Finally Nailed Down, Travel Plans for 2014

Planning next year has been a long and drawn out affair. I’ve cycled through probably a hundred different ideas. I’ve researched and contacted people in areas where I wanted to go, asked about opportunities galore and looked up flight costs and cost-per-day averages and border crossings and visa restrictions in what feels like half the world. And then I’d fink out on my plans or stumble onto something else amazing, and change my mind. And then I did it all over again.

It’s now less than a week until Christmas and less than two weeks away from the new year, but finally, FINALLY, I’ve figured it out. And booked the flight. And I feel so relieved and happy and excited, because this time, my plans fit like a glove and I don’t have a gut feeling holding me back on a single thing.

Before I reveal anything, let’s take a moment to mourn my discarded travel plans that weren’t able to come to life, at least not yet.

RIP

Backpack & Volunteer Around Mexico

This was plan numero uno, and after plenty of research, I came up with very little to actually do in Mexico. Well, there was one place on the West coast where I could work at an orphanage, and there were about a million opportunities in the city of Oaxaca, but the in-between was dark and unpromising, volunteer-project-wise. I’m sure more opportunities would have opened up once I got on the ground, but then idea numero dos popped up.

Backpack & Volunteer From Costa Rica to Mexico

I was alerted that an old family friend worked for an NGO in Nicaragua. Perfect, an in with a reputable place to volunteer. I also thought about the weather and that it would be a good idea to follow the warmth, so to say, and start South, instead, ending in Mexico during the summer months. My biggest dilemma in planning this was just how much I wanted to see in merely 8 weeks. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize AND Mexico? That’s only one week, per country. Impossible. And for some reason, I just had a weird feeling that kept stopping me from booking my flights.

Sad but true: no Costa Rican monkeys for me, this February.
Sad but true: no Costa Rican monkeys for me, this February.

Volunteer in Tanzania

Then I found a really cool volunteer project that was both local, cheap-ish and had a wide range of really inspiring projects I could work in. This plan died when I looked up how much all the vaccinations and visa costs were, though. I’d still love to volunteer and spend some time in Africa, but I need more than a month to get my ducks in a row, first. This is on my radar for the distant future. I’m 100% sure that at some point, Sally in Africa will happen.

Backpack The Balkans

I’ve always wanted to head through Eastern Europe, and with my parents relocating to an area near Berlin, the timing seemed perfect. The only thing about that same timing, though, is that I only have 10-11 weeks to do this and almost twice as many countries I want to visit. And if you know me, then you know that I can’t stand rushing from one place to the next. But deadlines are deadlines, and I need to be in Germany in April and the USA in July for some non-negotiable events; that’s just how the cookie/my Balkan-backpacking plans crumble into little tiny dead pieces.

So… what have I decided?

Did you catch what I just mentioned about Germany in April? (Now you did!) My parents are relocating to Germany for my dad’s work. So to figure out my plans once and for all, I went back to basics. I want to practice my Spanish. I don’t want to spend a million dollars on flights; I want to be closer to where I need to be for those big fixed events. Which led me to the conclusion that at the beginning of February, I should get on a plane headed for:

Just gonna torture you with this unrelated photograph. (Or is it?!)
Just gonna torture you with this unrelated photograph. (Or is it?!)

Germany!

Only long enough to settle my junk into my dad’s nice new place (he’ll arrive before me, my mom will arrive later), because booking round trip tickets is a lot less of a headache than two one-way. As soon as any jet lag has passed and I’ve had a dark beer and some bretzel, then I’ll be taking a train to:

Spain!

I’m sure you figured that out, right? Where else in Europe can I practice my Spanish? I have about two months before my mom arrives in Germany and I want to be there to help her settle in. So I’ll be… around Spain. I haven’t made those plans very well yet. But I’d like to spend the majority of my time outside of the city, as living in rural Korea has turned me into a little bit of a country girl. On my way back to Germany at the end of my two months, I want to make a stop in:

[February 2014 edit: These plans have already changed again! I’ll be spending only one month in Spain and then heading outside of the Schengen Visa Zone to Ireland and the UK for another month.]

Paris, France!

How could I not? If I had another two months on my Schengen visa then I’d spend it exploring France, as well. Unfortunately I have to choose, so I’ll just spend a few days in the big city, take a picture of the Eiffel Tower and get even fatter than I already will be from eating tapas all day. Solid plan, I know.

Back in Germany…

I get to watch the shock on my mother’s face as she discovers all of these things about Germans are actually true. And pressure her into eating deli meat before 10am. I’ll probably just be doing a lot of boring things like visiting the post office and mapping the way to the local train station, but because it’ll be with my mom, in Germany, it’ll be kind of fun. I’ll also get a taste rural German life, because my parents will be living out in the countryside, thanks to my dad’s work.

Oh, and I’ll say hi to some friends along the way (Vienna, anyone?), but before long I need to head out to my next destination:

Parry wants to know... is this suspense killing you?
Parry wants to know… is this suspense killing you?

Somewhere in Eastern Europe

So vague, I know. Basically I want to be outside of the Schengen zone and not moving around too much, but still in a good place to take some two- or three-day trips. Bosnia, Serbia or Romania are all good contenders at the moment. We shall see! My trip will come to a close at the end of June, I’ll fly back to the USA for a wedding the second week of July, and from there, it looks like a return to Korea is in my future. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, planning until July is good enough for me!)

Wait, so… what will I be doing exactly?

Other than eating everything I can stuff in my face? Brushing up on that Spanish that I’ve let deteriorate a little too much. I’d also like to volunteer and maybe also work for accommodation, so I won’t say a WWOOF is out of the question. I would love to make some new friends, using Couchsurfing. And perhaps even run into an old friend or two, reunion-style. Whatever I end up doing, I don’t want to be living with my face in a Lonely Planet book. Sightseeing is great, visiting new cities is great, but I’m interested in a more culturally involved experience. Where will that take me? Well, who knows.

If I could know, maybe I wouldn’t want to find out. It’s the journey, right?

And perhaps part of the journey will involve wild goats. That would be nice.
And perhaps part of the journey will involve wild goats. That would be nice.

How You Can Help

Seeing as I haven’t planned out my time in Spain or Eastern Europe yet, any knowledgeable input would be really appreciated. I can use all the info you can throw at me!

What do you suggest I see while I’m in Spain? Do you know of any volunteering opportunities that I could be a part of?

What’s a good base in Eastern Europe that you would recommend? What was your favorite country, there? How about volunteer projects in the area?

Trip insurance suggestions?

If you can’t tell, folks, I’m excited! And so glad that this plan is complete and set in plane-ticket stone; it’s a huge weight off my shoulders to have this settled so I can sit back and relax this holiday season.

So with that, I wish you guys a wonderful end of the year full of cookies, happy memories, things with bright lights all over them and as many laughs as your diaphragm can stand. I know I’ll be doing the same.

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My Really Vague, Noncommital Future Plans

The speed at which I am committing to my future plans.
The speed at which I am committing to my future plans.

I’ve still got a solid four months left in South Korea, and that’s nothing to balk at. But as the summer winds down and flights home are booked, stray thoughts pester me with more and more frequency. What’s next? What’s next? What’s next? When I sit down for a moment on my laptop, I find myself searching for information about strange destinations, apartment rental prices, the best library system and volunteer opportunities. Leaving Korea, I’ll have a tiny bit of financial padding, but no impending bills to pay. I’ll essentially be very, very free. (Until 2015, when loan payments will be due again…) What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?

I have nailed down nothing, but I’ve come up with some vague plans that may come to fruition. Some more vague than others. Some fairly certain, yet without a timeline. First things first, I’ll celebrate Christmas with my family and visit friends and relatives whom I haven’t seen in ages. That should take me through about a month, I’m guessing, and hopefully doesn’t burn through too much of my baby nest egg, either.

Then, I’m headed to Mexico.

Awww yeah. I’m currently researching volunteer projects in the area that are free/in exchange for accommodation and food when possible. (And if you know of any, you’ve got to let me know!) I’m hoping to find something more along the lines of an internship, where I can really invest myself for 3 or so months and learn about the organization (or organizations). I’d love to see some parts of Mexico while I’m there, too, but I’m not sure that really in depth travel through the country is possible at the moment. Either some Mexican Cartels will chop me up or my parents will for risking anything in the first place. So I’ll be sticking to major cities, the districts without travel warnings and anywhere recommended to me by someone who’s gone and enjoyed the place. I’m sure they’ll still be no shortage of experiences, regardless.

As for the timeline, I’m giving myself anywhere between three and eight months to be in Mexico. I have a non negotiable wedding to attend in June, which I may fly back for or be home already, but other than that, I’m free. My plans are wide open. I’m going to travel until my time or money runs out. (I’m rooting for time. Go time! Run out first! Time, yeahhh!) I’ll also get that Spanish practice in, since my language skills have seriously lapsed since my semester in Argentina. But it’s in my brain somewhere and I intend to dig it out, dust it off, and make it shiny again. And then?

I’m applying to graduate school in South Korea.

While technically I’m applying this January/February, I’ll hear back in April/May and the program I want to do begins in September. This plan is definitely in limbo and is walking the edge of a cliff at the moment. First, I have to get into the program, which is competitive. Second, I have to see if I’ll receive enough scholarship to actually attend. This is very competitive. Third, I have to decide that this is really what I want to do for the next two years. I’ve been in Korea for a while and I’d like to see some new sights, but perhaps a Mexico-breather and moving to Seoul will be enough.

Maybe not, though. My mind yo-yos.

Where's the Eingang (entrance) to see what the future holds?
Where’s the Eingang (entrance) to see what the future holds?

There are also some other thoughts that bounce around my head.

I’d really, really love to catch up on my to-read list. I’ve always wanted to do a kind of book hermitage, where I hang out alone in some city and solely read books and feed myself for two months. The USA would be the best place to do that, obviously: public libraries are the only way I could afford it. This upcoming year may be the perfect time to do that.

I do want to “finish” Korean, or learn it to a level that would get me into the professional world (would I so choose). Doing graduate school for two years in Seoul would certainly put me on that level, but so would taking some hardcore, 4-hours-a-day Korean lessons at the same university in Seoul, 3 months at a time, for less than 2 years. The downside of that would be $$$ and not being able to work for the initial 6 months because of visa regulations. I could also find a new job teaching English in Korea, save up and “finish” Korean, but I feel like I really need a break. Classroom EFL is not my cup of tea; I cringe at having to do another year so quickly after finishing this contract.

I also desperately want to see more of the world. I can’t help but see pictures of Prague and feel as though I should be there. Or Vietnam. Or London. Or Morocco. One day I’d like to work in a career that involves the world (vague, once again, Sally!), but I can’t imagine doing so without getting to know it. I can’t read about places and pretend that I understand the culture; it just doesn’t work that way. But money. Because the way I want to see the world involves a month or two with a local roommate, several books for context and a lot of delicious food… per country. And then volunteer work. So this idea, fully implemented, could take a really, really long time and cost a lot. I don’t have the start up funds for such a venture, yet.

Then there are the random ideas of interning with a political campaign (one of my future fields of interest), finding a job in the USA that allows me to travel sometimes (HAH!), writing a book, visiting Denmark, moving to France to learn French and all matters of nonsensical craziness that is coursing through my thoughts. My brain feels like a two year old’s piece of crayon “art”.

This is significantly more orderly than the inside of my head at the moment.
This is significantly more orderly than the inside of my head at the moment.

So the point of this convoluted word purge is that my brain is swimming, and I have no idea what the future holds.

Really, no one should know or we’d all be bored out of our minds. I’ve made some tentative plans and I’m excited to see what happens. But I can’t shake this strange feeling that all of my planning is soon going to go to crap. Like my whole life is going to implode. Like I’m going to end up in some country, somewhere completely different than anything I’ve planned and it’s going to be weird and unexpected and impulsive.

I’m just trusting that whatever happens, it’s also going to be good.

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