Chris and I have started planning our trip in more detail, plotting out a route across the globe like a dashing young Burke and Wills. Here’s our loose itinerary:

Fly from Perth to Kuala Lumpur. Take a leisurely sleeper train up the peninsula into Thailand, and laze around on beaches, snorkelling over tropical reefs and eating cheap Thai cuisine until we get tired of the unrelenting swarms of fellow Western backpackers. Cross the border into Cambodia and explore the crumbling, overgrown ruins of Angkor Wat. Head east into Vietnam and follow the idyllic coastline north, before cutting west into Laos where hill tribes and French colonial towns are nestled in deep jungle. Travel north into China, and explore the rugged wilderness of the west, Jade Snow Mountain and Tiger Leaping Gorge. Budget and Chinese government permitting, take the train up into the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, where Buddhist monks pray under the unblinking eyes of the PLA. Descend from the roof of the world into Beijing, and take the Trans-Mongolian Express to Ulan Bator. Spend some time wandering around the plains of Mongolia, with horse nomads and yurts and such, then continue on the Trans-Siberian into Russia. If the Russian visa system proves to be anything other than a Kafkaesque ordeal, devote a few weeks to kicking around Siberia and Lake Baikal. After the train eventually spits us out in Moscow, catch a plane to Cairo.

Giza, the pyramids, the Red Sea, the Sahara Desert and the Nile should provide plenty to see and do before continuing our journey south into Africa. If overland travel through Sudan proves possible, we’ll move through there as quickly as possible (not much to see, and one of only eight countries DFAT thinks you absolutely shouldn’t visit) into Ethiopia. If not possible we’ll just fly from Cairo to Addis Abbaba. Moving through the highlands of Ethiopia, we’ll travel south into Kenya, then again into Tanzania, which encapsulates everything African in one nation (minus the warfare and all that): Mt. Kilimanjaro, Lake Victoria, the Serengeti and Zanzibar. Once that’s been exhausted, cross the border south into Mozambique, where 15th century Portuguese forts sit in marshy river deltas. Cross the border into South Africa, which is a first-world (read: expensive) nation and offers nothing African we haven’t already seen, so make a beeline for Jo’burg or Durban so we can fly to our next stop: Buenos Aires or Santiago, depending on which is cheaper.

Upon arrival in South America, head south into the mountains and glaciers of Patagonia, before swinging north again up the Andean spine through the high altitude Atacama Desert. Pass through Bolivia if we feel like it, then enter Peru. Just as Tanzania encapsulates Africa, Peru encapsulates South America: snow-capped mountain peaks, unexplored jungle, coastal deserts, the ruined Incan city of Macchu Picchu and the mountainous shores of Lake Titicaca. When we’re ready to leave, we’ll travel downriver along the Amazon, ideally swinging in hammocks in a two-storey saloon boat piloted by a gruff old jungle expat, cutting through the heart of the world’s largest rainforest. After reaching Belem on the Atlantic coast, we’ll either island-hop through the Caribbean or (more realistically, less awesomely) fly direct to the USA. Whether by hitchiking or buying the cheapest car we possibly can, we’ll head north along the Appalachians to New York City, then cut cross-country to Los Angeles, stopping along the way in Las Vegas and the various natural parks of the nation’s west. From LA we plan to head north along the west coast, detouring into Wyoming for Yellowstone National Park, and then crossing the border into Canada. Our funds will be near exhaustion by then, if not before, so we’re limited only by our bank accounts and our imagination before returning home.

My absolute minimum budget for this trip is $15,000, and even that is shaky, influenced more by Chris’ unwavering demand that we leave as soon as possible. I’d be a lot more comfortable with $20,000. As of now, the beginning of December, I have $10,700. I have dramatically slashed my outgoing expenses and usually earn at least $500 a week. I’m on holiday for two weeks in January, but even then I should be able to earn another $7000 by the end of March, the latest possible departure date I’ve coaxed out of my compatriot.

It’s sort of hard to tell how much these things will cost. We’ll be travelling almost exclusively through third world countries where you can live on dollars a day, plan to use couchsurfing.com extensively, and have a total of three definite flights: Australia-Malaysia, Russia-Egypt, South Africa-Argentina/Chile. (I don’t include the flight from Canada back home as part of expenses, because I’ll either be broke and have to wire my Dad for some money and then pay him back when I get home, or I won’t be tired of travelling and will get a working holiday visa and try to find a job in Canada.) The vague estimates you can get from online travel calculators and guides suggest the $15,000 to $20,000 figure is fairly accurate.

Chris is several thousand dollars ahead of me, since he had a long period of gainful employment at Mornington Wilderness Camp at the same time that I was cutting my losses and escaping a South Korean hagwon in the dead of night. He also has stuff like a guitar and piano and motorcycle and 4WD he can hock before he leaves, whereas I have a Hyundai Excel worth maybe $400 and absolutely nothing else. He also earns roughly the same amount as me, so I don’t really have any chance of catching up to him unless I break his arms and put him out of work for six weeks. Ideally we’d both have some cash left over at the end of this trip, but I can’t help but look at that long list of countries (and more than a year of travelling!) and believe that either of us will have a cent to our name when we’re done.

Money’s a weird thing.

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