Step 1: Choosing locations

Perhaps the most difficult part of starting a journey around the world is deciding how much of the world you want (and can afford) to see. Travel sites that specialize in around-the-world trips offer packages for romantics, adventurers, soul-seekers, and everyone in between – so it’s important to first ask yourself why you’re traveling.

For our group, the answer is easy: we just finished four grueling years in undergrad and before we head off to the working world or graduate school, we just want to see as much of the world as we can while spending as little as we have to. We want to gather epic stories, take memorable pictures, eat ridiculous things, meet interesting people and spend a few more weeks all together before moving on. Where we go to experience these things didn’t really matter to us…as long as we could afford it.

First we took out the notion of Europe. Cliff and Ali both already spent a semester running around the corners of The Continent seeing everything from Barcelona to the Berlin Wall. And then there’s the USD-EUR exchange rate, which isn’t favorable on a student’s budget. The only exception in Europe – and the country Steph really wanted to see – was Greece. Thanks to some fishy EU monetary policies, the Greek Economic Crisis which led to the current level of deflation made Greece (more specifically, Santorini) very doable. Europe was out, but Greece stayed in.

India fell into our itinerary as a natural stop en route to Thailand. Of course, it met our criteria as well – it’s cheap, picturesque, overflowing with people, and world-famous for incredible food. In addition, the group would get a free, knowledgeable, and handsome tourguide (me) included in their ticket price. Not a bad deal, I’ll say.

Thailand was the easy favorite for the group. Several of us (including Cliff and myself) have wanted to go see the fabled beaches and experience the culture. One of us (Jared) has wanted to go since he had his first bowl of pad thai in Chicago’s northern suburb of Evanston (home of literally everything in the world, right Jared?). The cost of living – as Ryan learned – is next to nothing, and the country has a lot to offer for backpackers. We were sold on Thailand.

Since we would be in the neighborhood, and we would be traveling with a genuine Filipino (Cliff), the Philippines was an attractive stop as well. The most important part of our criteria the Philippines met (aside from being cheap) was that it held the prospect of adventure. Because Cliff’s extended family lives up North, we would get to experience the deep, undeveloped, tropical jungle from within the heart of it all. We needed no more convincing.

Finally, as a natural stop on the way home, China was a perfect fit into our criteria. We wanted to see pieces and parts of ancient China while experiencing the awesome modern China, so Beijing was the ideal stop. In addition, as a group, we have nearly no collective knowledge about China, so it will be a great learning experience for all of us. Just the thrill of exploring the unknown made China a great way to end our epic journey.

Thus was the long process of isolating our destinations. Honestly, we began with a dozen more countries that included African and South American countries, but they did not fit into our reasons for traveling (see a lot for a little). The most important lesson we learned from this part of the process, therefore, was that agreeing why we wanted to travel was more important than where we traveled to.


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