I am quite fortunate to work for a company that gives me a 4-week sabbatical (paid leave in addition to the regular paid time off) every five years. I took my sabbatical from mid-Nov 2017 to mid-Jan 2018, adding on all my expiring time off days, and we did a long 32 day travel across Europe and North Africa. A long travel like this, with kids, has its own charm and challenges so I thought I’ll write about that first before I start writing posts about the destinations.
1. Choosing the destinations
We had already decided that we will travel for around a month. Next, we had to pick the destinations. We wanted to experience winter, snow, and Christmas markets (don’t get much of that in Singapore, where we live) so decided upon Germany and Austria as the core destination.While researching flights to Europe from Singapore, found that Scoot had a direct flight to Athens which was quite reasonably priced so Athens became our entry and exit point from Europe.
Being a long travel, we wanted a mix of experiences and that got us thinking about Morocco, which had been on our list for a while. So, the charm of Morocco, plus the proximity to Southern Europe, and the fact that we had never been to Africa before, all combined to make Morocco one of the destinations. In retrospect, Morocco was probably the best part of this travel – unique, intense, and a cornucopia of vastly different experiences.
We initially thought we’ll spend 4-5 days in Greece, primarily in one of the islands, but a little more research informed us that Nov is not a good time to do so. So, we changed our plans and started looking at other destinations near Athens that would be different than Germany, Austria and Morocco, yet not requiring too much of extra travel. Lisbon fit the bill perfectly as it was only a 4-hour flight from Athens and had a direct 1.5 hour flight to Casablanca.
Now, we had our destinations – Athens, Lisbon, Morocco, Germany, Austria.
2. Keeping track of the logistics
Between applying for visas, getting travel insurance, flights, hotels, trains, rental cars etc., there were a total of 30 different tasks to be done. I normally use excel to keep track of the logistics.
First, I create a timeline tab (see pic below) that helps me put the travel itinerary in a way that helps identify all the different tasks to be done. This excel helps me visualise the weekday, date, what we’ll be doing that day, how we will travel, and where we will stay the night. As I make the bookings, I mark the cells green to keep track of what’s done and what’s pending. I also capture other info like flight/hotel/apartment details, luggage allowance, average weather etc.
This tab helps me create my To-Do list on a separate tab where I also keep track of expenses (pic below).
An additional logistical complication was the fact that Morocco visa takes 3 weeks so the passport is gone for that period. At work, I was in a role that required frequent travel (1-3 times a month) so I needed another excel tab to create a timeline of my work travel dates and find a 3-week block that I can send my passport away for 🙂
3. The process of booking
I have very little artistic skills but I used to like painting on t-shirts when I was younger. First, I would trace the outline, then I would paint near the edges and then I would fill in the middle. This is pretty much the approach I take when booking flights/hotels etc. for a long travel.
Since our entry/exit point was decided as Athens, I first booked the Singapore-Athens-Singapore flight. We then decided to spend a week each in Germany and Austria, and 10-12 days in Morocco. Working backwards from there, we then filled in the rest of the itinerary (2 days in Athens and 4 in Lisbon).
The next step was to make the entry/exit bookings for Morocco, Germany/Austria and Lisbon. Once the edges were clear, it was now time to fill up the middle. This took the most time as we now had to decide where to go in Morocco/Germany/Austria and how many days to spend at each place. My wife is the expert at researching destinations so this task was outsourced to her. You can read more about the places we finally went to in the posts for each of the different phases of this travel. But, here’s a quick summary:
Singapore – Athens – Lisbon – Casablanca – Fes – Midelt – Merzouga/Erg Chebbi – Ait Benhaddou – Marrakech – Essaouira (day trip) – Casablanca – Vienna – Seefeld – Innsbruck (day trip) – Mittenwald (day trip) – Nuremberg – Munich (day trip) – Rothenburg ob der Tauber (day trip) – Bamberg (day trip) – Berlin – Athens – Singapore