By Chris Biggs
We haven’t posted new content on our blog recently, and that’s probably because I’ve either had my nose buried in a laptop doing research or I’ve been stress-eating Christmas leftovers a la Homer Simpson. And while the food has been delicious, the reason for my recent anxiety has been related entirely to planning for our upcoming Asia trip.
To be fair, my constant references to this five-month jaunt as an “Asia trip” is really selling it short. Not only do we plan to head to 14 Asian countries starting in early January 2017 (including India, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, China, South Korea, and Japan), we also plan to end our trip by heading west with stops the Middle East and Europe (in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Greece).
Our goal for this trip - and really for the rest of this year - has been to go “wide but not deep.” It was a conscious decision by us to visit so many diverse, culturally rich countries in a relatively compressed time period. Lori and I are going to see a lot, for sure, but we realize the inherent downside of spending only a few weeks (or even days, in some cases) in countries that could warrant an entire lifetime of exploration just to begin to understand them.
That’s a big part of the reason I’ve been a near-recluse for the last few weeks.
As our trip quickly approaches, Lori and I have been diligently researching the countries we’re planning to visit, generating extensive notes on the most appealing cities and attractions, the optimal flight and bus routes between key cities, and the rules and requirements for obtaining the requisite tourist visas (fun fact: of the 14 Asian countries we’ll be visiting in early 2017, 11 of them require visas for Americans to visit - each with its own set of paperwork and standards). Over the last two days alone we spent over eight hours toiling away in pursuit of Chinese visas - by far the most onerous of the bunch - which included one long and unsuccessful stint in a dimly lit mono-color waiting room (dungeon?) that I promised myself I would never, ever revisit. Until I went back the next day to beg for a visa, of course.
Why all of the painstaking effort before we even take our first flight? Glad you asked. Heck, lots of our friends have suggested we take a more laissez-faire approach to this trip, with minimal planning and maximum spontaneity. But that kind of trip just isn’t in our DNA, and the reason is because we’re absolutely obsessed with maximizing the amount of awesomeness we get to experience each day.
Here’s what I mean: if Lori and I woke up one morning in Thailand and said, “Hey, let’s fly to somewhere in Vietnam today,” in principle that’d be a wonderful idea. But the next questions to ask would be where would we go in Vietnam, and how to increase the likelihood of it being a fun, enjoyable place to visit (meaning: do we go to Hanoi? Ho Chi Minh City? Hoi An? Somewhere more off-the-beaten path?). I’ve been that guy before - the one who doesn’t invest much time in planning and just wants to figure it out as I go - and there’s often something magical about the serendipity of it all when it works. But the downside of that carefree attitude is that sometimes that you end up using valuable (and often limited) travel time on something less-than-stellar (and totally avoidable with some proper research).
Bottom line: if you’re like most people, the trips you take are precious. You save your paycheck for them, you dream about them during boring meetings at work, and you shine your selfie stick up before going to make sure you capture every beautiful sunset and waterfall. And that’s why the last few weeks have been tough for us; because of the trip’s magnitude we’ve felt an enormous internal pressure to make it a great use of our limited time (both as travelers in Asia AND as people living on this Earth with, ultimately, an expiration date).
I hope that desire to plan great trips translates into Lori and I being really great travel bloggers. We’re certainly working hard behind the scenes to make sure our advice is well thought-out and thoughtfully researched. And in the worst case scenario, at least we'll have lots of good podcasts to enjoy as we dart across Asia on budget airlines.
Luckily, too, we’re almost entirely out of mashed potatoes and green bean casserole to reheat, and whether I’m ready or not, there’s a flight to India leaving in nine days with our names printed on two Etihad Airlines tickets. We can’t wait to officially start this journey, and we thank you in advance for bearing with us while we get this first leg of our big adventure off the ground. It’s our hope that the new year is full of insight, reflections, and tips worth sharing here on the blog!