The last question first: What do you do on your first day home after one year of travelling?
Julia: What most of us would probably do – meet the family. I was especially looking forward to seeing my grandparents who already have a few years under their belt. We arrived at my hometown of Hamburg where they welcomed us the classy way – with banners. On the second day, we took a mundane trip to the health insurance company to get registered again.
And what did you do on your first day abroad?
Stefan: Not so much either. After we quit our jobs, dissolved our apartment and had got married two weeks prior to that, on our first day in Ulan Bator we started organising ourselves and our equipment. Getting the visa for Mongolia was quite nerve-racking. As Julia's family name changed to Richter after the wedding, we could not apply for the visa any earlier than shortly before our departure. It arrived on Saturday, and we left on Tuesday.
And when did it click?
Stefan: It took me three months before it no longer felt like a holiday any more.
Julia: With me it was the two weeks Bali in the second month. No change of location, simply surfing and being there.
How did you come up with your travel route?
Julia: I had always dreamed of a trip like ours.
Stefan: In 2012 we got engaged on a sea kayak tour in Sweden. Instead of a ring, I gave Julia a world map. We hung it up in our apartment and spent hours dreaming up a route around the world.
Julia: I really wanted to go to Alaska, and Stefan to the South Pacific. The whole trick was to cleverly combine those two destinations with other places.
Stefan: In total we chose five countries, and the rest mainly just happened. It was important to get the best balance between perfect travel weather, clever flight routes and low airfares, because whoever spends less can travel longer. It worked out well, and in the end we were abroad for 14 months instead of twelve.
You are both passionate skiers. Did you never miss winter?
Julia: Just in case, we stashed a package of ski equipment back home which could have been sent to us in South America. But we collected so many impressions on our travels that we cancelled winter and South America.
Stefan: And when it became clear that the European winter 14/15 was below average, we became more easy-going about winter.
Round-the-world ticket or single bookings?
Stefan: Definitely the latter. A round-the-world ticket helps getting visas, but you need to plan your destinations one year ahead – we wanted everything but that. I do not quit my job, apartment and leave family behind to follow a fixed route slavishly. We always wanted to stay flexible, and our travel destinations were also far away from the typical standard routes for such tickets.
Julia: Another disadvantage of the RTW ticket is that you need to stick to one direction – either go west or east. Only individual bookings allow you to fly from New Zealand back to Nepal when the trekking weather is just right.
Is it possible to book a world trip with a travel agency?
Stefan: There is probably a market for that but those are high-priced affairs. We took part in guided tours only twice – a boat tour on the Cook Islands and a kayak course in Nepal.
What did you take with you in your backpack from the first to the last day?
Stefan: First of all, the technical equipment such as camera, laptop and the inevitable smart phone. And then a tent, sleeping bags and a pile of outdoor clothes. We also sent things home on three occasions because we did not need them anymore. And we took things with us that we knew would not last forever. When we were in Nepal making our way up to the Everest Basecamp at 5,555 metres, we bought the missing warm equipment locally and gave it to the needy afterwards.
Besides paddling and hiking, surfing was on top of your to-do list. Had you done that before?
Julia: Years before we had done a one-week beginners' course in Portugal. It was horrible. We swallowed so much saltwater that the water level of the Atlantic Ocean must have dropped. Never again, we said. In Bali, we tried it again. And there you go, after one week we were surfing at least a few whitewater waves. Surfing a green wave was, however, much more difficult.
Can anybody learn to surf?
Julia: Basically, yes. Be ready to suffer on the big side, to show total dedication and ambition, and not to become frustrated. Sometimes, you float around for two or three hours and you don't catch a single wave – either due to your inability or because the better surfers are faster. What surfing lacks is runs for the beginners and a magic carpet.
Speaking of water sports, in Nepal, you did a beginners’ course in whitewater kayaking. Is it easier than surfing?
Stefan: Yes, but different. Especially the rivers in Nepal carry an incredible amount of water, and you need to get used to that. We were not totally ignorant when it came to kayaking as we had done a sea kayak tour in Sweden. There is no break on a wild river though. If an obstacle appears in front, you cannot hesitate for a second, you must take a deep breath and go for it. That is something you need to be mentally capable of.
Which country impressed you most on your trip?
Stefan: There is no ranking list. But if I had to pick three countries, then they would be Mongolia, Nepal and the Philippines. Three countries where people only have a little but give so much. The hospitality was impressive.
And where do you not need to go again?
Julia: We need to pass on that one too, we liked it everywhere. If you are able to adjust to local circumstances, each region of this world has its appeal. The most challenging aspect to adjust to was probably the food in Mongolia, but we mastered that too.
What image does the German backpacker have in the world?
Julia: Much better than expected. Germany is regarded in very positive light everywhere. We met many German-speaking backpackers all over. They explore the world with open eyes and know how to behave.
How did you travel from one place to the next?
Stefan: From very fast to very slow. We used transport such as planes, trains, buses, rental cars, our own car, rental scooters, horses, sea kayaks and canoes, and once in a while we also walked. Depending on the country, it's best to travel the way the locals do. Where they took a rickshaw, we took a rickshaw, where they rode horses, we did too.
Buying a car abroad, how does that work?
Stefan: Much easier than in Germany. We bought one in New Zealand. You look for the right advert, call the number, have a look, take the car for a long test ride without the seller wanting any surety, put the cash on the table and drive to the post office where you register your car for nine dollars. It is up to you if you choose partial or fully comprehensive insurance. There are also no costs for number plates because each car retains its original number plate from day one to the end of its days. And after nine weeks, we simply sold the car again.
How much courage does it take to leave family and friends and quit the jobs?
Julia: We did not consider that to be especially bold, as we do not place much importance on financial security or everyday routines. We also do not believe in having one job all your life. Today's working world requires you to be mobile, so we turned theory into practise.
How much does such a world trip cost?
Stefan: Ours cost 17,500 euros per person. If we had spent most of our time in Asia, we could have probably made do with 10,000 euros. The inflaters were New Zealand, North America and the South Pacific.
Let’s talk about health when travelling: Did you take any special vaccinations beforehand?
Stefan: We already had hepatitis A and B vaccinations, we only needed the rabies inoculation. A malaria prophylaxis was out of the question because we spent months in risk areas. And so our doctor for tropical diseases recommended that in the worst case we should go straight to a local doctor and to rely on the local knowledge for the right treatment.
Julia: You should also keep in mind when you are doing outdoor activities that it can often take up to one or two days until medical help arrives. So when in doubt, it's better to take less risks.
Speaking of safety when travelling: Did you ever have trouble with pickpockets?
Stefan: No. And that is probably one of the best lessons we learned on our trip: The world is not as bad as you might think. Sure, the media report about blood and thunder in paradise because that is good for viewer numbers and circulations. However, nobody is interested in the good news anymore.
Julia: Other backpackers we talked to also only had good things to report about the areas we visited. It was just those who had been to South America who had bad experiences to report. But to miss out on South America for that reason? No way.
How often did you actually not know in the morning where you were going to sleep that night?
Julia: Very often. The only accommodation we had booked ahead were the ones before long flights, always near the airport. That way you can make sure you do not miss your plane and go on board fit and relaxed.
Stefan: The key to not worrying about the next overnight stay was our Hilleberg. That “hotel room” in our backpack allowed for all possibilities, not only when hiking. It also helped us to go easy on our travel budget. All in all, we slept 145 nights in a tent.
How did you plan the trip? Did you do it the classic way by reading through Lonely Planets or did you research each step ahead online?
Julia: Nowadays, there tends to be rather too much information than too little. You are lucky if you can keep on top of it all. Before our trip, we looked up a lot online, but when we were travelling, we rarely had the right Lonely Planet with us. The tips we got on the spot from other travellers or locals were much better.
Are smart phones a blessing or curse while travelling?
Stefan: Definitely a blessing, especially in Asia where even the last village has 3G. An internet-enabled smart phone in combination with Google Maps and the friendly lady’s voice that always directs you in the right direction is worth a mint.
Julia: But we can also do it the other way. Our three-week canoe tour in Alaska far away from any mobile phone towers was digital detox in the pure form.
Which personal characteristics of your partner which you were not aware of before the wedding appeared on your trip?
Julia: We had a funny role swap in Alaska when we were paddling. When we turned from Beaver Creek into the Yukon, there was little current but a lot of wind – of course from the front. We still had to paddle 50 kilometres until our pick-up spot. Suddenly, Stefan, who is usually very calm and considerate, freaked out and threw away his paddle.
Stefan: Julia, who can have quite a temperament, did stoic battle with the wind and paddled like clockwork. I guess I was close to being abandoned.
How do you get used to a regular job after such a trip?
Stefan: That was no problem. However, you should bear in mind beforehand that you might see things differently afterwards. You are more relaxed when problems arise. And you do not necessarily put work above everything.
Julia: If you have left the rat race once, you know things work out without a job – at least for a certain time. It totally clears your head – which in turn, is good for work.
Is your blog still online?
Stefan: Sure, lookfornewhorizons.com is still online. We do not blog as much as we did during our trip, but we are keeping the website alive after our journey. After all, there are still new horizons at home too. By the way, we are also currently writing the best stories from our trip for a picture book which we will publish this autumn.
Your best souvenir of the trip?
Stefan: Our photos. While travelling, I could really focus on my passion for photography. And digital pictures do not weight as much in a backpack as shells, stones or ethno art.
So, the next trip will be to mark your silver wedding anniversary?
Julia: Before we started, we thought the trip would satisfy our wanderlust. However, the opposite has happened: We have seen how much more there is to explore. So our next world trip will probably not have to wait until our silver wedding anniversary …
Globetrotter Magazin Info
Stefan Richter (40) comes from Wernigerode am Harz, but has been living in Innsbruck for a few years now where he was responsible for marketing at Kaunertaler Gletscherbahn GmbH (Kaunertaler glacier skiing area) after doing a German business administration degree. After the journey, he was hired by the App developer M-Pulso in Tyrol’s capital. It was in Tyrol where he also met Julia Richter (31), from Hamburg, also worked in marketing for a mountain railway company after finishing her studies in sports culture and administrative management. Before the journey, she worked in Pitztal, today at Schlick
17. März 2016, Interview: Michael Neumann