Bye bye Australia

We were at the airport yesterday to drop mum off and we decided to leave our bags in the Smartecarte lockers at the carpark. It costed us $14 but we didn’t have to worry about making our way to the airport in the morning. Take note, these guys also have outlets at the airport, but the self lockers are cheaper. We jumped on the train and had a pretty relaxed train ride to airport. Overall, economical and stress free.

Dropping off our bags was quick – very quick! We didn’t even get a chance to take a pic! We also changed some cash.

Tip: post immigration there is only Travelex Currency Exchange around. They charge a flat fee of $12 and the rates they offer are sort of reasonable.

Anyway, we are now grabbing a quick small bite before our boarding to Hong Kong.

PS – the international airport is under renovation so the food options are really limited at the moment.

Planning World Trip

For a year we have spent lots of time browsing tons of sites for planning world trip. Sometimes we found what we were looking for, while other times we had wasted our time. There were times when we found found ourselves coming back to some really useful sites and I thought it great to share them with you.

Flight Tickets

Round The World: http://indie.bootsnall.com; www.airtreks.com

Individual Tickets: www.kayak.com

Accommodation

www.flipkey.com; www.airbnb.com; www.booking.com; www.couchsurfing.com

Places & Activities

www.lonelyplanet.com; www.tripadvisor.com; www.wikitravel.org; www.expedia.com.au

Equipment

www.quechua.co.uk

Others

Visa: www.visahq.com.au

Vaccination: wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list

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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Pre Travel Checklist

We are about a week away from taking off! It took us almost a year to prepare for our travel. We have planned for as much as we can and the rest will be dealt with as it comes.

In the last couple of months, we have spent our time getting ready to leave home. Here is our pre travel checklist –

Travel Insurance

Manish did a lot of research and we decided to go with Southern Cross. We read through the terms & conditions and forums to understand and learn from others experience dealing with insurance companies.

Mobile Number

We researched global sim and have decided to go with Coles Global Sim for our travel. This will allow us to be connected with family and close friends.

Existing Mobile Plan

My 24 month contract finished in May this year and I was ready to cancel my line. After speaking to a customer representative, I decided to switch to a prepaid plan for $20 for a year. I can retain my number and not worry about updating my bank accounts, etc. Manish has decided to hand his number to his mum so she can continue to use his number while we travel.

Bank Accounts

While talking to one of the bank customer care representative we learnt we are suppose to inform the bank about our travel plan for security reasons. They will then inform us about formalities we need to fulfill and look out for any tanscations that happen while we are away. Manish and I will be spending a day visiting all our bank branches.

Digital Backup

We will be taking lots of photos (of course) and making notes of our travel log. We realised we need a digital backup plan for all our assets. After reviewing Drop Box, Google Drive and One Drive, we decided to go ahead with One Drive for our photo backups. It is a cheaper option and it is native to our Surface Pro tablet.

For notes, we will be using Evernote which is installed on our handphones and synced to our Google Account.

Budget Tracker

I have also setup a Google Sheet to track our expenses. The workbook is split by currencies and has an overview sheet for quick summary in Australian Dollars. I will share the template soon.

Travel Diary

A lot of our friends said they will be following our journey on Facebook and Instagram. While thats great, these channels only allow us to share a short post with images. We discussed what we wanted to do and this blog was the result. We also decided to use #arrangedtraveler for all our social posts. We will try and post our experiences while they are still very fresh in memory.

Iconic Shot

With so many people traveling and blogging, we wanted our unique identity. Though we haven’t decided this yet, we have a couple of options and we are hoping to make a decision soon.

Packing Room

Once we were done with our RTW packing, we realised we don’t need the million things we have at home. We decided to clean out our room and give away stuff we haven’t used in months. Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” helped us a lot and we got rid of about 8 bags full of clothes, accessories and other things we haven’t used in a while. 

We also decided to clean our room (properly!) and organise everything so if in case mum and dad wanted to use it, they can.

Utility Bills

Luckily we stay with Manish’s parents, we do not have to worry about utility bills, ownership transfer, etc.

Farewell

A lot of our friends wanted to meet up before we go. Considering we are on a budget and limited time before fly out date, we decided to host a farewell / good bye session for ourselves. It is the best way to meet everyone before you go!

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.