anchor points To help us narrow down and pick a direction we decided to pick some “anchor” points that had a timeframe to ground us. One of the earliest was being in the UK for Christmas as it would feel a bit more like home and we might be able to convince relatives to visit there (spoiler alert, we have!). However that could still mean we could start in Asia and move over to Europe or start in South America and fly over to Europe. The Olympics were a bucket-list item for both Steve and I and conveniently they were falling during our planned year, and in Tokyo, no less. We decided it was sure to be an insanely organized AND magically-tech infused experience that shouldn’t be missed despite what was likely to be budget-blowing accommodations. However that quickly became our end point and made our overall direction clearer. (Blog post to come about getting Olympics tickets! It is a bit of a crazy and bizarre process but we seemed to crack the code if you just want to get to events (vs. get to highly specific and/or high profile events). I also really wanted to spend substantial time in Spanish-speaking countries so that I could refresh my former ability, and the kids could pick some up. In addition starting with a language school to jump-start was a must-do. I wasn’t set on countries/locations, though.
3)Realizing you can’t do all your want, or even half of it!Ok, so now we had a list of ideas and 2 big anchor points (London in December, Tokyo in July/early August). I made a Google sheet with columns as months and started putting some ideas down. It was RAPIDLY apparent we could only see so much if we were not to be moving non-stop. Some stability would be critical for both our sanity and because we will be homeschooling the kids as we go and will need substantial time to do that. At this point it logically made sense to start in our own hemisphere and move over to Europe next, so that worked. We also knew we could get free tickets (using miles) to Colombia or Ecuador on JetBlue. (Was strategic to use those miles, as they won’t be helpful again until our return to the states. At some point we will post about using miles/credit card points).
4)Remembering farther is better We, up to now, have not taken trips longer than 10 days, given our typical US vacation schedules/allowances. A couple of years ago we had really wanted to go to Argentina for our kids April break. However, after planning the route /schedule we decided it was just too far to go for 10 days and see what we wanted to. Like the US, flights from one end of the other are quite long, with the added complication of not having tons of flights a day AND most of the flights go through the Buenos Aires, which is at one extreme of the country. (Imagine having to go through DC if trying to get from Key West to Atlanta). So Argentina obviously made it to our itinerary AND the idea of picking those places too hard to go to on a short trip took hold. Obviously there are exceptions to that. Ecuador, our first stop is not all that far, nor is London. It also means we are spending a large amount of time in Australia and New Zealand (at this point slated for 4 ½ weeks EACH).
5) Putting together the pieces…
From there I just played around on the calendar on the google sheet, which quickly moved to an actual calendar in “calendar” on my mac. I made a hold for where we wanted to go and for how long and moved around the places. As we are not in real booking mode, I replaced the holds with real locations/apartments etc. Steve also can see/access this calendar and expect it to be our “Bible” for the next year. I have been tinkering regularly.
6)Our pre-departure plan – constantly changing…Only things in bold italic are booked. We likely will change this as we go as we get our preferred travel speed. The Europe /North Africa itinerary (save London) is not set in stone at all, we very well may change order all around.
Ecuador – 5 weeks including 1 in Galapagos –
Peru / Argentina – 8 weeks
Fly to London for just a day or two
Gibraltar & Andalucía, Spain & Morocco & Spain Skiing – 3 1/2 weeks
Road trip through Toulouse (friends) to Paris -10 days
London mid-December to early January – 2.5 weeks
NEW this week! Berlin (kids request as of last week) – 1 week
Italy / Croatia / Greece -6 weeks
Egypt long weekend ?
South Africa / Tanzania (other?) – 4 weeks
Dubai – 1 week (maybe less)
New Zealand – 4.5 weeks
Australia – 4.5 weeks
SE Asia – 5 weeks
Japan – 3.5 weeks
Hawaii – 10 days