For inquisitive minds
Trip Start Jun 30, 2010
58Trip End Jun 01, 2011
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Success lies in the planning
How did you know how much money you’d need? Basic financial planning. It was important to us that we weren’t needlessly indulgent but that we would have choice, so we planned a 'mid-range’ trip. In a nut shell, we planned our itinerary (see below), totalled up days per country, multiplied that by a day rate (using LP/Rough Guides e.g. £75/day Japan, £35/day Thailand), added obvious extras like flights and carbon off-set, car-hire, kayak hire, rail journeys, new kit, scuba trips etc
How did you set your itinerary? We planned our trip around the weather and in particular our treks, ensuring we’d have the best weather possible for those. We used a red, amber, green system indicating bad, ok and great weather for each country. We worked out a few schedules, cutting time in some countries, lengthening it in others, and celebrated when it eventually showed only greens and a few ambers. So it wasn’t just luck that we had great weather. We met lots of trekkers who'd just completed the Everest Base Camp or Annapurna Circuit treks and they'd not seen one mountain peak!
Which places would you have added to your itinerary if you’d had more time? Our initial wish list was 36 countries long, but once we’d agreed on an 11-month trip and a R-T-W ticket we were able to focus more sensibly, although even still I had pretty fancy ideas about what we could achieve
- Boats: a Baltic cruise from UK to St. Petersburg; sail Cambodia’s rivers (before they’re dammed); trip to the Falklands/Islas Malvinas and the South Pole from Ushuaia, Argentina
- Trains: St Petersburg to Moscow; Indian Pacific from Adelaide to Perth; Trans-Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto
- Treks: Lake Baikal trail, Siberia; Jumla to Mount Kailash, Tibet; The Snowman, Bhutan; Eden to Mallacoota, Australia; Isla Navarino, Argentina; Cordillera Huyhuash and Cordillera Blanca, Peru; Cordillera Real, Bolivia; The Rockies, USA & Canada
- Activities: Horse-riding in Mongolia; Motorbike through Laos; Surf in north NZ; Explore China’s national parks; Explore India’s west coast; An intensive Spanish course in Santiago.
What kit did you take? We learnt so much doing the Corsica GR20 as a pre-trip trek, coming away from that with a very specific list of kit and the determination to travel light (around 12Kg). Have a look at the pictures of our kit lists for the full run-down. See also ‘best investment’ question later. As we’d be traveling in extremes (from +40’C to -10’C) the big debate for us was ‘which season do we equip for?’ We packed for both seasons, but took only a summer-weight sleeping bag and no down jacket. We budgeted for buying winter kit on route and planned to send unwanted kit home or give it away. In hindsight we would have been fine with a four-season sleeping bag and our silk sleeping bag liners for the whole trip.
A four or two season tent? The sub-2kg two-season tents seriously tempted us, but we felt it was worth spending the extra on a more robust four-season tent, which still only just crept over 2kgwww.fieldandtrek.com We love the good-sized porch and the fact that the inner is separate from the outer, meaning you don’t need to erect or even carry the outer if the weather’s assured hot and dry, and no extra ground sheet-protector needed. Whatever season tent, make sure you take a repair kit with you to patch up those mouse holes!
How did you decide on a camping stove? We had a Campingaz Bleuet Micro Plus Stove that research showed would be compatible with Japanese gas canisters, and it was. But, gas brands in NZ seemed limited and our research didn’t find any compatible gas stockists. So we changed to an MSR Pocket Rocket half way through, sending the original home. When we got to NZ there were lots of different brands some of which, sod’s law, would have fitted our original stove. Pocket Rocket was great though and saw us through NZ, Chile and Argentina without a glitch. Re. gas, many hostels in NZ, Chile and Argentina had stocks of different part-used canisters. We met trekkers who were carrying four of five of these each on their treks.
How many vaccinations did you have and what did you do for malaria? We had around 10 jabs each (incl Hepatitus B, Japanese Encephalitis, Rabies, Swine Flu). We took Doxycycline (one a day) as an anti-malarial, and for many months. Doxy is also a low-level antibiotic, which undoubtedly fought off all sorts of bugs unbeknown to us. It suited us well and we got it really cheap by shopping around the many different chemists in the UK (Asda pharmacy probably proved the best).
What about visas? Prior to leaving we arranged our Russian, Mongolian and Chinese visas through Real Russia www.realrussia.co.uk - seriously efficient - and Indian visa plus a visa for the Sikkim restricted area directly with the Indian Embassy in Londonwww.myvietnamvisa.com and our Cambodian visa at www.cambodianembassy.org.uk while we were in India. It is possible to arrange a ‘do-it-yourself’ Cambodian visa but some land borders, including ours on the Mekong River, don’t recognised it and a poor couple had to stump up more cash for a second, officially recognised one.
What paperwork did you take with you? Passports (!!) with enough blank pages; photocopies of passports, visas and travel insurance document; two sheets of passport photos; International Driving Licences; PADI dive cards (not log book as too heavy and dive centres give out log sheets); YHA membership; postcards from home to give away to new friends/nice lodgings; a few guide books and reading books – swapped later for other guide books; in hindsight we would have taken business cards to give to people we liked – its far too easy to loose contact details; and we photocopied guidebook language sections as we went.
On the road
Which was your favourite country? The most popular question by far, but the most difficult to answer. All countries were amazing for different reasons. Nepal had been our favourite country for many years and the Everest Three Passes trek probably marked the physical and emotional high of the trip, but for Phil the top spot is now occupied by Argentina and Cambodia. Similar to Phil, I was probably happiest in Thailand and Cambodia (scenic, culturally rich, great climate and super-friendly people) and I absolutely loved the South American vibe and landscapes
Which was the biggest culture shock? Going from Tokyo to Delhi, from order to chaos.
What was the worst thing you saw? Without doubt the poverty and disease in Delhi. People lying comatose on the pavement covered in filth, and knowing that no one was going to help them. A dog with a broken leg in Kathmandu. I won’t go into details. Worst things we heard? A traveller being offered children ‘for his pleasure’ in Delhi, and a revolting American bragging about having the best f*ck with a 15-year old in Phnom Penh.
How many buses, boats, flights, treks etc.? Approx. 45 buses, 18 flights, 15 trains and 8 treks embracing 60 days walking, a bit of cycling and kayaking.
Were you sick or injured? I was nearly sick watching Aron Ralston cutting his arm off in the film ‘127 Hours’! Joking aside, on the whole we were healthy and fit and probably poorly for around 10 days - two colds, one tummy bug and a touch of altitude sickness. Upsetting for me, during a trek I inadvertently stepped too close to the track edge and slipped off it, the weight of my rucksack twisting me around and down. I was saved from a nasty tumble by an unsuspecting shrub. Phil and some trekkers pulled me back up, and no harm was done except for some grazes and a knocked pride. I was named 'cliff hanger' for a few evenings and we laughed about the incident, but it's a serious fact that many trekkers die each year from simply slipping off trails and falling to their death. I was shaken that I could come near to doing such a thing
Where was the best food and worst food? The best food, undoubtedly in Thailand - so fresh, flavoursome and diverse (although Thai fish-cakes are not so nice). The worst food was Burger King in Delhi. We always steer well clear of multi-national fast food chains, but we just had to visit BK to see how they cater in a country where the cow is sacred, and to use their toilets! The chicken and vegetable burgers were slop. Nauseating.
Did you get into any kind of trouble? We had a tense moment with an aggressive character in the Moscow subway that thankfully didn’t come to anything, our ferry broke down mid-channel in Thailand but we were rescued in good time, my bag was slashed in Hanoi but thanks to Phil the thieves failed to extract my wallet and passport, and to this day I’ll never know how our jeep managed to evade the rockslides and precipitous drop-offs in Sikkim. We witnessed bag snatching and pick pocketing and heard and saw many troubling things, but thankfully we were not made victims.
Did you get accosted by any Thai Lady boys Phil, and if you were single would you….?! No and definitely no!
How did you get on being with each other 24-7 for a year? Cliché but true, we just love each other’s company. We communicate well too. I doubt we’d have embarked on this otherwise. Undeniably our relationship did change while we were on the road - travel is definitely not romantic - it was hard work and I’m certain our trip would have split a weaker partnership
Did you miss home? We didn’t have a ‘home’ to miss. We rented out our house, so our ‘home’ had become someone else’s, and our plan was always to relocate to Bristol on our return. In terms of friends and family, often we felt closer with the distance and our Skype conversations were so much fun. But, we were really fortunate to have family make a real effort to visit us at the mid-point of our trip, and boy were we looking forward to seeing everyone again on our return! So, no and yes.
How many photos did you take, and storage? We took 13,885 photos, 25GB, stored on the laptop and backed-up on 3 data sticks. We looked at online storage and considered Humyo, but went with the hardware instead. We lost around 50 Everest trek photos when our camera card corrupted but, from that point onwards, we formatted our cards religiously.
How many different beers? Our Beers of the World blog is for you
What security measures did you take? We watched each other’s backs all the time and especially when using ATMs and carrying money. We used body-wallets (even when baking hot) and were fanatical about keeping them well hidden – couldn’t believe the number of people that pulled them out into plain view for every transaction. We had a padlock each, and they got a lot of use locking rooms, lockers, bags. With our own laptop we didn’t need to use hostel/internet cafe computers that are rife with viruses etc. We did see people waving credit cards around in Internet cafes, and even leaving them lying around. Amazing. We were just really careful and marvellously didn’t loose a thing.
Your best investments? Its really hard to separate out our best kit as everything we took got a lot of use, but here are a few goodies we definitely wouldn't have wanted to go without:
- Samsung notebook - made life so much easier and safer
- Terra Nova Voyager Tent - kept us safe and saved us lots of ££
- MSR Sweetwater filter - essential on treks, used often in lodgings enabling us to safely drink tap water, save ££ on bottled water, reduced plastic waste
- Sigg waterbottles - seriously robust, used daily
- Walking boots - we lived in ours and treated them to a regular wax
- Keens - heavy but comfy and durable, and even went jogging in them
- Down jackets - 'down up time' was a favourite part of the day during treks
- Silk sleeping bag liners - extra layer when freezing, thin layer when hot, protect from bed bugs
- MSR Pocket Rocket - cooked up some fab trek meals and drinks
- Titanium pan set, mug & spork - light and essential for camping/treks
- Thermarest mat & sleeping bag - ensured a good night sleep on the trail
Was it worth carrying your own tent? Definitely, for independence, safety and peace of mind
What did you do with your trekking kit when you didn’t need it? We’d check in advance that lodgings had secure left-luggage facilities. Some were even willing to hang onto bags for up to 3 months. We used our rucksack flight bags (with padlock) to store unwanted kit. It meant we were tied to returning the same hotel, but the pros outweighed the cons there. For example, we left all our trek-kit at our Bangkok hotel for the whole of our SEA loop saving us a ton of money in storage costs and our Darjeeling hotel allowed us to travel lightweight around Sikkim. Equally when we went off trekking we’d leave a big bag of ‘civvies’ behind, reducing our backpacks to around 10Kg. We had no problems, we did make sure we stayed in good hostels/hotels during those times and I’m sure there are many scare stories out there of bags disappearing. Then again that’s what insurance is for! We also sent three packages home (Asahikawa, Darjeeling, Auckland) including sleeping bags and unwanted clothes
Your favourite trek/s? The Everest Three Passes has got to be at the top for scenery and the physical and mental challenge, but we also particularly loved our NZ treks - Round the Mountain and The Routeburn. Oh, they were all amazing, we just wish we could have done more! One thing to note is many of our treks were pretty commercial and for good reason (easy access, stunning scenery, good national park facilities), but we were often surprised at the volume of people and in Chile and Argentina that we were mingling with day-walkers. So, fantastic as they were they have prompted us to think a little bit more adventurously about future treks.
How did you balance cities and treks (gear-wise and mind-wise)? On treks and trips in remote places we were so well equipped we wanted for nothing but good weather, food and sleep. The cities were a slightly different matter. In our trek gear we did look drab / square / conservative compared to city-folk and had the odd craving to swap walking boots for cool trainers, trek-trousers for jeans – probably more me than Phil. But, we were safely inconspicuous and on the whole too happy / absorbed / engaged to give it much thought. Sending three parcels of kit, books and souvenirs home from Japan, India and NZ, freed up space in our rucksacks, which was promptly filled with civvies or another guidebook
Mentally, the contrast between the wilds and city was refreshing and we adjusted easily. Saying that, Buenos Aires was a shock after Patagonia and we did want to flee back the way we’d come! To help cope we always booked our lodgings in advance so no time was wasted flogging around cities searching for a bed (long gone are the days you can just rock up and guarantee a great room). Also on our first day we tended to gravitate towards a city park – lots of green, great place for relaxing, watching people and picking up the city’s vibe. An interesting observation was our alcohol intake always increased in cities!
Any places you’d skip? We didn’t enjoy Delhi and I note in my Delhi write-up we vowed not to return. It was a really bad time to visit and we stayed in backpacker central, but we do want to explore India a lot more so we will go back to Delhi and next time we'll do it differently
How many different beds did you sleep in? 109 at the last count!
The most/least comfortable beds? Most comfortable were in Chile – in our Andes Hostel studio, Santiago and at Tragaluz in Punta Arenas with its lush wool-stuffed duvet. The least – probably our Mendoza hostel thanks to bed bugs, or perhaps the straw-sack ‘pillow’ at Namaste Lodge, Marulung, Nepal although we were so tired we barely noticed.
Your favourite animal/s of the trip? The Humpback in NZ, the penguins in Patagonia and the barking gecko in Thailand. We can't really county the puma because it was dark and there's a slim chance it might have been a really massive fox! I loved the guanaco, the condor and the hummingbirds in Argentina too.
The nastiest bugs? Without doubt the mosquitoes, and in Sikkim the leeches were pretty bad. Phil's definitely more irresistible to the blood-suckers than I. Poor chap was eaten alive by the vicious mozzies on the north coast of Japan and in Sikkim he was bitten by a tiny black fly that caused his whole leg to swell up
Did you meet lots of wonderful people? Absolutely. The people we met, the travellers, holiday-makers, honey-mooners and locals, made our trip. We met some great Canadians, Belgians, Americans, Israelis, Swedes, Indians, Brits, Austrians, Germans, Kiwis, Irish, Argentinians and more - you know who you are and we hope to visit you all at some point in the future, so be warned! The people that probably made the biggest impact on us were the Khmers. Go visit Cambodia and you'll understand why. We had an amazing time exploring Vietnam and Cambodia with the family too; Mums, Dads and brothers, you're great!
Anything you left behind that you're missing? Only my giant rainbow umbrella from Yuksom, India. I loved that brolly.
Did your year fulfil your expectations? Yes and no. Yes because we saw, experienced and achieved everything we’d hoped to, and more. It was amazing and we wouldn’t change a thing. No because it was harder work and more testing of our relationship than certainly I expected
What’s next? Are you planning another trip? The wanderlust is stronger than ever and we will start planning another trip soon. It won’t be as lengthy and it won’t be a RTW trip, but guaranteed it will be adventurous. A physical challenge is definitely on the cards, a long trek or a big bike ride across some challenging terrain somewhere. Or perhaps we’ll just go and relax on a Greek beach for a few weeks and eat tzatziki and olives!
How are you settling into working life? We’re keeping our chins up. We’re in limbo at the moment and feeling rather sedentary and a little frustrated. Phil’s adjusting to being office-bound and the new boy again. I’m finding job-hunting a really slow process, selling our house is slooow and finding a new one is slooow. But, we’re enjoying Bristol, we’ve thrown ourselves into an exercise regime and we’re seeing family and friends, with fun weekends to look forward to. So life is good, but mentally it’s going to take some time to adjust.
Any regrets? None.
Advice to anyone wanting to do the same? Get busy saving, today, unless you're already loaded then what are you waiting for?!
Did it go fast? It’s funny how different people perceive time differently. Phil experienced a time dilation. When he thinks over everything we did and saw his eleven months expands in time. For me it’s the opposite. Despite having eleven-months worth of memories and images flowing around my mind, it feels like time just flew by, and sitting here at my desk now it feels like our epic journey was over in the blink of an eye. Thanks goodness for our blog!
I hope our answers are helpful. If you'd like any more specifics please do get in touch.
Nickie & Phil