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June 1st 2016
Published: June 6th 2016
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OK – so this is the final blog entry about our Round The World trip. It covers the concept, the practicalities, the statistics, the stuff that I forgot to mention and the things that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Photos are random!

The dream – It’s good to have aspirations and it’s even better if they are achievable. Our RTW trip was more Steve’s dream than mine in its initial stages. When we were in the middle of our ‘Drudge Years’, working hard, paying off the mortgage, it burbled away in the back of Steve’s mind as a ‘one of these days’ thing. In my mind, during those years, it was more of a pipe dream. Even when we decided to retire early, it still didn’t move to the top of my list of things to do. We have no children but we did have other responsibilities: caring for an elderly parent, two dogs and a small menagerie of animals willingly tied us to home. Time eventually gave us more freedom. With only a little conscious forethought, along the lines of ‘let’s try to give ourselves a little more flexibility’, we didn’t replace our dogs at the natural end of their lives, our last remaining goose from a 25 year old gaggle was rehomed (he was lonely!) and, of course, you can’t just get another parent in any old high street shop!

Go for it – It’s a sad fact of life that you become more aware of your own mortality the older you get. Whilst we’re by no means in our dotage we wanted to be fit enough to be able to undertake the trip without worrying too much about health issues and creaking bones! ‘Gap years’ that the young people these days have the benefit of didn’t exist in our youth. This was to be our ‘Gap Six Months’ and we decided it was better to do it now, if we were going to do it all, before the bodies started to give out.

Start the planning – Steve does the planning! I’m hopeless at it and get all frustrated when things need to change and all the previous planning goes out of the window, whereas he really enjoys it. He started with a ‘long list’ of those countries we’d never previously visited and he mentally plotted a potential route on the map, checking with me for any input I had. His only stipulation was that we had to complete a circle around the world and the hardest part was deciding which way round to go! My only stipulations were that it had to be leisurely and avoid all the dangerous ‘hot spots’ (though these days it’s hard to predict where they might be with the recent travel terrorism events). In the end, the weather decided the direction – we simply decided to follow the sun! There was nothing like ‘we must visit a country on every continent’ or ‘we have to visit all the capital cities’ or ‘we have to go somewhere starting with every letter in the alphabet’. No, we just needed to go to places we wanted to visit and work our way round! It was a project that he worked on, intermittently, for literally years and he would often come to bed with scraps of paper and a map of the world as his night-time reading.

The budget – We’re not Rockefellers! We had to have a realistic budget but one that would provide us with a reasonable amount of comfort and enhance the experience without diminishing our retirement pot too much! Once we had agreed our budget (I mentally added a couple of thousand contingency fund but never said!) Steve was able to start costing flights, accommodation, transport, etc, and that affected the list of places we would go. The Budget was key. Yes, we could have spent more (and we could have spent less but that would have meant hostels!) and we could have gone to more or fewer places but we wanted to take our time and we decided to stick to an amount we could comfortably afford whilst still giving us a wonderful experience. As our travels progressed we didn’t worry too much about costs as long as The Budget Pot was still looking healthy and we were operating within limits – though I did become a bit concerned at one point when I asked Steve how much we had spent so far and he couldn’t tell me! We didn’t deny ourselves anything (but we have simple needs!) and we occasionally had ‘splurges’ but always within The Budget. In the end, we went over budget by £76, which was amazing.

The house and other domestic issues (and the importance of family, friends, friends’ husbands and fantastic neighbours) – We decided to do our travelling in our winter, which would be the summer in many of the places we were visiting – a major factor! This also meant that there should be no gardening duties to undertake (we have a couple of acres so it’s quite a job just to keep the grass short!), and the garden wouldn’t become too unkempt, advertising to all and sundry that we were away. Our brother (in-law) was happy to undertake a significant journey to come and house-sit periodically for us, our neighbours were happy to pop in and pick up any post dropped on the mat and alert BiL to any calamities (burst pipes, etc, though we left the central heating to kick in if temperatures approached freezing) and a friend’s husband also keeps tropical fish and he was happy to come and clean out my tank of tropical fish every three weeks or so. Another friend was happy to accept my parcels of mementos, posted back to save our luggage weight allowance – I’m a bit of a magpie and overall that amounted to the equivalent of almost two additional suitcases so it was critical! We left our car on the drive and asked visitors to start it up every time they came. Many men have subsequently asked ‘What happened with your car?’ Well, bless it, it started first time, every time and passed its MOT, which lapsed while we were away, at first attempt on our return. We had a very wet winter while we were away apparently, and I gather that at one point it was almost growing mushrooms in the back seat where all the damp had seeped in but, other than that, it did really well! The importance of all of this help can’t be over-emphasised. We couldn’t have contemplated going away for so long without this support.

RTW flight tickets – There’s numerous options available, generally costed on the number of miles the type of ticket you buy covers. We went for a Qantas RTW ticket that allowed us 30,000 miles and the RTW flight tickets come in far, far cheaper than buying individual flights to cover the same distance. We used them mainly for our long haul flights and managed to ‘spend’ all but 293 miles of our allowance. As you can imagine, these flights were carved in stone in our itinerary, having already booked and paid for them, and missing one of them was not an option. Qantas have ‘reciprocal arrangements’ with other airlines to get to places they don’t go or at times they don’t fly and we found ourselves travelling with many different carriers as a result (Emirates, Jetconnect, LAN, American Airlines and BA – who normally outprice themselves from our travels!). Any other flights we needed were separate and additional to those RTW flights and we booked those ourselves, as wanted, to give us some flexibility.

Documentation and travel vaccinations/medication – Surprisingly, we didn’t need too much; open borders and all that I suppose. We needed pre-arranged entry paperwork for the USA and Australia (we were a bit miffed at needing it for Australia, it being part of the Commonwealth and all that, until an Australian told us he needed it to visit the UK – oh, OK then) and these were obtained over the internet from the comfort of home. We needed a visa to enter Laos, bought at the border. We needed malaria protection for our visit to Laos. Other than that, we had all the other medical protection we needed, having kept up with our other jabs from our previous travels. Our routine medication (yes, we’re at that age where we need routine medication) was more of a problem. A quick trip to our very helpful GP saw Steve get 6 months’ worth of his medication with a mix of a 3 month supply on an NHS prescription and an additional 3 month private prescription. For some reason I forget, mine was harder to procure via this route and I set off with a 3 month supply on an NHS prescription and the advice to ‘try to buy some’ on my travels. That proved impossible and I just ‘stretched’ my supply out to make it last (drops, so possible but not ideal). For those travelling for longer periods I could see it being a real issue.

Financial practicalities – We wanted to avoid all the additional charges the use of a credit card incurs and we couldn’t (and didn’t want to!) carry cash around with us. In the end, and after much research on charges and costs, we loaded two (in case we lost one/were mugged/robbed!) travel cash cards that wouldn’t charge us for withdrawals with a mix of specific currencies (Australian, New Zealand and American dollars and UK pounds). Where specific currencies were unavailable to us (the Laos kip for example), the pounds or dollars elements were acceptable at the cash machines, giving us kip in return. We carried some American dollars in cash as our ‘universal currency’ – taxi drivers everywhere and even tuk-tuk drivers in Thailand would accept them when we had just landed and hadn’t got to an ATM to get the local currency. The ATMs were readily available everywhere, though some wanted to charge us for our transactions (just what we were trying to avoid!) and we had to choose them sensibly and with care. We did take a credit card (and a debit card, never used) but only used it three or four times (usually for convenience when checking out of a hotel at the end of our time in the country with no local currency left). We topped up the travel cards as needed via the wonders of the internet and electronic banking – though I’m naturally cautious about stuff like this it all worked really well. We also took a small supply of travellers’ cheques, as a failsafe backup. Though generally outdated and not universally accepted we thought they might do if all else failed. Thankfully, we didn’t need them and we cashed them as soon as we returned. I wouldn’t recommend them in this day and age.

Electronic gizmos – We took a tablet, a smart phone, a Kindle and iPod (just had to have music!). The phone was much too small to be of any practical use for all but the most basic internet needs. It was only ever intended for emergency use (at almost £2 a minute to make and receive calls in some countries it was a prohibitively expensive luxury as a means of keeping of touch) and we hardly used it as a phone but it was a good alarm clock and an occasional camera. The Kindle was OK at a push for internet access but not for any prolonged keyboard activity. The tablet was brilliant and we couldn’t have managed without it. We used it constantly – Steve for the ongoing hotel bookings and transport arrangements and me for the blog. There were the odd times when we could have used two of them but Steve’s needs took priority (there would have been no blog if we weren’t able to continue our travels!) and generally our natural biorhythms meant I used it in the early mornings and Steve used it in the late evenings. I’ve heard that there is now something called a ‘phablet’ which is sized somewhere between a phone and a tablet (possibly Kindle sized?) but I’d recommend a tablet for ease of use. We had one ‘point and click’ camera and we backed up the photos on the camera cards to memory sticks we had taken with us. We had a camcorder but didn’t use it much though we tried to have it with us for ‘special events’ such as the whale-watching. When we didn’t have the camcorder accessible we used the video facilities on the phone or the camera if needed. We took one travel plug adaptor and a 4-way extension with charging cables as appropriate for the individual electronics. We tried to make a point charging things routinely.

The internet – Honestly, the trip would have been impossibly difficult without access to the internet. Free wifi access became our Number One criterion when looking at places to stay. Our travelling was so flexible we often didn’t know where we would be staying from one point to the next and we could have ended up without a roof over our heads on more than one occasion without it. We tended to book our next accommodation only 24/48 hours ahead of arrival. I also need to give a shout-out to Hotels.com – we used them a lot because they offered lots of ‘free’ nights and other discounts and all of our bookings (with them and other providers) worked out really well, often at short notice, and our rooms were reserved and we were expected on every occasion. Marvellous.

Interpersonal stuff – OK, we’ve been together for a long time but, whilst we obviously enjoy each other’s company, we’re pretty independent and being together 24/7, in each other’s pockets for six months might present a whole different scenario. Well, it didn’t! We decided before we set off to expect some things to go wrong and deal with them if we had to. This was the trip of a lifetime and we ought to enjoy it, no? And ... we did! Together, we laughed and giggled, were suitably awed when the occasion demanded it, watched each other’s backs when necessary (literally, me on guard at ATMs, Steve behind me when I was carrying The Bag with passports, documents and cash), mutually decided who was going to deal with Any Issue with the other on stand-by as back-up, and it was great! Of course, we did have the occasionally tetchy moment - me being a back-seat driver when I wasn’t happy doing it myself wasn’t well received, and Steve not understanding my need for food when the blood-sugar levels dropped too low with a three mile hike ahead of us are a couple of examples, but other than that we came nowhere near divorce proceedings! We had a great time together. You’ve got to give and take, try to allow some personal space and time but, most of all, have fun ....

Play to your strengths – It seems obvious but it often isn’t. Steve is really good at organising things and I’m not so much. Asking me to get directions to our hotels was not a good idea and we often arrived in places with no clue how to get where we needed to be. I didn’t have that ‘job’ for long! I’m really good at the interaction stuff and if you need to get to the front of the queue to catch a plane, I’m your man!

Meet the locals – In my mind, travel is not just about seeing all the wonderful sights, it’s about increasing your experiences, and understanding how others live and to do that I think you have to meet the locals. Many people have said to me since our return ‘You met a lot of dogs’! Well, yes I did, but actually it was my way of interacting with the owners. ‘What a nice/handsome/big/small dog – is s/he friendly?’ was my way of saying ‘Are you friendly and are you up for a chat?’ and it gave me an easy ‘in’ to a conversation I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. Of course, that wasn’t the only way of meeting the locals. Smoking is a dreadful addiction and one I really wish I didn’t have BUT I met a lot of fellow smokers in the designated areas and had some wonderful conversations as a result. I was constantly returning to Steve after such encounters saying ‘I’ve just been chatting to ... and ....'. I’ll talk to anyone and I chatted to a range of people, from brain surgeons to beggars and I learned a lot as a result. While we’re on the ‘smoking’ issue – give us social outcasts a designated area and we’ll use it. Too many places had an ‘anywhere outside’ smoking area with no seating and no ashtrays which meant the entrances were littered with dog ends and were less than attractive. Designated, provided facilities were well used, safe and kept things tidy – as well as providing meeting places for those of us who like to talk! Of course, many of our social interactions were spontaneous, without any specific engineering, and were all the better for that.

Hotel rooms – OMG. You’d think there’d be some sort of template for the things people need in a hotel room. Accessible electrical sockets, for charging things? Tick. Tea/coffee making facilities for two people to have a drink at the same time? Tick. Toilet rolls conveniently situated at suitable height so you don’t have to undertake physically impossible contortions just to reach it? Tick. Towels on a rack outside the shower so they don’t get drenched whilst you’re using it? Tick. A bottle opener for all the beer people drink on holiday (though we discovered that you can buy bottles of beer with twist off tops)? Tick. Luggage storage space for two suitcases (how many couples travel with just one?)? Tick. The list could go on. Seriously, these designers really need to use the space themselves before they build it .... Having said that, we stayed in a lot of super places that provided everything you could possibly think of, and more.

Miscellaneous observations – I was impressed at how well the English-speaking countries could spell, even those with a large immigrant population where English wasn’t their first language. Almost all the local newsletters, publications, handwritten signs, had perfect spelling and punctuation and they even used the apostrophes appropriately! Amazing. I was also impressed by the lack of litter in just about every country we visited. Where it was obvious, it stood out as an anomaly. Some countries even provide a hotline where littering can be reported, anonymously (though I’m not so sure about that!) and the littering fines were big enough to be a deterrent. I came across irons with retractable cords and I just have to get one! Artificial sweeteners were impossible to obtain just about everywhere outside the UK (I think it’s been decided by Everywhere Else that there’s something carcinogenic going on there – hmmm, maybe we should too?) and, if you like your coffee sweet, sugar weighs a lot! Time zones are irritating and occasionally totally debilitating. Pack wisely – I took a handbag, a pair of shoes and some dresses in case I needed to ‘go posh’ somewhere but never wore them and they were sent back home about half way through the trip. The hair straighteners were never used (but don’t tell Steve). Don’t even consider taking anything white (seriously – what was I thinking?!). Have multi-purpose clothing where possible. Take a cagoule. Finally, for all the ladies who have asked – it is impossible to have too many knickers ...

Statistics – We travelled a complete circle around the world and covered 54,124 (ish!) miles over 184 nights (I think those total miles would go around the world twice but, hey, we zig-zagged a lot ...). We used planes, trains, cars, mini-buses, campervans, cable-cars, buses, bikes, taxis, tuk-tuks, boats, ferries and good old Shanks’s pony! We drove ourselves 916 miles in Australia, 897 miles in Tasmania, 2,451 miles in New Zealand and 3,244 miles in the USA, making a total of 7,508 miles and we managed all those thousands of miles without getting one speeding/parking/traffic violation fine, which was a minor miracle! We caught 22 planes. We stayed in 72 hotels/motels, 1 B&B and one guesthouse, we spent 4 nights on planes, 1 night on a train, 2 nights on buses and 4 nights in a campervan. We took 7,817 photos and 257 videos – we’re click happy ...

The homecoming – I rarely got homesick while we were travelling but I did miss family and friends, especially at Christmas and on my birthday. E-mail and the blog were my ‘keep in touch’ tools and they worked well but weren’t the same. I got really depressed while we were in New York as that was our last destination and I just didn’t want our trip to end. The weather there didn’t help ... We hired a car at Heathrow Airport to get us home (so much cheaper than the train or other public transport and door-to-door to boot). Our BiL house-sitter was waiting to greet us and it was lovely to walk back into our home and be met by a familiar face. Many friends sent me ‘welcome home’ cards, I had a super bunch of flowers waiting to cheer me up from one and, best of all, a Christmas hamper to make up for the Christmas dinner I didn’t get! Oooh, mince pies! It was lovely to be back but it has taken me a while to settle again.

And finally:

This blog – I’ve never done a blog before. I had no idea if I had the technical skills to do it, if I’d have the right sort of cables and other necessities to support it, if I’d have the time and inclination to maintain it and, if I could tick all those boxes, if I had the writing skills to make it worthwhile. Its primary aim in my mind was as an aide-memoire for the two of us but it rapidly became apparent that other people were enjoying it and were vicariously travelling with us, eagerly looking forward to the next instalment. What a motivation that was! So, to all of you who have read this blog – thanks for your company! It’s been a blast!

Until the next time ... ?!

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