One of the more enjoyable sets of experiences that I have in the course of the year is first to plan and then to execute epic journeys with my mother and stepfather. For the last three years we have been able to travel together to various countries, and for this upcoming Feast of Tabernacles we have turned our eyes from the chilly islets of the Baltic Coast (Estonia, in 2016), or the sunny realms of Atlantic colonial history (St. Lucia in 2017 and Suriname in 2018) to the southern part of Africa. Without going into particular detail about the specific plans we have made, I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss some of the general principles that tend to happen as my family makes plans to show what sort of logistical arrangements are necessary to keep things going well, and what sort of principles and plans we make in order to accomplish our complex goals when we undertake long trips like that we plan for the Feast of Tabernacles.
The first part of the planning is to map out where we want to go as far as countries are concerned. Our plans for this year were to visit nine countries–South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Ethiopia, and Tanzania, along the course of our trip. Some of these visits were planned to be somewhat short, and some more lengthy. With the goal of avoiding travel on the Sabbath (obviously, though this is not always as easy as one might think), we work out what parts of countries we want to see. When we looked at South Africa, we found that flying into Capetown was considerably more expensive than flying into Johannesburg, and so we looked around for flights into Johannesburg that were reasonable, and found a way that I could connect with them in Newark and then travel together through Togo and Ethiopia, while planning on visiting Ethiopia again with a bit more time to tour it on the way back). When one constructs plans that are as complex as ours, it is easiest to do them on a segment by segment level, looking at the amount of time one has in different places and the cost of each segment and how that can be made as reasonable as possible within the goal of visiting as many places as possible.
In the process of making plans to visit certain places and exploring the various legs of trips, there are some aspects of scheduling that become pretty important. For example, our discussion of visiting South Africa led us to ponder the desirability of spending the Day of Atonement in Johannesburg. Some research on my side showed that the place where our Church usually had services met close to the airport, which allowed us to ponder staying in a hotel and seeking to fellowship with brethren. I reached out to the local pastor there in Jo’burg to see where the location was and to communicate. When one travels to foreign countries in the hope of fellowshipping with a diverse group of brethren, it is necessary to communicate concerning times and locations of services. While pastors are generally very busy people, I have found in my experience that quite often they appreciate visitors reaching out to them and asking for details and enjoy getting to meet brethren they have not known before. And as someone who likes to travel I enjoy getting to know others as well, even if it requires a great deal of communication about logistical matters.
One of the most important things to realize about the logistics of epic journeys is that one cannot do this sort of thing alone. I’d like to think that my mother and I are both pretty intelligent people and both pretty experienced when it comes to international travel, but there are often little surprises when it comes to these trips. Whether or not airlines include food can make a big difference in how enjoyable a trip is, and the arrangements of airports is also of considerable importance. It is often necessary to work with the staff at airports, to figure out their security arrangements, sometimes even to communicate in foreign languages. Likewise, transportation in and around cities can present some challenges as well. Whether one is communicating with a local church pastor concerning the time and location of services on a weekly Sabbath or Holy Day, or communicating with people in hotels to see what sort of deals they have for tours or communicating with airport staff when it comes to help with travelers of occasional mobility difficulties, one has to work with a lot of people and diplomatic and effectual communication matters a lot.
What sort of logistical areas are important to consider in planning epic journeys? One of the more obvious ones is cost. Traveling can cost a lot of money, and one of the important aspects to consider when seeking to reduce this cost is being able to make each leg of a trip as reasonably priced as possible. For example, someone traveling from Portland often has very limited options when traveling overseas, and sometimes no options are shown directly (as was the case last year when I traveled to Suriname and back through Miami, Aruba, Trinidad & Tobago, Curaçao, and Colombia), so one has to pick the right city to aim one’s first flight at before one can uncover more options for travel. Likewise, scheduling is an important consideration. How much time is there on layovers, and do these times allow one the chance to explore cities? Are visas necessary to visit countries or not? Scheduling is also important when religious observance is a major aspect of the journey, especially when one is traveling off the beaten path as my family tends to enjoy doing, since some places have limited flights to and from. Besides cost and time considerations, one has to take communication into account. As we have noted, one’s plans often require coordination with others and the acquisition of correct information. It is also important, though, to note the linguistic issues that various locations present. Given the fact that my family can communicate very well in three languages–all of us in English, my mother in French and I in Spanish–most of the world is at least possible for us to manage well enough for our own travels given the prestige of those languages. But there are definitely some experiences and travels that test one’s abilities, and that is part of what makes traveling so much fun.