Thursday, December 20, 2012

6 months down the road... Thoughts about completing my big trip and FAQ

Today it's been six months from the day I returned from my first round-the-world trip! It feels like a small eternity but still all the memories of the places, the people and the experiences are so vivid...199 days traveling around the world,  about a 100 cities or towns, in 12 countries on five continents - all of them (besides London) that I had never visited before. All by myself. That may seem a lot to someone and not much to some other more hardened world explorers... But it meant the world to me.

People have asked many questions about the trip, no surprise there. So I decided to put together a "little" FAQ list:

Why? - Why not. I had grown tired of taking short holidays, traveling for one or two weeks, hurrying from one place to another, flying long distances for a quick visit and returning home a lot more tired then I felt before I left for "a holiday". I want to see and do and not just "chill on the beach" - and have more time for it. In the end the tipping point for me was the winter 2010-2011: the piles of snow and terrible weather conditions in Helsinki made me decide that I needed a break!
Why solo? - Ultimately the reason was to not have to make compromises. This time I just wanted to do my own thing. And to see if I can make it.
Where did I go? Why those places? - The locations and the route came about quite randomly. South America and Australia were the main points of interests and the RTW flight ticket forced me set an outline for the route. I read about the two continents to make a list of most interesting places to me to help the planning and posted questions on travel forums for specific thoughts. I chose to start with Latin America for many small coincidental reasons and Mexico seemed like a reasonable place to start.  Here's a link to a map of the route!
Why so long (or why not longer)? - 199 days is pretty long... I wanted to skip the winter, perhaps two. But skipping two would mean being 1.5 years away and having to work while traveling. That was too long for me, after all I did have a life back home.

Were there ever any problems? - No. None whatsoever. Unless you call dramatically slow wifi in Australia a problem. Or a couple crowded buses in Bolivia and Peru. Or the rush hour traffic in the metro in Brazil. Or one pair of underwear that went missing in the laundry. I just call that life.
Did I ever feel unsafe? - Yes, but very very rarely, in places such as some empty streets of Rio during the night. When arriving to a new massive city I felt hesitant and lackluster in the first day but not really unsafe.
Did I stay healthy? - I got the flu a couple times and once nausea or mountain sickness in La Paz. Keeping healthy can make or break the trip.
Did I miss home? - I missed my loved ones of course. When I was sitting long hours in the plane or the bus I missed my own bed. When I was going out I missed my clothes back home... you miss the silly small things.

What were the best places? - There is no short answer to this but my shortest list goes like this (in no order of preference): Mexico for general tourism: excellent weather, food, nature, culture, history, people, infrastructure and so much variety - and everything is cheap. Argentina for the glorious nature (also loved Buenos Aires and traveling all around was easy and not too expensive). São Paulo for zouk. Tokyo for crazy-beautiful everything and Japan for the people, the culture, the food, the friendliness and the eye-candy of it all.

A longer list of the highlights includes..

..Natural wonders: glaziers at Perito Moreno, waterfalls at Iguazu, the salt plains in Jujuy, the altitudes (and the shortness of breath) at lake Titicaca, the deserts of Atacama, the red rocks of Uluru, the deserted beaches in Brazil and in Australia, the depths of the Great Barrier Reef - flying over them was impressive as well.

..Urban marvels: Rio - perhaps the most beatiful big city in the world. São Paulo - just the pure massiveness of it all. La Paz - is so shabby it's cute. Valparaiso - the graffities. Sydney - cool and compact. Tokyo - it's just so amazing that I can't put it to words.

..Historic cities: Chichen ItzaPalenque (perhaps my favourite) and the number one destination in South America Machu Picchu - especially the latter one at dawn.

..The expriences of a lifetime for a dancer: The Brazilian carnaval in Floripa, zouk congress in Rio, the zouk parties in São Paulo and the latin dance scene in the east coast of Australia with zoukeros and bachateros that sweep you off your feet.

..My favourite foods: tacos in Mexico, stake in Argetina, wine in Chile, sushi in Tokyo.

..New experiences: flying on a small plane from a tiny island of Belize, powering in with a motor boat to the Iguazu falls, diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

Here's a brief interlude of some random picture highlights from the trip........... I took 15.000 pictures on the trip. And I don't regret ever stopping to take them!

Caye Caulker - Belize
Chichen Itza - Mexico
Buenos Aires - Argentina
Colonia del Sacramento - Uruguay
Torres del Paine national park - Argentina
Jujuy - Argentina
Bariloche - Argentina
Perito Moreno - Argentina
Isla Magdalena - Chile
Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro - Brazil
Iguazu Fall - Brazil (and Argentina)
Lake Titicaca - Bolivia
Machu Picchu - Peru
Queenstown - New Zealand
Sydney - Australia
Ayers Rock - Australia
Gold Coast - Australia
Gold Coast - Australia
Great Barrier Reef - Australia
Tokyo - Japan
Tokyo - Japan
Osaka - Japan

Did the travel wish list become shorter or longer? - Longer. After seeing about 100 new town you still want to visit many of them again and you hear about a 1000 other places you definitely have to go to as well. Some things I added/didn't get to tick off from my list: Dia de los Muertos in Mexico. Diving in the Blue Hole (Belize). An epic rail journey in South America, such as the Tren de las Nubes from Salta, Argentina. The Bolivian lowlands. Columbia and Venezuela. Beaches in Northern Brazil. The Australian summer. Hanami in Japan and the Japanese countryside.

So what did I take from this trip? -  No matter how much you'd like to hear it, it wasn't a life changing experience for me, at least not dramatically. But I certainly did gain a lot of perspective. For me this had been one major life goal and it felt great to have it accomplished. Living in so many different environments gave me a lot of perspective, especially in how happy I am with my life at home. The constant change and facing new situations in a foreign country, with lot a things to deal with at once gave me a LOT of patience and courage. I realised there aren't many situations that you need to plan for in advance. And that in this world you're never alone - people by nature love to help others and it was great to meet & get to know so many new people, share stories and even make friends for life.
What I took from this as a dancer? - More than just learning new moves and all that (which I did learn immensely) I learned an even more open attitude to dancing - like to many other things as well. I received lots of positive reinforcement for my dancing. I heard even later that I had encouraged also others to do more, see more and step out of their comfort zone.

The gritty side of traveling: What I won't miss? - This is a long list. I will not miss: Packing and repacking day after day. Keeping track of all your stuff. Wearing the same four t-shirts day in day out. Finding your bearings in a new place (maps, maps, maps, maps, maps). Must-do-sightseeing. Dealing with foreign currencies. Bad beds and dirty toilets. No privacy and no space for your stuff. Having to lock your valuables in a locker all the time. Not sleeping enough. Not having a proper kitchen (knives! pans! cutting boards!) to cook your meal. Planning, checking, making lists. Not dancing enough. Bad internet (Australia and New Zealand, hello!). Flying. Sitting on the airport. Sleeping in the bus. Getting lost in a place where I don't speak the language. Obviously not seeing my friends and family.

Would I do a trip like that again? - In a heartbeat.


  1. Hi. Great sum-up of what seems to have been a great trip. I was wondering what you packed for your trip. Specifically what kind of shoes did you bring. Did you bring a pair of shoes only made for dancing, or did you find something that worked for more occasions? Have been reading up on packing list from long-time travelers, but there aren't that many who plan on dancing a lot while traveling. Thanks for any help! From Elisabeth

  2. Hi Elizabeth! Shoes are kind of an issue when packing light. But what I quickly realised that you can't go without dance shoes. If you plan on dancing, yes, bring the shoes you like to dance in! I had one pair of heels for dancing at the clubs/parties and light sneakers for classes.