Planning Part 2

Once you have your shortlist and the gathered the weather data, you will need to decide when you are going to travel. one of the locations on our shortlist is Vancouver and we want to be there in summer (June/July). this means it could be our start point or the halfway mark, as we would rather not wait until the middle of the year to travel, we needed to decide if we start in South America or Europe. Since my travelling companion is having her birthday early in February, it became her choice: Morocco for her birthday.

Morocco is one of those mythic destinations. There are so many stories told of Morocco that it is hard to work out what you really want out of it.

Our first step was hitting the web and seeing what the major global tour operators had on offer. Our general guide to visiting anyplace is wonderful local food, beautiful natural environments and a culture that interests us.. Morocco has these and the range of activities offered is vast although very similar. Several times we had to stop researching and come back later due to overload. In the end we decided to spend a week at Essaouira before taking a 16 day private tour from Marrakech into the Atlas Mountains before heading east into the desert then north.

We have opted to begin our European leg in Spain (mostly because it should be slightly warmer than the rest of Europe and we can stay while everywhere else warms up) and therefore needed to work out how we wanted to cross the Mediterranean. Do we head to Casablanca to catch a plane or should we take a ferry from Tangier? Tangier Med runs ferries every day into Algeciras in Spain's Andalusia region for under 30 Euros a person and only takes an hour or so (Also taking a ferry between the pillars of Hercules sounded awesome). So, we decided that our Moroccan tour would end with a ferry into Spain at the beginning of March.

Planning a trip to Europe as part of a gap year is a very different thing to just planning a holiday.. To start with you have to think of how long you want to stay as compared to visa restrictions. Most of Western Europe is covered by Schengen convention which allows an Australian citizen to stay for 90 days every 180. This can be both a liberating and restricting when planning. Liberating because you must set an end date, restrictive because you have to be clear with what you want to achieve.

Distilling Europe into 90 days is impossible unless you want to have a whirlwind tour that has you visiting lots of cultural sights without actually experiencing the culture. We had already chosen Spain as one of our locations, so we started looking into what we wanted there.

Spain has dozens of highlights for a tourist to experience, but our goals are different. We want to get to know a bit about life in Spain.

To achieve this we have been investigating WWOOFing through the website. To register you need to make a 20 Euro donation which gets you access to the sites contents for 1 year. The site allows you to search by region, language, length of stay and other filters. WWOOFing is free and is a way to trade your skills and labour for food and board. We also have another alternative to this in that we recently made friends with a couple from Spain whose families live in Murcia. Our new friends are looking into the possibility with us volunteering our time with their friends and family there which should make for a great experience.

In our research we also came across a program called Vaughan Town. This program runs an immersion English courses at hotels/estates around Madrid and requests volunteers to stay for a week or longer and engage their students in discussion throughout. The volunteer gets to meet new people and receives 3 meals a day, accommodation, and hopefully some new friends and a rewarding experience. There are a lot of positive reviews and it sounds like just the craziness we would enjoy. The application process is quite easy and the organisers get back to you pretty quickly. We applied in August and were confirmed before the month was out. We chose to attend at the end of March at Rascafaria which looks like a wonderful area.

The above is not to say we aren't going to see any of the tourist highlights. Our plan on arriving in Algeciras is to catch the train to Ronda (15 Euros, 1 ½ hours) where we will stay a day or two before heading on to Granada (20 Euros, 2 ½ hours) for a few days. After Granada we will make our way by bus to wherever we will be living for a few weeks.

Spain has an extensive network of railways that include quite a few high speed lines and the prices are quite reasonable. Depending on where we end up staying before Vaughan Town, we will be able to get to Madrid in a few hours for under 100 Euros.

For April and the 1st half of May, we have tossed around quite a few ideas. Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy (Rina has family there), Romania. The options are too great to count and we felt that we were becoming too rigid in our thinking so we decided to leave it open and see where life takes us.

In the 2nd half of May we decided to visit the UK. Rina was there a few years ago around the same time and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She also has a friend whose birthday falls into that time and he traditionally goes camping for the weekend, which sounded awesome so we locked that in. Over the years we have met a few people that live in the UK and have decided to drop by and see them. Thankfully a couple of them live in Edinburgh which I very much want to see and will also provide me the opportunity to taste few single malt whiskeys not available in Australia.

An idea we played around with quite extensively but unfortunately ended up dropping was visiting Iceland.

In the middle of June we are going to leave Europe and begin our journey across the Americas.

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