How to Travel the World, One Step at a Time: Step One–The Decision 9


WorldConspires

Jeff and I have taken a ton of trips together in the past two years. Our very first foray as a couple was a week-long road trip around the main island of Japan with a quick dip into Shikoku for Golden Week 2012. We spent a few days in Tokyo for my 23rd birthday; visited Hokkaido during Golden Week 2013; went to South Korea for a week last September; and ventured stateside together this past holiday season. There have been myriad shorter weekend trips sprinkled in between the longer holidays, and we oscillate from traveling as a couple to traveling with another friend or even as part of a larger group. Sometimes, very rarely, we take solo sojourns–I went to Shiga Prefecture for a seminar for the JET Linguistics and Pedagogy course, and Jeff went down to Yokohama about two weeks ago to attend the After JET conference for JETs who are on their last year.

Of course we have a lot of travel still ahead of us, too. At the end of April, we’ll be spending ten days in Taiwan during Golden Week. When our contracts end in July, we’ll fly off to spend a week each in Okinawa, Kyushu, and Shikoku before coming back to Yamagata for one final farewell. We’ll also be bouncing around a fair amount once we get back to the States–a wedding in September here, a wedding in October there, some back and forth between New Jersey and Colorado, a quick visit to California, a hop over to Hawaii–before we finally embark on our “official” round-the-world trip and head to New Zealand at the beginning of November.

The first thing out of anyone’s mouth when Jeff or I list off all our future adventures is normally an envious sigh or some kind of expression of jealousy, followed shortly by an incredulous: “How do you even do all that?”

Well, it’s a process for sure, but I’ll try to break it down into manageable chunks over the next couple of posts. Everyone’s styles are different–some people like to have everything planned out to the very minute details, other people like to let the wind take them where they will without much forethought. I fall somewhere in between: I like to cover all my bases, though I expect that my plans will go awry at some point and try to factor that in.

So where do I start?

Step One–The Decision

Step Two–The Reason

Step Three–The Itinerary

Step Four–The Budget

Step Five–The Booking

Step Six–The Pack

Step Seven–The Trip

As obvious as it might sound, deciding to actually go on a trip is the most important step in the planning process. It’s not enough to think, “I’d like to go to (insert dream destination here) someday,” and then let it float to some distant corner of your mind like any other whimsy. The motivation you need to start pinching pennies to fund your trip simply won’t manifest itself without a firm decision.

A firm decision in my mind means deciding on a location and a departure date, in whichever order suits your situation.

Location, Location, Location

Where have you always wanted to go? If you’re like me and the answer is “everywhere,” you’re gonna have to try and narrow it down; how much you have to narrow it down by depends on how much time you’ll be able to take for your trip.

  • A long 3- or 4-day weekend: pick somewhere close to where you live, preferably within three hours by your choice of transport–you don’t want to waste half of your time traveling to get there. A lot of people (myself previously included) mistakenly think that they have to go somewhere far away for it to “count” as traveling, but there are always unexplored places close to home, even if you’ve lived in the same town your whole life. Mount Zao is only two hours from where we live (three if you’re lucky like we are and run into a blizzard), but we had never been to see the Ice Monsters until we went for our second anniversary last month.
  • 1-2 weeks: Pick a maximum of two areas that are relatively close. Again, you don’t want to be traveling a majority of the time, so find one central area to call home for a couple of days and branch out from there. When we went to South Korea last year, we packed way too much in–Seoul to Gangneun to Busan and back to Seoul. I had a great time, but I know that I would have probably enjoyed the trip a lot more (and might not have gotten sick) if we had hunkered down in either Seoul or Busan and gone out on day excursions from there instead of having to spend hours on buses and trains every couple of days.
  • A month to a year or more: The sky’s the limit at this point, really. Combine a few long weekends and/or a few 1-2 week trips with minimal travel time in between. From the end of July this year, we’ll be going to Okinawa for a week, then to Kyushu for one week, then to Shikoku for one week, and the back up to Yamagata for another week. We haven’t narrowed down where exactly we’ll be in each of the three southern islands yet, but we are going to try to keep it to a maximum of two areas per island.

Departure Date

It doesn’t have to be an exact day, but it helps to aim for a certain month or general time of year. Take out the “someday” and replace it with “spring 2015” or “for my XX birthday” and start treating that deadline seriously: write it down, tell people about it, do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel like it’s real.

When Jeff and I first started tossing around the idea of traveling the world together back in 2012, we decided that we would give ourself one more contract year on JET to save up as much as we could, which made our original departure date “fall 2014.” We wanted at least a month back home to give us plenty of time to recover from the trauma of leaving JET before diving head-first into another adventure. As the years have passed, we’ve whittled it down more and more, so now we have a date of November 4 to New Zealand from Hawaii. Even now, though, that isn’t written in stone until we actually book our tickets.

Your turn!

Where and when is your dream trip? Take that first step and let us know in the comments!

Ready for the next step? Click here to continue to Step Two–The Reason.

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