Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to anyone out there following this quite young blog. To quote my polish neighbour, I hope that your 2007 will be better than than 2006 and worse than your 2008...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Timing is Everything.

No such thing as bad weather? You must be kidding me.

We're not quite sure that we've got our timing right as far as the weather is concerned. China in January is likely to be bloody cold, and even by the time we get to South America in July, we might find ourselves back in the cold. If we were to do the trip the other way around, however, we'd get Winter in Australia, and hit Beijing around the Olympics.

I think we'll have to live with the fact that the weather will be less than clement at the start and finish of the trip, but that we'll enjoy a good 3 months of Summer/Autumn in Australia, and get a bit of skiing in when we're in the South Island in NZ.

My remaining concern is that, because of the fact that we'll be in China so far off peak season, that many sightseeing options will be closed to us.

What about School?

Nina is 7 and is in Second Class. Her younger sister Sara is 5 and in Senior Infants (where did they come up with that grade? I remember when it was even worse - Low Infants and High Infants). They will have finished one term in First Class and Third Class respectively, when we take them out of school for the following two terms. There are probably laws about this kind of thing. So how are we going to go about doing this?

In January we will make an appointment with the principal of their school, explain our plans and ask for cooperation (not permission). We'll explain that the itinerary includes long periods where we will be staying put, which are designed to make home schooling easier. We'll explain that both of us are university educated and both capable and determined to keep their schooling up to the standard that they will need in order to rejoin their classes. But we'll also explain what we consider to be the unique educational aspect of the trip itself, in the wider sense of that word.

I'm optimistic that the principal and her colleagues on the school board will accept our bona fides and offer to cooperate. What we would very much like to do is to keep our daughters' classmates up-to-date with our movements and experiences. These girls use computers once a week, and I'd like to set up a separate blog that Nina and Sara can use to record their experiences and send photos of the places they will visit.

As with so many things in life, it's down to the individuals in question. I just hope that the school authorities are enlightened about this, rather than defensively bureaucratic. We shall see.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Wall to Wall Google

I know that Google has already become, for many, the new Microsoft (that is to say the object of mistrust and even hate). Right now, I'm really enjoying the increasingly interesting services that Google offers, and I'm combining them into a Total Travel Solution (tm) for the trip.

Besides the blog itself, I'm using gmail (nuff said), Google Calendars (to mark out planning and travel dates), Google Spreadsheets (to do the budget - to adjust it as we go along and eventually publish it after the trip), Google Documents (to make detailed notes as we go along that aren't ready for a blog entry, but might be useful for afterwards), PicassaWeb (to upload and publish the pictures we take along the way), and Google Maps (to plot the trip using overlays).

What can I say. I'm a geek.

Speaking of geek, I need to decide what computer and digital camera to take along. Any suggestions would be welcome.

The Itinerary

There are a number of restrictions on where we can go and for how long. The details are not fixed, but the broad strokes are. At the bottom of the blog's main page you can find a Google Map with the itinerary overlaid. Click the Next button to see in sequence the places we plan to visit. (I hate javascript programming, so it's a testament to the simplicity of GoogleMaps API that I was able to program this overlay very quickly).

The restrictions have mostly got to do with the kids. Perhaps that's not a fair way of describing things: part of the reason for the trip is to show the kids a bit of the planet while it's still possible. But when we leave they'll be 8 and 6, and realistically we have to chose the route and the timetable accordingly. This shows itself in two main ways:
  1. On four separate occasions, we stay put for a month at a time: This allows the kids to have a respite - something of a normal life with a routine. It also allows us to homeschool them more effectively. I'll blog on this another time.
  2. We have chosen to stay in developed countries for 6 out of the 8 months, and those developing countries we will visit will be relatively OK as regards health and general safety.
So it looks like this:
  1. 2 weeks in China (Beijing, Shanghai and perhaps Xi'an)
  2. 4 weeks in Sydney
  3. 4 weeks on the road in Australia
  4. 4 weeks in Brisbane
  5. 4 weeks in Auckland
  6. 4 weeks on the road in New Zealand
  7. 4 weeks in Queenstown (or thereabouts)
  8. 1 week in Tahiti
  9. 6 weeks between Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Argentina.
But we're definitely open to suggestion/correction...

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Budget

This is a big deal. You're not going to go anywhere without the necessary funds. When this is all over, I'll publish the budget - both planned and actual. For now, let me tell you about a few tricks that we're using to make things easier:

1) House swapping/renting: To offset the cost of accommodation, we're either going to try a house swap with folks in Oz and New Zealand, or we're going to try to rent our own house out. Neither is a sure bet, and for now we're going to investigate both avenues. It has to be said that things are made a lot easier thanks to Simon and Leah in Brisbane who, in a moment of insanity (which I will offer them the chance to retract) have invited us to stay with them for a month!

2) Tax efficiency: Good advice from my accountant. I've asked my employers to hold back some of my salary for 2007. I'll only feel 59% of that loss as the rest was going to the taxman anyway. During 2008 when we're on the road, they'll pay me back what they held onto, and as I'll earn so little that year, I'll be under the tax net. That'll cover standard expenses while we're away (mortgage mostly). Clearly, understanding employers are pretty damn important for a project like this, and I'm lucky to have two very enlightened bosses.

3) Buy and sell: The plan for transport in Oz and New Zealand is to buy a car on arrival, and sell it back when we leave. I have to do a little more research on this, but I'm told that it's a reliable method. It'll be necessary to arrange something in advance. Anyone out there got car salesman friends in Auckland or Sydney!?!

As far as South America and China are concerned, prices are relatively low and we can hope to go a long way on very little.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On Your Marks

This very day, my bosses gave me the thumbs up to take an 8 month sabbatical from the end of December 2007 till the following August. This signals the putting into motion of a plan that has been gestating in my mind and that of my wife for a good few months now. To take a trip around the world, with our two daughters (presently aged 5 and 7). If we wait another few years, they will be in too important a stage of their education to uproot them. If we wait until their schooling is over, then I'm not sure what kind of world we're going to be living in then.
If our politicians get their act together in the face of climate change, or even if simple market forces are left to do their own thing, cheap air travel is unlikely to continue at current rates. Perhaps much of what we hope to visit will be different - unpleasantly so - in 12 years time.
So we're going now.
To call what we have planned a trip around the world is not really accurate - it's more a trip to the other side of the world: Oz and New Zealand. But we'll get to see some of China at the start and more of the South American continent on the return leg. So we will physically be looping he planet. This is about as adventurous as we can hope to get considering the age of the kids and the budget we have.
I will be using this blog to document the preparations and the experience itself (part of my preparations include selecting the right mobile device to allow me to blog from anywhere).