Travel planning 2: packing, budgeting, money and accommodation

So part 2 of our guide to planning your own round the world adventure is here. If you missed part 1, read it here.

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Between us we travelled with around 45kg which I would say was average compared to other people we saw but included more camera equipment than average. I used a Berghaus 60 litre women’s rucksack while Dean’s bag was a larger Lowe Alpine. The main considerations when purchasing one are how much back support is provided, how padded the straps are and, in our opinion, it’s best to go for something which opens fully rather than just being top-loading.

For hand luggage we both used largish Lowepro camera rucksacks with plenty of additional space for everything you need in your day bag. Make sure whatever you buy can be padlocked and that you have waterproof covers for all bags. We left the covers on our big bags permanently to protect them from dust, mud, wandering hands and fishy water in bus luggage holds! Organise your stuff into sealable plastic bags which can be tessellated in your bag so that you can find things easily and repack quickly.

In terms of clothing, less is best. You’ll always be able to buy replacements when things wear out, which they will. Both men and women may need to be able to cover shoulders and knees when visiting certain religious buildings and, in some countries, these rules (or social norms) extend to all public places.

There are always options for getting your laundry done in 24 hours or less; many hostels offer the service. An almost universal fee seemed to be £1 per kg. It’s best to check whether it will be washed by hand or in a machine and bear in mind that the soap used is not always fragranced so it may not seem to smell ‘clean’ when you get it back. We alternated between using laundry services and hand washing it ourselves. The latter isn’t as bad as it might sound if you have a place to dry things and, although you can use specialised liquid soap, we found the hundreds of complimentary bars of soap we were given throughout the year worked just as well.

There’s really no need to take vast supplies of anything unless your entire trip is off the beaten path. During our trip we bought a full range of toiletries, a padlock, clothes (including cold-weather clothing once we needed it), a waterproof digital camera, sun cream, contact lens solution, walking boots, a dry bag and a small speaker.

A few items we were glad we’d taken were: a pegless washing line, ear plugs, small resealable plastic bags, laundry hand-wash and universal sink plug, head torch, travel cutlery, gaffer tape (for sealing rooms, repairing bags, etc.), plenty of passport sized photographs for visas on entry (especially in Asia), sewing kit, a can of RAID, travel adaptors, strap-on walking sandals (great for rain, wading to boats, water sports, etc), a sleeping bag liner, travel towel but a sarong for the beach, tiger balm for insect bites and sunburn, money belt/bag and mosquito repellent containing DEET (local natural alternatives are available everywhere but without DEET). A few of these are explained in more detail in this earlier post.

You should probably take prescribed medicines and contact lenses with you to be on the safe side. Some say it’s a good idea to take a course of antibiotics with you. I don’t know if medically this is a good idea but it would have saved us a very difficult Japanese consultation and an insurance claim! Always carry some Imodium with you as you’re guaranteed to get an upset stomach at some point and probably on a day where you have to sit on a bus for eight hours or had planned to go white water rafting!

In addition to taking a Kindle each, we also really appreciated having a Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 on which to email, Skype, browse, blog, store and read travel guides, manage photographs, listen to music and watch films with the use of an SD card reader.

It’s pretty easy (though not always particularly cheap) to send home boxes of souvenirs and items you no longer need. Some places are better than others though: ask expats whether they’ve successfully sent packages home before you decide whether to trust the national postal system.

The only disclaimer to much of what I’ve just written is that if you’re going to a country, e.g. Japan, which doesn’t use Latin script (hard to look up translations) and where English is not widely used, take supplies of anything very important with you and maybe plan to post things home from other places.

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In this area, I think it’s helpful to envisage a series of sliding scales balancing comfort, money and time. We set a daily budget which we managed to stick to in southeast Asia but which turned out to be wholly insufficient in central and south America: choose your countries wisely. Even if it’s fairly unobtainable, I think it’s still good to have a daily budget in mind as it helps with decisions and keeps you focused.

If you’re prepared to live in large dorms, eat only pot noodles and street food, stay in destinations for long periods of time, take long bus journeys, avoid too many nights out and you’re happy with lots of ‘seeing’ and not much ‘doing’, then you can travel very cheaply! Our choices were mainly private rooms though not necessarily of a very high standard; cheap local food where possible, often only two meals a day and making use of hostel kitchens wherever possible (keep a small (well-sealed!) amount of oil, garlic, salt, pepper, etc. with you if you’re going to do this regularly); lots of huge (up to 24 hours) bus journeys with the very occasional ‘treat’ of an internal flight; and a mixture of cheap wandering days and more pricey activities (helpfully supplemented by our wedding gift list of course).

We’d done a good job of building up our savings over all our working years in order to fund this trip. But of course there’s always the option to try and earn money whilst you’re away. I’m intentionally not specifying exact figures, but if you’re planning a trip and want to know more, then message me and I’m more than happy to provide more details.

It’s not cheap but you only live once!

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Of course, everywhere is different but here are a few guidelines:

☆ We found that there were ATMs pretty much everywhere. If we knew we were going somewhere more rural, we’d stock up. Our cards (two Halifax credit cards and an HSBC debit card – see part 1) almost always worked but sometimes we had to try more than one. Some countries charge fees for cash withdrawals but it can be just certain banks so try a few.

☆ Keep a stash of dollars somewhere for emergencies or for some situations where it’s more cost effective to pay in dollars. Some countries offer dollars in their ATMs as well as the local currency but this was fairly rare: we took opportunities to replenish our supplies whenever they arose.

☆ Official airport, shop and bank currency exchanges are one option but independent money changers on borders (see part 3) or street corners can be useful so long as you approach them armed with the knowledge of what a good rate is and check the bills you receive. In general try to insist on bills in good condition if you know you’re going to try to exchange them.

☆ It’s worth checking country specific quirks as, for example, at the time of our visit the official exchange rate in Argentina left us about 50% worse off than if we exchanged dollars through less official routes.

☆ Some countries add taxes onto prices stated on menus (in addition to service charge) or for accommodation. It’s worth asking as sometimes choosing to pay online or not online, in dollars or in the local currency, by card or by cash can save you money.

☆ Don’t just accept the first price you’re offered, particularly for taxis, tuktuks, tricycles and horse-carts! Do your research. In Bangkok we were once quoted 600 baht for a journey which ended up costing only 150 – fortunately we’d been before so we didn’t fall for it! If a meter exists, make sure it’s used, and be prepared to walk away and find another taxi if the driver refuses to turn it on. Usually drivers that hang around airports, ferry ports or bus stations charge a premium so, if it’s feasible with your luggage, walk out to a main road and wave one down. Also save money by sharing with other travellers.

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We rested our weary bones in a variety of different kinds of places: hostels, guesthouses, homestays, hotels, night buses, tents and even a wine cellar! Again there are different schools of thought on acquiring your accommodation depending on how rigid your schedule is and how much time you want to spend looking for it whilst on the road. Initially we took the approach of doing a little research, then just turning up and requesting a room. There didn’t seem to be any consistent rule as to whether this was cheaper or more expensive than booking online. However, due to my immense dislike of walking from place to place with our heavy bags – usually in intense heat or rain – we switched strategies and from then on generally booked a day or two in advance of arriving or at least made a Skype call to check availability and reserve.

Agoda was our main resource in Asia and then we mostly used Booking in the Americas (eventually earning the status of Booking Genius which offered a few discounts!), always compared and contrasted against reviews on Trip Advisor. In general we paid on arrival but it’s best to check this as you book and also to ensure the amount they request is the same as it was when you booked online. More expensive accommodation is more likely to take your money online. We were rarely asked to show our booking confirmation but by no means never.

Whether or not you’ve booked, it’s still OK to reject the room you’ve been assigned and ask if there are any alternatives, discounts or upgrades. It’s a good idea to have a basic checklist in your head when viewing rooms. Ours morphed during our trip but by the end our basic requirements were that it have clean pillow covers and sheets, aircon or a fan if it was hot, extra blankets if it was cold and decent locks on the windows and doors. In addition we tried to get wifi, towels and an en suite bathroom.

Bear in mind the season – some accommodations are ill equipped for extreme heat or cold. The other obvious issue you’ll encounter is holiday periods. From Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year to Chinese New Year to Easter to student summer holidays, you will find that competition for accommodation increases and it does pay to book further ahead if your itinerary will allow it. The less fussy you are and the more money you have at your disposal, the less you need to worry about this though! Conversely, if you’re visiting somewhere in the low season, it’s always worthwhile bartering for a discount.

Some other tips:

☆ Drainage systems won’t be what you’re used to so always take a good sniff in the bathroom and remember strong ‘pleasant’ fragrances are likely to be masking drainage smells.

☆ It’s good to get into the habit of closing your bags when you’re not using them to avoid any nasty surprises: we only met with occasional ants, cockroaches and beetles but we some to someone who’d found a scorpion!

☆ You’ll often be sharing a room with a gecko or two. They’re harmless to you (and very cute we think) but do a good job of eating other unwanted guests.

☆ If there’s a mosquito net, tie/pin/tape up any holes before you go to sleep.

☆ Ground floor rooms are much more likely to be visited by cockroaches!

Right, tune in for part 3 for tips on health and safety and border crossings. Leave me a message if you have any questions 🙂

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