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!

 

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.

 

 

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!