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Planning For The Big Trip

After spending a month telling Karl that we were going to go travelling, he finally complied and we sat down to talk about it properly. This was going involve planning beyond anything we had done before, except maybe moving to London for university. Here is how we went about it all and some valuable lessons that we learnt.

Step One – Planning The Budget

First things first, the money. This was not intended to be a working trip, just an adventure, and so we needed all the money we were taking before we left. The contract on our London flat ended on 29th September and so that became the date that we would set off. That gave us six months to save. I had a job that meant I could comfortably put away a third of my wage and Karl did the same.

Money makes the world go round

We had to look at our monthly in-comings and out-goings. If we had lived in a bubble, we could have saved £1000 a month, but we still wanted to have social lives and enjoy living in London. I really didn’t want to live on beans on toast or Pot Noodles for half a year, so we compromised and saved a third of our wages. I know there are people out there who can save $23,000 in a year, live on biodegradable cardboard and the like, but I enjoy going out and I do love to shop (honestly, even for groceries and household cleaning stuff, anything really).

What we did
  • Worked out how we wanted to live for now and how we wanted to travel.
  • Went through our bank statements with a fine tooth comb and divided the expenses into have tos (rent, utility bills, transport to work etc) and don’t have tos (Krispy Kreme boxes for our colleagues).
  • Set up a direct debit into our savings accounts for the day our money came in so we weren’t tempted to touch it.
What we learnt
  • It is hard to be completely honest about how much you spend on takeaway coffee when your boyfriend doesn’t drink it.
  • We valued our time in London just as much as our time away and so we couldn’t give up being sociable or enjoying meals out/the theatre etc. However, if you work shift jobs, you can get some great deals on a midweek lunch.


Step Two – Planning The Itinerary

Once we had our budget set out, we had to work out where to go. I was drawn to Asia. It was the cheapest place to travel, with glorious weather and reputation for being a backpacker haven. We settled on starting in India. Karl had previously been to India and so we thought it could help us to settle into travelling. We had grand plans. Maybe we could whizz through South-East Asia and make our way down to Australia and New Zealand!?

Oh the possibilities

We popped into STA travel to discuss booking a multi-hop flight ticket but the numbers they were quoting (£900 each) would have left a hefty dent in our budget. Time to reconsider.

We decided we should stay in Asia and explore there instead, I started drawing lines all over maps and reading everything I could get my mouse finger on.

Next, we looked at flights. Knowing we were going to fly into India I started looking at those flights first.We wanted to book our ticket as a return to save precious pennies and we decided to fly back from Singapore. It has a nice central location within South-East Asia so it was easy to reach from where ever we may end up. I was (am) a big Virgin Atlantic Airways fan. Virgin fly to Delhi and Singapore Airlines used to own 49% so we could book the code-share. Even better, we could fly home on Singapore’s new Airbus A380 which made Karl exceedingly happy.

This also dictated the length of the trip. You can only book full service airline tickets about a year ahead and so that meant flying home a year after we booked, the end of February. Five months of travelling was settled. That in turn fixed our budget. We had around £15 each a day to play with. (the British Pound’s exchange rate was a bit more favourable, and our destinations themselves were cheaper back then. You wouldn’t have much fun on that daily budget these days).

We hit on certain points that would punctuate our trip. We wanted to be in India for Diwali, Thailand for Loy Krathong, Bangkok for Christmas and the full moon party on Koh Samui for New Years Eve. Slowly the form of our trip took shape.

Eventually we settled on:

  • LAOS

What we did
  • Dreamed big and then narrowed the field when we thought about the practicalities.
  • Dashed out to buy Rough Guide to South-East Asia on a Budget and Rough Guide to India.
What we learnt
  • The world is a bigger place than you think when you are paying for things yourself.
  • Independent travel can save you a bundle


Step Three – Planning The Boring Bits To Leave

The flat, financial stuff, our belongings, all the things we were leaving behind needed to be sorted by the end of September.

Our things were packed into boxes, transferred to our parents houses and piled up to gather dust. Luckily we didn’t have much in the way of furniture but our clothing and kitchen drawer contents took up a surprising amount of room (sorry parents).

Bye bye dusty old flat

I had to bring a few financial contracts to an end. I spoke to my phone company, luckily my contract due to run out in the October and so buying it out seemed silly. Instead, I just made sure I had enough in my account to cover the last month. At the same time, I got my phone unlocked by asking for a special code, that meant I could put local sims in as we travelled.

I went into a clothing shop and paid off my store card, at least i thought I had. Turns out, there was a small amount of interest (only £2/£3) that i hadn’t accounted for. Thinking I had sorted it, I cancelled my direct debit, along with all the others I no longer needed, and when they tried to take that small amount, they couldn’t. I got a missed payment charge and I had to get Karl’s Dad to go into the store and finish paying it off for me, more stress than either of us needed.

Do you have any large expenses in your itinerary? We had a flight between Bangalore and Bangkok and we knew it would be relatively expensive. I think it’s a good plan to get this done ahead of time. You wouldn’t want to overspend and end up stuck somewhere!

What we did
  • Went through our direct debits. Tried to settle up those that we could close/stop and make sure we had sufficient funds for the rest in our accounts
  • Covered large expenses before we left so we weren’t left stranded
What we learnt
  • Store cards can lead you into temptation and the interest can lead you into trouble
  • The longer you have to prepare for a trip, the more you can arrange your finances without experiencing any early contract termination stings or similar


Step Four – Planning The Boring Bits To Take

Booking our trip six months ahead gave us the chance to make sure we had all the vaccines that we needed. We started out by consulting our local Nomad Travel Clinic, our NHS nurse and the MASTA website. Each suggested something slightly different and so we used the advice plus our a little of own judgement.

I HATE injections, this aspect of the preparation was horrible but you really can’t skip this. On one occasion, I had two jabs, one in each arm. I went straight to work and was asked to tidy the stock room but as my I couldn’t lift my aching arms above shoulder height, I wasn’t much use. Karl had his own moment. After his typhoid injection he came over rather hot so we plonked him in a chair. He was five seconds from fainting and face-planting the clinic floor.

The next thing was very important, travel insurance. Whilst writing this post, I realised I have a lot to say about travel insurance, so much so, I had to write a separate post. Here, let me just say “YOU NEED INSURANCE”. That is all.

Way back when, we were probably the last year  of travellers to use traveller’s cheques. I went across the American Express in Knightsbridge to ask them how it all worked. These work like promissory notes. You sign it, and pass it to a money changer or bank and they swap it for cash. It is a bit old-fashioned but if you lost them, the bank would replace them, which was nice. I tried my hardest to be charming and the guy said, if you come back, I’ll give you a good deal. I honestly didn’t think that would be the case, but when I head back over there four months later, he knocked off 40 quid! What a gent.

What we did
  • Started our medical preparations as soon as it was agreed upon that we were off to Asia.
  • Read lots of advice about what we needed and then used our discretion
  • Got a good travel insurance policy, not just the cheapest one
What we learnt
  • It’s best to take the day off on a double injection day.
  • If the nurse strokes your arm, it helps relax you
  • Don’t just get one opinion, people may just be trying to sell you more than you need.
  • Being charming can work in your favour occasionally


Step Five – Planning The Shopping

Oh, the shopping. This ranged from entirely legitimate purchases (a backpack) to pretty frivolous ones (Hello Kitty cutlery). I spend six happy months trying to work out what we needed and the best rated/best value version of it. The Hello Kitty thing seems a little random but I had a Sanrio contact and I was able to buy things at a nice discount. This meant that I had well made items for a great price, they ust happen to have a cartoon cat on. The mini 8gb USB sticks were cutting edge technology at the time.!

We bought things we never took, things that we found “backpacker” packing lists but were mainly for those who loved hiking solo. I like a hostel bed myself and so lots of this was redundant. I have also learnt that some of it saved us money whilst we were away, like the Steripen but haven’t been used since. Karl found drinking warm tap water highly disagreeable.

Clothing wise, think about climates you’ll cross and sensible layers. Honestly, I don’t believe that you need high tech fabrics etc if you are just bumming around Asia. If you are hiking/surfing/something else active for a long time, then you probably need to invest. Do not buy cheap stuff just to save money. Things that you really do need should be good quality. You need them to last as you will probably be wearing your clothes on a much more regular basis than you would at home. Primark pants may not cut it.

As a self-confessed shopping fan, I found it quite difficult not to buy everything on suggested packing lists. I have since narrowed down the list of things I need and I can now pack into hand luggage for two weeks without visiting a laundry. My advice would be, make a genuine list of things you use all the time. See if smaller/lighter versions exist (I can’t quite handle a trip without my straighteners, I know this makes me a crazy). I hope to let you all into my backpack to have a nose around very soon.

What we did
  • Shopped a little too excitedly
  • Purchased things that we didn’t need for our style of travel
  • Bought a backpack that didn’t fit after visiting one shop
What we learnt
  • I need to be kept away from shops when I am about to go away on a trip
  • To trust our own instincts about what we needed and what we didn’t
  • NOT to buy a backpack that doesn’t quite fit after visiting one shop


Step Six – Planning The Party

If you are off for a long time? It’s time for the last thing, and quite a fun thing, to plan. A going away party. Everyone’s lives will tick over whilst your away but I’m sure they will all want the chance to say goodbye properly. We had a joint house-cooling and going away party. Each room was themed after a different country we were going to visit. I made some pretty awesome paper decorations and we got some cheap vodka and mixers, party gold!

What we did
  • Partied with our friends and had a jolly old time
What we learnt
  • Moving out the day after your leaving party, when you have a hangover is horrific

Rosie xx

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