I had 1 year to prepare, from the time I decided to take a long term solo backpacking trip to the time I would leave. I chose my departure date carefully, by going with my favorite month and number! It was October 3, 2009. I did have to take other things about my timing into consideration, for instance thinking about what seasons I'd be traveling in, festivals and other big events I could luckily coordinate, but it was mostly about the weather. That's why I chose to go South first, so I could experience nicer weather and no rainy seasons!
The reason I gave myself a deadline or departure date? I knew myself all too well, and I knew I’d work best with an end goal; in my mind making everything else easier to figure out! Since I knew my initial direction was South, and I knew I'd be using Couchsurfing, this allowed me to start planning the countries and cities I'd visit. To the forums I went. I love forums, there is so much raw info there, no fluff, just experiences. I learned a lot through these travel forums where avid travelers would share tips and tricks to traveling wise and safe, as well as their favorite destinations and hidden gems. Coupled with my internet research, I also took loads of recommendations from the Blackfriar crew and customers and family/ friends. If someone would mention a place they wanted to go or had been, I would write the place down in my journal ( which I always brought to work; I called it my bible, a funny way my drill team director used to call her most important book!) and then I would research the place later. I ditched some but realized people were mostly giving me really good recommendations.
During this time that I was planning my trip, I began to make some sacrifices that I knew were crucial in helping me achieve my goal. I absolutely loved going out and dancing and having a good time with friends, but this was expensive and I knew I needed every penny I made from the Friar. So I gave myself a very strict limit on how many times I could party in say one month. I am very social, so it was very challenging for me to have to decline invitations to some very fun places! I had my eye on the prize and knew it was worth waiting for! Not only did I cut back my entertainment funds, I began cutting back on going out to eat! Luckily in doing so made me realize that I needed to be as healthy as possible since I'd be traveling alone (and for those adventurous hikes.) So I began cooking primarily at home and beefed up my veggies and grains! I cancelled all memberships, and "extra" bills I had so I could meet my goal of saving $4500 a month!!!!! At the point when I realized I needed more money than I had imagined, I had roughly 5 months left to work. Even with my bills paid, I was only bringing in about 3500-4000 at the most, which was not enough for my 8 month trip. I knew I had to cut back even more. I had an idea, but it certainly truly took me out of my comfort zone! Our lease was almost up and I pondered if it was possible for Mirna to get a one bedroom apartment and let me stay on her couch for free! Of course she agreed because she's amazing, and so I packed up my things, put them in the cheapest storage unit I could find, where they would be for 8 months, and bought Mirna a couch, in which I could sleep on for four months. This was a lifesaver, now I had under 5 bills, and I was able to save my 4500 a month!!! But it was crunch time and I had little time to prepare my funds, I did literally need every penny, so my life became researching at home and spending time with Bret, since we knew we'd be away from each other so long!
Bret had moved away from Blackfriar and started bartending at snuffers on Greenville Ave and had moved into a nice condo off Park Lane. I practically lived there as well, moving back and forth between Mirna's place and his! I look back and realize now that not having a home those last 5 months before my trip really prepared my mind for being on the road long term. It also allowed me to feel free. Free from unnecessary bills, free from obligations, free from everything I knew to be stable. When that happened I felt a weight lift from my shoulders and I knew that with that feeling, there would be a greater purpose in my wanderings! By letting go of worry and fear and of the social pressure to be a certain person, I had a newfound sense of peace in knowing that no matter what decisions I made, I would be ok. I pulled this peace from the depths of my soul and there it has remained; allowing me to walk to my own rhythm no matter the consequences. It was then, I had mentally prepared myself for the trip.
I knew backpacking would be fast paced and I knew (then, not now!) that communication would be tough. So I began creating a book for each country and city I planned to visit that had personalized info I had collected, which I thought would be important. For instance, I planned to stay in Rio De Janeiro for three weeks, so I looked up all the demographics I would need to know including the history of the place ( who colonized it etc), as well as the political party in charge, and even common theft techniques in that region. The forums were good for this. So I learned that in Rio a common scam is for people to be stopped on the street and asked if they would participate in a shoe magic trick. Visitors stop thinking the street performer is entertaining them, but really they are sizing the visitor up, seeing where the wallet is and as soon as the visitor walks away, another member of the group of thieves pick pockets them! It's amazing how each country has different techniques and tactics, which a lot of times reflects the personality of the culture! My book served as the internet during my travels because I had to rely on internet cafe's and I certainly didn't want to travel around with an expensive iPad ( not sure if they were around then!) As I constructed my path around different countries, and researched them I felt a lot better about visiting them and this helped me stay positive about traveling alone.
I began shopping for certain gear I would need for specific regions I'd be visiting. I needed special things for the Amazon and Peru where I'd be trekking and hiking. But the biggest purchase was choosing a backpack that was lightweight and convenient, as well as secure (fewest zippers and pockets possible) and manageable ( I'm small!) I found a company that made gear for the military and paid $500 for a good durable backpack! It would serve as my home and I needed it to be good! I also learned that a good rule of thumb for my height and weight was to keep the weight of my bag at around 20 lbs.!!! Wow! Not much for such a long trip. So I carefully constructed what would go in my bag; it consisted of two pairs of hiking pants, one which turned into shorts, three lightweight sweat resistant T's, two long sleeve shirts, one pair of hiking boots and hiking sandals ( the really ugly kind that are rain proof and have heavy soles!) I also got one rain proof jacket and some extras for various weather. That was it!!! I learned I would shed clothing as I moved into different temps and knew that I would be buying clothes in Europe!
By the end of the summer I had created my route, bought all my plane tickets and had all my gear. After that it was just making the money, which was rolling in thanks to Blackfriar! The route was as follows: California, Brazil, Peru, Spain, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey, India, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand!!! I had coordinated to learn Reiki during my stay in India and also to WOOF in Japan, working for a family farm in the northern region for three weeks!
As I wrapped up all my business, I began to feel sad about leaving Bret. He was my biggest supporter and understood that was something I had to do and his grace and understanding made me love him more! How would I get through my trip without him? We planned to Skype and talk occasionally through my expensive phone, but that didn't seem adequate. I'll always cherish the fact that at such a young age, he let me go and trusted me to come back without any jealousies, any resentment and any hesitation. I knew I had a gem and that was most important above anything.
My plan was to find a culture to fit my interests so that when I returned and went to grad school I'd have some hands on experience with Cultural Anthropology. At least that was the plan......