How We Decide Which Countries To Visit — It’s A Big World Out There

When we were starting out the possibility seems daunting. 192 countries and only 1 year to do it. How are you supposed to decide?

First we tried starting out with an established itinerary from a travel agent, but in the end we customized it so much it didn’t look anything like what we started with (neither did the price).

So we figured it’s easier if we do the two-pronged approach. Let’s start with our own custom itinerary, than shop around trying to find a RTW deal that’s closest to our itinerary… and by magic, it will all just work out.

As you can tell, we’re a little fuzzy about that part of the planning… heck, life in general is fuzzy for us πŸ™‚

Anyway, we’re still in that stage of building and trimming our itinerary, and I think we’re getting pretty close. These are the criteria we loosely used to help us out.

1. Cost

With our limited budget — this is our biggest concern. I would like to visit old friends who are scattered around the globe (and the possibility of staying for free is definitely a plus), but they all live in places like France, Germany, Australia… Places with high living cost that would drain our hard-earned savings quicker than you can say “Long time no see, how are you?” Maybe I can convince some of you to move to Laos? Or Cambodia?

-- by Stuck in Customs
-- by Stuck in Customs

There are also places that just simply too prohibitively expensive to visit. Places like Libya or Bhutan that do not let visitors roam the country by themselves but instead require them to go with pre-arranged organized trips (read: $$$).

Organized trips can be fun, but we simply can’t afford doing a whole country on organized trips like that even if they’re usually all-inclusive.

2. Can we visit this place when we’re 60?

-- by Stewf, Flickr

Even though there are some older people in our gym that are fitter, stronger, and no doubt can out-climb us any day, there’s no guarantee that we won’t be soft, arthritis-ridden oldies (but still infected with travel bug) when we’re their age . When it comes the time to wield the decision blade, some places would need to be taken off the list.

Places that:
– have good, comfortable, and vastly available public transportation
– have good tourist infrastructure
– whose tourism doesn’t depend solely on physical activities such as trekking, climbing, or spelunking

In short, countries that we think our grandparents would enjoy visiting end up on the “Would be nice, but maybe some day” list.

3. Ease to get visa

Fortunately, the majority of the places already in danger of not making it on the list due to the above reasons are usually hard for me to get visa for anyway. Trying to get a visa for countries in Western Europe and Australia are bureaucratic nightmare for someone with my citizenship. I had such a terrible time trying to get Schengen visa, and the requirements are so strict that I tried so hard not to include any Schengen country on our itinerary.

Unfortunately, with Western Europe being a major hub for Northern Africa and Eastern Europe — it seems that getting a Schengen visa is unavoidable.
— Aaargghhh!!!

This is also another reason why after having Australia and New Zealand as our first stop in our itinerary for the longest time, we decided to skip the area altogether in the end. It’s expensive, and visa requirements are a headache.

Holding everything else the same, countries with visa-on-arrival, or even better, no visa requirements always get our vote! As a matter of fact, we use a list of those countries when crafting our first draft of the itinerary.

4. Gut feelings

Robin Hood Tree -- Jack and Jill Collection

I like to browse our local library’s travel section and pick guidebooks at random. Mostly of countries I know nothing about. And sometimes — this is weird, I know — but certain descriptions of a place or a picture would catch my attention and I have a feeling that I should really, really try to squeeze that one in the itinerary, however out of the way it is.

I’m sure that subconsciously I have built up an image and a desire to visit these places through random exposures in the past — maybe a book or a movie I watched many years ago, or something.

What else can it be that made me put down Ethiopia — a country never given even an ounce of consideration — in our itinerary after a 10 sec flipping through the guidebook?

Central Asia countries were also a gut feeling choice. I was devastated when we realized that it might prove to be too costly to go there. But I’m doing further research and it seems that it’s possible we can make a quick jaunt to Kyrgyzstan (how can a word that long only have one vowel?) from Mongolia (update: this depends on the whole situation with China develops). So there’s still hope!

5. Ease of land border crossing

We prefer to do our border crossing on land, either by train or bus. It’s relatively cheaper, you get to see more of the landscape, and have more interaction with people you meet along the way. Even though it’s slower than taking a plane, we imagine that once we’re on the road we’ll definitely be in the position where we actually have more time than money.

We put Mongolia back on our itinerary after we found out that trans-Mongolian train can take us from Beijing to Ulan Bataar relatively easily.

Although to be honest, the real reason is both of us just do not like flying…

6. What people said

Word of mouth is another strong influence on our itinerary. After reading about the beauty and overwhelming friendliness of the people in Georgia, we would try to squeeze in a visit there when we’re in the area. My mom had such a good time in China we’re thinking of staying there longer than we originally planned to.

Daniel and Audrey had such a fantastic time in Antarctica it made me want to put Antarctica on the list too. Until I found out how much it cost…

With $5000 per head I’m afraid that trip will have to wait (see #1)

7. Our own wish list

-- by Barabeke

Last but definitely not least, there are places we’ve carried around in our heart for as long we can remember we don’t know the reason why anymore– places that we’ve uttered in sentences such as “I’d really like to visit there someday”, and actually meant it.

Places like Tibet for Jack, and the pyramids in Egypt for me (although after reading this post, I’m not so sure anymore). These places have priority in the itinerary because they’re the reason we’re planning the trip to begin with anyway. In essence they are the anchors of our itinerary and we try to squeeze everything else in-between.

As usual our ambition is bigger than our bank account, so even with all of these restrictions the list is still long. Ideally I’d like to be able to stay in country for at least a month.. or two. I mean, I’ve lived in this country for 10 years and I’ve barely even scratched at the surface of my state has to offer. I don’t think I can consciously say I’ve been to a place knowing that all I did is a whirlwind tour of the main tourist attractions.

Using the current itinerary, it’ll leave us with 2-3 weeks per country. Which is not good enough. So we either have to cut down on the number of countries (like in third), or save even harder (or figure out a way to make money on the road) so we can be out on the road longer (preferred).

I’ve always known it is a big world out there. But not until you sit in front of a world map and actually look… did you realise that it’s a much, much bigger world out there than you can possibly imagine.

So, tell me…what countries are on YOUR wish list and WHY?