Planning for a year of travel is no small feat, and it’s hardly the most glamorous part of the trip. That said, it sure would be a waste to save all that money and drop the ball on logistics. We tended to think of planning as a balancing act. On the one hand, you don’t want to screw up the details and ruin (parts of) your trip. But on the the other, you want to allow for the trip to be spontaneous and to provide a sense of adventure and flexibility. Finding the balance was difficult, but we ended up focusing 90% of our planning efforts on what we could control prior to departure and only very lightly structured our activities post-departure.
To keep our organizing… organized… we created an Excel spreadsheet with a tab for each item/topic we needed to keep … tabs on. All puns intended.
The most important tab here is the Task List. This list contained the ever-expanding list of items that we needed to complete prior to the trip, the date we needed to complete them by, and who was responsible for completing them. Everything went on here, from the mundane (“forward the mail”) to the extremely important (“renew passports”). All told, there were 56 items on the list. We’ll spare you a full reproduction, but here are the big ticket items:
- Take passport pictures/renew passports
- Secure long-term storage for anything we didn’t sell or give away
- Visit the doctors – all of them: eye, dentist, annual physical, gynecologist
- Get vaccines
- Give notice at work
- Research visa requirements/secure visas
- Buy plane tickets
- Scan/email or photocopy/mail important docs to family
- Buy supplies, fill prescriptions
- Test out clothes/shoes/packing strategies
As we encountered a new thing we needed/wanted to do prior to leaving, it went on the list with a due date and everything. You’ll notice that none of these critical items have anything to do with the trip itself – we only micromanaged the preparation. As the trip goes on we’ll see if this was the right way to focus our energies, but we have a feeling it was. The parts of our trip post-departure that we planned were our first few nights of hotels, our general list of countries to visit, and our flight information for a few months. We cringed at the thought of buying many of our flights months out from the trip (giving up spontaneity) but ultimately we had to in order to use our frequent flier miles on the flights.
The rest of our planning spreadsheet was mostly reference material. For example, we put together a list of visa requirements for every country we even considered visiting. It’s hard to keep track of which country requires two blank passport pages, which offers visa on arrival but only with US$20 cash, and that sort of thing. These lists served as sanity checks for us during the planning process, and we imagine they will prove helpful as we’re on the road.
The best advice we got about what to plan (and sometimes how to plan it!) came from other travelers who were already on the road or who were already back. We read blogs and if necessary emailed, commented, Tweeted, and Facebooked until we got the advice we needed. We’re extremely thankful for the help and goodwill of other travelers for making the planning process manageable!