Indie Travel Challenge 2012: Week 1 – My 2012 Travel List

Lake Baikal, Russia

You may remember back in November, I participated in BootsnAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel Challenge. I almost made it through the entire month, posting once a day based on the prompt for that day.

Well, BootsnAll has started a new project – the 2012 Indie Travel Challenge, which involves writing one post each week for the entire year based on the prompt for that week. I enjoyed the 30 Day Challenge so much that I just had to take on this one as well. My goal will be to publish my weekly post each Friday.

The prompt for Week 1 of the Challenge is:

Share with us your 2012 indie travel list. Part resolutions list, part bucket list, the list should help you focus your travel plans so you can take concrete steps to achieve your travel goals.

Since I am just over four months into a very carefully planned year of travel, I have kind of already done this. Back at the beginning of my Soviet Sojourn, I wrote about my overall tentative itinerary for the trip, as well as a bucket list of things I don’t want to miss. Although I didn’t write about it, I also mentally divided the trip into five phases, with Phase 1 being Finland, Estonia and Russia and Phase 2 being my December swing through the Baltics and Poland.

For this week’s task, I’m taking a closer look at what I have coming up for the last three phases.

Phase 3: Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova

Phase 3 began Tuesday when I arrived in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. After five days here, I will spend two days in Grodno and three days in Brest.

On January 13, I will board an overnight train to Kiev, Ukraine. I start Russian language classes in Kiev the following Monday and will stay there at least two weeks, possibly more depending on how I like the city and how the classes go. Regardless, I plan to spend the rest of January and most of February somewhere in Ukraine. I also received some exciting news recently that tours to Chernobyl have resumed so that is on my calendar for late January (I am keeping my fingers crossed that actually works out).

Chernobyl, Ukraine

I am tentatively planning to spend the last week of February in Moldova before heading to Odessa to catch a ferry across the Black Sea to Poti, Georgia. While in Moldova, I plan to visit the non-country of Transdniestr – a trip that is technically a Christmas present from my brother and sister-in-law.

Phase 4: The Caucasus

Once in Georgia, I will work my way quickly overland to Yerevan, Armenia. My goal is to arrive no later than March 10 to begin a month of volunteering with the Armenian Volunteer Corp. After my volunteer stint ends in Armenia in mid-April, I plan to head back to Georgia to see more of the mountainous country in the springtime before moving on to Azerbaijan.  There, I hope to explore some of their recently developed community based tourism efforts that include a variety of homestays in villages throughout the country.

Mestia, Svaneti, Georgia

Phase 5: Central Asia

From Azerbaijan, I will start the last phase of this trip – the ‘Stans! I have gone back and forth about my exact route (and it remains subject to change), but as of right now I am planning to fly from Baku to Astana, Kazakhstan. Yes, I know that means scrapping the Black Sea ferry from Baku to Turkmenbashi but for a variety of reasons, starting in Kazakhstan just seems to make more sense.

From Astana, I will go by train to Almaty and then work my way through Shymkent and Turkestan, up to the Aral Sea and then on to Aktau, where I want to check off another “must-do” item of visiting the underground mosques in the region.

From Aktau, I will move on to Uzbekistan, stopping in Khiva before taking a detour into Turkmenistan for ten days. There, hiking in the Yangykala Canyon, a homestay in Nokhur and visiting the Darvaza Gas Crater are all on the list.

Darvaza Gas Crater, Turkmenistan

Back in Uzbekistan, I plan to hit Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent. Next up will be Tajikistan where I am considering a potential volunteer opportunity that would involve working with a community-based tourism organization.

Finally, I plan to travel from Tajikistan via the Pamir Highway into Kyrgyzstan. I am looking forward to a lot of hiking in the mountains in Kyrgyzstan, as well as another possible volunteer experience.

Pamir Highway, Tajikistan

Of course, this is all subject to change – per my New Year’s resolutions, I am going to try to stay flexible, spontaneous and open to any other opportunities that may come my way!

Photos:Andrzej Kanon, deguonis, Stefan Krakowski,Oleg1975

6 thoughts on “Indie Travel Challenge 2012: Week 1 – My 2012 Travel List”

  1. Sounds amazing! So different. You are gathering some great stuff for your business when you return, I assume. I love the obscureness of your adventures. Perfect locals for travellers (Canadian spelling) like myself who like to do something different & get off the usual paths.

    1. Thanks Rhona! Yep, not sure if I’ll go into business for myself when I get back or try to find a job with a travel company or tourism board (kind of leaning toward the latter), but hoping my experiences will be beneficial to whatever I decide to do!

  2. im sure they’ll reserve you a spot (just save the email in case they backtrack their words haha). i think it is better to pay in person anyways because of the corruption there with many tour companies among other things (which i experienced first hand when i was there MANY times).

    once place id suggest is odessa. larissa at lived there for a while and even before moving there said it was her favorite place in ukraine. i think they speak russian there as a primary language so it might be ample opportunity to use those russian skills you learn (i know kiev was a mixture of both languages). otherwise, if you’re looking for for things across ukraine, you may want to give larissa a shout because she knows people and knows all about places to see there.

    1. Spot reserved, I’m all set! Actually am planning to go through Odessa as I am going to take the ferry from there to Georgia, but wasn’t thinking I’d stay long. Will check out Larissa’s site!

  3. what a great challenge! i might have to pick up and do it too 🙂

    im glad tours at chernobyl resumed for ya 🙂 i was there in the beginning of december (kiev) and my friend told me prior to coming that the tours stopped. i was devastated (i did a college term paper on chernobyl years ago and always wanted to visit since). well i never looked more into it but apparently they resumed two days prior to me being in kiev! i never found out until i was back at home in norway. sooo…im heading back to kiev end of march/early april to hit them up finally…just hope they dont close down again! and im looking forward to visiting all over ukraine from l’viv to donetsk and beyond. hoping to use your blog for some great tips for me.

    cant wait to read more about when you’re in the ‘stan’s. i havent read too much on them so im hoping it brews a bit of travel curiosity for me.

    1. Yeah, I was sooo excited! Of course now I am trying to make my deposit for a tour and the online system won’t work for me – I’m hoping they’ll save me a spot until I arrive in Kiev and can pay in person. 🙂

      I’m definitely planning to hit Lviv while I’m in Ukraine but not sure where else yet.

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