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My long, long road to Oz

My rucksack is packed, I've handed in my notice at work and very, very soon I'll be setting off on a nine-month adventure that will take me from the highlands of Peru to the kangaroos and sunny coasts of Australia - and many places in between. As excited as I am for my tri-continental expedition, sometimes I have asked myself exactly why I've quit a great writing job and waved goodbye to everyone I know to embrace the unknown and spend almost a year on the road, hanging out with strangers and sleeping in different beds every night.

The answer is simply that this is something I've always desperately wanted to do and, although I've tried my best, two-week bursts of annual leave are not enough to satiate my desire when it comes to exploring the world.

As a writer, I'd feel like something was missing if I was seeing and doing all the amazing things I have planned without blogging about it, and so I'll be keeping you updated on my adventure here: hopefully providing some inspiration for your next trip abroad, or maybe even your own career break!

My previous travelling experience includes most of the countries of Europe, with longer haul destinations including Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, New York, Morocco and Egypt. So - after consulting my bucket list, throwing some darts at a map and conducting a lot of internet research - where have I decided to jet off to this time and what am I most looking forward to?

Peru

Machu Pichu - Peru

Machu Pichu - Peru

Peru is the first stop on my itinerary - and for two major reasons. The first is geographical: my previous travelling experience sadly lacks any mention of South America, and I thought I should definitely rectify this. South America is an incredibly varied continent when it comes to everything from climate and scenery to history and culture, meaning I've had to be organised when it comes to planning in order to make the most of everything it has to offer - and I'll be on a pretty tight itinerary during my seven weeks on the continent.

Peru is a fantastic starting point for my jaunt across South America, and I'll be spending around three weeks there, visiting the major cities, touring Lake Titicaca and the floating islands of Uros, and even spending a night in an island homestay - one aspect of the trip I'm pretty nervous about!

The reason I wanted Peru to be the first stop on my schedule is honestly so I didn't give myself too much time to think about what will be the biggest challenge of my trip: trekking the Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu - a feat which has been top of my travel bucket list for a while. The trek is a difficult four-day climb, with many steep ascents, and - as my fitness could be described as moderate at best - I predict I will struggle with this somewhat. However, I am determined to make it up to the iconic ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu - and hopefully without complaining too much.

Bolivia

Spectacular sky over Uyuni salt flats - Bolivia

Spectacular sky over Uyuni salt flats - Bolivia

After Peru it is straight to Bolivia, one of South America's more ‘off the beaten path' destinations, and the home of the spectacular Uyuni Salt Flats - a landscape I've always dreamed of seeing. I will be taking a three-day expedition out to the flats in a 4x4 - the preferred method of transport for this tour due to the rocky desert terrain.

Bolivia also has a complex and fascinating history, and in order to explore this further I'll be visiting some of the country's major cities, including Potosi, famous for its silver mines, the ‘white' capital Sucre, and, of course, La Paz, with its notorious witches market packed with potions and llama foetuses.

Brazil

Aerial shot of Rio de Janeiro - Brazil

Aerial shot of Rio de Janeiro - Brazil

I want to visit Brazil because, well, who wouldn't? In recent times, the South American giant has emerged as one of the world's new superpowers, and there is just so much going on in this colourful nation right now.

In what will potentially be the most outdoorsy part of my adventure, I've scheduled in a three-day trip to the Pantanal Wetlands to rough it among some of Brazil's most beautiful (and also fearsome) plants and animals. After hillsides dotted with llama and alpaca in Peru and Bolivia, the Wetlands boast a spectacular array of wildlife including exotic birds such as toucans and jabaris, giant otters, piranha, caiman and even jaguars. Whether I'll manage to get up close to these animals - and whether I'll have the nerve to - remains to be seen.

My South American adventure will end in Rio de Janeiro, which I anticipate will also be the highlight of my time in Brazil. After six weeks of trekking, camping and bug spray, I expect to spend some well-deserved downtime on the beach and enjoying Rio's carnival-esque nightlife, but I'm also going to quite literally throw caution to the wind and hang glide from one of the surrounding mountains to the sandy beach of Sao Conrado to view the city in style.

Thailand

Twilight time of Wat Arun - Thailand

Twilight time of Wat Arun - Thailand

South East Asia is a giant leap from South America - and indeed, I'll lose three days in the air at this point - but I know it will be worth it. I chose South America for my itinerary because it meant exploring the unknown, and I've picked Asia because I've visited twice before and it is - thus far - my favourite continent in the world.

I'm familiar with Thailand, having spent a week in Bangkok and stumbled my way through a three-day jungle trek in Chiang Mai a couple of years ago. This time I plan to split my itinerary between Bangkok and the Thai islands - the choice of which ones will be decided upon arrival. While the South American part of my world tour is very well planned out, I'm going to relax a bit more on the Asian leg, leaving it just slightly more to destiny. I'm hoping this will mean I get to see things I wouldn't have on a tighter schedule, and be a bit more spontaneous when it comes to moving between locations.

Laos

Luang Prabang - Laos

Luang Prabang - Laos

Laos is undoubtedly the wildcard of my trip - somewhere I've never really thought about going before and admittedly don't know too much about. What I do know is that it's extremely beautiful and has been recommended to me by at least ten other travellers - and that's good enough for me.

The country was once famed among young backpackers for its party-heavy tubing culture, which is essentially floating down a river in a rubber ring, and hauling yourself in at waterside bars for a drink every so often. However, after a number of accidents - inevitable when mixing alcohol and water - restrictions have been put in place, meaning that tubing is now a much more tranquil and breathtaking experience, and a must-do while you're in the country.

As of now, that's the only activity on the itinerary for Laos - other than that my only plan is that there is no plan!

Vietnam

Panoramic view of Halong Bay - Vietnam

Panoramic view of Halong Bay - Vietnam

Of all the countries on my itinerary, Vietnam is the one I am most excited about, as it's the one country I've always wanted to spend time in but never managed to before. This is also likely to involve more backpacking than any other part of my trip - and it could be quite difficult attempting to cross the country on land, arranging transport and accommodation as I go.

During my month in Vietnam, I'll be starting in Hanoi, taking a cruise on Halong Bay and then heading up to rural Sapa for a three-day trek. From there I'll be venturing south, using buses, trains and motorbikes to make my way to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). On the way down, I'll be making a number of stops, including Hue, Hoi An and Nha Trang - although there is no set itinerary.

I'm finding it hard to decide which part of Vietnam I think will be my highlight - although Halong Bay and Ho Chi Minh City are definitely strong contenders - but I think Vietnam overall is likely to be my favourite part of the trip and I can't wait.

Indonesia

Ulun Danu temple at sunrise, Bali - Indonesia

Ulun Danu temple at sunrise, Bali - Indonesia

Indonesia is my final stop in South East Asia, and all I know is that I'm going to start in Jakarta and end in Bali - which, like Rio, I assume will be a fitting reward for all my hardcore travelling in the months leading up to it.

When it comes to getting around, Indonesia - the largest archipelago in the world - is an interesting one as you have to choose your islands carefully to avoid travelling inefficiently. I have around a month here too, and I predict I'll spend quite a bit of time on Java and leave space for another island, before making my way across to Bali for some serious relaxing and a little bit of sightseeing.

Australia

Sidney's Opera House and Harbour Bridge at twilight - Australia

Sidney's Opera House and Harbour Bridge at twilight - Australia

In Australia I'll be visiting Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, at the very least - and this is the part of my trip in which I have some big decisions to make. While Australia marks the end of my itinerary, it does not necessarily mean home time. I have a working visa for Oz, meaning that if I manage to find a job, I could stay there a year - or even more if I do some farm work and renew it for another 12 months.

Expecting the unexpected

So those are my expectations for the trip - although I'm well aware that expectations don't always match reality. Right now I'm most excited to travel through Vietnam, and to see the incredible Uyuni Salt Flats, while I'm almost dreading the struggle of the Inca Trail and foreign cuisine that might not quite be to my taste. I'm also interested to see how I'll adapt to life on the road: having previously never been out of the UK, nine months is a pretty long time.

Maybe I'll miss my home comforts way more than I'm anticipating and perhaps some of the predicted high points of my trip will be underwhelming. Equally, I could fall in love with places and cultures that I never knew existed, while some of the most memorable moments are likely to occur when I'm just trying to get from A to B. Who knows - maybe I'll even discover a previously latent love of strenuous uphill hiking on my way to Machu Picchu! Either way it's incredibly exciting to be venturing into the unknown after years of the nine-to-five routine.

Furthermore, I love that my trip is being left open-ended, for me to decide whether I want to return to the UK or keep travelling. Maybe I'll be ready to get back to reality, or perhaps the wanderlust will overcome me - keep track of my journey of a lifetime by reading this blog and I'll let you know.

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Caroline Howley

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