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Entries about preparation

Bringing a vague idea to life

written by Birgit

Thinking about doing a trip around the world is one thing, but then there's this big step to actually start doing something about it.

In our case there was no clearly pronounced key moment when we suddenly said 'yes, let's do this now'. It was much more of a step wise approach that eventually got so far that the pieces of the puzzle coming together started to look like actual preparation for a world trip.

The very first active step was actually a rather bureaucratic matter: German law requires young parents to apply with their employer before the child's second birthday in case they'd like to reserve up to a year of parenting time which then can be taken before the child turns eight years old. Once the employer's agreement is granted, the option of taking up to a year off work can be requested at any point in time with 8 weeks notification lead time for the employer. So this is what we did: we formally requested to reserve this one year of parenting time for both of us and a couple of days later we had a formal letter in our hands granting us this right. Easy. Soon after that Max turned two and we celebrated the event with going on a long weekend to Ireland.

Whenever we were asked about our plans for the next couple of years, we would always mention a trip around the world both privately and at work. And as we all know, once you start spreading the word about these thoughts, eventually the thoughts come to life with one thing leading to another. I talked with my boss sometime in summer 2014 about potentially taking a sabbatical at some stage already made things become a bit more real.

If you now believe that we started plotting out the when and where of our world trip right then and there, you might be disappointed. Then for quite a while trip planning was very focused on getting our upcoming vacation to South America worked out, such that our minds were concentrated on travel plans anyhow without having to go into even larger plans.

But after that trip, the Christmas holidays and the start into 2015, we can actually talk about the real start of the preparation phase. First thoughts on the 'where' were clearly still influenced by our original idea of driving to Mongolia. Sam preferred the option of buying a 4WD car or truck with the plan of going there and back (motorbikes were ruled out, as we did not want to have Max riding endless distances with us on a motorbike). I rather thought along the lines of taking the Transsib through Russia via Mongolia further into China, Tibet and Nepal, then flying on via South East Asia to Australia, New Zealand to the South Pacific.

The 'when' was defined by a logical sequence of thoughts. We had concluded that we wanted to maximize our time off. In other words: we would take a sabbatical of three months as offered by our company, followed by our one year of parenting time as granted by German law. We were also clear that we wanted to come back a couple of months before Max would start school such that we don't force him to go from a fairly free and non scheduled daily routine into a very disciplined school environment. And last but not least there were some financial considerations: by splitting the time off evenly between two calendar years, we would get a tax benefit due to Germany' progressive taxation of income. Factoring all of this together, March or April 2015 sounded like a good time to start. As March would have been and potentially too cold to go East in direction of Russia, April 2015 is what I communicated at work as the starting point for our time off.

What followed were long sessions of brainstorming potential travel locations (Russia and the former Soviet states, Mongolia, Tibet, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, South America, North America, the Caribbean, Africa...) and travel forms (road trip with camper van, road trip with 4WD vehicle, traveling with public transport, taking a bike trip or walking over large distances...). And there were long discussions trying to decide between the pleasures of an adventurous plan to countries where we don't speak the language and where bureaucracy might sometimes be grueling vs. an easy plan taking us to tourist friendly destinations where we speak the language.

The final agreement was that we wanted a plan that allows us to be outdoors a lot in plain air, nice landscapes and nature. And even though we wanted to move around that we wanted to take a fixed home base with us. In other words: we will be doing roadtrips with either a campervan or doing classic car camping. We also agreed that while we wanted to visit a couple countries, we'd rather spend more time in each one of them vs. trying to cover too much in too short time.
We also had to take some conscious decisions on where we did not want to go: after some research we ruled out any countries with risk of Malaria. And we decided very practically not to go to destinations that can be easily reached from Central Europe in two or three week vacations.

The end result - or I should rather say the current version - of our thoughts can be seen in the travel map: we'll start in April 16, will spend five months in North America incl Mexico and Canada, will then spend another months in the South Pacific followed by about 10 weeks each in Australia and New Zealand. This leaves roughly four months of travels to be identified at a later point in time...

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:48 Archived in Germany Tagged preparation planning Comments (0)

Busy months of preparations

written by Birgit

Since it's introduction in September 2015 our action list has grown to a sheer size of over 180 line items. Sometimes we're surprised ourselves, how much there's to be done before we're actually able to leave.

Because at first glance, there's not too much that needs to be done, right? Tell our employer, buy flight tickets or some kind of vehicle, do a bit of research on our destination, get international travel insurance, potentially a couple of vaccinations and just go... Just like any other vacation. Well, not quite.The significantly longer duration of the trip mandates a couple of actions that we simply would not have done for any short trip.

Let's start with the money: we'll not be getting our usual salaries for 15 months. Not earning money dictates the need to drive down any discretionary costs. We've cancelled all kinds of memberships and subscriptions. We've sold a lot of stuff that actually we did not need anymore - children's cloths, our baby stroller, electronic equipment, books, games, bags and much more. For all of our vehicles we defined a plan - Sam sold one of his motorbikes; his other motorbike, the trailer and Birgit's car will be used by members of Sam's family during our absence and Sam's car will lose it's license plates and will stay in our garage waiting for us to return. And our house will be rented out to tenants while we'll be gone. Some of these activities are fairly straight forward and easily done, others (like the last one) require quite a bit of work.

Then there's a whole lot to do all around getting formal documents and insurances in place. This starts with formally requesting a leave from work, getting new passports, applying for visa, getting international drivers licenses, effecting new insurances and cancelling others. Let me tell you: this part is not necessarily what I consider fun. Unfortunately such a trip is simply not possibly without these steps. And anyhow there's no reason to complain: comparing the documentation effort required for our relatively easy destinations like the US, Mexico, Canada, Australia or New Zealand with the original plan of going via a couple of former Soviet states to Mongolia, China, Tibet and Nepal I suddenly feel very happy again that things are so easy and straight forward.

But there are also more fun elements to preparation: thinking about what to take (and what not to take), is one of them. As an effect of this, we can now call ourselves the proud owners of lots of new electronic equipment, such as a light laptop with long lasting batteries, an up to date smart phone with lots of helpful apps (such as an app providing world wide navigation), an outdoor waterproof loudspeaker and a couple of new memory cards. Our already existing and well traveled large backpacks did not need any enhancements, but they are now joined by a nice colorful Osprey pack featuring rolls which will be Max' piece of checked baggage. And to save some weight and volume, we did splurge a bit in the departments of some outdoor outfitters - some of the light weight clothing, shoes or towels were just too tempting.

And the best comes last: the actual preparation of the trip. This is by far the most exciting part of preparation. And in our case also the most expensive part. With an investment of roughly 5000€ we have secured reservations for the three of us bringing us as far as Sydney with stops in Chicago, Tahiti and Rarotonga. Add another 1200€ for the luxury of an Air Tahiti airpass allowing us to visit the islands of Maupiti, Bora-Bora, Raiatea and Huahine. What sounds straight forward required in fact quite a significant bit of research. Nice and at the same time affordable accommodation is hard to be found in French Polynesia and we wanted to make sure that where ever we fly to, we will also have a place to stay.
In contrast to these plans, we've spent very little time to plot out the details of the North American, Australian and New Zealand bits of the journey. Having a rough plan in mind will need suffice and the detailed plans will be taking shape as we move forward. We have spent significant time though on researching rental and purchase options for various types of vehicles. For North America we have already found and bought our camper: a Ford Econovan Westy 1999. Well, actually it was Phil, my former host father from the time when I were an exchange student in Chicago, who helped us to check, buy and register the RV and it's now sitting in the driveway waiting for us to meet it. For Australia and NZ, we've done a lot of research, but are still a bit undecided on what to do - so more research ahead of us.


Posted by dreiumdiewelt 12:47 Archived in Germany Tagged preparation money documents Comments (0)

Enjoying the last couple of days before our departure

written by Birgit

all seasons in one day 2 °C
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Having left our place, we realized how much stress was suddenly falling off. And seven hours later we reached Kirchanschöring. Max sleep deeply by the time we arrived, but my parents and aunt were still up, such that we could enjoy a glass of champagne celebrating our arrival at our first destination. I'm not sure if it really counts as the first stop of our around the world trip, but definitively it was the first stop away from home. And we absolutely felt the need to celebrate.

The celebrations continued for the full weekend, supported also by Sam's family. It was fun and also emotional to see everybody and to eventually say good bye for quite a while. We also waved good bye to my car, which will have come fun time exploring Styria for the upcoming year.

After two more days of visiting family and having our favorite foods, it was time to leave Kirchanschöring. The weather these days was typical German 'April weather', i.e. sunshine, rain and snowfall were alternating in regular instances. We were fortunate at the train station to enjoy perfect sunshine. Arriving two hours later in Munich we were greeted by heavy snowfall. Walking from the train station to my sister’s place, we carried our bags for the first time for some distance and recognized that the extra 'luxury' pieces of luggage that each of us decided to pack did not necessarily help... Still, given that we could have easily packed another 20kg without getting to the limit, there's no reason to feel bad about the luxury items. And we'll have the chance to shed any unnecessary items before heading off to French Polynesia.

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Saying good bye in Munich featured some of our favorite pastimes, excellent food and a great sunny outing to the Munich zoo. Just to realize that it's actually very easy to observe kangaroos, penguins, polar bears, roaring lions, giraffes, baboons or rhinos - without having to take a round the world trip.


By the end of these six days since leaving our house in Wehrda, we're now relaxed and ready to head overseas without risking appearing like a being very strange, hectic and stressed out bunch of people.

And the German beer we had on that last night before saying good bye to my sister's family certainly helped as well to go into a good night's sleep - the last one in Germany for quite a while...

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 23:27 Archived in Germany Tagged zoo preparation relax goodbye munich april Comments (1)

Preparing for a long train ride

Ulaanbaatar to Naushki

sunny 27 °C
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Once again, we stayed at the Zaya Guesthouse. It felt like coming home again. We were greeted heartily and had to tell the stories of how our trip went. After a quick lunch, we headed straight into the shower. It felt great having a warm shower again – pure luxury after many days of doing without.
We also ran some errands. Our laundry had to be done and we needed to get our mobile phone repaired again. It only took 30 mins and our phone was as good as new. We did not feel like going out for dinner and preferred doing our shopping and staying ‘at home’ that evening.
Also the next morning we were not very keen on doing much. We had a very relaxed late breakfast and worked on the blog. After all, the last weeks of having neither a network connection nor power for the laptop had left the blog jet-lagged by almost four weeks vs. real life.
At the guest house, there were lots of really interesting people and we enjoyed exchanging stories with them about their respective trips. There were Rob and Gay from Australia who were about to head off towards five days in Mongolia before hitting the Trans-Siberian Railway towards Moscow and then Western Europe. It was fun to compare the stops they will be making along the way with our plans.
Then there were Gaёtan and Paul from France. They had bought cheap Chinese motorbikes in Western Mongolia and had spent the last four weeks riding them back to Ulaanbaatar – with only partial motorbiking experience that is. They planned to stay in Mongolia for another month before heading via China to Japan. One of them would travel for one more year and the other one would go back home.
Then there were two Irish around – Gary and his cousin Mick who planned to drive through Western Mongolia via Kazakhstan to Kirghistan. One-eyed Gary has the goal of eventually traveling to all countries of the world. But he’s not doing it the easy way of just checking countries. In fact, he had driven a Toyota Landcruiser with trailer from Magadan to Ulaanbaatar – something that several people had predicted to him as being not doable. He had so many fun stories to tell. Well, let’s be realistic: in retrospect it’s fun to hear them. I’m pretty certain that I would not have wanted to be a part in any of them myself. Bears, helicopter rides with drunken Russian pilots, getting stuck with the Landcruiser in a swelling river, etc. are only for the real adventurous and as Sam knows, I would panic way too easily than to enjoy the moment. Check out ‚1eyeonthe world‘ if you’re interested to learn more about Gary.
The next day, we ventured out after all again. We had lunch at a nice Indian restaurant (we were sure to find some vegetarian options there), explored the playgrounds of UB again. It was visibly much greener than during first visit – what difference three weeks can make!
We noticed once more how many Toyota Prius and other hybrid / e-cars were crowding the streets of UB - it felt like more than half of all cars. As most of these cars probably came from Japan as used cars, they were right hand drives. So more than half of all cars in town actually had the driver sitting in the wrong seat. After all, Mongolia is driving on the right-hand side – just like Russia or Europe is.


In the evening, we had a last agenda item on our list: we went to a performance of the Tumen Ekh ensemble. It was a great show, combining traditional Mongolian music instruments, singing (including throat-singing), dancing and contortionists. All artists were absolute professionals and it was a pure pleasure to see them perform.
To close out the end of our great experience in Mongolia, we stopped to the Great Khan Irish Pub on the way home. As Max was tired, we did not stay very late, but still enjoyed a night out.
The last day was focused all around getting prepared for our upcoming train journey: we got our tickets printed out and our stuff packed. Sam purchased an extendable window cleaner such that he’d be able to clean the windows of the train and we got some food to keep us fed during the first 24h leg of traveling on the train. Sam made sure that he had another bottle of concentrated seabuckthorn juice – the Mongolian national drink that he had learned to appreciate during our travels through the steppe.
We had also noticed that since the repair of our mobile phone, both cameras did not work properly anymore. We tried to get the issue fixed, but to our dismay ended up with even worse of an issue with the camera than before. What a pity! Even though it’s great that the mobile works again, we had really liked to use our camera for quick shots here and there and we had used the video functionality extensively. So unfortunately, for the remaining three weeks of our travels, we would need to do without.
We got taken to the train station by car and enjoyed sitting on the platform in the sun. Temperatures had climbed up to 30 °C in the last couple of days. It’s hard to believe that just a bit over a week ago we were facing a snowstorm.


Eventually our train pulled into the station and we headed to car 2. Our conductor Irina collected our tickets and passports and allowed us in. We had tried our Mongolian skills by greeting her ‘sain uu’ (hello), but realized a moment later that the train was already staffed with Russian personnel. It was finally time to put our little Russian to work. ‘Здравствуйте (Zdravstvuyte)’ worked fine.


It took us a couple of minutes to figure out how the beds work and how to store all of our stuff in the compartment. Once everything had its place, Sam headed out to do some window cleaning. I had picked up that recommendation in a guidebook about the Trans-Siberian Railway and had read it out lout to Sam in the intent of getting a laugh. Instead, Sam was honestly fascinated by the idea and wanted to make all efforts possible to ensure that he’d be able to get as spotless pictures as possible from inside the train.


The train left the station exactly on schedule. It was a very strange feeling to pull out of the station and to start rolling. After all, we were on our way home now. A last stretch of less than three weeks in Russia and then we’d be back with our families. After more than a year on the road that was somehow hard to believe and what had felt very surreal up to then, suddenly became reality.
But at the same time, it was also fascinating to be on a Russian train. We did not take long to start exploring all features of the train – most notably the samovar (i.e. the hot water boiler). It was perfect to brew ourselves a cup of tea to go with the cake we had bought back in UB. And while we had our afternoon tea, we were able to see the landscape passing by our windows.

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As sitting became too boring, we were soon standing in the aisle of the train – together with the few other guests traveling in our car. Our neighbors were from Australia and Germany and we obviously could not hesitate to compare the stops they were planning to do along the way with our plans.
From the windows, nice views of the steppe were passing by. Usually the view was undisturbed on one side, but the other side was a bit blemished by the power lines that were running along the train tracks. At first the landscape resembled very much what we had seen during our trip through Central Mongolia.

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But as we headed north, eventually we noticed more and more trees growing along the way. At first, they were only close to the rivers we passed, but after a while also the hills started to show more and more growth of trees. To Sam’s big dismay, they were mainly birch trees. It did not take long to have him sneezing continuously.

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Around 10pm we reached the Mongolian border post. A fair number of officials passed through the train cars: quarantine, customs, security and finally immigration. They took our passports and about 30 minutes later we got them back – with an exit stamp for wonderful Mongolia. We’ll be back at some stage!
Once the train finally left the station, it took over half an hour to reach the Russian border town. This time the procedure repeated, just with people dressed in different uniforms and speaking Russian instead of Mongolian. We were a bit nervous, as Russia is pretty intimidating in regards to formalities.
And in fact: the immigration officer was not happy with our visa. She asked where we had gotten them and shook her head in frustration. It took us a while to figure out that the Russian embassy in Cambodia had stuck the visa into our passports upside down, such that the machine-readable part was on the inside fold of the passport. Consequently, the lady was not able to easily scan our visa, but had to tediously type everything in. But despite her frustration, eventually she got her stamp out and stamped us into Russia.
What a relief! Despite our happiness of officially having made it to Russia, we left the celebrations for the next day. At 1:30am in the morning we just wanted to get into bed and go to sleep. Good night / Споко́йной но́чи (Spokóynoy nóchi)!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:34 Archived in Mongolia Tagged train dance music border preparation immigration Comments (0)

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