one way to plan a BIG trip

It all started with three great destinations: Galapagos Islands off Ecuador, Machu Picchu in Peru, and Bahia Bustamante in Argentina.  How could we possibly choose between them? They’re on the same continent, so we reasoned, “Wouldn’t it be possible to plan a trip where we could do them all?”

After many months of research, we determined the answer was YES! Then it took over another year to figure out the arrangements for what we think will be one amazing trip.


We began planning by plotting out the weather for each destination. High and low temperatures was well as rain. For us, Spring would be the ideal time to visit the Galapagos. The weather would be sunny and warm (good for Beth) and the water would be calm (best for Joe’s tendency to seasickness); the season is prime time for mating tortoises, blooming flowers, and sea lion cubs.

The decision when to visit Machu Picchu wasn’t based on air temperature, which is about the same whenever you go, but on rainfall. We’ll take low rainfall (5-10 mm average) in May through August rather than take our chances with a deluge in January (150mm average).

Bahia Bustamante, in northern Patagonia on the Atlantic Ocean, presented a challenge. The choice was 80 degrees and more rain or low 70’s with less rain. We chose the latter for a November visit.

Filling in the secondary destinations

With this research behind us, we had chosen April in the Galapagos Islands, July in Machu Picchu, and November in Bahia Bustamante. That left big blocks of time in between our destinations, so here’s where the research intensified. We talked to others, read blogs, and consulted guidebooks. Little by little we found wonderful places we wanted to see, things to do, and towns where we just yearned to stay awhile. We started to sketch out an itinerary; then we added destinations, and, not long after, some of those might disappear to make room for a new and better discovery. This went on for a year.

A balancing act

The plan needed to be carefully balanced. We knew our budget, and, if a more expensive destination was chosen for a few days (trips to Manu Biosphere Reserve and Colca Canyon, both in Peru), then less expensive weeks would be needed for balance (studying Spanish for a month on the beach in Canoa, Ecuador staying in their $18/night “deluxe” lodging).

Money wasn’t the only balancing act. We needed to balance our time. Sightseeing is intense and tiring. We’ve learned to set aside and equal or greater amount of time to do our usual routine of reading-writing-walking-eating. Friends will join us for almost 3 weeks in Peru where we’ll tour Manu Biosphere Reserve, head for Machu Picchu, and explore the Sacred Valley. After those busy days our friends will fly home, and we’ll settle into a quiet routine for a few weeks in Cusco.

We started with three destinations (the three blue circles): Galapagos Islands off Ecuador, Machu Picchu in Peru, and Bahia Bustamante in Argentina. Then we “connected” the destinations with other places of interest to fill our planned 7+ months itinerary.

We started with three destinations (the three blue circles): Galapagos Islands off Ecuador, Machu Picchu in Peru, and Bahia Bustamante in Argentina. Then we “connected” the destinations with other places of interest to fill our planned 7+ months itinerary.

The final details

The final step for us is key to our tried-and-true system: we make our arrangements before we leave home. If you’re thinking – “Where’s your flexibility? What if you don’t like a place once you arrive?” – then consider this: we’re been traveling non-stop for over 3 years and haven’t regretted for a minute the careful planning ahead. We’ve researched where to stay and chosen accommodations based on value and many great reviews.

Booking early means that we rarely miss out on a place we want to stay; our expenses are known and fit our budget; and many hotels (outside the US) offer free or modestly priced airport pickup.

We spent many months happily looking at places to stay in South America, juggling location, price, recommendations, and amenities. We’ve chosen AirBnBs, boutique B&Bs, lodges, hotels, backcountry camps, and a small ship. Our air tickets are booked. Spanish language school and several multi-day outdoor tours are all arranged.

Does this seem overly scheduled?   On a trip of over 200 days we will still have more than enough time to wander aimlessly, explore and discover.

As we depart for South America, we’ll be relaxed knowing that we’ve done what we needed to do to make our trip a success – and that’s one way to plan a big trip.


March 2016

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
This entry was posted in South America - 2016 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to one way to plan a BIG trip

  1. Cliff Mail says:

    I am in your camp on the planning. Looks like an amazing trip – very jealous. Have a great time

  2. We always say at least half the fun of travel is in the research, weighing options and planning of a trip – the anticipation! I especially like your method of establishing your priorities and then filling in your details. We’ve been to one of three of your destinations, the Galapagos, and I can say, without a doubt, that you are going to have a lot of memories (not to mention pictures) to savor! Anita

  3. icelandpenny says:

    bravo — you really know how to do it well

  4. plaidcamper says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this post! Looking forward to reading about all you have planned so carefully for…

  5. Marti Weston says:

    Another trip for us to follow. So exciting to watch from afar!

  6. Sounds like a really great job of planning. Looking forward to reading about the trip. BTW, did Patagonia make the cut?

  7. Neil Laubenthal says:

    Hi guys…been following your journeys since the old days on the car trip across the US before heading out on your RTW…Connie and I hope to be doing the same thing one of these days although we’re still full time RVing at this point. Sounds like a great trip you’ve got planned. One suggestion for a post might be what you two pack for your travels…with taking photos and doing the blog there are electronics involved obviously but packing for us more seasoned travelers (we’re in our early 60s) is different than most of the RTW packing lists that the younger crowd of travel bloggers take with them.

    • Yes, we haven’t said anything about electronics. Good suggestion, and we’ll work on that for a future post. We have done two posts about what we pack: February 24th, 2015, “Deciding What to Wear for the Next 433 Days,” and January 3, 2015, “At the Top of Our Packing List (Based on 2 Years Living Out of Suit Cases).” Also, you are so right that we pack differently now in our senior years. Enjoy that RV!

      • Neil Laubenthal says:

        Yeah, I had found those couple of articles but they only touched on a few things…I was sort of hoping for a comprehensive ‘what we pack’ post that included pretty much everything. Shoes for instance…I see from your photos that Joe has both sandals and hiking shoes…couldn’t tell for sure about you since the only photo I saw with your feet had sandals…but wonder about things like dressier shoes for dressier occasions or do you just get along with hikers and sandals? We traveled to Ireland a couple summers back for a month living out of 1 large suitcase probably a little smaller than your 2 Eagle Creek ones…along with 2 backpacks for electronics and daily carry. We did OK for the month but if we do the longer term RTW thing we’ll have to figure out what we can carry. Guess we really won’t be able to do it until we get our travel bags, lay out what we think we’re taking, and see if it all fits:-) I’ve grabbed a number of the younger crowd’s packing lists…but at this point in our life I don’t think Connie will be happy with 1 pullover dress, 4 tops, and 2 pairs of capri pants…so we’re always looking for tips/advice/what works sort of posts from the people whose blogs we follow.
        Have fun in South America…looking forward to the posts as you go.

  8. I look forward to seeing your photos and hearing about your adventures.

    I agree with you about having all accommodations booked in advance. We also include what we call “down days”, where we relax, read, catch up on laundry.

    I’m currently working on our first trip to Spain and coordinating with another couple. They had a friend who had suggested spending Holy Week in Seville, but after some research, they agreed with me that fighting thousands in attendance and the fact that the AirBnB I contacted more than doubled their price for the week, we will visit Seville, but NOT during Holy Week. I love the planning “almost” as much as the travel itself.

  9. Oh, my! The time is come. It’s crazy how much time ahead of the journey the planning takes. I completely agree about lining up your ducks before hand (is this a hunting analogy? – sorry.) I often feel like just taking off, no plans, is the real way of travel. But when we did that, years ago, it was always very stressful (adventurous, but stressful) – and many things did not work out along the way. Bravo, buen viaje!

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