Planning

How do you plan a trip of a lifetime? Where on earth do you start?

There are probably 5 key things to think about before embarking on planning your trip, it may sound obvious, but it’s astounding how many people don’t think about all these things!

  1. Where do you want to go?
  2. How long do you want to go for?
  3. What’s your budget?
  4. When do you want to go?
  5. Do you really want to do it?

We kind of always knew we wanted to go travelling. We’re getting to that age where friends are starting to settle down and whilst we had stable jobs and good career prospects, the thought of settling down just didn’t sit well. After many days in beer gardens, nights in pubs, evenings on the couch spent discussing the first 4 questions, me and Rob realised yes, we really really wanted to do it.

Our itinerary

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First stop is China, then onto Japan, Central and North Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Thai Islands, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia (duration in Asia = approx 10 months). From there we’ll be Australia bound in search of work to top up the travel funds.

Tips:

Selective Asia was a bible when choosing where to go and when, you want to try to avoid high season and rainy season.

Lonely Planet is great at showing the best areas to go in each country, they also have travel itineraries which can help guide when you get stuck.

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Getting around

We want to travel without impacting on the environment too much. However with the countries we visit we inevitably use air travel, to have the smallest impact we always book economy class and travel light. Preference will always be walking (great exercise on the go), bikes (most hostels provide for free), trains or boat.

Tips:

Skyscanner is a site we use to find cheap flights, if you’re not too fussy about what date you need to travel on, you can select the month you’re interested in going and it pulls up the cheapest and most suitable flights for you.

If you’re looking for internal Asian flights and trains, C Trip is a the one.

Rome2rio is an app that shows the best way to travel from one point to another. It includes flights, trains, buses, ferries, taxi’s, car shares, walking and displays the estimated cost and duration.

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Maps.me is another must have app. Whilst abroad you don’t always have access to 3G or wi-fi, with Maps.me you can download maps so you can still find your way when without network coverage. I tend to save each place I’m going prior to getting there and pin my accommodation, so no matter what happens I always know how to get to my bed.

Accommodation

Hostels are the one.

Many people suggested booking through Hostel World, however we found cheaper deals on Booking.com.

Tips:

When searching, look at the review scores AND the number of reviews. If somewhere has had hundreds of positive reviews, it’s a dead cert to be decent.

Visas

China – The visa for China is not cheap (£185 in total) and not the most simple. After much googling and emailing the UK Chinese Embassy we felt comfortable to apply through http://www.visaforchina.org There are four forms to fill in, print and post  for review along with a prepaid envelope for them to return your passport and a comprehensive itinerary of where you are going and staying in China.

Tips:

Send your Chinese visa forms to the Edinburgh offices, they have a quicker turnaround time and are very responsive to emails and phone calls.

If you cannot fit everything electronically onto the form, print it out and write in a black pen.

Japan – No visa needed if you are a British citizen, more information can be found here.

Thailand – As we are entering Thailand twice, for the first visit we applied for a 60 day tourist visa, the second visit we will just receive a visa on arrival. The 60 day visa was applied via post following the information here costing £25 plus £10 for returned passport postage.

Sri Lanka – Not yet applied – http://www.eta.gov.lk

Vietnam – For Vietnam you apply for your visa through a broker. The best and most reliable we found was https://www.vietnam-evisa.org You simply apply online and they return a form to be printed and taken with you to the airport. When you arrive in Vietnam, immigration will ask for the form, passport photos and $25. This visa covers us for 90 days. Bargain!

Cambodia – Visa on arrival, $30, information can be found here.

Malaysia – Visa is not needed as a British citizen.

Indonesia – Visa is not needed as a British citizen.

Australia – To apply for a working holiday VAC1 visa for Australia (valid for 12 months and allows 2 x 6 month employment stints) you need to create an IMMI account (here) and follow the instructions once registered. A VAC1 costs 455.95 AUD. Once submitted you receive an email with your visa, simple!

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Vaccinations

God bless the NHS.

A few months before going away I booked an appointment at my local doctor’s surgery for a travel review. After going through the itinerary the nurse suggested what vaccinations I needed, many which are free on the NHS. For those that weren’t I simply went to a Boots travel clinic, again when through my itinerary, and paid for the vaccinations I needed. The ones you pay for aren’t cheap, but you can’t put a price on staying healthy.

Money

Starling – A mobile online bank account that doesn’t charge when used abroad (even for ATMs). It uses Mastercard’s exchange rates and it’s all managed online through an app. It gives you real life notifications of your spending and analyses what you’ve been using your card on (ALWAYS FOOD!).

Halifax Clarity Card – A credit card that doesn’t charge to withdraw cash outside the UK and uses Mastercard’s exchange rates.

With these two cards in my purse, I can get cash out and pay with card without worrying about fees and silly exchange rates… It’s just a shame that Brexit is happening and GBP is up in the air…

Packing

Head over to my packing page to see my hints and tips on what to take, how to pack and how to do it ethically and sustainably.

Communication

Phone – I have an unlocked, pay as you go, iPhone SE. Wi-fi will be my best friend. I have sufficient ‘top up’ on my phone if I need to call or text in an emergency and for the countries I’ll be in for a few months I’ll get a local sim card to be able to use their network as and when.

Google translate – An app that hears, sees and reads what you need translating. Life saver for those hard to understand menus!

Insurance

Alpha – Backpacker insurance covers long trips across multiple countries for up to 24 months. Full comprehensive coverage is necessary as you just never know what may happen.

Other hints and tips

Take copies of all your documents, store them on google drive, share with family back at home, give them copies. Do whatever you need to do to ensure that if something happened while you were away, someone at home would be able to help you out.

Always have spare passport photos on you. You often need these when getting visas on arrival.