Have you ever wanted to take a break from your daily routine to travel around the world? If it’s on your bucket list, but seems like only a distant dream, take a minute to consider what roadblocks are standing in your way. Jobs, family, finances, and other commitments can all seem like insurmountable obstacles, but none are impossible to overcome. Sometimes, you just need to follow the signs.
About two years ago, my wife Alisa and I started this journey with a question: What would you do with 100 days? The question led us to think more seriously about what we wanted from life and how we would address all the things that seemed to stand between us and acting on a dream of ours.
Piecing together our trip around the world was like an epic match of extreme problem-solving. Each piece of the puzzle was shaped by first giving ourselves permission to dream big before we addressed each obstacle with equal parts creativity, determination, and resourcefulness.
We braced for substantial resistance from our families, bosses, co-workers and friends, and instead received surprising amounts of support. That’s in part because “no” wasn’t an option. We were committed. Because when you articulate your “why” behind a life-long goal, people can relate and want you to succeed. We are too often reminded how short life is.
This post is the official wrap-up to our trip around the world and the final edition of the 100 days travel blog. From our home base in Portland, Oregon to our first destination in Wellington, New Zealand all the way to our last stop in Reykjavik, Iceland, we tracked West until our circle around the world was complete. We only went to cities where we’d never been and New Zealand was the only country we’d previously visited. We experienced all places through a fresh lens and discovered some remarkable things about these cities and ourselves along the way.
Highlights, Packing and Budget Travel Tips
Here is the curated guide to 100 days for your enjoyment. Check out any of the previous posts about these places by clicking on the links below.
Top 4 Best Experiences
It’s hard to narrow this category down, but these four experiences rose to the top and are well worth a life-altering trip to any one of these places.
Not far behind these giants of tourism were the occasions we spent time with friends (new and old) on our travels. Getting to know Mark, Mike & Barney in Melbourne, touring around Sydney with Anita and Natalie, meeting Deanna and Silas in Siem Reap, enjoying a Stockholm City Hall tour with Matilda and dinner with Natalie’s family, relaxing at a BBQ with Rob, Rosa and family in Lisse, having lunch with Robert and Anne Marie in Heemstede, and ending our travels with Chandra in Iceland — each of these experiences helped ground us in a place through the love and friendship of people. Some of these folks we knew well before our trip, others not at all. These connections deepened our experiences on the road and gave us several “happiness boosters” along the way.
Top 3 Big Cities
We hit a LOT of world cities on this trip and our list of favorite world cities is now very different from when we started. These cities (in no particular order) represent an amazing mix of culture, nature, and interesting people, with public transportation systems that make them very easy to explore.
Top 3 Mid-Sized Cities
Not every destination needs to be a booming metropolis, and these manageably sized cities did not suffer from a lack of great food, art, shopping, and outdoor activities. In fact, there were many days when these places were just right.
Top 3 Small Cities
Sometimes it’s good to take the foot off the gas when you’re traveling and relax into a small city. Each of these places did not disappoint with their combination of beauty, access to nature, and essential amenities.
Top 3 Places we would have Skipped
Truth be told, hindsight is definitely 20-20. When we started this trip, we were very excited about a few places and not as enthused about others. Our expectation vs. experience ratio almost flipped completely over by the end of the trip. We discovered that our four most important factors about whether we would enjoy a place were: the ease of public transportation, the friendliness of locals, the weather, and how expensive it was to visit. Here are a few spots in the world that rated pretty low with those factors.
Harkening back to Alisa’s pre-trip packing post, her instincts were spot on. One backpack and one carry-on roller case per person was sufficient and let us stay nimble. Less was indeed more and allowed us to pick up a few things along the way. And we shipped a few boxes home to lighten the load.
Best packing decisions…
- Icebreaker wool underwear – the secret is out, thanks to the Kiwis. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest Icebreaker outlet for a quick-drying, low hassle undies.
- A 24 oz. Hydro Flask water bottle – came in handy everywhere we went. Kept cold water cold and hot water hot.
- Starbucks VIA packets – if you travel, be prepared to drink bad coffee (in some places, REALLY bad coffee). Starbucks via packets are the best instant coffee on the market. Next time, I’d bring A LOT more.
- Waterproof running shoes – Rather than packing hiking boots and tennis shoes, we both opted for Brooks gore tex running shoes.
What we should have left at home…
- Nice earrings – weren’t worth the trouble
- 2 “dressy” tank tops – 1 would have sufficed
- Extra pair of wool socks – 1 was enough
- Steripen water filter – was heavy and we never used it. (Alisa would add a lifestraw to the emergency kit instead.)
Budget Travel Tips
Very few people have an unlimited budget, so estimating your big expenses before you go helps to determine where to go and how long to be on the road. Here are a few budget travel tips that helped us keep expenses relatively low.
- Use a travel agent to book flights in advance. Unless you have your heart set on a flexible travel schedule, choosing your destinations in advance can cut the price of your tickets by more than half. We worked with a company called Airtreks and they were able to book all of our flights for about 1/3 of the price we initially expected to pay. That also meant we paid off our flights 6 months before our trip. Having all the flights with one company reduced the hassle factor, so any changes were always reflected on the master itinerary and they took care of rebooking if there was an issue.
- You get more value with Air B&B than hotels. Price comparisons showed that we saved $$ booking in advance with Air B&B, everywhere except SE Asia where boutique hotels were quite inexpensive. Our top desired amenity (after a coffee maker) was a laundry machine, followed by a kitchen. Plus, having most of our reservations available on a single app interface made it unnecessary to organize a bunch of hotel reservations.
- Travel during shoulder seasons. Prices drop as soon as most tourists head home and top attractions are less crowded. When hotels are less crowded, they often give complimentary upgrades. In Luang Prabang and Bangkok, we booked the least expensive room in nice hotels and were upgraded to suites. Rock on!
- Research public transportation options ahead of time. Most cities we visited in Australia and Europe had multi-day transit cards you could purchase when you arrive. That saved us a bundle on cabs and we never rented a car the whole time we were away.
- Stay places where you can cook your own food (and know when you can pack some with you). It’s intuitive, but groceries are cheaper than eating out three meals a day. The advanced class involves knowing what to pack with you when you’re traveling to a place where food is ridiculously expensive, like Iceland.
- For the environmentally-conscious budget traveler, buy carbon offsets to show the planet some love while you explore. The Bonneville Environmental Foundation will sell you carbon offsets without breaking the bank. You can choose from several carbon calculators to determine how many you should purchase.
In 100 days, rather than try to hit everywhere on our bucket list, we chose three regions of the world and spent about a month in each: New Zealand/Australia, Southeast Asia, and Northern Europe. The plan allowed us to stay in places for 4-7 days, get to know a spot and not rush to the next destination.
Just in case you missed a post or three…here’s the complete recap of the 100 days travel blog:
100 Days: If you had 100 days, what would you do?
Preparations: Getting ready for a journey is both an internal and external exercise
Packing: Alisa’s expert tips for packing light
The Layover (Los Angeles): Making the most of in-between times
Month 1 (March/April)
Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand: Heaven on Earth for hikers and kayakers
Nelson, New Zealand: Artsy, lovely backpacker-friendly town
Christchurch, New Zealand: Still heartbreaking five years after the earthquake
Melbourne, Australia: World’s most livable city (for good reasons) with koalas and penguins
Port Douglas, Australia (Great Barrier Reef): Once-in-a-lifetime underwater magic with a rainforest nearby
Sydney, Australia: Not as cool as Melbourne, but redefining its own sustainable future
Month 2 (April/May)
Hoi An, Vietnam: Lanterns, tailors, beaches and food!
Siem Reap, Cambodia (Angkor temples): Extraordinary temples and ancient civilizations with a party-scene on Pub Street
Luang Prabang, Laos: Time travel back to a picturesque village at the confluence of two rivers where Buddha smiled
Chiang Mai, Thailand: East meets West with elephant nature parks and hiking nearby
Bangkok, Thailand: Chaos, temples, and markets…oh my!
Month 3 (May/June)
Stockholm, Sweden: Europe’s hidden jewel – a gorgeous and evolved city that is easy to enjoy by foot, ferry, and train (and the underground stations smell like cinnamon)
Copenhagen, Denmark: Gritty, bicycle-friendly, canal-laden city — just cool enough for its own good
Amsterdam, The Netherlands: The architecture, canals, and floating flower market are way more interesting than the bongs and the red-light district
Ghent, Belgium: Castles, museums, and beer
Utrecht, The Netherlands: Third best bicycling city in the world with good microbrews
Reykjavik, Iceland: Pricey, rugged, and not as pretty as Alaska
And then finally…we returned home to Portland, Oregon!
If you’re thinking of planning a journey of your own, keep in mind that traveling for 100 days is not a vacation. It’s more like a pilgrimage, as much of an inward journey as an outward one.
It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle starting with the more obvious flat edges on the outside and working your way inward, with increasing complexity. You know you have the correct pieces from the beginning – you’re just not sure how they’ll all fit together.
When you get close to the end of the journey, you can see the puzzle take shape before you, noticing the intricacies of the colors and shapes of the pieces as they become a single thing, an experience you weren’t sure you ever would have. Through the mixing of colors and shapes, you notice that your fundamental understanding of people, history, geography and the environment has changed. You know in your heart that the world is both larger and smaller than you once believed.
Now is the best time to realize your dreams.
So that’s the story of 100 days. Your comments and questions are welcome!