After years of dreaming of travel but never having the courage to start, I now (at the age of 33) have decided it is now or never!
There are numerous places I would love to visit and many sights I long to see. My initial reaction is to head towards Thailand due to the vast numbers of first time travellers that head there. But I'm not interested in the partying/drinking culture associated with some areas and I more importantly don't want to miss out on seeing what India has to offer first. Can anyone share their experiences of starting their journeys in India before moving on to other countries?
I would also like to go to Australia, New Zealand and South America. I plan to travel anywhere from a minimun of 6 months to until I can financially no longer continue. How much, in people's opinions, should I look at planning before it becomes too unrealistic? The more I look into where I would like to go, the more my ideas snowball and plans start to get out of hand.
In general, what advice can people offer in order to help me get things underway? Any and all advice is greatly appreciated!
The reason ideas snowball out of hand is that there's a lot of world out there, too much to do in a first trip. Don't feel you have to do everything at once, there isn't a clock ticking. I'm over a decade older than you and I'm planning to keep enjoying travel for a long time yet.
I think India is a difficult first destination, it's a challenging place. Independent travel takes getting used to, and while you cherish the stimulation of seeing things which are a bit alien, too much of that and you can suffer from culture shock - it stops being fun and becomes a chore, trying to cope with each day. Starting with some easier travels can ease you into this.
This is only my opinion, let's see what others have to suggest.
My own favourite would be to start with an easy but rewarding destination like New Zealand. If you can, take a single trip there of two or three months. Choose a flight with a stopover in Bangkok for a few days of temples and alienness - doing it briefly won't be a problem and will help you know what to expect from a longer trip. But NZ has a familiar enough culture to make coping a doddle while having lots to stimulate you - mountains, forests, wildlife, Maori culture, geothermal stuff, glaciers, volcanoes.
Making a decision about how many places to cover in a trip, and where to go first is quite difficult. Generally, I would say longer trips require slower travelling, so that you don't burn out, and so that you do really get to see a place well, rather than just skim it. Of course that doesn't suit everyone.
For us, we set off on our first big trip in June 2011. We decided to do a year in South America. We chose that as a midway level of challenge. Neither of us like very hot weather, and I really cannot eat any spicy food, so we figured Asia would be a harder starting place for us. And we felt that India in particular would be a big culture shock for a first long term destination.
Equally, we didn't want to choose anywhere too similar to home (UK), so we ruled out North America, Australia and New Zealand.
We thought South America was a perfect balance. The language is different, but being mostly Spanish, that is relatively easy. The culture is new, but not overwhelming. The climate is variable, and you can plan to avoid the hottest or coldest, depending on what suits you, and the food is not going to be a shock to the system. It is also a stunning place, with some really amazing things to see and do. It worked well for us.
Equally, I am sure plenty of people do jump straight into India and love it.
Travel can be as simple or as complicated as you choose to make it. When it comes to long term travel, this becomes even more complicated if you go down the complicated route. I prefer simple.
Most people start out with a wish list and then ask things like, 'where else should I not miss' or 'is X worth visiting', etc. etc. What they are really saying is, 'I'm afraid I am not going to make best use of my time and get it wrong.'
But that thought process only applies IF you believe you have to come up with a list and plan a TOUR. Paul Theroux wrote, "Tourists don't know where they've been, travellers don't know where they're going."
What he meant by that is that often tourists do not spend enough time in any one place to really get to know much of anything about that place. They are on a tour of X number of places in Y amount of time and generally very little time in any one place. They don't get to KNOW where they have been. Contrast that to someone who goes to A and stays until s/he is ready to move on. Someone who has NO itinerary they must follow. Someone who decides where to go next only when they are ready to go somewhere next. That is what Theroux is referring to as a 'traveller' rather than a 'tourist.' They don't know where they are going or even IF they are going anywhere else.
That brings you to 'best' use of time. What is better 3 days in each of 10 places or 30 days in 1 place? The answer is neither. It is what you DO with each day that determines if you made 'best' use of your time or not. If you got enjoyment, experience, knowledge, out of each day, THAT was a well used day regardless of where you spent it. If you did that, you can't 'get it wrong' no matter how many or how few places you visited.
Arguably, in travel as in many things, less is more. The less you move, the more you see and do IN places. But everyone does reach a point wherever they go, when they are ready to move on. They are no longer going to get maximum enjoyment, experience, etc. out of each day if they stay there longer. How long that takes varies. It can be after 1 day in a place or after several years. There is no way to know beforehand how long a place will hold your interest. So if you can't KNOW how long you should stay, how can anyone PLAN how long they should stay? You CAN get it wrong if you try to plan that. But if you stay till you are READY to leave, you can NEVER get it wrong doing that.
Another factor is the, 'but I don't want to miss X or Y. In reality, no one ever gets to everywhere that is of interest to them in one trip. What they usually end up doing is the tourist thing where they go from place to place, trying to fit everywhere into a given amount of time which is NEVER enough time and they actually do get it wrong. You know that whenever you hear someone say, 'I wish we had had more time to spend in X'. That is something you hear tourists say quite often. You also hear them say, 'we spent too much time in Y and we would rather have had more time in Z'. I might get to X and also WANT to visit Y but if I am not ready to leave X, I will not leave to go to Y. If I don't get to Y this trip, I'll get there next time. You can choose to accept that you may not get to everywhere in one trip but where you do get to, you will still be making best use of time and will stay for the right amount of time for YOU.
To travel simply is very easy. Decide on a place you would like to visit and go there. When you are ready to move on and NOT before, choose the next place you want to visit. Rinse and repeat until either your maximum time available runs out or your money runs out. When that happens, go home.
You may get to only 1 place, or 10, or 25, it doesn't matter. If you got maximum use out of each day, you got it right. What's more, by taking the simple route, you avoided all that agonizing over 'have I got it right?' You can't get it wrong.
Thank you all for your advice and taking the time to respond. It is greatly appreciated!
Planning a big trip is always a challenge. And if it's your first I'd strongly suggest not picking a place that is too hard to begin with. India certainly would be that, which is not to say it's not doable, but it will be more challenging. I'd probably suggest starting elsewhere in Asia and after a few weeks or months of getting your feet, heading to India.
Ideally I'd probably start with a list of places you know you'd really like to visit. Every time I've done this I've written up a list of countries with an amount of time I think I'd like to spend in each place - that time never holds, some places demand far more time, other places you might not find as fascinating as you thought. Next you need to look at practicalities, both financial and travel related.
Thailand is still a good starting point, but most of SE Asia is, (personally I started in Vietnam) and there are fairly well established travel routes which you can easily follow while you get your feet wet - and still not have to be involved in the drinking/party scene. You just need to make your decisions as to where to hang your hat and who to travel with. But even the party scene neighborhoods/areas have their charm as you'll find they are loaded with fellow travelers and some will want do to the same things you want to.