We had decided our basic plan by July or so, and I started shopping for plane tickets. But Julia’s parents wanted to continue our yearly tradition of a post-Christmas holiday, so we wanted to plan around that. We decided on a short trip to San Diego with the whole Cook family, and purchased a plane ticket that went from LAX to Bangkok (through Tokyo). So our itinerary was as follows:
- January 6th, 11am: Seattle -> San Diego
- January 11th, 6am: San Diego -> Los Angeles
- January 11th, 11am: Los Angeles -> Tokyo -> Bangkok
We got all of the tickets purchased by the end of August, and we started making a list of what needed to be done before we left. I did a lot of research and wrote every required task down in a list, which ended up being a lot of little things. For the sake of anyone else who might want to take a similar adventure, I’ll copy that list here.
Secure Access into Thailand – When it got right down to it, the only things that *really* needed to be done were making sure that we would have access into the country. We were both up-to-date on our passports, so we didn’t need to worry about that. Thailand allows for a 30 day (extendable up to 60 days) entry without a tourist visa, and we knew that we wanted to travel around Southeast Asia so there was no need to get that done ahead of time. Myanmar and Vietnam both require visas for U.S. citizens, but those can be filled out online and completed at the border. Laos and Cambodia both allow Visa on Arrival for U.S. citizens.
Get Immunized – The official website for the Center of Disease Control recommends the following vaccines for those spending extended periods of time in Southeast Asia: Hep A, Typhoid, Polio, Japanese Encephalitis, and Rabies. In addition, they recommend taking medication to prevent Malaria (which doesn’t have a vaccine). After doing some more research, we decided to only get the vaccines for Hep A and Typhoid. Polio can be a risk in some countries of Southeast Asia, but it isn’t a risk in Thailand. The vaccine for Japanese Encephalitis is very expensive, and the rate of contraction is very low for western tourists. Rabies is always a concern, but the vaccine doesn’t ensure 100% protection against the disease, and you should always get checked when you get bitten by a mammal anyways. Malaria medication is *incredibly* expensive ($15/day even when covered by health insurance!) and the symptoms are often worse than the disease itself. The vaccines for Hep A and Typhoid should give us a lot of protection, and the rest of the diseases can be prevented with common sense (and a lot of mosquito repellent). If we decide that we want to spend a lot of time in very remote areas, we can always get vaccinated in Thailand.
Talk to airline about getting through TSA – I have read that travelling outside the country with a one-way ticket can create problems in U.S. airports. I called the airline (United) to talk about what needed to be done to ensure our safe passage to our flight, and they were very resistant to the idea. First, they told me that a visa would be required. I explained that we would not be in any one country long enough to require a visa, but they insisted that I would at least need to have a return ticket to the U.S. Since Julia and I will be at the Los Angeles airport four hours before our international flight, there should be plenty of time to get this sorted out. If required, we will just have to purchase our return ticket home and make our best guess of when we’ll want to return.
Stop mail, cancel Comcast, etc – The USPS only allows mail to be held for a maximum of thirty days. There is also a mail forwarding service, but to forward our mail to a different address (such as my parents’), it would cost almost $400 for the duration of our trip. We ended up asking our (very kind) neighbors to pick up our mail for us. Thanks, Steve and Susie! I talked to Comcast and they allow your service to be suspended, cutting all service (and payment except for a small fee) for any period between three and six months. Kind of arbitrary, but it worked for us! I also called our insurance agent and asked for our cars to be put on “mothball” coverage. They wouldn’t take full comprehensive coverage off of both cars, but it will save us a few hundred bucks.
Pack! – We wanted to pack as lightly as possible, and I think we did okay. We packed everything into one large suitcase, one small (carry-on sized) suitcase, and two backpacks. We packed pretty light on clothes with the assumption that we can buy clothes when we get there if we need to. Our non-clothes, non-toiletry items are as follows: laptop for Broc, laptop for Julia, iPad for Broc (loaded with books), Kindle for Julia, iPod for Broc, iPod for Julia, digital camera, and phones for each of us. Julia and I have Verizon phones, which use the CDMA network. However, Thailand and most of Southeast Asia uses the GSM network, so we had to get new phones. I bought a couple of cheap-o GSM phones on Amazon and loaded them up with Facebook, Whatsapp, and Gmail for us to use while we are over there. Lastly, we LOVE to play Magic: the Gathering. I brought a small part of our collection so that we could play on the go!
Take care of Luna!!! – Every time we talked to friends or family about our plans, they all had the same question for us: “What are you going to do with Luna?” Asking someone to get our mail and watch our house for us is one thing, but Luna is another thing entirely. If she were an indoor-only cat, it would be pretty easy to just ask a fellow cat-loving friend to watch her while we are gone. However, she *loves* to be outside, and she also loves attention. So we couldn’t just leave her at our house and have friends and family come and let her in and out periodically. But asking just any friend to watch over her wouldn’t necessarily work, either – many of our friends have “indoor only” cats! In the end, my parents graciously offered to have her at their house. In the weeks leading up to our trip, we took her to their house to get her acclimated to living in a new place. She hadn’t been in a different house since I was in college and she lived in her native city of Spokane! She HATES riding in the car, and it took her a few times to get used to my parents’ house, but the last time we brought her over, she seemed very comfortable. I know she’ll come to love the outdoors of Fox Island, and my parents (and Pete) will definitely give her lots of attention! Thanks so much to you guys!
Lastly, we needed to secure our transport to Chiang Mai! Our flight that we bought back in August only takes us as far as Bangkok, and Chiang Mai is still hundreds of miles away from there! We have some friends (hi, Jeff and Jen!) that happened to plan a trip to Thailand that will overlap with ours, and they will be in Chiang Mai until the afternoon of January 15th. With us touching down in Bangkok at 11:30pm on the 12th, that doesn’t give us a lot of time to see them. We’ve heard that the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a great way to see the countryside, but a thirteen hour train ride only a day or so after twenty hours of flying didn’t appeal to us, so we decided to just get plane tickets to Chiang Mai that left on the afternoon of the 14th- only sixty bucks per person! But what would we do on those first two nights in Bangkok?
Fortunately, Julia’s aunt NanSea had a cousin who lived in Bangkok for many years. Unfortunately, he passed very recently, but his caretaker Pichai still lives there and very generously offered to host us for those first two nights. He is even going to pick us up from the airport! We’re very lucky that we’ll have a personal guide for our first couple of days in Thailand!
The months turned into weeks, and now the weeks have turned into days. As I write this, we are only sixty hours away from being in Thailand. We’ve been waiting for this for so long, it’s hard to imagine that it’s almost here! We are both very anxious but also excited to explore a new part of the world. Thanks so much for following our adventure!