The opportunity: six or so months to travel before my job beginsIt was April, 2012, and I had about six months or so to spare before my law-firm job was scheduled to begin, and given the heavy schedule that associates tend to work, it would be the last opportunity in a long time to do any extended traveling.
Six months might seem like a really, really long period of time, but I like to travel slow. Part of this is because I don't have money to spare, and it costs a lot more money to travel quickly and efficiently, but a big part of it is that by traveling slowly you get a better feel of the local culture and mindset (traveling cheaply also means you are, by necessity, much more connected with local life). It varies widely according to size and how interesting the country is, but I typically end up spending about a month in each new country I visit (and rarely less than two weeks), so time adds up and six months goes faster than you might imagine.
Because I like to travel slowly, I wanted to do a trip that would of somewhat limited scope and that wouldn't leave me feeling too much time pressure, as opposed to a wide-ranging trip on multiple continents (which I probably wouldn't be able to afford, anyway) that would force me to move quickly and on a schedule.
The Choices: Asia or South America?So, within those limitations, where to go? Well, I've spent a fair amount of time in Europe, Japan (where I taught English for a couple of years) and Southeast Asia, so they were out. Africa was out because I don't have much of an idea of what to see there, and I harbor the same kind of prejudices and stereotypes about safety and ease of travel that many Westerners have. The main options I was considering were South America and Mongolia and the Silk Road.
The pluses for South America were that it would be a completely new experience in a region I was totally unfamiliar with, with the added bonus of easier—and fewer—languages. The possibility of Patagonia was a huge bonus, as was the sheer variety of landscapes throughout the continent. On the negative side, I had to be back home by the New Year, and this meant that summer would only be beginning in Patagonia. The sheer size of South America was also problematic, as it meant I would either have to zig-zag from East to West and back again as I worked my way down the continent, or largely skip one side of the continent altogether. I figured it would take longer to properly see South America, and ideally I would have liked to do it on a motorcycle.
On the other side, Asia would offer a more familiar jumping-off place, the opportunity to visit Mongolia in the height of summer, and the allure of visiting little-visited (but highly-praised) Central Asian countries, as well as giving me the chance to visit some friends in Japan. On the down side, visiting Asia again felt like I would be going to the same well once too often, refusing to stretch my boundaries.