Backpacks that went around the world

Frequently Asked Questions

Wes & Jill Walls


Country List
Daily Diary











Copyright 2004

How did you begin? Deciding to take off for an extended trip is the hardest part. Probably each person varies as to how long they need to get used to such an idea. We discussed our plans for several months before committing. First we tried a four month sabbatical to make sure we enjoyed traveling. We returned, worked for another six months, and then took off for a really long trip.

How long did you prepare? We used five weeks to put our affairs in order.

What needed to be done? (In Five Weeks)

* Sold our possessions (including all furniture, cars, clothes, kitchen appliances, etc.). We retained: one suitcase of clothes, photo albums, souvenirs and sentimental items, wedding china and glassware, 4 boxes of good books. Ever wonder how much all of your stuff weighs? After getting rid of almost everything, we have about 500 pounds of stuff stored in 15 boxes scattered throughout the basements and garages of our relatives.
* Moved out of the house we rented. We spent two homeless weeks in the US and survived by staying with friends and family. Thank you: Rob&Melissa, Jason&Kelly, Pere&Susan, Paul, and Nicole!!!
* Left our jobs (easiest part)
* Took all immunization shots (yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Dip-tet, Menengocil)
* Arranged health insurance
* Planned the first part of our itinerary (from Nepal, across China, Russia, Mongolia, and Eastern Europe, overland through Africa).
* Obtained visas and country invitations for the countries we visited first (Mongolia, Russia, China, Nepal, India, Zimbabwe)

Did you plan to be away for so long? We knew we'd be away for at least one year. Turns out our budget lasted for three.

How much did it cost? We spent approximately $18,000 per year, everything included, for the two of us. The bigger cost was the opportunity cost; we gave up our yearly salaries. For more detailed costs, go to our budget pages.

What was the worst thing you ate on your travels? Learning about African 'bush' survival techniques, we squeezed water from elephant and rhino dung and drank it. The water looked like coffee (the thickest espresso you can imagine). Rhino dung tastes much better than elephant dung. Make sure you get it as fresh as possible. We also have eaten: fried whole guinea pig, animal intestines and other unmentionable animal parts, fried tarantulas, roaches, yet more bugs, and things we couldn't identify. In terms of rating a country's overall cuisine, Mongolia stands out as offering the worst fare for visitors. The typical meal is: mutton fat, cheese that tastes like a pencil eraser, and yak's milk.

Any close calls? Africa provided a lot of tense moments. We took many walking safaris, some self guided, and we've been charged by elephants or rhinos at least ten times, but you never get used to that experience. Meeting lions on-foot isn't boring. On a canoe trip down the Zambezi, a hippo destroyed one of the canoes in our group. However, people pose the biggest threat. In Lebanon, we shared a bus ride with a Hezbollah who asserted that he wanted to kill Americans (he assumed we were Canadian). In Afghanistan, soldiers tried to break into our room at midnight. We traveled to many countries with dangerous reputations, trusted the kindness of strangers, and came out okay (thanks to luck). We learned that the overwhelming majority of people, despite differences in culture or religion, respects law and embraces civility.

Did you get sick? Worst illness: Jill burned a very high fever for several days on a train ride through Kazakhstan. The train chugged for two days over featureless grassland, no hope for professional help, so we self-treated with Cipro. It worked. Her fever came down after a few days. The other passengers (six passengers share a small cabin) couldn't speak English but they could see Jill was in trouble and showed a lot of concern. We still don't know what caused this illness.

Did you take malaria pills? We witnessed a lot of fellow travelers go down with malaria, dengue fever, or bilharzia. However, because we were traveling for so long, we decided not to take daily or weekly doses of preventative malaria pills. We carried Larium in our medicine bag to treat malaria. Luckily, we haven't caught it yet. We attribute this success to wearing a lot of insect repellent and sleeping in a tent every night, even in hotel rooms. When we were exposed to water that may have contained bilharzia, we waited several months and then took the correct dose of Praziquantel. There is no treatment for dengue fever (to avoid this disease you must do your best not to be bitten by mosquitos). Malaria medications or Praziquantel are available in Africa, Asia, or South America at prices much cheaper than the USA. Instead of paying a few dollars per pill of Larium or Praziquantel, you'll probably pay a few cents in foreign pharmacies. In general, pharmacies are prevalent and easy to find in any country, even in the Third World. No prescriptions necessary. Stock up before you trek into the remoter areas.

What has been your favorite place? Depends on the type of experience: adventure, historical/archaeological, cultural, relaxation/vacation, sightseeing. Overall we like Eastern and Southern Africa the best. People say that Africa grabs your soul and it has grabbed ours. Here are some of our favorites:

ADVENTURE: African safaris excite us most, Tanzania and Zimbabwe excel for two different best-in-kind safaris: Tanzania for prolific animal sightings (plus the added pleasure of great hiking on Mt Kilimanjaro and relaxation on Zanzibar island) and Zimbabwe for walking safaris with the most qualified guides in Africa.
ADVENTURE: Camping in Mongolia. Rent or buy a horse for a few bucks, ride onto the plains like Ghengis Khan, and pitch your tent anywhere because all of the land is communal. Bring your fishing rod too; the rivers and lakes teem with trout and pike.
ADVENTURE: Float down the Amazon. Start in Iquitos, Peru (world's largest city without road links), take a quick stop in Colombia, then buy a hammock, board a boat, and sail a couple thousand miles to the Atlantic. Take some jungle stops along the way. And if you can, time your voyage to coincide with the Parantins festival, which rivals Rio's Carnival for the best in Brazil.
ADVENTURE: Galapagos. Swim with seals, dolphins, penguins, turtles, and manta rays. Onshore, you'll get close enough to shake hands (or webbed feet) with the animals and birds.
CULTURE: No place in the Middle East is better to visit than Yemen. The architecture remains uninfluenced by the West and the people still wear traditional clothes. Where else in the world can you walk around with a curved dagger girded by a handmade belt?
CULTURE: Ethiopia surprises visitors with a unique African cultural experience, Christianity arrived here at the same time as it did in Europe. You won't forget seeing places like the rock hewn churches of Lalibela.
CULTURE: Mali is the most intriguing place to visit in West Africa; it offers the best combination of West Africa culture and sightseeing. Explore the Dogon Country or mud-brick city of Djenne. Can you feel more far flung than during a visit to Timbuktu?
CULTURE: India is our favorite place in the world for cultural immersion. It's a 'must-see' for any serious backpacker. In short, India overloads the senses.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL: Egypt offers the world's most important tourist sight; the Great Pyramids. These are the only monuments left from the Ancient Seven Wonders. Abu Simbel and Luxor aren't shabby either.
HISTORICAL: China has frontrunner sights like the Great Wall or Xian's terra-cotta warriors. It also offers good food and a monolithic culture all its own.
SIGHTSEEING: In Central Asia, Uzbekistan outstrips the other '-stans' in architecture. (Uzbekistan offers a great alternative to Iran for those who want to see the magnificent architecture of this region). Kyrgyzstan retains its nomadic roots.
SIGHTSEEING: In Eastern Europe nothing beats Russia for the twin cities of Moscow and St Peterburg. Ukraine's Kiev and Lviv are almost as good as Russia's twin powerhouses, and Ukraine offers gems on the Black Sea Coast like Odessa and Yalta.
RELAXATION/VACATION: Zanzibar, Tanzania. Lie on the beach. Swim in azure water with dolphins. Let Stone Town dazzle you with Arabic and Indian architecture. Enjoy fresh barbecued seafood on the pier or move inland for a fabulous exotic fruit selection from an old plantation.
RELAXATION/VACATION: Greek islands. Take your pick, these islands offer the best combination of partying, beaching, and meeting new people from around the world. Our favorites are: Santorini and Rhodes.
RELAXATION/VACATION: Dalmatian Coast, Croatia. Visit Marco Polo's home. Swim around picture perfect castles. Croatia offers the best value for a Mediterranean Sea retreat.