Making Choices, Building Spreadsheets

Well, the departure date is finally upon us. As we sit in the Atlanta airport, anxiously awaiting our flight to Santiago, I am thinking back to all the effort that has gone into planning this amazing adventure. And for those of you that know me, it will be of no surprise that spreadsheets were our best friend as we went through this process.chris using laptop

As previously mentioned, on one of our first dates, we talked about the places we each really wanted to visit. Neither of us had traveled to South America and there were several wonderful countries that ended up on both of our wish lists. So, we started with a total “brain dump” of all the interesting, fun, exciting, and adventurous places on this vast continent we could think of.  We quickly realized that seven weeks was not nearly enough time to see, do, eat, and enjoy all of the places on that original list.  

Making Choices

After the brain dump, we had to start the difficult process of removing certain places, activities, and even countries off the list.  Once we narrowed it down to a manageable list of places, it was then time to start determining where we wanted to go, what we wanted to see, and what crazy adventures we thought we’d get into. This in and of itself was one tall order. Our approach?  Divide and conquer.

Emily had certain regions that she didn’t want to miss, and I did too. So, we each took the lead on those regions, deciding what we most wanted to do.  Once we had an outline of stops on the itinerary, we needed to determine how many days to spend in each place. We started by creating lists of the things we wanted to do and places we wanted to see in each city. We consulted websites, blogs, and travel books from The Lonely Planet and Frommers. Mostly, we guessed, and I’m sure there will be times when we wish we had more or less time in a place. Finally, we built in some downtime so we don’t arrive home needing a vacation from our vacation.

With the rough schedule planned, I was free to do what I thoroughly enjoy doing: figuring out the transportation, working with Emily on accommodation, and putting together the trip budget. And that is when the spreadsheet morphed into a beast of it’s own!

Planning Tools and Planning Lessons

Our itinerary covers large sections of Chile, Peru, and the Galapagos Islands. With this much ground to cover, we had to rely on airline travel. One of my first trip mistakes was not realizing there are two different price points for airline travel in Peru. There is one price for those with residency in Peru, and another for non-Peru residents. I thought we were going to get flights from Lima to Cusco and back for less than $100 each! When I went to book flights a few weeks later, I realized I had been looking at the prices for Peruvian residents. So, our flights ended up being more expensive than I had originally budgeted. It’s probably not the first mistake we’ll make on this trip… 

As for accommodation, we ended up using Booking.com for all our non-tour based travel.  We both spent a lot of time looking at various travel sites trying to find good deals on accommodation, only to come back to Booking.com. The site is really easy to use, has reviews from other users, and keeps our itinerary all in one place (aside from a spreadsheet, of course). We also used Google Flights to do research and find flights in and between countries. Finally, we also had help from friends and family who have traveled to this part of the word. Thank you for your advice!  

It’s hard to believe we’re just a flight away from this once in a lifetime adventure. I’m looking forward to sharing more once we’re on the ground and making our way through Santiago, Chile, our first stop. ¡Hasta luego!

South America, Here We Come

Okay, everyone. We’re one week out. To say things are a little chaotic around our house would be an understatement. We’re squeezing in time to say goodbye to our friends and family, packing up for our new life in Australia, and loading up our packs for fifty days in South America. To kick-off our blog, here’s where we’re traveling over the next seven weeks:

Chileatacama desert

A historic and bustling capital city, funky beach towns, lush wine growing regions, and the driest place in the world – Chile is where we’re starting our South American adventure. I’m most excited to explore the Atacama Desert and Atacama Highlands. The appeal of this region is its total weirdness. There are places in the desert that haven’t seen rainfall since humans have been recording rainfall. The soil and landscape have been compared to Mars. NASA is even testing soil life-detection equipment in the Atacama that might be used on future missions to Mars. Crazy, right?!? This post from A Brit and a Broad beautifully captures the dramatic landscape and the flamingos who inhabit the highland lagoons.

PeruMachu Picchu

Visiting Machu Picchu is one of those bucket-list places for both Chris and I, but its not the only place we’ll visit. We’re spending a few days in foodie-heaven Lima, where I’m dying to nosh on some amazing ceviche. Chris and I both love to hike and so we’ve carved out time to explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Finally, we’ve splurged on a private tour of Manu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out the Crees Foundation for a sneak peek at some of the wildlife we might encounter in the Peruvian Amazon.

Ecuador and the Galapagos Islandsgalapagos sea lion

The Galapagos Islands are must-do for both of us and we wanted to take our time visiting one of the most ecologically and geologically unique places in the world. We’re splitting our time between a cruise with Adventure Life as well as hotels on Islas Isabela and Santa Cruz. In total, we’ll set foot on five different islands across the archipelago. I’m geeked out about the idea of swimming with sea lions, finding birds with bright blue feet, and iguanas that swim in the ocean (what?!?!). We have a little bit of time in Quito and Guayaquil, but that’s about it for mainland Ecuador. I wish we had more time and were able to explore all that Ecuador has to offer.

I still doesn’t feel quite real that we’re about to do this, but we’re ready to soak up every minute. If you’ve been to any of the places on our list, we want to hear from you. What restaurants must not be missed? Where should we hike? Tips for taxis or other transport?

Leave a comment below or contact us with your advice and ideas!