I am planning. I love to plan. Planning is a big part of the enjoyment of any trip.
Taking an organised tour is fine of course, especially if you do not have the time to plan or indeed do not have the time to deal with unforeseen travel delays, cancellations or when there is ‘no room at the inn’ (or on the train more like), that can throw carefully crafted itineraries into disarray.
A tour gives your much more certainty, a local guide to help bale you out or put plan B into action, plus the reassurance of safety in numbers.
I have taken a handful of tours in my travelling life and have loved them all. I have tended to do some independent things along the way however, just to ensure I have had some planning to do and to save some cash at the same time.
Whereas an organised tour lays it all out for you, reduces stress and the likelihood for memorable mishaps (how I love looking back on a good mishap by the way!), it takes away some of the pleasure for me.
Mapping out your own itinerary gives you the same pleasure as completing a giant jigsaw. You have the daunting pile of pieces at the outset, a mountain of wheat to sort from all the chaff, and bit by bit you fit them all together, making some oh so pleasing discoveries along the way.
Places you had never heard of before your research, that neatly link together with must see sites. There is some hard work along the way and always an element of mystery – is that train still running, will I be sharing a couchette with strangers, is that border crossing doable at 2am?
The internet helps of course, but invariably is only accurate at the time of writing. Timetables change, new regulations kick in, borders close and even worse, conflicts break out.
The most important things to have with you are plans B, C & even D, contingency days, a willingness to compromise and bundles of sense of humour. Planning can be time consuming, but the rewards are huge.
You get to travel the way you want (slow train over express bus every time please), when you want (ever been bundled away from the place you are absolutely loving as the itinerary demands it?) and you get to meet travelling locals, not just your fellow tourers.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, I am planning right now. I started this morning and already I am much wiser about our chosen region, have a rough route mapped out and am really excited, despite the fact that the trip will be over a year away.
Hamish & I are planning on visiting some of the Stans, with the only proviso being as much train travel as possible. This rules out worthy tours from the likes of Dragoman & Lupine who stick to the road. They did both give me some handy ideas though.
Fly from Birmingham to Ashgabat, capital of Turkmenistan, take an overnight train to the border town of Dashoguz, cross into Uzbekistan and down to Khiva by road, a bit more road before taking the overnight train to Samarkand, a short train hop to Bukhara an overnighter up to Tashkent, another overnight train to Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty, and pause!
What can possibly go wrong!?
Is there something strange about me in getting excited by the ‘picture’ below?
OK, maybe that is slightly nerdy, but what about this one?
Happy planning to you all!