Choosing the right backpack

Out of all the research for the trip, choosing the right backpack was the hardest. We spent a few months reading blogs, visiting shops and browsing ebay and gumtree for the right backpack.

It may seem a bit of an overkill, but for such a long trip, we had to find a bag that was the right size, comfortable, durable and within our budget. Finding all the criteria in one bag proved as hard as a needle in a haystack. In the end, we found that choosing your backpack for the trip is like buying a house. You have to feel that it is right for you!

First of all, most of the blogs we read advised that a ‘travel’ backpack is distinct to a ‘trekking’ backpack. The first obvious difference between the two is that they open differently. A travel backpack opens from the front while the trekking backpack opens from the top. The latter is not comfortable for travel as you would have to pull everything out of the trekking backpack at every destination. This helped us narrow down our search a little.

As with many people in Australia, our next stop was Kathmandu. Kathmandu has a great range of adventure products including travel and trekking which was perfect for us. However, going to Kathmandu made us even more confused than we were before. Backpacks are designed to be filled by litres in volume. Looking at a 70L bag, we couldn’t possibly imagine putting everything we need for a year.

In addition, the prices ranged between $200 and up to $600 for the big trekking bags. We decided to go back to more research and set a budget. We read blogs about travel bags, flying with bags and walking with backpacks. At the end, we decided on a few things bout the bag:

  • The volume must not be more than 60L
  • Our budget for the bag would be $200
  • The bag must have a separate section for winter gear/shoes
  • We will try to buy a second-hand bag if possible
  • We stick to one of the known brands for backpacks, such as Osprey, Deuter, Caribee etc

Unfortunately, though we searched online, we couldn’t buy from the net as we wanted the bag to ‘feel’ right. With the guidelines above, we visited most camping and trekking stores in the area. On a particular Sunday, we visited the Anaconda store in Lidcombe and decided to try a few bags. Anaconda had Deuter, Caribee, Black Wolf and its own brand, Denali.

The great thing about Anaconda is that it had both weights and cushions for the backpacks. We ended up staying in Anaconda for around 4 hours, trying many bags and getting as much information from the staff as possible. Shruti was able to pick her bag and we decided to search ebay and gumtree for it.

On the other hand, things weren’t so easy for me. I couldn’t decide what the adequate size of the bag would be for me. While I had decided on a couple of bags, I couldn’t get them at the right price or the right size. After much thought, I decided to visit Anaconda again and picked a brand new bag which was 50L, around $200, comfortable and had a separate section for our winter clothes.

Meanwhile, Shruti found her bag on ebay in Melbourne. We bought it and had a friend send it over to us (Thanks Aaron!). A quick wash later, the bag was ready to go. Finally, here are our tips for backpack shopping:

  • Think about the kind of trip you are having and the amount of walking you will be doing
  • Try to put in cushions and weights in the bag to test it out
  • Try to get the bag second-hand as many people buy backpacks for short journeys with little wear and tear
  • Read experiences of people with backpacks around the world

Our bags:

Update

Don’t buy a light colour backpack, it will get all sorts of stains. Especially if you check in your bags, the luggage handlers and conveyor belts will ruin it. Shruti has already washed her light blue bag 3 times in the last 6 months.

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Final travel itinerary

As stated in my previous post, we decided to travel round the world through Europe, Asia and South America along with United States on the way home. This was our general plan for a while as we researched into each of the destinations.

Now, it may seem easy planning a long trip like ours, but I will prove to you that it was certainly not! First of all, there was the issue of my job and our budget. Next, we had applied for Shruti’s partner visa in May 2014. However, by late 2014, there was no sign of any visa. The average wait time was 13 months, and calling the Department of Immigration was pointless as they would refer you to the average wait time via their call center.

At the same time, Shruti’s dad suggested that since we were already taking time out for a sabbatical, we should go with Shruti’s family to Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet, China. The idea impressed us all and even my Mum wanted to join in. This is a dream destination for many people around the world especially the religious Hindus. The issue though was that the trip could only be done between May and September.

On the other hand, My best mate got engaged in September 2014, and the wedding date was set to November 2015. This meant that we would have to get to Nepal between May and September, go to Europe and then be back for the wedding in November. It was impossible to juggle these dates, a visa issue and a budget, and put the dates on our trip.

At this stage, we decided to keep the dates in mind and look into the places of interest. Our initial itinerary of Europe included places like Scandinavia, UK & Ireland, Spain & Portugal, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Germany, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Needless to say, in 90 days of Schengen Visa, we would be travelling every couple of days to be able to visit all these places.

The same issue happened with India. Having grown up outside of India since our teens, we

wanted to explore alot of places in India. Kashmir, Ladakh, North-East, Bengal, South India, Goa and Rajasthan, all appealed to us. In addition, Shruti’s parents now live in Gujarat, my family is in Haryana and Shruti grew up in Mumbai. Therefore, we need to give some time to our families, who we won’t see much of while travelling for a continuous period.

In this case, we used the ’21 day strategy’ which meant we gave ourselves 21 days in each direction. Anything that we couldn’t fit in these 21 days would have to go. As an example, North-East and Kolkata fitted perfectly in the 21 days and we were able to organise with a tour operator for this. We are extremely excited for this leg as we get to see Durga Pooja in Kolkata.

On the other hand, It was impossible to cover entire South India in 21 days and we had to drop Bangalore and Tamil Nadu, completely. Likewise, we couldn’t possibly see our families, and travel to Ladakh, Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh in 21 days without some serious Altitude Sickness. We decided to leave these areas for another time.

While we were researching into our Europe trip, We discovered a little thing called the Northern Lights. They looked majestic and could only be seen in the Arctic Circle. We decided that, in this trip of a lifetime, we shouldn’t miss the lights. As you may know, they

Source: pixabay.com
Source: pixabay.com

only appear in the Arctic Winter. At first, we were quite afraid of it. We’ve both grown up in and lived in Hot climate countries. The Artic can easily be -20 degrees Celsius on a good night, but we couldn’t miss the lights, Reindeers, Dog Sleds and Snowshoes.

Moving our Europe trip to the Northern Winter aligned things perfectly into place. We could start with Nepal, travel around India for 3 months, fly to Europe and then to South America and finally, USA. As I wrote previously, we decided to buy tickets on the go. This made it easier to buy tickets as our trip progressed.

As we would travel to Europe in Winter, we would be there in the off-season. This meant that it made the trip a little cheaper but we would also have to dress and enjoy a little differently. We did a little reading into the Slow Travel movement, and decided to stay at least a week in each place we visit.

Ironically, although the title of this post is ‘final travel itinerary’, the exact places cannot be finalized until a few weeks ahead. As an example, we have a general idea on where to go in Europe, Turkey and South America, but we cannot be for sure where we will be heading until a fortnight ahead.

Seeing our experiences in the research and places to travel, here are our suggestions:

  • Travelling for a long time means you should expect frequent changes in your itinerary
  • Divide up the areas which you would like to travel to in blocks of days
  • Where possible, try to slow down your travels to feel a place
  • Book the busy tourist activities well ahead of time, e.g. North Lights, Inca Trail trek, World Cup etc.

Round the World tickets

Ever since the book ‘Around the World in 80 days’ by Jules Verne was published, a round the world trip has been the ultimate adventure for most people. Through our research, we made a decision to head west, and decided to look into tickets.

source: morgueFile.com

This is when we stumbled upon round the world tickets. The thought of one simple ticket excited us. It meant we could buy one ticket early, and be sure that we will be flying on a certain date. However, in another post, Shruti outlined that we didn’t have a fixed budget, and setting a date of departure early on would not be possible.

In any case, we kept looking into buying a round the world ticket as it seemed the best option at the time. This is when we realised the next issue with the round the world ticket. A round the world can only be used in one direction with no backtracking, e.g. If heading west from Australia, one can take a flight to Singapore then Istanbul followed by London but it may not be possible to travel around Europe and fly from Rome to New York.

At this stage, we were still set on a Round The World tickets. We could alter our plans, so we could visit India first then Europe and then South America on the way to Sydney. However, this is when we realised another detail of the RTW ticket. Adding in mileage and destination can increase the price dramatically(As much as $10,000 per person).

In summary, a RTW ticket reduces your freedom but might be cheaper and simpler. If your aim is to see a set number of cities in a relatively short amount of time, RTW tickets are perfect. Even still, RTW tickets are so complicated, that unless an itinerary matches exactly what you had in mind, you will require a travel agent.

We discussed and agreed, that this was not the kind of travel we wanted to undertake. We could see ourselves traveling to a number of cities and countries across a large area and we didn’t want to be penalized for it. Therefore, we decided to buy ticket as you go.

In addition, we decided to use our credit cards for our shopping and use the accumulated points to buy at least 1 major ticket. Most major credit cards allow you to accumulate points to buy flights and some will even allow you link them up with a frequent flyer program to accumulate frequent flyer points.

Finally, Shruti’s uncle heard about our travel plans through her Dad. Neither of us knew, that he works in the management of a major US airline. He offered us a number of economy tickets, but the catch was, that we would have to visit the US. We were ecstatic and decided to make a trip in the US to see friends, family and so many places on TV.

In summary, flying around the world requires you to think about how you would like to travel around the world. There’s no written rule but in general:

  • RTW ticket – Fixed number of destinations, fixed dates for flights, fixed direction and a certain limit in mileage. It provides one ticket in hand, but you can have limited options depending on the alliance.
  • Buy as you go – Provides freedom in terms of destinations, dates and direction, but you have to buy tickets on the road. You can use credit cards to accumulate points and frequent flyer points for tickets.

Round The World Research

As stated previously, our interests lay in visiting the Indian subcontinent, Europe, South America and potentially South Africa. As we began doing research into the subject, we realised that the distances and seasons made it an impossibility to do it all!

Having lived in India, we knew that most of India is off-limits between July and September. On the other hand, this is the perfect and the most expensive time to be in Europe. In addition, Chile and Argentina have winter at the same time as Australia so May to August would not be the best time to visit those countries especially Patagonia which the southern part of both these countries.

South Africa drew the shortest straw first. To be able to get to South Africa at the perfect times to see the wildlife would require crossing the entire African continent from Europe and India while it will be a long flight over the Atlantic. We decided to leave it for another time!

During this time, we also listed the festivals around the world we would like to see. Some of these included Holi in India, Carnival in Rio, La Tomatina in Spain, Running of the bulls in Spain and Tomorrowland in Belgium. Not surprisingly, these festivals are not at the same time of the year and it can be a significant cost to get accommodation and visit these festivals.

After considering the destinations, festivals and our situation as an Indian couple, we decided to take a sabbatical and travel for a year. This allowed us enough time in each region and experience the culture. The rough plan then was Europe for 3 months in the Summer, Indian subcontinent for 3-4 months in the autumn/winter and South America for 5 months.

The next challenge was to decide which direction to take. Living in Sydney, we could fly east to Chile or Argentina and work our way through South America then fly to Europe and India. However, we would need to then start in January, finish South America by may or june and then head into European summer. The budget and a new job simply did not allow this option.

Therefore, we decided to save up for a year and travel straight to Europe then India and from there to Brazil. We left the plan at this for many months and began researching into the details of each place except South America which would be last.

If you are planning a round the world trip, it is important to have a rough idea of the areas you want to visit, the duration of the journey and when you can afford to leave. This is a good starting point for the duration in each place and tickets. In the next post, I will highlight our research into RTW flights v Individual tickets.