What’s in the bag?

It seems like a must do; you start a blog about travelling and writing a post about whats in the bag has to be done.

It’s now 43 hours until we are on our plane, and still definitely doesn’t feel real! We’ve both been so busy with last minute packing up (the house, not the bags) we’ve and saying goodbyes to old friends we’ve barely had a chance to stop and think! Only yesterday when I did round 1 and 2 of operation ‘get all my stuff for a year in a bag’ did it actually start to become a thing.

So. The important stuff…

Everyone I’ve spoken to strongly advised investing in good bags, so we both went for Osprey bags. Mine is 65l Aether and Kelly’s is 55l Arial, although she’s probably wishing she had a bigger one now! I’m so glad we listened because these bags are super comfortable and really sit nicely on our backs, even when full! I’ve also got a daypack for tech stuff to take on the plane, and obviously for day to day use

We (strangely enough) did quite a bit of research on what others recommend to take or use whilst away for a year. So here’s a list of the things that i’d also recommend. Don’t worry, this won’t be a post about EVERYTHING I am taking, just the useful stuff that you may not have thought of.

The general stuff

  • Packing cubes are a MUST! I can’t imagine not taking these backpacking. Just get some
  • Comfy flip flops. I foolishly bought some off Amazon that were rubbish and immediately gave myself blisters. I got these Teva flip flops later on as the brand was highly recommended, and I must say they are super comfy. It’s really worth spending more on these (and other shoes) as, well, you’re gonna be wearing them all the time!
  • GOOD trail shoes! Quite a lot of people swear by wearing hiking boots etc, but I can’t imagine anything worse, so went for some strong grip trail running shoes. I bought some Innov8 trail shoes as my OCR buddies raved about them. The idea is that these will cover general walking/hiking, but also running as they are super lightweight
  • Sandals. I wasn’t feeling buying sandals initially but actually, they are seriously comfy and more supportive than flip flops. Again, Teva are recommended, obviously wearing these with socks is NOT recommended

 

The Tech

So I was always going to take quite a bit of stuff, but i’ve tried to pull back a bit for this trip.what kind of digital nomad would I be if I didn’t include a section on tech!?

  • GoPro Hero 4 Black. Obviously an essential for underwater filming and just general filming. I’ve also got a bunch of attachments (remote, battery extender, etc) as well as a floating selfie stick, buoyancy aid and gorillapod 
  • Kindle, for all those long ass train journeys! This was a hand me down but does the job for sure. Kelly has a new PaperWhite which is so much nicer, but I wasn’t going to spend more on something I may not use.
  • iPad for everything else
  • iPhone for photography and day to day stuff (and staying in contact obviously for all family and friends reading this).
  • Garmin Fenix 2 multisport watch, for tracking activities (and to tell the time). I had this anyway and would have upgraded to a new Fenix 3 HR but Kelly would have KILLED ME!
  • Anker Power Charger. This was a present and is AWESOME! IT should charge all my stuff, but my phone about 6 times off one charge.
  • A wireless hard drive for backup and streaming of movies

And… A BOOK! To write in and everything! Joking apart this will be my recipe/scrap book for the trip.

Other things i’d recommend

  • Sleeping bag liner. You never know what you’ll be sleeping on/in. These have come recommended by people on so many blogs i’ve read
  • Travel pillow. We both got one that converts from a neck pillow to a normal pillow too
  • A LIFESTRAW! This was a must for us, especially considering some of the places we are going. Whilst it’s expensive it’s definitely worth it
  • Snorkel gear. We’ve looked into this and it can be a costly thing to hire. We purchased some gear on a recent holiday and thought it would be a good thing to take!
  • Get stuff that come with cases just in case. For example hard cases for things like sunglasses. For me with all the moving about we will be doing it’s not worth the risk of breaking valuable stuff on transit 
  • Sealable bags for keeping important stuff waterproof
  • Get an “airporter” for your bag. Convayerbelts at airports love to munch the dangly bits of backpacks.
  • Try and avoid taking random crap. I have a “thing” packing cube for odd bits but I’ve actually culled so much stuff out of it, although it may not look that way…


And to summarise some of the things others have said to us, and we’re definitely doing

  • Pack, pack, and repack! Seriously, be prepared to CULL clothes. We’ve probably done 3 rounds of repacking to remove stuff each time. DO IT!
  • Start early. I have mates who left this kinda thing till the last minute. I DO NOT recommend that!
  • Seriously, invest in a good bag. It’ll save your back
  • Really think about the climate you’re in. Do you really need to take 4 pairs of swim shorts if you’re trekking in a jungle for months? I’ve had to be really quite vicious with the tops I’m taking because of this, so no skinny fit polo shirts!
  • Be a little prepared for unexpected weather. I’m going to be chasing sun for a year but still taking a hoodie, fleece and waterproof coat. 
  • Keep your stuff to a minimum. I admit I’ve failed at this but remember you’re carrying all your stuff on your back!

So there you have it. My life for a year. I’ve got the weight down on the main bag to 13kg which is enirely manageable. I’m just glad i was hitting the gym lots before this trip really started to become reality!

 

Let the packing commence!

So this is the first time I’ve not worked since I was twelve years old (yes I am including a paper round in that), and instead of work my life is replaced with putting stuff in boxes. Oh the joy.

We’ve both been very fortunate to be living in my parents house the past four years, but now my sister and mum have moved home to enable Georgie (little sister) to get a job, pass her diving test, and actually see universities properly rather than by virtual tour. Regardless of this , we are packing up our lives into a plethora of boxes and sticking them in the loft,  effectively removing our existence from the home and humanity as we know it.

It’s quite an odd feeling doing this, especially as I’m not actually moving into another property. This all feels very similar to moving house during Uni days, but this time we have no f****** idea what’s actually coming around the corner.

Although we’ve been rather conservative on the purchasing front whilst living here, we still have a HUUUUGE amount of stuff, especially clothes. The next time Pinky (my new nickname for Kelly since rebelling against adulthood and dying her whole head a cocophony of colours) says she has no clothes, I’ll remind her of the 4 suitcases filled with her clothes currently residing in my loft! I should say, I’m not much better. Then there’s all the kitchen stuff, my array of instruments, my vinyl, gaming systems, movies, various bits of my photography printed onto canvas; you get the idea. Basically, if you’re gonna do similar and go away, start packing EARLY

The truly weird thing at the moment is the mix of emotions that come with the whole process. It definitely hasn’t actually sunk in that this time next week I’ll be walking around India, at the start of a 330day  adventure of a lifetime. It definitely didn’t seem real saying goodbye to all my amazing colleagues last week either, and to be honest it probably won’t until I’m dropping our pooch off at her foster parents house on Monday, which I am absolutely dreading to be honest. Fortunately, she’s staying with some amazing people who I’m truly honoured to call such good friends. Hannah, Emily, Harry and John, I can’t thank you enough for taking on Holly.

I’ve taken a break from packing up the world to have a pint and watch my sister work (HA). I’ll miss such good beer for sure! I very much doubt I’ll be drinking beautiful hoppy pale ales in India and south east Asia

Next stop is the actual packing of our backpacks! We’ve planned to get everything ready and at least packed on the first iteration by the Sunday before we go, but at this rate I have no idea if this will happen. We both did a dry run ahead of a family holiday in July , and we both had very light bags which was ace, but since then we’ve both bought way more than we had then, so I am a little worried to say the least. 

Right, back to it!

A week of goodbyes

It’s all starting to get real now….

In less than two weeks, I will be out of every form of comfort zone i’ve ever known, thrown in the deep end of backpacking with the onslaught of India. I’m obviously excited, but seem to mix that with bouts of sheer panic due to the great unknown.

This week has definitely been a week of goodbyes. 4 leaving events in 7 days between the two of us. So many people have turned out so far and we’ve still got 2 more to go! This post is dedicated to all the legendary people who took the time to come out and send us off in style.

We threw a leaving party on Saturday in my village, and expected about 20 people to turn up. Over the duration of the day I think we had closer to 40, including some of my old housemates I haven’t seen for over 5 years. It was actually the first time our whole Uni house had been together since 2011, which was amazing!  It’s quite reassuring to know that even after so long, you can still just chat like you saw them yesterday. We had two groups of Uni mates rock up and join us, local mates, and family. It was actually the first time my two cousins (from other ends of the family) had met each other; crazy! Kelly had all her bridesmaids in a room together too, so overall it was a rather special day. I had so much fun I didn’t even take any photos! A BIG shout out needs to go out to Kelly who made this into a surprise 30th birthday party (I turn 30 in Vietnam so would’t see any of my mates or family). I cannot begin to thank her enough. Not only did I not have a clue this was happening, but she obviously went to a great deal of effort to keep it a secret. Kelly, you are my rock, and you bloody rock! Thankyou xx

Last night, I had my leaving drinks with my Cambridge colleagues. So many amazing colleagues came out to say goodbye, and so many had really kind words to say. It’s still not really sank in that i’m not going to see so many of them for over a year. I am so lucky to work with such an incredible and passionate bunch of colleagues, and so many will be missed (fortunately, the ones that didn’t turn up were the ones that won’t be missed too much)! About 40 people turned up over the evening, and those that were in for the long haul certainly looked like they were enjoying themselves (not sure how much they enjoyed life today though).

Tomorrow is Kelly’s last day at work, and has a leaving lunch with about 40 colleagues. Thursday is my last day, and i’m having my Chelmsford leaving drinks (my base campus). I said goodbye to my manager today, and some colleagues I work very close with. I still don’t feel like this is real…

As I come to my last day of working for a year, I’ve found myself reflecting on all the amazing things that me and my team have achieved over the past few years, and all the stuff that’s happened at ARU since I was SU President. The University is literally nothing like the place I turned up to in 2005. Literally everything is better, from the teaching to the student experience. There’s so much i’m so proud of I would literally need it’s own post just to cover it all. Don’t worry, I won’t be writing that one just yet 🙂

To finish, I just want to say thank you again to my colleagues and friends who joined me on Saturday, or Monday, or Thursday. I’ve been humbled by the turnout and the love that’s been shared over the last week. I care so much about so many of you, and can’t tell you how much i’ll miss you (well, some of you). You know who you are! There will be so many days whilst away when I will be thinking and missing you all i’m sure, but right now I just want to get this week out of the way, so I can relax (sorta) and start thinking about the next year of madness.

So with that, Matt OUT (no, i’m not comparing myself to Obama, it just seemed like a nice way to end it).

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The Trials and Tribulations of Trying to Tie down Train Tickets in India

TL/DR

  • Booking trains in India can be a mission but persevere. Read below for tips (after a rant)
  • I’ll think twice before moaning about National Rail (which is disgustingly expensive if you really think about it in contrast to Indian Rail!)

We’re mainly using the train in India to get around. The prices are good, and from what i’ve read it’s an integral experience for anyone venturing around India. As we’re doing rather an odd route (starting in Calcutta and finishing in Mumbai, but getting there from Kerala and Goa) we have some serious train journeys to look forward to!

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We’ve done quite a bit of reading about booking trains, because they tend to sell out, especially in the classes more suited to us newbie travellers. Indian railways are nationalised, and you need to book online via their national rail equivalent, IRCTC. So, let me guide you through my experience so far.

Registering on IRCTC

This is no trainline.com. I have actually registered 3 times on 3 separate emails because I never got any confirmation emails etc. You also need to have an indian mobile number, which MUST be 10 digits. Obviously I don’t have an indian number but fortunately have a mate in Pune who does (thanks Jay!). On my final and successful account registration I was overjoyed, as I REALLY needed to book some tickets to Mumbai ahead of our Diwali experience. HOWEVER, upon my first login I discovered I needed to confirm my email and mobile number, and didn’t get any comms to either; first hurdle hit. So as you’d normally do in this kind of situation, I emailed their customer support email (care@irctc.co.in). I didn’t hear back from 3 emails over two weeks, so resorted to Twitter, which got things moving. After a few back and forth emails I was asked to send a photo of my UK Passport through to sort out verification.

Tip No.1, email them immediately, say you cant verify your number or email, send them your username and passport as a small JPG.

So then I was in! HUZZAH! I can book tickets finally! Sadly, my second hurdle was hit.

Making sense of the codings and classes

The Class system is pretty simple to comprehend to be honest, and there’s loads of useful websites and blogs about what each bit means. I’ve been advised by a local indian friend (thanks Jay) that I shouldn’t bother with anything lower than 3ac (3rd class with air conditioning), so we took this advice straight away. Every traveller is different, but I don’t particularly fancy being on a 14 hour overnight train without a place to sleep, any AC or maybe even a chair!

Tip No. 2. Book 1-3AC only. Aim for overnight trains to save on hotel costs.

I’ve also been advised to book the side berths wherever possible, and to book overnight trains if possible to avoid wasting days on trains and to save on hotel costs. Seems like a great idea so we’ve done that wherever possible.

So now the real fun starts…

You can’t just say “Mumbai to Goa” as there’s so many stations in each area. You need to really know the names of the individual stations. In places like Mumbai and some of the other major cities you’ll be okay as they are called things like “Mumbai CST” but not in all cases. For example I started searching for Goa and there’s no station with Goa in the title. Uncle Google to the rescue.

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Tip No.3. Have a separate Google tab open at all times and hunt out the stations in the main areas you’re travelling to/from

You will probably find that in many cases you won’t get a train you’re looking for. This is very annoying as you have to just search for alternatives. This is a bit of a pain to be honest. For example if in the example below I searched for Agra Fort from Varanasi Junction i’d have been fine.

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.36.43.jpgDO NOT press back in your browser as you’ll have to log in and start again. THIS RULE APPLIES THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE SITE TO BE AWARE.

Tip No.4. Do not use back on your browser. Navigate back through the site via links on the page.

Tip No.5. Have a separate tab with the same page open to speed things like searching up

You then need to figure out what days your train is actually doing that route. You’ll see something like this if you’ve successfully found a train that’s running

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Don’t worry about the days where there’s ticks and crosses, just click on your class and you’ll see loads of other options, including alternative trains (if you’re lucky) and the available dates. If you want to see the route, click on the train number in the above screen.

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So once i’d got this far, I had to start working out the coding.

Indian Train Coding

When you say where you’re going, there are different statuses of booking availability. Basically they are available, waiting list, and not available. Available is okay as there’s seats/beds available in your class. Anything like the examples on the 8th means tickets are on a waiting list (i.e. all the main tickets are gone), and you’re 15th in the waiting list. There’s also RAC that means ‘reservation against cancellation’. What the actual difference is i’m still not sure. To be honest, we just switched up our classes until we found something that was available. I’ve been advised that on 2AC and 1AC it’s unlikely there will be many cancellations, so unless you’re AL1-3 avoid being on the list.

Tip No.6. Avoid waiting lists, just adjust your class or date of travelling

Now I haven’t even mentioned the GN (General Quota) and FT (Foreign tourist) quotas you’ll see sometimes. Tickets are block booked/reserved for certain guests or travel agents. This is important to be aware of when you’re in India trying to book at a station apparently…

So, you probably think you’re getting there now. Persevere!

You then need to enter all your passport details. THIS IS IMPORTANT as you’ll be showing ID with your ticket so get it right. Alongside this you need to select your bed type. This is very much a personal preference and does vary based on class of ticket, but i’ve had side upper/lower recommended to me by people and in blogs.

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You then get to define booking parameters, like the below. Now the fun really started for me.

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On a couple of trains I booked, I got to the next stage and then got an error, because for example there weren’t any beds in the same berth left. At this stage I had to start the WHOLE PROCESS AGAIN! This is, to be frank, infuriating, but there’s not much you can do. Back to the start I go….

When you finally get to payment

So after literally an hour of trying to book 2 train tickets from Goa to Mumbai, I got to payment. HUZZAH I AM NEARLY DONE! Sadly, I wasn’t.

The payment options are vast, but for foreign tourists they are limited to one option basically, international card. I used my credit card for security which worked fine on my previous booking. However this time it was declined (because of error code RISK). This happened 4 times on the same train ticket (yes, I started again 3 additional times).

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Obviously I contacted IRCTC and my bank and both said nothing was going on.

HOWEVER

I then found I had actually been charged for the initial booking, even though I got an error. See no.4 below (payment settled but not booked. WTF!!!). So another email send to IRCTC. Fortunately they were very quick to give me a refund on the failed ticket. Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 15.41.16.jpg

Apparently you can also check your status of refund via the website, but I haven’t had the pleasure of doing this yet (but sure I will).

After all that, what was the damage?

So it’s a faff, but basically, you have to get over it as it’s the only system that’s available. I also had other websites recommended to me, but similarly I had issues because i’m not in India (many don’t take international cards, even credit cards). Stick with this site and just get on with it.

So lets talk figures. Trains in India are known to be cheap comparatively. This is what we’ve paid so far

1AC with a private cabin, Calcutta to Varanassi on a 14 hour sleeper train= £60 for 2 tickets

3AC side berth beds, Goa to Mumbai, 12 hour sleeper= £25 for 2 tickets.

I deduce from this unless you’re a total tart, go for a lower class. The cost difference is pretty vast and obviously you’ll get a more realistic/ less rose tinted experience. I’m yet to actually get on a train in India, so my opinion may change following that, but this is my initial thoughts.

So, to summarise, it’s a faff! I’ll think twice before moaning about National Rail (which is disgustingly expensive if you really think about it in contrast to Indian Rail!)

The curse of the bloody spreadsheet

Now I know this is an odd title; bare with me.

I’m a planner. I’ve always been a planner, and will probably always be a planner. It’s got to the point now where I AM THE PLANNER for any large gathering with my best buddies, so sort out what we do and how it all works (well, 90% of the time anyway)  So when it came to planning a year away, covering 12 countries and spending thousands of pounds, I was gonna PLAN. Fortunately my partner Kelly is exactly the same (except she is a completer/finisher in BELBIN terminology, and I’m definitely not!).

We starting planning (literally) years ago. I’ve posted another blog about what we used to plan, and this evolved over time, but the one thing that’s been consistent has been the spreadsheet.

As yes, a classic Excel I hear you say. Not exactly….

I might have got a little excited on this spreadsheet (from now on referred to as THE spreadsheet). The spreadsheet contains our route, the main countries with dates (obviously), the regions within the route that we want to visit (of course), the approximate duration we will spend in said region, the kind of things going on we need to see or make time for (with links, of course), and also a column for people we know in said area, or who gave us advice on doing said activities or seeing said places. This has enabled us to get an approximate outline of what to do when, and how long we’re in places for so we can book hotels when entering countries or regions.

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An example of the spreadsheet (older version). Colours indicate regions only (i’m not anal enough to have a colour matrix planned).

Unfortunately, that’s only the first sheet in the spreadsheet. As our plans grew, so did the spreadsheet. I now have sheets for the following:-

  • Forecast costs
  • Actual costs
  • Budget Tracker (including a section to consider exchange rate variance)
    • Break down by country with exceptional items included as a budget deficit)
  • Savings tracker (with a section for variables)
  • Flight costs and itinerary
  • Hotels booked (with Google Maps URL, obviously you have to have that)
  • VISA requirements (and a check list for when we’ve sorted them)
  • Ad-Hoc calculations (for things like fuel consumption in NZ when we hire a camper)
  • Things to get checklist
  • Forecast internal travel costs (for things like train costs in India etc.)
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Yeah. I went there..

And that’s not the worst of it! I’ve actually RETIRED a number of sheets over time! AND i’ve starting faffing with sheet to sheet data feeds, which just ended up being one massive headache (not recommended when you have this many sheets).

Now I can hear the planners out there thinking this is awesome, but i’m really starting to find it’s not. The problem we have now is that we’ve become slaves to this bloody spreadsheet. Every time we read/watch something about a country or region and think ‘ooh that looks awesome’ we have to go back to the spreadsheet, navigate to the relevant area, find where it would fit in, have a discussion (debate) about where should be increased or shortened in time or what actually needs to be excluded; you get the idea. BUT NO! Then I think about the budget. THINK OF THE BUDGET DAMMIT!

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The problem is, this never stops. Both Kelly and I have got to the stage of planning fatigue now, and so have calmed this down a bit, but there’s always ONE MORE thing that we find, or decide we must do. A good example is the Ankor Wat Half Marathon. I’m a keen runner and would absolutely love to do the AW Half. However this requires some dedicated spreadsheet mastery. And you know what, I know that actually as soon as we land in India, the dates and times we’ve meticulously planned out are all gonna go to shit; and you know what, THAT’S FINE! This is actually part of the trip i’m almost looking forward to as much as the places we visit, literally not giving a shit what happens the next day.

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Writing this post has made me reflect on my working/social/daily life, a life that is governed by 5 calendars (3 of which are shared with other people), regimented to the 30mins at work due to the constant demand for meetings and support. When all that goes will it be bliss, or will I panic without the planned agenda? Who knows!

Either way, i’m assuming there will be people out there reading this who are just like me, and probably in the midst of planning. So for that, here’s a few bits of advice upon reflection…

  • Planning is okay, and useful but don’t go overkill
  • Do not (repeat DO NOT) plan down to the day. Things will go wrong, you will meet people who make you change your mind or plan (heaven forbid) and you WILL drift. Get over it, it’s gonna happen
  • You’ll probably keep researching stuff until the day you leave, but don’t panic. Just keep a list of stuff that’s cool, and where about’s on your route it is. What will be will be
  • EVERYONE has a different opinion of things on their visits. Consider how many variables can affect your opinion of something you’ve done, then times that by 10 about a travelling adventure. Don’t get bogged down in personal opinions or bias.
  • DO have an idea of your budget and how far that’ll actually go in each country. We’ve had about 4 iterations of our country level budgets because we got so bogged down in all these ‘you can live in Thailand for a dollar’ kinda blogs. Again, think about the lifestyle you want to live and how you’re travelling (i.e. with other people).
  • Be aware of planning fatigue. It’ll get ya!

Right, there’s one rant over and out. If any of you planners would actually like to see a copy of my spreadsheet get in touch. I’m afraid i’m not posting as it has full route and actual financial plans on, but happy to do an edit if someone is remotely interested.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Admin- reaffirming being an adult is overrated

So as we reach the 2 month mark until we depart for our year away, the dreaded life admin is really ramping up. This past few weeks has involved sorting out the more mundane bits for the trip (VISA’s etc), but has really focussed around the REALLY DULL life admin stuff.

It’s weird when it’s day to day activity, but as soon as you have to finalise, close, re-arrange or fundamentally change something that’s just happened, you realise how much dull stuff goes on day to day.

Kelly and I made a list or two (I know, not a major shock there) that consisted of some of the following (not by any means an exhaustive list:-

Sort money in joint account for Holly pet insurance
Declare Beetle SORN and cancel tax & insurance
Sort out Mini- termination of contract and give-back car date.
Get international drivers licence
Notify banks of travel
Get second travel money card
Pack up personal effects in the house
Car Storage for Beetle
Cancel phone contracts, move to PAYG
Pay off campervan for NZ
Cancel standing orders/ direct debits (savings, phone contracts, charity donations, wine account, insurances)
Set up standing order for ISA

Then I remembered all the REALLY dull stuff, like sort out tax situation (pretty sure i’m due a rebate, that’ll be handy), stuff with premium bonds, other random insurances (cancelling some, taking some out, yadadadadada), setting up online accounts for those ancient systems that aren’t needed, scanning EVERYTHING that might be, clearing down space for cloud storage so I can backup photos, figuring out how much I need in a bank account to cover costs for said cloud storage etc. It’s just all so DULL! And to top it all off my lovely Mini has just fallen out of warranty, stuff is going wrong, and things need replacing (tyres, brakes, that kinda stuff). It’s fine, I didn’t want that £1000 anyway really…

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It may be expensive, but I bloody love it and will miss it when it’s gone.

The Dreaded VISA

Kel and I have been super organised with this whole trip, from the planning of routes, the budgeting, the timings, vaccines, everything! VISA’s aren’t something I’ve had to deal with before really, as the travel i’ve done in the past only really extended to either free VISA’s, or periods of time so short they didn’t need one (or in Europe, was nice while it lasted). But this trip has thrown a couple of curve balls….

For example, India allows a 30 day VISA for tourism. That’s cool, but we’re for 38 days (remember kids, plan, plan, and plan again). Therefore we need to both pay £100 each for our 5 weeks there. That can be dealt with, but is a bit of a pain.

Thailand is rather interesting as well. They offer a 15day VISA waiver if you go in overland, and 30 by plane. Again, we’re there for over 30 days (nearer 60 in the end) so have to get a a different VISA. This is fine again, but it’s causing issues on our route. We’ve been trying to ensure we can squeeze in Laos as so many people have said it’s one you can’t miss, but with our timings around Xmas, where we’ll be in SE Asia at what times, our general route, and the cost of flights from Laos to Bangkok, it looks like we’re gonna have to miss it. Such a shame, and in the main driven by VISA issues. LONG!

Packing our life away

We are both quite fortune to be coming back to (hopefully) a place to live, or at least some wonderful friends who will put us up for a bit of time. Fortunately as well, we are able to pack up our stuff and store it. Regardless how little stuff you think you have, it’s WAY more when you are looking to pack up! All the clothes, technology based things, VINYL, cooking things, books, DVD’s, musical instruments, etc etc etc. It all adds up! Looks like i’m booking every Friday off until we go just to pack up our lives. How depressing…

Genuinely feel like this is gonna be my life soon….

Moral of the story

Don’t forget, or put off the boring stuff. Think about it early. Some stuff you’ll have to leave till just before you go, but at least try and think about it a little in advance. We did, and still don’t feel like we’ve left enough time!

On the plus side, it won’t be long till my biggest life admin worries consist of the following*

  • What street food vendor should I sample today?
  • Should we have another drink?
  • Do we REALLLY wanna move on yet?
  • Should I go snorkelling or lie on the beach a bit longer?
  • Bus or Train?

 

*Obviously I’m not naïve enough to think there won’t be plenty of life admin when we’re away, but i’m living in denial for a little longer.

 

 

Reflecting on previous trips

Many of us have had the fortune to see the world. I’m lucky to have seen a great array of countries across the world. One thing I’ve learned more recently is I really like to explore different (i.e. non westernised) cultures. A few years back, Kelly and I took a break in Tunisia, and it was fantastic just walking around the cities, chatting to locals, and that was it (well, that and lying on a beach for basically a week solid).

 

With my parents living in the UAE as well, i’ve had the opportunity to experience the UAE properly, staying on 3 week stints, and making the most of what’s around. Yes countries like the UAE are obviously super wealthy, and in many cases results in almost soulful architecture, but on the flip side of this there’s some of the most stunning buildings and environments i’ve ever seen! The snaps below were taken on my first trip to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque with my mum/sister; a genuinely stunning building that’s a total must see in that part of the world.

The best thing in the emirates (apart from seeing my parents obviously, is getting out and seeing the country. Yes, there’s all the super over the top things like the Palm, all of Dubai, the worlds biggest EVERYTHING, but the real magic is out of the city and in the desert.

There’s something really magical about the desert. We had a day/night in the desert, and it was a truly spectacular experience. I’ll never forget watching the sun set over the all encompassing desert, and can’t wait to see it again from so many other parts of the world!

Back to reality

Don’t get me wrong, I may have loved the less-traditional locations, but I won’t say no to a few creature comforts either! We both love the states, and have done two trips out there as a couple (Florida and NYC). We’ve had some great adventures across this side of the pond (well sorta) too, such as Fuerteventura, Italy, and more recently, a cheeky trip back to the motherland for the Sweeney (yeah, she’s Irish).

 

 

I still can’t really figure out what kind of holiday I prefer, but that’s the beauty of a trip like this. We will be seeing the full spectrum of life, society, and nations. East will meet West, and i’m really looking forward to seeing the almost paradoxical shift in life between countries.

Remember where you came from

One of the things a lot of people really worry about is overspending whilst away, and I am definitely one of them! I totally accept i’m not well known for being prudent with my spending, so will obviously have to reign myself back in (quite dramatically now, thanks Brexit)!, but I know we can do it. Back in 2010, Kelly and I spent 3 weeks in Sydney with her family. We were both earning £1000 a month after tax, and literally had £300 each to live on for EVERYTHING! I never thought we’d do it, but we did. We still had an amazing time, and got to do what we wanted, but didn’t go nuts on the boozing or eating out. It’s amazing what you can live on when you put your mind to it! We were fortunately obviously to have accommodation sorted, and without that, we wouldn’t have had a chance, but remember kids, you don’t NEED to go have a beer, buy the more expensive meal, or do EVERYTHING that other travellers normally do. Some of the best experiences we had in Aus, and all over the world actually were free. Memories don’t have to cost a fortune!

 

What we used to help plan

The things we used

As I work in the technology world, we obviously made use of all the stuff out there. Here’s a list of stuff we made use to help plan our our route, things to do, places to stay, etc:-

Pinterest

Kelly and I got into a habit of pinning EVERYTHING we found that could be of use. We started off with a private board for the whole trip where we pinned anything that could be useful or worth reading, and when we got to a point where we had so many pins, we sub-divided by each country. The original board can be found here. My advice would be to use Pinterest, and just search for anything (for example, India Backpacking). We found loads on there; too much to actually use to be honest!

Recommendation: Start with country based boards. The process to move the posts to other boards was a mission.

YouTube

This is probably quite an obvious one to be honest, but a good ol’ search can help a huge amount.

I won’t lie, I got a little obsessed with watching videos of people vlogs in every (and I mean EVERY) county/area we are going to. I actually got to the point of watching videos of individual things we were planning, to get a good idea of what to expect and what others thought.

I found a couple of vlogs particularly useful.

HK2NY

These guys obviously had a bunch of money or got paid en route, but I really liked the videography and content. Karl is also really active on Instagram and often replies to comments. I’ve picked his brain quite a bit to be honest…

The only caveat I give here, is these guys were party animals. I accept i’m not well past it yet, but I am not really planning a trip of epic binge drinking sessions, so a lot of the stuff they do I won’t be doing. Likewise, they had about £30k for 9months, and we have nothing like that (and going for longer), so use this as a guide only.

FunForLouis

Another beautifully crafted video blog. These guys have done a similar journey to what we plan (in parts) so watching a bunch of the videos were SUPER useful. They tend to do videos every other day, so you get really nice little chunks of life on the road. Again, this is in parts NOT a realistic example of budget for a trip (I think they probably got paid/sponsored, as Louis is a big name on the scene) but I still found this really useful. This was one of my favourite videos (yes I did binge them like Netflix).

Everything else

To be honest, and as you’d expect, there are MILLIONS of videos that can help you out. I just got into searching for very specific things, which really helped me decide on specific places to see, or at least consider seeing.

Recommendations:

  • Find something/somewhere you may wanna go, and just look at the footage
  • Don’t get pent up or lost in individual ‘you must do this’ blogs. Everyone has an opinion, and opinions vary dependent on so many factors (such as your budget, who you’re with, when you go, the weather, the political situation in the local area, etc). There are so many variables no one can tell you what’s best for you, but video content is a good platform for giving you a feel of what’s worth seeing
  • Watch the relevant videos. I found loads of stuff on the recommended videos on YT that were really helpful.
  • Read the comments! Sometimes people will massively disagree with what’s in the content, and may lead you to something special. I found this quite a few times.

Couchsurfing

Whilst we haven’t actually used this yet (i.e. we haven’t stayed with anyone), we’ve used this loads to gather info, get places to stay, and more importantly, get inside knowledge. If you haven’t heard of Couchsurfing, it’s a great community site where people offer a place to stay FOR FREE. It’s not always a solo room, but if you get to meet locals, it’s probably worth doing. I signed up to Couchsurfing after a blog recommended it, so thought i’d have a go. I posted a public tour saying we’d be in India through October, and Fiji in March. Within about 2 days, I’d had about 4 invites to stay with people  in both countries. Not only did we get offers for accommodation, but we got advice just offered to us on things to do, offers for local tours, and people just offering to meet up and help out. Amazing really. We will be making way more use of this site for sure!

Recommendation: Sign up properly, check reviews of those offering to host, and don’t just say yes to the first person to offer you a place.

Others Blogs

Yeah okay, I accept this is a bit obvious, but i’ve got to include it really haven’t I? Again, I found most useful blogs via Pinterest, so recommend trying the two together.

Blogs can be a really useful tool for getting a really personal feeling for where you’re planning to go. Very much like YouTube vloggers though, you need to remember that there’s so many variables that affect someones experience of a place. Likewise, i’d recommend finding bloggers that are taking a similar approach to you on your trip away. The things I looked for were couples travelling, budget travelling and obviously the locations we’re heading to.

Couple of bloggers I’ve found particularly useful :-

Nomadic Matt

Matt’s blog feels more like a massive community of advice now. He has some awesome guest blogs that i’ve used loads (especially the ones about couples travelling).

The Broke Backpacker

Matt (the broke backpacker) has been travelling for YEARS, and done some on a skeletal budget. He’s also a bit of a legend so really worth checking out his stuff. He’s also a great fan of snapchat, and I love watching his daily adventures.

A Brit and a Broad

I’ve actually known Macca since I was a kid, so I accept i’m a bit biased here, but these guys are super knowledgeable, and I really enjoyed reading their stuff, and watching all their content. I’d also really recommend the book Macca wrote about planning your trip. Kelly read it cover to cover and found it super useful.

AirBNB

We’ve used this as a treat to be honest. Most places are out of our price range, or can be found on other sites (like Agoda, see below) but on the odd occasion it’s a bit of a treat. For example, over Diwali, we’ll be in Mumbai (Bombay). We’re using AirBNB to stay with a family who openly offered to let us join them for local madness. We are paying £120 for 4 nights, but over a national holiday in Mumbai I don’t think this is too bad (this sounds expensive for India I know, but for 2 people for 4 days it’s pretty good in Mumbai).

Recommendation: Do lots of searching. I’d recommend contacting a few people you find in a location you’re happy with. Introduce yourself properly and say what you’re about/after, then weigh up your options.

Instagram

I bloody love Instagram! It’s my favourite social network without a doubt. I’ve always loved photography, and since the boom of mobile tech i’ve effectively abandoned my SLR, as I find I can get pics just as as good, with quicker/easier/more effective editing from my phone now (I know, sorry all you avid photographers out there). For the record, all pics on this blog are taken and edited on my phone….

I searched for accounts related to places, liked the pics, and took notes. Simple really. There are so many out there, i’m not going to recommend any on here, but just have a search yourself. You’ll find loads of useful stuff. Again, check the comments!

An example is below. We got engaged in NYC in March 16 (on our anniversary) but that day we checked out Little Italy because of things I saw on Instagram and read in the comments. It was well worth it. This is a pic I snapped at the gateway.

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STA

If you’ve started planning a trip, you will have started looking at STA stuff i’m sure (if you haven’t, you should). I AM NOT SAYING BUY STUFF VIA THEM THOUGH!

I found that the STA routes gave a really good indicator of good routes & things to check out. Whilst the prices initially seemed pretty good, local advice (via things like Couchsurfing) made me realise that actually, I could get much lower prices locally. As a start, STA is really useful, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you book through them.

Recommendation: Get their booklets and go for a chat, but do more research before handing over a card!

Reddit

Don’t be afraid of Reddit if you haven’t used it before. Some of my mates thought I was doing some dodgy stuff on the dark web when I mentioned I was using it for travelling! It’s actually really useful.

Reddit is basically a bunch of forums where you can ask questions, post stuff, etc. The most useful thing for me was finding really specific subreddits about specific places I was going and asking questions about local advice. For example, I got some great advice about Fiji from people who live there. We’re going off season so wanted to check what was not going to be open, that kinda thing.

 

In no way is this list exhaustive, and I wasn’t religious in my use of any of these things, but all really helped keep my thinking organised. The great thing is, I was able to use things like Pinterest to do just that (keep my thinking organised).

Thinking about the important stuff

So one of the things that became really apparent during this planning session, was to define what was really important to the two of us. We’ve both been rather fortunate and seen some amazing parts of the world. My Family moved to the UAE in 2013, and Kelly’s parents moved to Australia in 2009, so we’ve had a few holidays overseas to see them all. But on the flip side of the places we’ve seen, we’ve realised what we really aren’t bothered about doing or seeing.

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Kelly and I live a nice life. Not opulent, excessive or anything like that, but we live in the countryside surrounded by beautiful scenery and amazing landscapes, which we both adore, so that was really important to us. When researching places to visit, we really considered the type of outdoor activity we’d want to do, things we’d want to see, and most importantly, the experiences we’d want to remember for the rest of our lives. This didn’t just lead us to specific countries, but regions and activities in countries.

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One thing that really was a deciding factor for both of us was food. WE LOVE FOOD! I spent my teenage years working at some phenomenal restaurants around the Essex/Suffolk boarder, which completely changed my outlook on food and drink. Kelly fortunately likes the stuff I cook and experiment with. Food has always been a factor for us when going overseas on previous trips, and normally tends to be a thing we really talk about whilst chatting to mates upon our return.

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For this trip, we’ve genuinely had half of it guided by the wonderful Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Oddssey (absolutely amazing book, but also a great TV show). In fact, this show was probably one of the critical things that made us take the plunge and start planning a trip!  Because of this, we decided to take the plunge and start with India, an area of the world i’ve always wanted to visit, and I can’t WAIT!

So that was the start of our planning: deciding what kind of place we wanted to see. Then we went on to proper planning!