Why Planning a Year Long Trip is Educational

Trip Start Jan 05, 2011
Trip End Jan 05, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Massachusetts
Saturday, October 2, 2010

A lot goes in to planning a whole year in advance (oh how I respect you British Royal family), or as much in advance as one can, giving the improvisational nature of long-term travel. It's a whole different monster from organizing a ten-day vacation somewhere exotic and magical. Instead of working on booking hotels or planning day trips and tours, I find myself on a regular basis trying to decipher Thai train schedules and figuring out the best way to live in Europe for less than fifty dollars a day (and yes, that is only 33 euro and is almost impossible). A few days ago I woke up nice and late (having, as usual, gone to bed late, apparently I’m trying to regulate my sleep pattern to another time zone already), sat down, and ten hours later looked up in a daze.

I had manage to find out that there was in fact a boat up the Amazon which would let me get on land from Brazil to Venezuela.

Ok, let me rephrase that.

I found out there was such a boat in the first ten minutes. What took me nine hours and fifty minutes more was figuring out where it left from, how long it took, if it was safe for a solo woman to sleep in the 3rd class compartment (open air hammocks practically overlapping each other), if I could get a Visa at the Venezuelan border or if I would have to apply for one before I left, and finally, would there be gluten-free food provided and if not, would I be allowed to bring my own food.

Ok, so I know what I’m doing for 4-6 days of my trip. Great.

Of course, I don’t want to over-plan. I’d rather just go with the flow and enjoy myself, but if experience has taught me one thing, being confused, disorientated and not knowing what bus to get on in a foreign country is as far from enjoyable as it gets, even if you do treat it like an adventure.

I have decided on a middle ground. Since I’m doing this crazy trip as a Field Study, I find it only appropriate that I do some amount of background research into the areas I am traveling to. Also since I’m doing this though my school, they insist on a detailed itinerary. We have agreed that 'detailed’ means at least the major cities I will be visiting and/or any places or activities that might be dangerous. Alright, I can live with that, but since the hours I’ve spent just this month trying to accommodate these two factors are steadily rising towards the hundreds (far more than all my classes combined) I feel like it is only right (as the ever opportunistic student I am) that I get some academic credit for it.

But what, some (including my teachers) would ask, are you actually learning in this crazy endeavor?

Well, I would answer, quite a lot actually.

First off, I am learning about math and economics. Neither were ever my strong points, but now I find myself regularly budgeting, making spreadsheets and crouching over a calculator and a list of foreign currency conversions. I routinely navigate pages where all the prices are given in Kips or Pesos and must quickly calculate in my head what the conversion would be to US Dollars. Most surprising of all, I have actually delved into the logistics of banking, percentage fees and getting around international ATM fees.

Second, I would have to say, is business. As someone who wants to own a restaurant one day, this is particularly important to me. I am learning to understand the contract wording of insurance and airline policies. I am dealing with foreign policies regarding acquiring Visas, am figuring out the logistics of travel and, most importantly of all, learning the bureaucracy of Institutes of Higher Education (Yes Hampshire, once I figure you out, the whole world will be my oyster, for nothing could possibly be as innately and absurdly complex as trying to get anything approved here).

Thirdly, it is teaching me about research and organization. I am getting my information from a variety of sources, including official guidebooks, nonfiction novels, personal accounts and blogs and forums. The amount of information out there is huge and to find anything resembling facts is a labor of love, involving cross-referencing often hundreds of different accounts and opinions before finding those that remain the same across a broad spectrum. Then comes the task of consolidating all this information in a way that will be easy to access from on the road.

Lastly, I am finding out, more so day-by-day, that the world isn’t actually that large or scary a place. Even the countries that at first sound intimidating eventually reveal themselves as beautiful and unique. I read an article on the News about an uprising here or a heavy crime-zone there, and on the same day read an up-to-date account from a backpacker who says, "yes, this is going on, but only in this little area of the country," or “only if you go out alone at night or have a lot of expensive gadgets out.”

It seems like the more I learn, the more the world becomes wondrous, if a little scary at times. Traveling, I am sure, will be grueling at times, scary at others and amazing too. But if there is one thing this whole process is, it’s educational.
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