Posted by: The Only Gringo on the Bus | January 5, 2010

Gap year itinerary


When you’re planning a year (or in our case, 11 months) travelling around the world, you’re never going to be able to decide from the outset exactly how long you want to spend in each country, or where and what you want to see.

To some extent, we have flown by the seat of our pants and made many decisions en route – some of the places we’ve been to we wouldn’t have even heard of about a week before getting there, let alone when planning our trip.

Penedo - unplanned

It’s fair to say that we like the beaten path: we’re not visiting isolated hill tribes or finding undiscovered beaches on our itinerary, and all the places we’ve been to are relatively easy to get to and have a decent amount of infrastructure.

We’ve also realised that packing and unpacking is not the most fun, so periodically we’ve settled for a few days in one place, even if the “sights” don’t necessarily warrant that length of stay. Building in time to just laze has been crucial for us (and our marriage!).

Having said that, we’re not people who can spend hours in one museum, we’re very much “OK, seen that, let’s go”. The same goes for most towns/cities.

Obviously, we’re still part way through our trip, so we will continue updating as we go along.

Our initial plan was as follows:

  • Brazil: 1 month
  • Argentina:1 month
  • Quito – Santiago: 6 weeks
  • New Zealand: 1 month
  • Australia: 1 month
  • Japan: 2 weeks
  • South-East Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam & Laos): 3 months
  • Southern Africa (South Africa, Mozambique & Tanzania): 2 months

This is our actual itinerary to date, hopefully it will be helpful to some people. You can find information on what we packed and how we budgeted/what we’ve spent, you can find it elsewhere on my blog.

Some explanation of our itinerary:

  • Number in brackets is the approximate number of nights we spent in each place, if there is a “+”, we would have liked more time, a “-”, we had too much time there and if no symbol, we think we were there for the right length of time.
  • Where applicable there are notes under each country, explaining our itinerary and what we would have done differently.
  • The flight ticket we have is the One World five continents ticket (£2500 p/person) which allows you 16 legs (each included flight leg is shown on the itinerary in italics).
  • Flights bought outside our inclusive ticket are shown in italics and in brackets.

Brazil (approx a month)

Brazil

Flight: London – Rio de Janiero
Rio de Janiero (5)
(Additional flight: Rio de Janiero – Salvador)
Salvador (3)
Penedo (2-)
Maceio (1-)
Praia do Pipa (7)
(Additional flight: Natal – Goiania)
Goiania (1-)
Pantanal/Campo Grande (4)
Foz do Iguassu (1)

View my blog on Rio de Janiero or my blog on Salvador, Penedo, Maceio and Praia do Pipa or my blog on Praia do Pipa or my blog on the Pantanal for more info.

Note: In hindsight, this was our worst planned country! We had originally planned to visit the Amazon, but soon realised that we wouldn’t have time to do this and visit the Pantanal. The Pantanal won out, by which time, we’d travelled all the way to Pipa. While Pipa is a lovely beach resort, there are many others which are much closer to Rio/Salvador/the Pantanal.

Going to and from Pipa also meant that we had to overnight in Maceio and Goiania – places you wouldn’t necessarily want to visit although both nice enough.

Argentina (approx a month)

Argentina

Iguassu (2)
Buenos Aires (4-)
Mendoza (2)
El Bolson (3)
El Calafate (3)
El Chalten (3)
Puerto Madryn (2)
Buenos Aires x 2 (2-)

View my blog on Iguassu Falls, Buenos Aires and Mendoza or my blog on El Bolson, El Calafate and El Chalten or my blog on Puerto Madryn and Buenos Aires for more info.

Note: We spent a lot of money on the lengthy (but relatively comfortable) overnight bus journeys, particularly to and from Patagonia. Each journey was up to £50 per person which really ate into our budget. If we did it again, we would look into the Argentinean air pass, which you have to buy before you arrive in the country. It’s difficult to appreciate just how large the distances are in Argentina, and in Patagonia there are very few major roads, so it’s often not possible to follow a direct route between places.

We also managed to visit B.A. on three occasions despite it being our least favourite South American city! We would have visited B.A just once at the end of the visit to Argentina, but the Iguassu to Mendoza bus journey was unfeasibly long.

Uruguay (approx a week)

Uruguay

Punte del Este (5)
Montevideo (1)

View my blog on Punta del Este and Montevideo for more info.

Ecuador (approx 3 weeks)

Ecuador

Flight: Buenos Aires – Quito
Quito (4-)
(Additional return flight: Quito – Galapagos)
Galapagos Islands (8)
Quito (1-)
Latacunga (2)
Banos (4)
Cuenca (2)

View my blog on Quito, Galapagos Islands, Latacunga and Banos or my blog on Banos and Cuenca for more info.

Note: Latacunga is pretty unpleasant, but it’s really the only option if you want to climb/visit Cotopaxi. It’s deserted at night, and you get stared at in a not very friendly way continually during the day!

Peru (approx 2 weeks)

Peru

Mancora (4)
Lima (2)
Cusco/Machu Picchu (5)
Puno (2)

View my blog on Mancora, Lima and Cusco or my blog on Cusco (Machu Picchu) and Puno for more info.

Chile (approx a week)

Chile

San Pedro de Atacama (4-)
Santiago (3-)

View my blog on San Pedro de Atacama and Santiago for more info.

Note: Most people would say that 3 days is too long in Santiago, as there’s not an awful lot to see. But it’s a very pleasant place to wind down after 3 months in less relaxing places in the rest of the continent.

New Zealand (approx 6 weeks)

New Zealand

Flight: Santiago – Auckland
Auckland (3)
Bay of Islands (Paihia) (2)
Te Ahora (1)
Rotorua (2)
Lake Taupo (2)
Napier (1)
Wellington (1)
Picton (1)
Nelson (1)
Westport (1)
Hokitiki (1)
Haast (1)
Wanaka (2)
Twizel (2)
Methven (1-)
Kaikoura (2)
Hanmer Springs (2)
Akaroa (1)
Christchurch (2)
(Additional flight: Christchurch – Auckland)
Auckland (1)

View my blog on Auckland, Paihia, Te Ahora and Rotorua or my blog on Taupo, Napier, Wellington, Picton, Nelson and Westport or my blog on Hokitiki, Haast, Wanaka, Twizel, Methven, Kaikoura and Hanmer Springs or my blog on Christchurch, Akaroa and Auckland for more info.

Note: Apart from the start and finish in Auckland, we toured the whole of New Zealand in the cheapest camper van we could find. This was adequate for our needs, but not exactly a pleasure to drive.

There are lots of buses which ply the same route, so a camper van is not a necessity. We found it difficult to work out which was the cheaper option.

Although the itinerary looks ambitious, we didn’t find that we needed any more time in places, although it is a lot of driving each day (on average 3 hours per day). The scenery is amazing which helps.

The only mistake was going out of our way to visit Kaikoura, as there’s no reason to go here apart from the whale watching tours, which were way out of our budget (140 NZ dollars for 3 hours).

Australia (approx a month)

Australia

Flight: Auckland – Sydney
Sydney (5-)
Flight: Sydney – Perth
Perth (6-)
Flight: Perth – Melbourne
Clifton Springs (3)
Melbourne (2)
(Additional flight: Melbourne – Cairns)
Cairns (1)
Innisfail (1)
Mission Beach (2)
Townsville (2)
Whitsundays (3)
Rockhampton (1)
Town of 1770 (1)
Hervey Bay (Fraser Island) (2)
Noosa (1)
Brisbane (2)

View my blog on Sydney, Perth and Clifton Springs or my blog on Melbourne, Cairns, Innisfail, Mission Beach, Townsville, Whitsundays, Rockhampton and Town of 1770 or my blog on Hervey Bay, Noosa and Brisbane for more info.

Note: Until Cairns, our itinerary was dictated by visiting family and friends. Perth can be done in 3 days (if you decide to go at all) and whilst Clifton Springs is very nice, it’s not really on the tourist trail!

We hired another cheapo camper-van in Cairns for the drive down to Brisbane and towards the end we were rushing from place to place a bit – we had 15 days for this leg.

Japan (5 days)

Japan

Flight: Brisbane – Tokyo
Tokyo (5+)

View my blog on Tokyo for more info.

Note: we originally intended to spend 2 weeks in Japan, using the Japan Rail pass, which you have to buy before you get to Japan, but our budget was under pressure, so we had to re-think. The rail pass is excellent value though, if you have the time and money, and returning to Japan is high on our list of future holidays!

Thailand (approx a month)

Thailand

Flight: Tokyo – Bangkok
Bangkok (4-)
Koh Chang (5)
Koh Tao (5)
Koh Pha Ngan (7)
Phuket (3-)

View my blog on Bangkok, Koh Chang and Koh Tao or my blog on Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan or my blog on Koh Pha Ngan and Phuket for more info.

Note: This is by no means the “real” Thailand, but we were tired and wanted a month on the beach. So shoot us!

The three islands aren’t sufficiently different to really warrant moving around, but we fancied the change of scenery. Koh Pha Ngan was our favourite, but we stayed at a very quiet beach away from the partying.

We only went to Phuket to do a sailing course (which fell through at the last-minute) and we wouldn’t recommend it in comparison with the other beach destinations.

Malaysia (approx 10 days)

Malaysia

Penang (Georgetown) (2)
Penang (Batu Ferringhi) (3-)
Pangkor (Nipah Bay) (4)
Kuala Lumpur (1)

View my blog on Georgetown, Batu Ferringhi, Nipah Bay and Kuala Lumpur for more info.

Note: We’d visited Malaysia for three weeks on a previous holiday, so only went to places we hadn’t visited before.

Batu Ferringhi beach wasn’t particularly nice and there are certainly nicer beaches in Malaysia (Perhentians, Cherating etc)

Laos (approx 10 days)

Laos

(Additional flight: Kuala Lumpur – Vientiane)
Vientiane (3)
Vang Vieng (2)
Luang Prabang (6, including 3-day mahout course)

View my blog on Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang for more info.

Vietnam  (approx a month)

Vietnam

(Additional flight: Luang Prabang – Hanoi)
Hanoi (4-)
Halong Bay (2)
Sapa (2-)
Hanoi (1)
Ninh Binh (3)
Hoi An (5)
Nha Trang (3)
Dalat (2)
Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon (3)
Can Tho (1)
Ha Tien (1)

View my blog on Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa or my blog on Hanoi, Ninh Binh, Hue, Hoi An and Nha Trang or my blog on Dalat, HCMC, Can Tho and Ha Tien for more info.

Note: Unless you are going to do one of the many treks out of Sapa, it’s really not worth the 10 hour train journey to visit.

Can Tho was also a bit disappointing, as we’d gone there so we could visit the floating markets and canals of the Mekong Delta. Unfortunately, the nearest floating market (Cai Rahn) is not particularly picturesque, and the nearby canals are rubbish strewn. Better to go to one of the smaller towns probably.

Ha Tien is the border town which gets you to the Cambodian south coast (Kampot, Kep & Sihanoukville) and it’s very easy to arrange a bus straight across the border and onwards.

Cambodia (2 weeks)

Cambodian service station food can be less appealing than in other countries

Sihnaoukville (7)
Phnom Penh (4)
Siem Reap (3)

View my blog on Cambodia for more information.

Note: In comparison with beach resorts in Thailand and Vietnam, Sihanoukville is a bit shabby and the beach/sea is not the cleanest. It’s fine for getting some sun though and relaxing for a few days.  Kampot, which is also on the coast but closer to the Cambodian border, looked much nicer as we passed through.

Indonesia (4 weeks)

Don't worry - not in a scary Nazi way

Flights: Bangkok to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Jakarta

Java
Jakarta (2-) (Additional flight: Jakarta to Yogyakarta)
Yogyakarta (3-)
Solo (2-)
Travelling to Bali via Mount Bromo (3-)

Bali
Sanur (5)
Nusa Lembongan (6)
Ubud (3)
Lovina (3)
Sanur (5) (Additional flight: Bali to Jakarta)

View my blogs on: Jakarta and Yogyakarta; Solo, Surabaya, Probolinggo, Sanur and Nusa Lembongan; and Nusa Lembongan, Ubud, Lovina and Sanur for more information.

Note: Java was a bit of a disaster TBH. The “sights” (except for Borobodur) were pretty poor, we used the public buses and so had several long, tiring journeys, and we spent two days trying to get to Mount Bromo before giving up at the last hurdle. We had totally lost our travelling groove and so decided to spend yet another day on the buses so that we could hole up in Bali for the rest of the month. One of our better ideas!

We had to fly in to Jakarta on our RTW ticket so in hindsight we should have: flown straight to Yogyakarta (for Borbodur); found a tourist bus that would get us to Mount Bromo; and then headed on another tourist bus to Bali. The extra expense would have been well worth it.

We would then have been able to face the 8 hour trip to the Gilis or headed on somewhere else from Bali rather than just licking our wounds on the beach.

Our return visit to Sanur was un-planned as we were aiming to spend the last few days in Kuta. After searching for 4 hours for a hotel room that didn’t stink of mould though, we gave up.

South Africa (4 weeks)

The long and not at all winding road

Flights: Jakarta to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Johannesburg

Johanneburg (2-)
Nelspruit (1-)
Kruger (6)
Graskop (1)
Lydenburg (1-)
North Drakensburg (3)
Queenstown (1-)
Hogsback (1+)
Addo (1)
Plettenburg (3)
George (1-)
Oudtshoorn (2)
Hermanus (2)
Langebaan (2)
Cape Town (4)

(Additional flight: Cape Town to Johannesbug)

Note: We covered a lot of kilometres on this leg of the trip!! We drove 5500 km in a month and sometimes we felt every kilometre. Having said that, we couldn’t have covered the places we wanted to see in any less distance and we didn’t feel particularly rushed during our trip. We did, however, have to build in a number of stopovers to break up some very long journeys, and we wouldn’t recommend Lydenburg, George, Nelspruit or Queenstown as tourist destinations.

An alternative to driving the whole thing would be to take an internal flight from Kruger down to Port Elizabeth and miss out the Drakensburg Mountains.

Langebaan will also not be on most people’s top places to visit, but we went there to take a sailing course.

Flight: Johannesburg to London

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Any comments or questions are very welcome. However, bear in mind that we’re travelling around the world for 11 months, with varying standards of internet access, so won’t always be able to respond quickly!
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Responses

  1. Sounds like a great itinerary! I’m heading to Malaysia soon and considering a stop in Georgetown. I do, however, have to disagree with you on Sapa. Hands down my favorite place in Vietnam, I think it’s too beautiful of scenery to miss out on 🙂 Enjoy your travels!

    • Fair enough on Sapa Laura, we really should have gone trekking, but didn’t, due to lack of decent equipment and wet weather prior to our arrival. Two days of wandering the town, pleasant though it was, was probably too long!

      Georgetown is a relaxed place with a bit of history about it. I’d say Melaka, nearer KL, is a bit more interesting and picturesque though.

      • Yeah, we made friends with one of the girls in Sapa and went with her to visit her village which was much more exciting. Trekking definitely made for a fun day as you can only walk around town for so long since it’s so small! Thanks for the suggestion on Melaka. Have not researched Malaysia at all yet so just going off of what I heard- will definitely look into it! 🙂

  2. This is really helpful for visualizing a gap year. It sounds like a long travel but seeing it breakdown into countries and days per city, it now seems too short. Is it tiring to move approx every 3 days? I’ve done this in a 5 week trip, but I’m imagine dying to do this for a year.

    Happy travels, cheers!

    • Thanks for your comment Lilliane. We have been surprised too by how much we’ve moved around. However:

      1. We have short attention spans.
      2. We’ve had many days doing nothing but reading/eating/drinking/internet planning.
      3. Sometimes the journeys between places have been quite short.
      4. Almost every 4 – 6 weeks we’ve had a few days on the beach or doing not much (Pipa/Punta del Este/Mancora/Perth/Thailand).

      You do get used to moving all the time, the real pain is the packing and unpacking!


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