Learn how I plan a train journey from London to Tbilisi

Look Over My Shoulder

Stage 1: Introduction & The Dreaming/Brainstorming Stage

This post begins a series of articles in which I walk you through my travel planning process—from barely an idea to reservations and actual travel. 

Title Image for Post

“This road -before-the-road has, for some time, robbed me of both my nights and my days.”    ~Bernard Ollivier, Out of Istanbul

Introduction

I love to plan trips almost as much as I love to take them. During my lifetime, I have created several detailed itineraries that were never used. But I love the puzzle and investigation process the planning entails. Like a dedicated sudoku player, I never feel my time is wasted.

Now as I begin yet another travel possibility, I am documenting the process I go through from dream to travel. Sometimes people ask me if they can look over my shoulder as I make my travel plans, so now I am inviting you to do so. For a long journey, this can be a months-long process, so I will document the “steps” (including personal introspections) here in a series of articles.

The process is not always pretty and organized, so you may find that I share some contradictory ideas as I explore the pros and cons of different routes, destinations, and lodging. The detail research strategies I use mean that it is inevitable that I will add and delete destinations and things to see and do.

As the planning progresses, I create a number of personalized documents that will become indispensable once travel begins:

  • a text document containing the core and details of my itinerary and includes links to booking sites and travel articles.
  • a route map.
  • a calendar.
  • spreadsheets to help me keep track of budgets, logistical data, and (later) actual expenses.

 

And now for the first stage…

One: The Dreaming/Brainstorming Stage

There are so many places I want to visit. In the last few years, I have come to appreciate slow, long-term travel. This means that I am mostly only considering destinations where I would like to settle for a while, exploring the region over months and getting to know the locals.

Even the skeleton idea of this  journey did not solidify until after several months of consideration. Here are some of the directions my thinking went: 

How About Some Village-to-Village Hiking?

In 2017, I walked the Camino de Santiago del Norte and fell in love with “village to village” walking. It was so wonderful to be able to walk across the countryside for days on end, and not have to carry camping gear and food. It is hard to find places in the US where this kind of walking is possible because towns are spaced so far apart, and few have lodging available. In many other countries, however, there are thriving villages every 5 to 15 kilometers with cafes, food stores, guesthouses, and even cheap hostels readily available.

My pilgrim shadow next to a sign that reads "Camino de Santiago"

So, I started a research project (which is ongoing) to learn about “village-to-village” treks around the world. And there are a LOT of them—but that is a subject of a future blog post. But one article I came across really inspired me. It detailed the Mestia to Ushguli trail in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia. As soon as I learned about that hike, I knew I just had to do it.

How About Georgia?

About the same time, I also kept coming across other information about Georgia. It is a very welcoming country. The culture of hospitality is over the top. Some accounts talk about how even the border guards act like they have just been sitting around waiting for you to arrive.

Georgia is one of only two countries that offer an initial one-year tourist visa. (Albania is the other.) That means that if I really like it there, I won’t be constrained to leave—or renew my visa in 90 days. Besides that, the visa is “free on arrival” for visitors from most countries meaning that I don’t have to apply for it in advance. Just show up “at the door.”

The cost of living is at least as cheap as that in Mexico. This is good news for my Social-Security-constrained budget. I lived in Mexico recently for 5 months and actually saved money from my Social Security payments!

Georgia is on the way to the rest of Central Asia. (I am also dreaming of an overland trip from Georgia, through Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea, through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan.)

A Ukrainian friend of my sisters told me how Georgia holds a special place in her heart, and she encouraged me to visit there.

The country is not yet “discovered” by massive amounts of tourists. In fact, many people don’t even know there is a country named Georgia.

I had visited two ex-Soviet countries (Estonia and Kyrgyzstan) and appreciated the recent history and the way the people had been so resilient after the fall of the Soviet Union.

So…Georgia became my next destination. But how to get there?

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Cathy Fulton

I am Cathy Fulton and I became a world nomad in 2014. Traveling has become a way of life for me. Except for the fact that I am a citizen of the United States, I don’t have a residence. I am retired and I like to travel solo and independently. I don’t know how many times I have heard, “You are living my dream.” My reply is, “It doesn’t have to be a dream. It can be a reality!"

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