Really, really soon, we'll be waking up somewhere on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, probably in a dew-soaked tent, probably with a pair of really dusty bicycles sprawled on the red dirt by the tent door, probably getting ready for another long day of flat riding through the Botswana bush. That's all approaching at an almost-alarming pace, but we still have a lot to do before we get there.
Bikes & gear
With the bikes and new tires now in hand, attention has turned to figuring out a reasonably light set-up that's also super-expandable. Something that's nimble and responsive on single-track, but also sturdy and spacious enough to carry a few dozen liters of water and a week's worth of food across arid deserts. Something versatile and functional enough to keep everything in an easy-to-reach place, but also simple enough to make unloading the bike outside a guesthouse an under-a-minute task, not a time-intensive ordeal. We're not there yet, but we're getting pretty close. More on that (and photos from our first overnight test ride) sometime next week.
As for packing only what we need: as the days crawl by and the packages keep arriving, it's beginning to feel like we need a lot. We've been steadily ordering and accumulating the stuff we can't pick up around town, and I think I've got just about every piece of clothing that I'll be taking along (one long-sleeved shirt, one tanktop, one pair of not-too-dorky zip-off pants, one pair of wool tights, two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, a sweater, a puffy coat, a non-puffy coat, a cap, a beanie, a tube scarf, and really durable approach shoes, plus rain gear). We finally picked up our stove a few weeks ago (an MSR Dragonfly with a damper cap), and I've even made a few meals with it at home (it works great!). Beyond little things like spare spokes and spare tubes and spare brake pads, we're just about all geared up for the trip. Finally.
Visas & paperwork
Less exciting than picking out the right bike gear, though probably more consequential: visas. The world is a really bureaucratic place. I knew this already, but this month I've been bludgeoned, repeatedly and relentlessly, with that reminder.
Now, we don't really have a firm route, and we don't even know if we'll be making it "around the world" (whatever that means), but we'd certainly like to have the option to move ever-eastward. So I've tried to get a sense of where spontaneity won't be a problem (Europe, Latin America), and where it most certainly would be a problem (central Asia). I compiled a long, 66-country spreadsheet filled with columns of information—information cobbled together from embassy websites, traveler forums, and comment sections—about things like maximum stay, visa validity, visa costs, and the all-important how-and-when-and-where-one-would-actually-go-about-applying-for-a-visa (if you'd like a look at those notes, let me know).
As a pair of Americans, the most difficult countries to access, of the bunch we may be transiting through, are probably Sudan, Burma, China, and India. I'm not including Iran in that list, because the present chances of getting a visa are exactly 0% (which is a shame, because I hear truly wonderful things about Iran and its people and would love the chance to cycle there), nor Pakistan, because it's not possible to get that visa while on the road, and any visas we picked up before setting off would expire before we arrived, nor Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, because it's not terribly difficult, just not worth the expense and paperwork.
Now, getting visas to China, India, and Burma (and even Sudan) is plenty possible for plenty of Americans flying into plenty of international airports in these countries. It's just plenty more difficult for folks like us looking to enter via land borders of occasionally-hostile neighbors, folks like us who would need to get those visas while traveling. China and India don't seem particularly eager, at present, to issue visas to those who aren't applying from their home country; Burma doesn't seem particularly eager, at present, to let anyone enter from the Indian border; and Sudan doesn't seem particularly eager, at present, to make their overland visa process terribly clear and comprehensible.
China and India both offer visas valid for ten years, however, so we may pick up a pair of those before we leave just to make our lives easier whenever we arrive in Asia, if in fact we do arrive in Asia. Ethiopia offers a visa valid for two years that we'll definitely be getting while still in the States, and Sudan—well, we'll just have to figure that out along the way. If we can't enter Sudan (even to transit across it more quickly than intended), it may mean an early end to the east African leg of our adventure and a premature flight to western Africa or Europe.
About those flights. In the next week or so, we're determined to have flights actually booked. It's a good thing we've waited, though—our plan has always been to start our journey in Gaborone, Botswana, but recently we've been flirting with the idea of heading back to Cape Town and beginning from there. It'll add another month to our travels in Africa, sure, but would give us plenty of lovely, wide open roads through South Africa and Namibia before reaching Botswana. Either way, we should have a starting point figured out in the next seven days.
As for later on: we're aiming to take as few flights as possible once we're actually on the road—and of course, we'll be booking those from the road—but it's looking like a full 'round-the-world trip would require about four more (east Africa to Morocco or Spain, Tajikistan to India due to the aforementioned visa difficulties, Indonesia to Australia, Australia to Chile).
Back to visas. We'll probably be spending about $400 each before we even leave on fancy entry stickers for Ethiopia, China, and India. The total cost of all the visas we expect to need for the trip is somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000 per person, depending on how direct or meandering of a route we take, which isn't a terrible price to pay for an admission ticket to the greater part of the world but still, y'know, a lot.
The one-way flight to southern Africa will probably be about $1,000 per person. The rest of the flights will probably total a few thousand more, if and when they come.
The new gear, of course, has been slowing our rate of saving, but fortunately it's just odds and ends from this point forward.
One of the big costs we're really fortunate to be avoiding are vaccines. Granted, we pay a ridiculous amount for health insurance at the moment, but that insurance covers travel immunizations, of which we'll need a bunch. Specifically:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Measles, mumps, and rubella
- Tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis
- Yellow fever
- Japanese encephalitis
Past travels (and requirements to enter college) have covered us for about half of these, but the other half (Japanese encephalitis and rabies, in particular) would cost thousands of dollars out-of-pocket. Thankfully, we'll be paying $20 per appointment for about three or four appointments (the rabies and Japanese encephalitis vaccinations need to be administered in a multi-week series).
Our provider doesn't stock Dukoral, an oral vaccine that prevents cholera and bacterial infections like e. coli, which is a shame, because I had a really miserable bout with e. coli a few years ago and would really, really love to never have that experience again. The vaccine costs about $1.80 in most of the world, but the good folks running the American pharmaceutical industry are asking about $250 per dose over here, so this might be one we pick up along the way.
We'll also be filling prescriptions for ciprofloxacin (an antibiotic for infections in the digestive system) and doxycycline (an antibiotic to prevent and treat malaria, though we're only planning to use it for the latter, if needed).
Most folks setting out on a multi-year adventure choose to either rent out a house that they own, or—like Lauren—let the lease on a place they're renting expire. I'm in the odd predicament of owning a little house-on-wheels I built a few years back, but not the land under it, and so I've needed to figure out just what to do with that house—like, where to put it—while we're gone.
Fortunately, I have some amazing friends with big hearts and a lovely home and a beautiful backyard and and a little tiny-house-sized patch of grass at the far end of it. They've super-kindly agreed to store the house (and maybe put it to some use) for a second time while I'm off traveling, for which I'm super, super thankful. Moving the house is an ordeal in itself, especially through the narrow urban alleyways that lead to that backyard, but fortunately I have another amazing friend who has super-kindly agreed to drive into the city and use her truck and her towing skills to get it there safely. That'll all happen sometime in early, early June.
Oh, and an upcoming test ride!
We'll be doing a short overnight ride soon (a) to test out how the bikes are set up, take a few photos, and try out some new gear, and (b) because I have a free hotel night that's expiring really soon if I don't use it. More from that ride—and those flights we'll definitely, definitely be booking—later this month.