England - Round The World Tour 3 2004 T-11

Train to London

Friday 3rd September

There’s a definite sense off finality with everything now. We have both been frantically busy over the past week or two making all the last minute arrangements and the realisation is now starting to set in that we are going away for a long time. It’s a weird feeling. I was sure that I would be prepared for it, having already gone through this series of emotions before when we first set off on our Africa/Middle East leg, last year. Something keeps nagging me in the back of my mind, however. Something tells me that this trip will be different from the last. We are going away for a much longer period of time this time around. We are going to be visiting a wider range of countries, cultures and terrains. We are going completely around the globe – heading off in one direction and not turning around before we reach home again. Having poured so much research into our travel plans, I rarely have time to sit and just think about the magnitude of the whole thing. Now, with almost all the last details sorted, I find I’m doing this more and more and it is an unnerving sensation. Even though we are well prepared, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. As I keep telling people, we will enjoy ourselves immensely – or die trying!

Sandy arrived back in England yesterday. As is often the case when I pick her up from the airport, I was amazed at just how much luggage she brought with her. A piercing thought flashed through my mind when I saw her wheeling her heavy trolley towards me that she might half have expected to be taking much of this luggage with us (this was preceded, of course, by the overwhelming flash of emotion of seeing her again). The mantra of all long-term travellers is to travel light. Halve your backpack and double your money, so the saying goes. We travellers can be no less than obsessed with weight and how to achieve the lightest possible backpack and contents, whilst still taking everything needed for the trip. It’s by no means a mean feat. Amongst the travelling community, it’s a source of some pride to be able to proclaim that you travelled for so many months and took just so many kilograms of ‘stuff’. As first time travellers, we, like every other first time traveller before us, of course, took far too much and had to learn the hard way that carrying everything but the kitchen sink soon wears you down. Whilst in Africa, we sent things home no less than 3 times. This time around, we are much wiser and will be taking particular care to lighten our load. I’ll expand more on our packing list after we depart, since I’m sure we will be ditching things at the last minute.

There remains just one major task that I must complete before departure – insurance. Although we already have travel insurance through our Dutch bank, this does not cover medical expenses or, most importantly, emergency medical evacuation. I’ve been researching various different insurance companies and policies for backpackers but it seems that all of them have plenty of fine print buried within their pages that seriously restricts when and how you can claim and for what. More annoyingly, though, most insurers like to impose an age cap on backpackers’ policies of 35. Really! At 37 & 38 respectfully, am I to imply from this that Sandy and I are now considered too old to be backpacking? It’s certainly true that my body is getting older but I deny anyone who knows me to consider me anything less than young at heart! What do ‘they’ know anyway?!

After my many pleas to the managers and directors at work over the past several weeks and months, they have finally found a replacement for me. Since last week, I’ve been busy training not one but two new staff members that will be inheriting my responsibilities after my departure. When asked by colleagues from other departments why there are two people to replace me, I simply reply, “That’s all they could find”, and smile. Work, then, is winding down. The 10-11 months that I’ve been working in North London has served its purpose most adequately. We’ve been able to save more than enough money to fund our next trip – even considering we still haven’t received the money from the sale of the brick. The camper-van that we bought after returning from Africa and the Middle East served us well as we toured the British Isles and Ireland. It does appear now to look like there is a faint light at the end of the tunnel with regards to getting our money from the people to whom we sold it but time will tell. Fortunately, we’ve saved enough not to need this money for this next trip. Hopefully, it will be there, waiting for us upon our return.

Unlike the last time we travelled, perhaps it was because we were blissfully naïve back then, this time we have given some consideration to approximately where we will be going during the first couple of months. Although we’ve known for some time now exactly which countries we are going to be passing through (the airline tickets are booked and paid for), we never really had any inclination of what we would be doing once we arrived in any given country. To a degree, this is somewhat intentional. You can certainly over plan a trip of this nature. As we already discovered from the last time around, things often don’t go according to plan to begin with and you sometimes have to simply go with the flow. By setting schedules and dates too rigidly, you can end up constantly chasing those commitments and, in doing so, lose sight of the big picture and simply end up becoming more and more stressed – defeating the overall purpose to begin with.

Some degree of planning, however, is necessary. I learnt just recently that there is a major public holiday in China that occupies the first week of October. It will be so busy there during this week that we will likely have problems getting accommodation or even seats on trains, planes and buses. As a result of this national holiday, we’ve decided to stay an extra week in India and thus delay our arrival in China so as to conveniently sidestep this potential problem.

I’ve also been pouring through the guidebooks for India and China over the past few weeks. Since we will be spending several weeks in each of these places, it seemed like a good idea to get a rough idea of what they have to offer. Naturally, those things that attracted us initially will be high up on our agenda. No matter how awe-inspiring the Great Wall of China is, however, you can’t spend a month visiting it alone. Consequently, we now have a pretty good idea of what our route will be through India and China. Or more accurately, a good idea of which places we want to pass through. After that will come Thailand and I’ve done some research there too but we are not going to worry too much about those countries that are weeks and months away - plenty of time for that yet.

One thing that I am considering already is a change in the plans with regards to how we are going to attack Australia. The original plan was to encircle the Western half of the country, starting with Sydney and finishing in Melbourne. Once in Melbourne, we would spend a few weeks visiting Ree-Ree and family – which is ultimately the reason why we are travelling to begin with. Staying an extra week in India, however, means squashing everything else up. We are scheduled to arrive in Melbourne on December 23rd and to push that date out will mean missing Christmas with Ree-Ree. What I think we may do instead is to spend the extra time in India and add a few days each in China and Thailand so that we can arrive in Melbourne and spend Christmas and New Year with Ree-Ree first and then tour Australia after that. Of course, this means compressing the rest of the trip slightly to compensate, lest we extend the duration of the overall trip by a couple of weeks. Extending the trip is something that I have no problem with but Sandy has not been too keen to make the trip last longer than is necessary thus far. She seems to be weakening on this, however, and I think I may just get away with it.