Sophie Burge is 23 years old and lives in Hong Kong when shes not seeking fun and adventure elsewhere! She recently returned from a 6 month whirlwind trip with boyfriend Tim.
What did your world tour consist of and why did it appeal?
It might be more accurate to describe it as a Southern Hemisphere Tour, which is how it ended up after wed narrowed down our options! As hard as it was to do, the two of us whittled the choices down to our top priorities and reached a compromise. For him, the must-haves were Australia and Southern Africa; for me it had to be New Zealand and South America.
Among other reasons, these destinations appealed because we felt we were able to experience variations of the backpacking experience the label has definitely evolved into an umbrella term! For instance, in Australia we Greyhounded it everywhere, while in New Zealand we opted to rent a Spaceship campervan to give ourselves a little more freedom. In South America we made our own way around, making up the route as we went along, whilst in Southern Africa we used an organised tour so that we didnt have to worry about those kinds of decisions! Sometimes we were quite indulgent, paying for pricey sailing trips or for dolphin watching for example, and other times we slummed it with tins of beans and camping. For us, this level of variation was ideal as it helped to tick lots of boxes, and we felt that it guaranteed all the experiences we hoped to get out of our Big Trip.
In the end we had quite a limited time frame (6 months) to visit what turned out to be 12 countries, a decision which was met with much eyebrow-raising by many of the people we met throughout our travels. However, this method appealed to me personally because it meant we were constantly on the move and therefore we ensured we made the most of each day. Of course, thats not to say there isnt an appeal in having no real plan – we did meet a lot of travellers who would spend weeks in one town if they found they really liked that particular place. The way I saw it though, spending weeks in one place you love may just eat into time you could have spent in another place you love even more which you havent even discovered yet! Obviously, everyone has different preferences and expectations from their travels, but our choice was definitely right for us. If I have any regrets its that the trip should have been a year long, only so we could squeeze in more destinations!
What preparation would you recommend someone taking on a similar trip?
Our degree of preparation varied somewhat my advice would be to have a plan of action without it being too rigid. We decided to book all of our international flights in advance, which meant that we already had a rough timeline worked out (for example, 3 weeks in Australia, 4 in New Zealand, etc) and so obviously had to do some research beforehand into how long we thought we would want in each place. We used STA travel to help us find flights which I would highly recommend; they found us some great deals and were very helpful in offering suggestions to amend our trip.
Except for our organised tour in Southern Africa (which required advance booking), everything else we organised when we arrived. We hadnt any concrete ideas of what we were going to do when we arrived in each country, we only knew how much time we had between our inbound and outbound flights! In the case of South America we didnt even know which countries we would choose to spend our time in, other than knowing that we would fly into Buenos Aires and fly out of Lima. Those decisions were all made on the road, based on word of mouth passed from traveller to traveller and from the advice in various guide books (if you are travelling with other people and are planning on purchases guide books, Id suggest one person takes a Lonely Planet and another a Rough Guide as the comparison can be very useful). Any domestic flights we took were booked last minute whilst we were on the road, although we usually relied on long-distance bus travel.
What were the top 5 things you brought with you?
I travelled extremely light, so this is actually a hard one to answer! Id have to say:A camera. Some might say differently (I know in an excerpt from backpacker bible The Beach Richard shares his contrary opinion), but Id say youre definitely going to want visual reminders of the beautiful places you saw. Only two months down the line from my Big Trip and I was shamefully already losing appreciation for how breathtaking it all was until I looked back through my photos. Just wow. The experiences themselves are priceless but the photos are certainly valuable too.
A fast-drying antibacterial towel. It makes such a difference to have one of these on the road, especially if youre moving quickly and dont have time to worry about drying a towel! Also great for camping.
A head torch. May not be very fashionable, but you never know when that might come in handy,especially if youre staying in campsites! Beware though: if you venture into a rainforest lots of exotic bugs may be drawn to the light…A travel diary. Truth be told Im a person who hates keeping a diary, but it was definitely worth it, if only for having a record of the names of small towns we passed through or touristy things we saw which I would never remember the names of otherwise! It certainly helped when I came to write this guide!
Washing powder. So you can wash clothes on the road in hostel sinks, where permitted! Saves money and effort on laundry services! We took eco washing powder.
Summary of the highs and lows
Highs where do I begin?
Sailing around the stunning Whitsunday Islands. Swimming with dolphins off the shores of Kaikoura, New Zealand. Seeing the awesome Iguazu Falls from both the Argentine and the Brazilian side. Cycling around the Vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina, whilst tiddly from wine tasting! Sand boarding in the beautiful desert town of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, then again Huacachina, Peru. Travelling from Chile into the Altiplano of Bolivia and seeing the amazing salt flats. Staying in an Eco Lodge in the marvellous Bolivian rainforest. Visiting the beautiful Isla del Sol. Trekking to Machu Picchu. Hiking through Colca Canyon. Seeing Rio de Janeiro. Spending a week hiking in the Drakensburg, South Africa. Taking mokoro boats into the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Petting lion cubs in Zimbabwe. Spending time in Chobe Game Park, Namibia, and quad biking through the Namib desert. Meeting awesome people. Discovering that South America is actually pretty good at vegetarian food, despite the horror stories I heard!
Lows Few and far between!
Not having enough time to venture properly into Patagonia. Getting harassed by a homeless man in Valparaiso, Chile, for taking a photo of his dog without his permission (oops!). A 36 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires to San Carlos de Bariloche. The stress of crossing from Bolivia into Peru over Lake Titicaca during Peruvian strikes. Nearly getting arrested in Johannesburg for not carrying our passports to the cinema.
Wow, sounds like a pretty epic trip! Need somewhere to start planning your own world trip? Have a look at our activitiespage to get some inspiration!