Several nights into our journey, as we were speeding along dark roads en route to our guest house on the island of Lifou in New Caledonia, I felt a bolt of irrepressible excitement of the sort familiar, no doubt, to most travel enthusiasts. We’d just spent several nights in big, bold Sydney, a bona fide world city, well-organized and self-evident. Sydney was exciting, but, truth be told, not unlike many places I knew well. The quiet island of Lifou, with its hybrid French-Melanesian culture, provided a novel contrast. There were few people around, and few streetlights. The air smelled sweet. Occasionally a car overtook us during our 40-minute journey, and headlights once or twice revealed women in bright clothing walking along the side of the road.
We had made it to an unknown place. I felt myself caught up with that familiar emotion known to all who love travel: teeming excitement, tied to a lack of knowledge of what was to come.
Taking stock of a five-week trip after the fact is perhaps unavoidable, but it’s also fraught. You don’t want to put too much energy into second-guessing what you did on your journey, perhaps in particular because a specific round-the-world itinerary is unlikely to be repeated. Simultaneously, you also want to learn from the experience.
Here’s what we planned well and what we might have executed differently if we had the trip to do over.Good planning.
• Hotels. Our hotels were well chosen, all in the $95-$175 range. In terms of value, we did especially well by scoring a room through Hotwire at the Hilton London Docklands for just under $100 per night. Most of the hotels we chose are well-located, or close enough to secondary attractions to feel central.
• Open-ended approach. Our general lack of planning as far as activities are concerned was also beneficial. This approach gave us time to relax into each destination and pick up inspiration on the spot. Our approach perfectly fit my neighborhood-based strategy of urban exploration. More tourist sight-oriented travelers might find this approach to be less satisfying.
• Variety of destinations. Another plus was the variety of our itinerary’s destinations. By including big vibrant cities and out-of-the-way insular idylls on our itinerary, we were able to enjoy a range of experiences in a relatively short period.
• Johannesburg. As I detailed in an earlier post, our brief Johannesburg stay suffered from poor planning. In retrospect, it turns out that I’d simply consulted the wrong sources. Several friends and acquaintances popped out of the woodwork following the publication of this blog post with tips. I’ll be better prepared for my next visit to Johannesburg. Lesson: always get feedback from your trusted contacts and carefully contextualize reports of a city’s security situation.
• Tanna Island. I’m a big fan of picking a base and then fanning out to other places. I wish we’d taken greater advantage of this approach to spend a few nights on Vanuatu’s Tanna island. I read about Tanna, an ecological wonder of nature, in Lonely Planet’s Vanuatu & New Caledonia guidebook. It is fairly easy to visit Vanuatu from New Caledonia.
• Rodrigues Island. Nine nights on Mauritius was perhaps two too many. A jaunt to the country’s far flung Rodrigues Island, 350 miles to the east, would have provided a fascinating cultural and physical contrast with the main island.
This is the final Capricorn Route series installment. Check out other stories in the Capricorn Route series here.