I used a service and software called TripIt for our entire trip. All along the way, I plugged in each flight, each hotel where we stayed, and most major activities. At one point in our journey, Beth had a little rebellion against TripIt, and was mad at me because I wanted all our plans to be organized, but she didn’t want to be organized. It turned out to be handy for a lot of things, though. Now I can go back after the fact and have it tell me some things about our trip, like the fact that we were gone 150 days and traveled roughly 110,000 miles.
Here’s a map showing the cities we visited along the way (not counting Frankfurt, which was a surprise due to airline snafu). From this perspective, it looks like we covered Southeast Asia pretty well. But of course we only saw a minuscule fraction of it, and almost all of that was cities.
Maybe this deserves a post of its own, but I’m not in the mood to go into great detail. So let me just throw out a bullet list, looking back on our journey the week after we got back to America.
- Don’t take a laptop: Everyone says this, and I worked hard to keep my list of possessions light. But in hindsight, I sure wish I could’ve avoided the need to do any video editing on the trip. Then I could have left my laptop at home and only used my iPad.
- Don’t take stuff for roughing it if you’re going to stay in hotels in cities: Too many of the things I packed were items that would be useful if we were sleeping on couches or in hostels – like a camp towel, a sleeping bag liner, a first aid kit – but weren’t relevant since we stayed in hotels in cities all the time. If we needed first aid, we were never far from a pharmacy or from someone who had first aid.
- Don’t take a camera: This one sounds weird. One of my big goals for the trip was to get lots of good photos and especially 4K video. So I bought a nice camera and carted it all around. But it was a liability more than an asset a lot of the time. I didn’t have a long enough lens to get good wildlife photos anyhow, and a lot of the places we visited I didn’t want to take a big camera for fear of theft (or loss or damage). Plus, most of the things I got photos of are the same things that every tourist photographs; there are really good professional quality photos of all this stuff if I really want to show someone what it looks like.
- Don’t visit Indonesia during burning season: It was dumb to go to Indonesia to see the orangutans during the “burning season” when visibility was so bad. Maybe I’d be complaining about the rain if we went another part of the year, though. But there are good times to visit and there are bad times and we mostly didn’t take the calendar into account.
- Don’t visit Phuket if you want a relaxing trip to an unspoiled beach: We’d heard so many good things about Phuket that it didn’t occur to us that most of the island is really touristy unpleasant beach towns. Especially the one we chose (without adequate research), Patong Beach.
- Don’t walk home after dark in Phnom Penh: It didn’t occur to either of us that a 1 km walk to our B&B from the cinema would be dangerous, but we almost got mugged by a motorcycle gang. The feedback from our B&B hostess: Duh, don’t you know you should never go out on foot after dark in this city? (no, we didn’t know that, obviously)
- Travel insurance is a very good thing: At least in our situation, with Beth’s father in poor health, it was a very smart decision to get travel insurance. We got two insurance claim payouts worth about four times what we paid for the premium, and it allowed us to continue our journey after Bill’s death. If not for that, the trip would’ve been over because we ran out of money.
- Everything costs more than you think it will: We had this fantasy that we’d find decent hotels in some developing countries in the $15 a night range. Almost all the time it was twice that. Now fifteen bucks doesn’t seem like a lot to an American on vacation, but if you’re living in hotels, that adds up. Our budget only allowed for $100 a day total, to cover lodging, food, entertainment, transportation, souvenirs, etc. The extra $15 a night we spent could easily pay for most or all of our food costs for a day.
- Spend the extra money to hire a local guide: Before we left, I had this fantasy that I would hire local guides to help me explore and sample street food in cities. That turned out to be unnecessary. But having a professional guide when we visited the big sites like Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat made the visits so much more meaningful.
- It’s a lot cheaper to visit fewer places for longer: People talk about how expensive it is to travel. The big expense on our journey wasn’t day-to-day things like food and lodging, it was airfare. Each time we flew from America to Asia or back, it was about $1000 each. And long flights within Asia, like from Delhi to Bangkok, were several hundred dollars. Short flights are amazingly cheap. You can fly from one city to another within India or Thailand or Indonesia for about $50. So considering we spent $100 per day on food, lodging, and everything else (that’s an average between expensive countries like Australia and inexpensive countries like Indonesia), it was much better to stay in one place for an extra week than to travel to a new country. So if you want to do something like we did…
- …don’t bother taking a vacation to Asia if you can’t spend at least 3 or 4 weeks there; you’re better off waiting to save more money so you can go longer, and
- …visit as few countries as possible for as many days each as possible.
Thanks for Reading
If you’re still tuned in to my writings about our travels in the Eastern Hemisphere, thanks. The biggest motivation was to think that my friends and family could read about what we saw through these posts. I never claimed to be a travel expert or an expert in any of the countries or cultures we visited. So the best I could do is write about where we went and what we saw.
If you want to see an entire list of all the posts about our big journey, they are listed on this web page. Including this final one, I wrote 75 total posts about the trip. Did you have a favorite? I’d love to hear your feedback.