Time to plan

While spontaneity is the thing that seems to give many a buzz, we have never found that it works particularly well for us and, as boring as it sounds,  having a plan means that we are as prepared as we can be when it come to everything from travel to the rest of lives.

“If you don’t know exactly where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?”
Steve Marabol

So while we are about to head south on our summer trip of the South Island, we are also well into the second phase of our planning for a Dec 2017/early 2018 trip to Australia, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

The core tool that I use for travel planning is a good old Excel spreadsheet. The template that I have developed has been tweaked after each trip and I am now satisfied that it is a good as I can make it. In addition to planning, I also use the final cut to manage our travel diary and costs while on the road. It is the goto document.

My trusty spreadsheet – the top example is the top level stages while the lower shows the final cut

The first cut of a plan is a concept, very rough, setting an approximate start date and then filling in top level destinations and budgeted costs, all in a fairly cursory  way. At then end of that exercise we decide on whether or not we like the broad plan and costs. This exercise I carried out some months ago.

I then set about researching in a more detail the places we have tagged for visiting. How to get there, costs based on current fares, possible destinations in each country, modes of getting from place to place including travel time and costs, accommodation options and costs, activities and costs, visa requirements, currency and exchange rates, health risks, political climate, etc.

That work is largely complete for the 2017/18 travels and that allows me to make a second cut of the plan and come up with what I consider to be close to a final budget, give or take a little. We have finalised a route that we hope to follow and a short list of potential destinations. There are still a couple of; maybe, maybe not, destinations but we will pin those down over the next month so that we are ready to start phase three in a few months time which is; settling on actual dates and then starting the booking process.

Joe and Beth Vok
Joe and Beth Volk – simpletravelourway

This trip is a little different in that we are intending to rendezvous as some stage along the way with Joe and Beth Volk of simpletravelourway.We caught up with Joe and Beth during their travels in New Zealand in early 2014 and agreed that maybe our paths would cross at some time in the future. Well we hope to do that on this trip but to make it happen we will need to co-ordinate at least part of our schedules to ensure that we are in the same place at the same time.  We are also hoping to catch-up with friends and family in Australia on our way to Asia but that will be more of a “if you are available”.  Expecting people to know what they are doing around Christmas 2017 when we have not even had Christmas 2016 is a bit of a stretch.

So a bit of my time is currently being spent reading guidebooks, battling ‘captcha’ on Google because it suspects that I am a ‘bot’, pouring over maps and testing Ruth’s boundaries regarding some of the potential modes of transport and activities.

While reading about an adventure on the Mekong; a footnote detailed the huge plans and work already underway for damming of the river and what that is going to mean for it’s  ecology and the livelihood of the population reliant upon it and it’s food resources. We spent some time on the delta and up as far as Phnom Phen a year ago and the impacts on the lower reaches were already being felt. Essentially, the advice was “see it while it is still there”.

I have found several options for getting between Luang Prabang in Laos and northern Thailand via the river. It involves the ‘road less traveled’ and as such I have tested these on Ruth and have a tentative ‘yes’ to at least one of them. A second one (via kayak) involves staying in local villages along the way. I got a maybe to the villages and have not tested the kayak option yet. I need to check costs before putting her through any unnecessary anguish.

Cliff gives Som advice
Guides are good for not getting lost – Cycling around the Angkor complexes 2015. There were four of us on that cycle.

When it comes to South East Asia, we don’t attempt any ‘self guided’ options when it comes to hikes or longer distance bike rides. The trails are not on maps, there are no signposts and getting lost is potentially life threatening, as is getting on the wrong road. So I tend to look for guided options, preferably small group. That worked well last time, when ‘group’ usually meant one other couple or a few more at most.

I was keen to try and see more of Cambodia but transport options are limited and it meant covering the same ground to get to and from some destinations, unless we want to undertake more challenging alternatives. I had pretty much ‘flagged it away’ when I found a cycle trip that allows us to bike from Siem Reap to the southern coast. Even better, it is largely flat terrain and there is a support vehicle which transports you over some of the more dangerous ground and distances. It is run by the company that we had two cycle adventures with last time. I ran that past Ruth and got a ‘yes’.

Early morning on the Mekong – waiting for our boat from Chau Doc to Phnom Phen

Still plenty of work to do but we are ready to start making the hard decisions which will probably happen while away in the South Island. With WIFI coverage patchy, it is best to do all the ‘heavy lifting’ such as the web research phase before we leave.

The tweaking of the itinerary is relatively easy using the spreadsheet. Once we have a definite date, plugging that into my model gives us our finalised travel dates.

I know it is early but while researching internal air flights with Lao Air I was shocked to see that on may dates in January 2018, there were very few available seats. The planes are small and I assume that group tours book them up in advance.

We will keep you posted.


  1. We’re looking forward to taking part in this trip with you two – starting with the planning (both with our spreadsheets). This could be our most challenging-to-plan trip yet!


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