Step 1 : choose a destination. The initial plan was to go to South America in 2009. (mainly Argentina and Brazil) But a condo purchase puts a serious dent in a girl`s travel budget. Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo are expensive cities. So I decide to cash in the aeroplan points and go somewhere that offers good value for money. I asked Maurice for suggestions. He first suggested India and then: Thailand, Laos & Vietnam. I opted for number 2 as I have heard many many great things about Laos from others I have met throughout my travels.
Step 2: pick the time. Three countries in four weeks. Since spring is not major project time at work and since I hate being left without a day or two of vacation for the occasional long weekend during the rest of the year, I HAD to go around Easter.
Step 3: find travel mates. I need an easy, worry-free, cost effective way to explore Laos and get from Bangkok to Hanoi. Gap Adventures to the rescue. For $1,075, they will take care of my accomodations and transportation for 14 days. I`ll join a small group (15 people) that will use local transportation (train, bus, river boat, tuk-tuk, songthaew, taxi, cyclo, plane) and stay in small guesthouses. One quick e-mail to Angie (travel agent) and I was signed up with a 5% discount. (note: booking early pays off - the price has since gone up considerably!)
Step 4: book the flight. The real reason why I`m planning so early as reward travel is not always the most flexible. Flight options were already limited in and out of Bangkok. Horrible connections would have taken me three days each way. But flying into Phaoket (I can`t spell that right without getting a language violation from Yahoo!) and out of Ho Chi Minh City was a much more convenient option. Silly silly me for thinking flying in/out of Bangkok, the biggest airport in the area, would be the best way to go !?!?!
Step 5: fine tune the itinerary. I will be on my own the first & fourth week of the adventure (the ideal mix of worry-free structure and self-reliant freedom). And since I`m landing in Southern Thailand (the beach/island area), I might as well start my trip with a couple days of fun in the sun before heading north to Bangkok. I had many islands and beaches to choose from. Although not during the best season for waves, the beach that is most likely to be surfable is Kata Beach. They have board rental shops/surfing schools. I got the taste for surfing in Australia when I felt the thrill of standing up (ungracefully) on a surf board and riding a wave for all of a five feet ...maybe I could manage to "hang ten" feet on some beginner waves this time?
Step 6: secure key accomodations. They can make or break the budget/trip. While most of Southeast Asia offers good value for money, the beaches around Phaoket do not. I could not afford a fancy (or plain) resort, still wanted to be close to everything yet wasn`t up for a party hostel. After hours surfing (on the internet), I finally found what appears to be a really nice small hotel that happens to have one room so small the bathroom is down the hall offered at a fraction fo the price of the other rooms with ensuites. I am very happy with my find and e-mailed the swede that runs to place to reserve said room and even arranged for an airport pick-up! (I arrive at 1:00 am & the pick-up will cost no more than a taxi)
Step 7: arrange for other transport: I noticed a buzz of activity about air asia on tripadvisor and low and behold, they were giving away 1 million free seats over four days in August for travel in April to July 2009. They are a reputable discount airline and so I booked a "free" flight from Phaoket to Bangkok (paid a few $ to check a bag, the taxes and fuel surcharge, of course, no such thing as a completely free ride ;-) But still $35 for a 2 hour flight is pretty sweet....even got a "hot seat" : their version of executive class. No champagne and caviar but early boarding and extra leg room is always nice.
Step 8: arrange secondary accomodation: I was still concerned about having affordable lodgings for my extended stays in Bangkok and Hanoi. I spent hours looking for safe, well located, budget, private rooms with shared bathroom, breakfast included, internet availability etc. I reserved for about 13$/night which is maybe twice what it would have cost of get a bed in shared dorm rooms in the cheapest hostels...I think it`s a very worthwhile expense! Won`t do anything crazy like splurge on private bathroom or AC despite going during the warmest / humidest months of the year but am definitely at a point in my life where the appeal of the shared dorm room has worn off...
Step 9: update trip planner. To keep everything straight, update the "yahoo trip planner" with links and details. Keeps me oragnised and keeps you in the know.
Step 10: buy supplies / cash-in on end of summer sales. I got pants that zip off into shorts and comfort sandals with covered toes (both essential for very warm crowded climates where pants are required to enter Wats (temples) and to deter disease carrying mosquitos.
Step 11: Buy a waterproof camera case. Aside from going to the beach and partaking in water sports, I will be there during Songkram (New Year`s / water festival - where buckets of water are thrown about to cleanse away bad luck - guaranteed to get soaked.)
Step 12: continue to monitor jet star airlines for flight deals from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.
Step 13: sort out medical requirements.
Step 14: secure visa.
Step 15: pack.
Step 16: begin adventure.