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INTRODUCTION The world is flat. Or so the thinking went, until someone actually went off to circumnavigate it. You may not make such a colossal discovery during your own global journey, but what awaits you "out there" is something only you can find: your very own adventure. Beyond your part of the planet lie mountain ranges with echo-bending canyons, tangled jungles, deserts that stretch into sanguine sunsets and yellow savannah veiling lions, wildebeest and springbok. There are retina-burning white beaches tapering off into vodka waters that serve as a playground for dolphins, turtles and manta rays. Not to mention over 6000 languages, countless botanical wonders, architectural masterpieces and geological anomalies. All that is already out there. The decision to find it is yours. My own plan was to walk out the front door, head to Florida and try to hitchhike on yachts to South America - all on a budget stretched tighter than Liz Taylor's forehead. Without getting into details, my yacht-hitching scheme only got me as far as the Virgin Islands. And the only reason I made it that far was because I flew there. (Turned out I was trying to hitch south during hurricane season, when all the boats were headed north or into safe harbours.) This start, however rocky, did launch me on a two-and-a-half-year trip that forever changed my life. And not just because it ended with a car accident in Bangkok, which left me in the unfortunate position of having a broken ankle and amoebic dysentery - a tragic combination of constantly having to go to the loo, and never being able to get there quickly enough. Before I get ahead of myself, though, I just want to assure you this book is not going to try to persuade you to travel, nor make grandiose assertions that stomping around the planet with a coated-nylon pack will somehow fulfil whatever may be missing from your life. Travel is an urge best cultivated from within. In fact, one of the biggest favours you can do for yourself is to travel if and when you're ready, not when someone else thinks you should. The more eager you are to open yourself up to life on the road, the more willing you are to embrace the unknown rather than sign up for a pre-packaged air-conditioned experience, the more likely you are to reap real rewards. Believe it or not, nearly anyone can get around the world in one piece (or in my case, two), and I'd be lying if I told you that you needed this book to come back alive. However, the down side to blindly winging it is that you'll make mistakes, some potentially dangerous, many costly and some just plain embarrassing. By the time you get through the first section of this book, you should be savvy enough to chart an itinerary for your trip and avoid nearly all the snares that await you. With a glimpse of life on the road, a feel for the essentials, and by addressing a number of travel's most testing issues ahead of time, you'll be well on your way. The regional profiles in the second part of the book tell you what it costs to get around, how long it'll take to cross the various landmasses and if there are any rail, bus or air passes you may wish to buy ahead of time to make things cheaper and more convenient. You'll notice we took some liberties in dividing up the world into eight regions: North America, for instance, normally includes Mexico, but because of popular overland routes, a shared language and its latitude, it has been placed in the Central America and the Caribbean section. The regional maps are meant to provide ballpark estimates of the times and costs of overland travel on common routes. They are by no means instructing you to take such routes (it's always better to find your own way), nor are they completely accurate, since prices change, exchange rates fluctuate and delays do occur, particularly in less-developed regions. Of course, you'll want more specific information eventually, either from websites or publications listed in the Basics section at the end of this book or from your guidebook once you arrive. But at this point, much more information than what you'll find provided here will bog down your planning process instead of helping it along. And remember that there's such a thing as too much planning. One of the greatest thrills of travel is trying to make your way between two points by the least travelled, most arduous route, chancing rides and roads and climates as you go.