Learn how I plan a train journey from London to Tbilisi
Look Over My Shoulder
Stage 2: Solidifying My Goals
This is Part 2 of a series of articles walking you through my travel planning process—from barely an idea to reservations and actual travel. I recommend reading the articles in order beginning with Part 1 here.
Today’s post is quite rambling, following my disparate thoughts from one idea to another. But travel planning—especially for a lengthy journey—is rarely straightforward. And in my case, it is usually a pretty messy and disorganized process.
In my Dreaming/Brainstorming Stage, I decided that the country of Georgia is going to be my ultimate destination.
At first, I thought I would just fly to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, in the fall of 2021. The country has already opened itself to tourists after COVID. I figured I would just live there through the winter. A quick search revealed that Qatar Airways offered reasonably priced flights to Tbilisi. Having flown with Qatar before, I knew from experience how hospitable their flights are. And they don’t nickel-and-dime you to death; i.e. paying for seat selection, checked bags, and even whether or not you can bring a personal item on board. (Yes, that is becoming a thing, believe it or not!)
What about Trekking?
But I really wanted to do the Mestia to Ushguli trail in the Caucasus Mountains that had first inspired me. And those hikes in the Caucasus would not be possible until, at least, late spring. Arriving in mid-winter means I will have to be in the country five or six months at least.
Hmmmm…what could I do during the winter to use up some of that time? I returned to my village-to-village trekking research (mentioned in Part 1). Maybe I could do some of the cultural trails in Turkey or maybe the Rota Vicentina in southern Portugal first. The weather would be comfortable for hiking in mid-to-late winter.
The Trekking to Train Metamorphosis
I also looked for other possible Southern European treks and how I would get from the end of one to the beginning of another. I love trains and my maze of planning strategies started pushing me to research connecting train routes. It was not long before I (almost literally) connected the dots, and the idea of a LONG train journey from Paris or London to Turkey emerged. Then it would be another easy (although long) train from Istanbul to Georgia. Maybe I would visit a few places in Turkey on the way as well.
About that time the Delta variant of COVID shut down most European countries yet again. I realized that it would not be wise to count on a multi-country trip in Europe before the beginning of 2022.
My Own Version of the Orient Express
But now, I could not get the romantic notion of my own version of the Orient Express out of my head. What would it be like to spend a month or more making my way by rail from Paris or London to Istanbul, and then follow one of the Silk Roads to Tbilisi?
I was reading Out of Istanbul by Bernard Ollivier and this sentence popped right off the page: “This road -before-the-road has, for some time, robbed me of both my nights and my days.”
I truly believe there is no such thing as coincidences.
Defining My Purpose and Goals
Okay, it was time to solidify some plans before I lost my mind in the mists of destination possibilities.
What were my purpose and goals (and sub-goals) for this trip? What was drawing me?
- I am ready to start traveling again as soon as possible.
- All the countries I travel to/through need to be open with little chance of more border closings after COVID.
- This may mean that I can begin traveling as early as January or February.
- I have come to enjoy low-season travel which I write about here. I particularly appreciate that there are fewer tourists, and I can enjoy my destinations. Low season in most of Europe and Central Asia is in the winter.
- I want to live in Georgia, for at least several months.
- I need to be there in the late spring/summer in order to do the Mestia to Ushguli hike (which was my original reason for going to Georgia)
- To reduce carbon emissions, I want to travel by air as little as possible.
- One flight to the closest place in western Europe, with only one or zero stops would be the best.
- I even looked at the possibility of a sea voyage, but the minimal cost of $2,000 USD made that option beyond my means.
- I love trains!
- I would like to get away from using low-cost airlines that “nickel and dime” you to death, and I would like to avoid airline ticket consolidators and agencies (like Kiwi, Skyscanner, Google Flights). I talk a lot about that in “My Airfare Reservations Rant” blogpost here.
- I want to connect with people through a couple interests I have: the fiber arts and food explorations. These are usually the “themes” of my travels. You can learn a LOT more about Thematic Travel here.
- I want to enjoy the special places and natural beauty along the way.
- And I need to balance all these goals and possibilities with the fact that my budget is very limited.
Putting It All Together
So, here is how my trip is shaping up:
- Fly to London (closer to the U.S. than Tbilisi) with as few stops as possible
- Travel by train during the winter from London to Tbilisi, Georgia.
- As long as I am traveling overland, I should take advantage of visiting the places through which I will be traveling.
- I have plenty of time to travel, so extending the overland portion of the trip to four to six weeks may be a good idea, so I have time to…
- …meet locals and learn about the food and culture along the way.
My next step is to take these ideas and begin building a skeleton itinerary. As I research and learn more about the route, the costs, and the countries I travel through, the exact itinerary is sure to change several times.
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Other Blog Posts You May Find Interesting
Look Over My Shoulder Stage 2
Today’s post is quite rambling, following my disparate thoughts from one idea to another. But travel planning—especially a lengthy journey—is rarely straightforward. And in my case, it is usually a pretty messy and disorganized process.
A Plan Sidetracked
…the reservations I had made crumbled one by one. Country borders that had shyly opened slammed shut, making a multi-country train voyage impossible.
Look Over My Shoulder Stage 4
It is time to do some preliminary research to get a ballpark idea of how much this will cost. If it is beyond my financial means, now is a good time to cut out some venues, before I get my heart set on all of them.