Dreaming of a long honeymoon? Too many travel plans for one two-week trip? Newlywed Angharad Paull shares her tips for planning a sabbatical style ‘wandermoon’
At the end of last year, my new hubby and I were lucky enough to take a once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon sabbatical: 4 months travelling across Africa, starting in Zanzibar, wending our way through Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, finally ending up in Port Elizabeth after following the scenic garden route, all topped off with a month skiing in the alps. It was a dream 'wandermoon', a break from the norm, a rare opportunity to spend responsibility-free weeks, jam-packed full of unique experiences together, that will forever make up our first and fondest memories of married life.
1. Think about the boring basics
How will you fund it? What will your family think? What if your employer won't agree to a sabbatical? There's a lot of logistics to consider but there are always ways and means. At first people thought we were crazy, but after we'd pulled it off they told us we were an inspiration. We ended up renting our house out for 6 months and informed our employers well in advance so they could make arrangements. I was lucky that I could go back to my old job, but my husband had to hand his notice in. And remember, funds will be low on your return.
2. Make a bucket list before you go…
What have you always wanted to see? What culture have you always wanted to experience? Now's your chance. Seize the freedom – sabbaticals don't come around often! I had always yearned to explore Africa, go on a safari, do a ski season and we managed both!
3. …but don't try and pack too much in
We agreed that we'd rather experience a place properly than just tick off a list of sights. You don't want to spend your entire honeymoon on buses without being able to explore along the route, especially if those buses are rammed and you have to spend an 8 hour journey balancing on one foot (long story). Also after the extensive, adrenalin-fuelled 'wedmin' we were exhausted and ended up sleeping for the first three days. It was bliss just to relax.
4. Be prepared, but try not to overplan!
When you're travelling, you have to accept that nothing necessarily happens quickly or on time…or as expected! Trains and buses don't run every day to every destination and, in Africa especially, there are vast areas of desert which make public transport non-existent. I spent hours scanning forums and guidebooks trying to work out how to get from A to B, asking advice from friends who had travelled Africa before and working out how to fit in romantic treats along the way. You need to do your preparation, but don't forget more often than not acts of spontaneity are the most memorable. Plus turning up somewhere and blagging a lastminute deal can snag you a bargain.
5. Consider mixing independent and organised
Due to timings, distances and lack of transport, we also opted to do an overland tour. It was great in the sense that covering distances became much easier – we hopped on and off a truck that drove us exactly where we wanted to be and we got to do things we'd have never dreamt of doing on our own – like sleeping under the stars in the middle of the desert – but it was tough joining a group of people having travelled independently and being in such a large group, we had far less contact with locals. Looking back, we would have opted for a self-drive across Namibia instead.
6. Keep your eye on the prize
Wedding planning is demanding, and add renting out your flat, giving up your job and planning for 4 months abroad in a developing country … saying you have a lot on your plate is an understatement. If you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath and picture yourself living the dream with not a care in the world. You'll get there!
7. Set up a 'Honeyfund'
If your guests want to give you a wedding present, swap kettles, toasters and loo brushes for cocktails, kitesurfing, walking safaris and skydives. We discovered people prefer buying you something rather than writing a cheque. We set up a 'Honeyfund' worked out a list of activities we wanted to do, added links, pictures and rough costs and were blown away by the generosity of our friends and families. We sent 'thank you' postcards and tagged the person who bought our experiences in photos of us enjoying their gift to let them know how grateful we were.
8. Let people know your itinerary, and start a blog
It's sensible not just from a safety point of view, but there's so much emotion caught up in a wedding that when the couple whisk themselves away (in our case for a long time) everyone left at home can feel bereft. Our family pinned our itinerary up in the kitchen and followed our blog (www.atptravels.com) religiously. Planning blog pieces whiled the hours away on long journeys – I'd type out my articles on my iPhone, then upload them using a WordPress app as soon as I found wifi. Now the blog remains a fantastic cyber-ode to the many memories of our honeymoon days.
9. Be fearless
We knew we may never get the chance to travel again together for so long and so we said yes to everything! The wedding had also given me a huge confidence boost, so we snapped up opportunities to do skydive over dunes in Namibia, zip-line over waterfalls in South Africa and microlight over Victoria Falls – the more we said yes the more we wanted to do. Never have I packed so many adrenalin-fuelled activities in to such a short space of time!
10. Never forget…
Coming home is always going to be daunting and going back to work, it can sometimes feel like the trip never happened. Our ski trip helped ease us back into normal life – friends and family came out to join us and it was lovely to catch up on our travels and wedding stories whilst still in holiday mode. The sheer cost of living in a French ski resort actually made us yearn for home – particularly having been used to African prices. Once back to reality, download and print your photos, share your stories with people with keen listeners and keep in mind how lucky you were to go in the first place…and dream of the possibility of it happening again.