10 things I’ve learned before leaving

So it’s been 3 weeks since my last post here, it’s been a mixture of celebratory parties and difficult goodbyes amongst friends and family and since I am now technically, but not permanently unemployed I thought it would be a neat idea to share some things that I have learned whilst planning my trip away, things I wouldn’t know unless I was planning a round the world adventure in the hope that someone somewhere may find this helpful.

1. Using visa agencies – Being raised a small town yokel, I have never been anywhere that warrants a piece of expensively produced paper to be attached to my passport in order to visit a particular nation. For a start, what the fuck gives a nation the right to control me from crossing territorial borders because I was born on a particular island? Okay I get it, it’s to protect national sovereignty and to limit mass immigration, but why do they have to make it so difficult to apply for a visa! Surprisingly my Russian visa was easy to get, albeit the feeling of being in a Mission Impossible film giving your Biometric data to the Russian Federation. The problem I had was with applying for a visa with China, I knew because it was my first time going and because I was visiting for circa 2 months it wouldn’t be straightforward but I had no idea it would be as long winded as it was. Luckily I was recommended CITS, a Chinese Visa Agency that were exceptional at dealing with my visa application. If I had sent my visa application straight to the embassy without it going past these guys I might as well have shredded my form and added it to my Chinese Chicken with Black Pepper Sauce as a side. I know that one of the most important things about travelling is keeping to a budget but for the extra £15-£20 it’s better to get someone to do all the legwork for you, believe me, if it wasn’t for CITS I’d be going to China bald.

2. Worldwide free tours – Who knew people were nice? I know it’s mental. Little did I know if you submit a Google search you can find enthusiastic youths offering free tours of almost every single city in the world. Although you don’t have as much flexibility as going with a paid tour which has continuous departures throughout the day, it is certainly a good idea to familiarise yourself with a new city. My first stop is Riga, Latvia where the free tour starts at 12pm outside St Peters Church in Central Riga.

3. Importance of a good bag – I like to compare the importance of a good bag (Jesus I sound like my dad) to that of your mattress at home. We use our mattress for a third of our entire life, and for some reason it’s one of the household commodities people seem to Scrooge on, and I don’t know why. With this in mind I spent an unhealthy amount of time browsing Cotswolds and searching the internet for something suitable for a 8 month vacation. I decided not to go with one of the bags where you just stuff everything in until it overflows with boxers and toothpaste hanging out. I’ve gone with the Osprey Farpoint 70 Bag which I bought for £83.99 ( the cheapest I can find it now is £100 on Trekkits website ) and there are 4 reasons why I chose this particular bag.

  • You have a day bag attached to the main bag which zips off and is great for hand luggage and day trips.
  • The bag opens like a traditional suitcase, no need to pull everything out to find your sun cream.
  • All the straps can be zipped in to avoid looking like a walking octopus.
  • The brand, Osprey is a quality brand which demonstrates that by using great material, plenty of straps and adjusting mechanisms.

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4. Unexpected costs. – Blehhhhhhh. About a month ago I uploaded a document that showed the remaining costs of what I needed to pay for before I went. I seemed to miss off a couple of things. If I could recommend anything I would advise to save up ‘buffer’ money to pay for unexpected items and costs you need to pay before you leave. I had forgotten to buy memory cards for my Camera (£78) I needed an unexpected filling done on my Upper left second molar (£140), I needed to make my last payment on a loan (£125), I needed to pay for my Canadian ESTA (£15) amongst others. The point is, you only really come across these costs as soon as your about to leave the country, it is important to sort out any debt, un-brushed teeth or travel documentation BEFORE you go, and allow a couple of hundred £ for this.

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5. The Halifax Clarity Credit Card – I think the best way for me to explain this is to use an example. Firstly It’s always an idea to use a credit card to make purchases or withdraw cash abroad rather than a debit card, with the exchange rate about the same with 100 euro converting to about £71.85. Now, the non sterling transaction fee is usually about 0.2% higher on a credit card, however you get away without paying for a non sterling purchase fee which you have to pay on a debit card (£1.50-£2). Essentially meaning on your bog standard credit card your going to be saving about £1.75 per transaction on a card purchase. Now where the advise comes in to play…Say In Riga I need to take out 100 euro at an ATM using my Halifax Clarity card I wouldn’t need to pay a £3 cash fee which you need to pay on ALL other credit cards and I wouldn’t need to pay a non sterling transaction fee of 2.95% (£2.40 on 100 euro withdrawal). If I use my Halifax Clarity I will be saving £5.40 per cash withdrawal comparing against other credit cards, which could be much better spent buying a locally crafted beer.

6. Malorone – Whilst touring South East Asia (Mainly Cambodia and Laos) I will need a hefty supply of anti-malarials to keep myself from..well…dying. Everyone I have spoken to who has taken anti malarials have told me horror stories of terrifying nightmares using Doxycycline and feeling like they’re on deaths door taking Paludrine. The name everyone mentioned and recommended was Malorone, very little side effects occurred and no problems with anyone I knew, great! However the price for Malorone is £2.25 a tablet compared to £0.15 a tablet for Doxycycline, quite a significant gap.  We needed about 128 tablets for me and Georgia between us, (taking into consideration getting extra just to be safe) so getting Malorone was going to dent our wallets by £288 (sigh). Until I did a bit of research, turns out you can buy a molecularly identical anti-malarial which works in the exact same way with the same lack of side effects called Atovaquone/Proguanil for £0.99 a tablet. After a telephone consultation with a pharmacist it was concluded that Atovaquone/Proguanil is Generic Malrone, i.e the tablets are the same it’s just without the brand name of ‘Malorone’ on the box. Good news for me, rather than spending £288 I am now spending £126.72 on anti-malaria tablets, £101.28 saved for some more locally crafted beer.

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7. Air Bnb – I don’t need to write much to explain Air Bnb. The online platform is the biggest holiday accommodation provider in the world without owning a single property. Fucking genius. The prices are significantly lower than expensive city hotels, a bit dearer than your average hostel but worth it with their home-like feel and greater sense of independence. Air Bnb for life.

8. China Highlights –This point is not limited to China Highlights but to every website that allows you to book train travel in a far away land from the comfort of your own home. One thing that was emphasised when talking to a work colleague about getting trains around China was the inconvenience of actually trying to buy a ticket. In places like China it is uncommon for people to speak fluent English like they do in Holland or Germany. He said that he spent hours in Chinese train stations asking people if they could speak English to help translate his desired trip to the ticket office operator. It is good to plan these things ahead as it will save time, confusion and frustration. I used China Highlights to book a train from Beijing West to Guangzhou South which is 9 hours on bullet train, travelling from Northern China to the very South. I paid the company (about £100) and they’ve purchased the ticket for me, sent me my confirmation e-mail (In Chinese) to show to the ticket office where I will collect my ticket, all within about 2 hours. Perfect.

9. Workaway – One thing that I am really looking forward to is working abroad for a month. We are working at a exotic tourist resort in Malaysia, just outside Kuala Lumpur. Thanks to workaway we get to save money by not spending on accommodation or food which is usually covered by the workaway host in return for about 4-6 hours of work per day. It’s a great thing to do to meet the locals, get the feel of one particular location for an extended time and to learn new skills!

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10. Couchsurfing – If you’re planning an extremely low budget journey I would recommend couchsurfing, which is essentially Air Bnb, but you don’t actually have to pay to be accommodated there. It is simply a website that embodies the goodwill of human nature, with people offering spare beds/rooms to travellers all over the world in exchange for good company, worldly knowledge and interesting stories of travel experiences. The only thing I have found with couchsurfing is that I haven’t actually been accepted to stay anywhere yet. As people are offering their home for free to meet new people with similar interests it usually helps if you have things in common with said person. You have to write an extremely pleasant private message, which is reminiscent of a job covering letter, and like applying for a job, if you haven’t been ‘rated’ or nobody has endorsed you in any way shape or form you will find it difficult to get accepted. In order to couchsurf, you need to have already couchsurfed.

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