What time I did spend in Azeroth was also spent leveling Tal's first crafting skill. Once he hit level 84, I took one last spin around Uldum to say goodbye to all the mining nodes, then dropped mining as a skill and took up alchemy. That leaves Tal as a pretty self-sufficient herbalist/alchemist.
Leveling alchemy to 525 took about 3 hours over a couple of days, and overall, ended up costing about 3,500 gold - more or less as expected. There were a couple of points during the leveling process where I had to take a break and visit areas to pick my own herbs, because they were either unavailable on the AH or only available in small quantities for grossly inflated prices.
I mean... I had to go out and run around Kalmidor looking for silverleaf. Silverleaf! One of the most basic herbs in the game, and there wasn't a hint of it on the AH - at least, not during the 3-4 days I was checking and trying to build up some stock for leveling alchemy. I found as much peacebloom as I needed (or could even carry) on the AH, but not a hint of silverleaf. Strange. Definitely put a crimp in my initial foray into alchemy, though!
Once I got past that hurdle, I eventually ran into a similar issue with goldthorn. Aside from that, though, I either had the herbs on hand, or readily available from the AH at a reasonable price. At that point, it was just a matter of making sure I had a few hundred crystal vials on hand and easy access to the alchemy trainer.
At the moment, Tal doesn't have any alchemy specialization - I'm considering going for Elixir Master, but we'll see. I'm just happy to be able to craft my own Flask of the Winds now. Having a bunch of +hit and other useful flasks/potions on hand is an extra bonus.
Now starts the task of preparing to run some dungeons. I've reforged Tal's primary gear set for hit and expertise, so he's at least starting to look prepared as an Enhancement shaman. It looks like I'm going to have to go back and redo his primary talent tree a bit as well, to dip further into the Elemental tree and pick up some of the hit- and damage- enhancing talents in the early tiers.
Once that's done, I'm going to have to spend some time looking at his Restoration spec as well - yes, I've been collecting a secondary gear set and the glyphs I would want to use if Tal's even called upon to heal. I'm not sure how well a Wrath-trained discipline priest player will do healing in Cataclysm on a shaman, but hey - I'm willing to give it a shot!