Epilogue Blog - RTW2


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Published: March 26th 2019
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So it’s finally done, on so many levels – the planning, the arrangements, the trip and the return home. And then there’s this blog thing – finished at last! Here are my final thoughts, a summary of our experiences, bits that I forgot to mention and a few random photos.

The trip: This was never intended to be another Round the World trip. We’d initially planned on going to Jordan, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, Korea, Taiwan and Australia, then home again. At that point, it became more cost effective to buy a Round the World flight ticket rather than pay for individual flights and it made sense just to carry on going round on the basis that it was cheaper (as long as we didn’t consider the costs of the additional hotels/trips/food and drink, etc and we didn’t need much persuading to turn a blind eye to those!).

Trip details: We visited 12 countries (three were literally flying visits, for transfer purposes), used 10 different currencies, stayed in 36 hotels/motels/apartments, one donga and one brothel (sorry, luuurve hotel!), did 21 flights, travelled over 40,000 miles, lost several hundred photographs due to a dodgy camera card and returned home with 4,610 more still intact. We used trains, planes, taxis, buses, boats, jeeps and cars and then there was all the leg work we did. We travelled as high as 4100 metres above sea level and, oh my god, I will remember this trip for all the steep inclines, steps and climbing we did, a lot of it at altitude.

Time restrictions: Our journey was much shorter time-wise than our previous RTW trip, but it was very tempting to try to squeeze in as much as previously before common sense kicked in. We needed time to enjoy the places we visited! Our previous trip had been very loose and relaxed; this time we needed to plan ahead, confirm flights, book hotels, arrange trips to countries we couldn’t access independently, hire a car and make transfer arrangements, etc, all before we set off from home as there would be little time to arrange these things once we were on the road, when everything would be more or less imminent and not many months ahead. Of course, we didn’t do it all and there was still a fair bit of arranging to do for the latter part of our trip, once we were on the move.

Lessons learned: Previous knowledge really does help! Having done a round-the-world trip once before we knew where the pitfalls were and how to avoid them. Steve’s initial planning stages were much quicker this time based on the Round the World flight ticket, knowing its advantages and limitations and working around them. We knew how long we could travel before we needed to stay somewhere with laundry facilities. We knew what clothes not to take and Steve thought we might be able to ‘travel light’ as a result but I knew, from previous knowledge, that it is impossible for me to do that! On top of everything else we had to factor in weather conditions that covered the entire spectrum, from Baltic to Saharan and back again, and we needed to dress accordingly. I still got fed up of seeing the same old clothes ... I think we wore everything we took, apart from the swimsuits. We knew what bits of electrical equipment were essential and which bits we could leave behind. The phone, camera, tablet, cables and chargers were a must but we could live without the Ipod and camcorder and I forsook my hair straighteners (yes, I really did!). We knew which bits of documentation we had to carry with us and which were just a waste of paper. We knew which visas we needed to arrange in advance and which we could get on arrival. We knew what medication we needed, when to fill our prescriptions in readiness and what additional protection we needed. Some were easier to arrange than others (altitude sickness prevention was difficult to get and vaccination against measles was a surprising requirement but easily sorted). Last time I had safety concerns about some of the places we were planning to visit; this time I knew (hoped?) that these were baseless and set off with no worries.

Lessons not learned: I have always bought must-have items when I see them, having discovered years ago that things you see everywhere can suddenly disappear from the face of the earth when you’re ready to buy them. On this occasion I didn’t buy the laminated map of Australia I really wanted because they were in every tourist information outlet we went in and I was trying to save carrying it around with us until I was ready to post a parcel back to the UK. Of course, when I finally went to buy one they were nowhere to be found and we were about to leave the country! The other was a wooden postcard of Taiwan. I saw it at the airport as we left the country first time round but we didn’t have enough currency left to buy it. ‘Never mind,’ I thought, ‘I’ll get it when we come to the airport next time.’ Different terminal building, different shops, no different wooden postcards. Ho hum. (I REALLY wanted that wooden postcard ... )

Personal practicalities: I’d had real problems with my hair when we travelled last time, for six months. About half way through that trip the dark roots began to shine through and my DIY attempts to cover them up resulted in no improvement whatsoever and significant staining to the hotel tiles and towels. This time I decided to set off with hair a darker colour than normal to avoid the roots issue. And what happened instead? I seem to have gone grey in the three year intervening period. Yes, grey! So instead of having dark roots I now had light roots. I’d have been better off leaving my hair its (un)natural colour ...

Random observations: So many, but here’s a few:

* Single traveller problems. I am constantly impressed by those who travel on their own, particularly by the number of single female travellers. As one of those pointed out to me as she asked me to watch her luggage while she used the toilet facilities in the airport, even going to the loo can be difficult!

* Airport rules and regulations. Do they change from place to place or are they more stringently applied in some places than in others and, if that’s the case, what’s the point? I had soooo many lighters confiscated in the early parts of our journey that I was almost driven to just throwing them away before I entered the airport. After Tibet, I managed to keep them, as did Steve who also carried one on my behalf. So, is it a liquid of less than 100 ml that can be carried in your little see-through bag or not? And when can we carry a bottle of water and when not? And when do we need to remove coats, belts and/or shoes and when not? And when will Immigration staff greet you with a warm welcome and when will they utter not a word or crack a smile so don’t even attempt a pleasantry? It’s so confusing ...

* Night flights. Oh, night flights - don’t get me started on night flights. OK, you save on the price of a night’s accommodation but then, if you’re like me, you end up sleeping the clock round and wasting a day of potential experiences. Our night flights were done mainly as a result of flight availability and cost, and not through choice. If you really want to arrive in a new place completely exhausted from a long and sleepless journey but too early to check in to your hotel then night flights are for you. Unless you’re a complete insomniac I personally wouldn’t recommend them though Steve didn’t mind them so much. Each to his own.

* Airline cabin crew. They really can make or break a flight experience. We’re not demanding flyers – just strap us in our seats and we’ll simply tough it out for the X hours it takes before we land again. We don’t have special dietary needs, we wouldn’t dream of using the bing-bong call button, we don’t even leave our seats to go the loo. So, we’d really appreciate some service with a smile from a person who doesn’t look as if they couldn’t care less who throws your food and drink across to you. And OK, I know that being cabin crew long since stopped being the glamorous career it was once perceived to be, but when did it stop being a role that was primarily there for our safety and when did it become acceptable to employ dollops who can barely squeeze sideways down the aisle let alone into their uniforms? Yes, I really do want to know where the emergency exits are and it would be reassuring to see them deal with a medical emergency with confidence rather than panic or ambivalence.

* People are lovely. I never cease to be amazed by the friendliness and kindness of strangers. OK, in some instances its part of their job (hotel staff, for example) but others go out of their way to be helpful, sometimes when it’s really not needed or necessary. One chap insisted on carrying my heavy suitcase up some steps when he was so small himself the case barely cleared the risers – I thought he was going to have a coronary when he got to the top! I had so many fabulous interactions with complete strangers during our travels (we’ll just put Korea and Hong Kong to one side here!) it’s impossible to mention them all. Having said that, I’d put Korea up there amongst the best of the places we visited because it was so different and I enjoyed it all the more because of that. Also, I now know that Persimmon is not just a builder of houses in the UK but is also a fruit in great demand in Korea, thanks to a friend of a friend and a bit of detective work!

* Hop-On-Hop-Off sightseeing buses. I’ve always been a fan of the HOHO buses. I’m still a fan of the HOHO buses. They are a wonderful means of getting a quick snapshot of the place you are visiting and let you identify those places you want to revisit in more depth. But please, let the professionally produced, tailor-made commentary do the talking rather than give a microphone to a guide with an ego, performer aspirations and vocal pretensions (Washington, take note ... )

Good friends and neighbours: We’ve always known the value of good friends and neighbours. We couldn’t have considered the last RTW trip or this one without their help and, once again, we got it in bucketloads. This time round we had the additional complication of having been adopted some months previously by The Cat That Is Not Our Cat who, despite all our attempts to dissuade her, decided she was going to live with us. So, now it seemed we had a cat and it was with some trepidation that I asked our neighbours if they would not only mind keeping an eye on the house but also on the Cat From Hell who hissed, spit and scratched anyone who dared to get too close and who occasionally brought ‘gifts’ of dead mice through the cat flap we had been suckered into installing to go with the automatic kibble dispenser and cosy cat bed. It was a HUGE ask but their help was given willingly and without qualm. I kind of hoped the cat would toddle off and find somewhere else to live while we were away but a friend was happy to buy more supplies of food should the cat decide to hang around and she made the (significant) journey to our house to top up when needed. Another friend was once again more than willing to accept our parcels of souvenirs, posted to her home address and keeping them for us until our return. It was all hugely helpful and much appreciated – we couldn’t have gone without them. (The cat is still here, she now has a name and she is sometimes a little bit nicer ... .)

Coming home: Getting back from London was a challenge. It was wonderful to walk through our own front door at last and find that not only had our lovely neighbours left us some very welcome food provisions but the Cleaning Fairies had also paid a visit; after three months there was not a speck of dust to be seen in the house – thank you! Stupid things briefly befuddled us. We couldn’t remember how to work the microwave, the TV remote batteries had died but we just kept pressing the buttons anyway before realising that, and I cursed the washing machine for breaking in our absence before remembering I had unplugged it all those months before. Longer term issues still affect us. Sleep patterns were initially all over the place and I still occasionally get up at 3.30 am. It has taken us ages to get back in to the swing of things and we are still beset with the ‘we’ll do it later/tomorrow/next week’ attitude which I think is a result of months of having to go somewhere/do something/see somebody - or perhaps it’s just another luxurious benefit of retirement?!

And finally,

This damned blog: Geez, what a nightmare. On our first Round the World trip it had been a wonderful tool to record our memories and keep in touch with home. It had been easy to use, I’d been able to make timely entries and updates and everyone knew we were still alive and kicking and having a whale of a time. I knew how invaluable it was when I returned home and couldn’t remember the detail of the places we had been and the things we had seen when it came to such things as naming photos, so having the record was crucial for me. I printed it out in book-form to keep as a memento – it’s a lovely thing.

So, it seemed sensible to do the same thing again. Unfortunately this time round the blog site had so many problems ... The first couple of entries I made worked fine then, unbeknownst to me, the automatic alerts that I’d posted a blog just stopped being sent, resulting in friends and family at home becoming worried and sending e-mails to check we were OK. Typically, those e-mails were delivered during times we were without wifi/internet and went unanswered by me only adding to Concern At Home. One friend attempted a phone call during a period my phone had no signal and getting no response from me increased the levels of alarm. Thankfully, I was made aware of the issue before Interpol or Thunderbirds became involved to launch an international search and rescue party and I worked round the problem using e-mail. Then the blog site’s certificates lapsed (whatever that means) and it lost the ability to include photographs ... Then we went into the Australian outback and internet access became just about impossible and I got soooo far behind I was spending time writing about things that had happened weeks previously, rather than being current, and my memories were already fading. I found myself spending so much time trying to maintain the blog that it almost seemed to overwhelm the entire point of the journey and I more or less gave up and focused on keeping a diary instead.

Of course, as soon as I got home many people said they were disappointed not to get to know about the rest of the trip. So I picked it up again, decided to stop alerting people about the new entries in case they were no longer bothered and I would only be clogging up their inboxes but knowing I could direct people to look online, and I would at least have a complete record to refer to in years to come, blog site permitting (as recently as last week everyone’s photos on the blog site disappeared, though they have thankfully come back again, so who knows?).

So, here we are – the end! We saw and learned so many things, met lots of new people, experienced different cultures and points of view, were dumbstruck and over-awed, physically and mentally challenged, enervated and energised in equal measure. It was just wonderful.

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