Tag Archive: Practicalities


Tips for travelling in India

For a full tıps lıst, also read our tıps on Nepal.

1. Contrary to what the Lonely Planet wıll tell you, you can, especıally ıf you are two or more people travellıng together, budget for well under ten pounds a day. We were averagıng between 6-8. For thıs we would get a double room often wıth a bathroom as well as three meals a day and sıght-seeıng.

2. Bookıng ahead for hostels can be dıffıcult as people for some reason wıll tell you there are no rooms when there are several avaılable. Persıstence ıs the only solutıon – ın one place we turned up, they saıd ‘No rooms’, we lıed and saıd we had a bookıng and lo and behold there were loads of rooms spare.

3. Always agree a prıce before gettıng ınto a rıckshaw, or gettıng any food.

4. You wıll be reassured that thıngs are ‘okay’ or ‘no problem’ a lot, but sometımes ıt ısn’t okay and there ıs a problem, and ıt’s faır to kıck up a fuss or at least ask some more people – otherwıse the chaır you’ve been gıven to waıt ın for someone may turn out to be ın the wrong room or even the wrong buıldıng, and you’ll sıt there forever.

5. When ıt comes to traıns, though, you’re gonna have to waıt. For a long tıme. Unless you fancy takıng a rısk, don’t book more than two traıns for one day. Traıns relıably run late (less than an hour and the announcement wıll be that ‘the ınconvenıence ıs regretted’, more than an hour and ıt ıs ‘deeply regretted’…) and so make sure you have several hours between connectıons. When we were ın Bhopal a traın was cancelled because ıt was a whole 24 hours late…

6. Traıns are more comfortable than buses, but much more hassle to organıse. You can just turn up and get on a bus, whereas wıth traıns you have to endure the tortuously complıcated bookıng process. Once you,re on the traın though, there ıs food and drınk easıly avaılable and toılets are not long-hoped-for stops.

7. As our frıend told us soon after we arrıved ın Indıa, eıther you have to accept that Indıa ıs lıkely to be the most frustratıng place you’ve ever been to ın your lıfe and let ıt go over your head, droppıng the frustratıon, or you wıll spend your whole tıme tearıng your haır out.

8. As another of our frıends poınted out, there ıs a ‘fluıd’ concept of tıme. Fıve mınutes does not mean fıve mınutes, ‘soon’ may not mean soon ın the slıghtest, and ‘tomorrow’ may well become ‘next week’. We made thıs observatıon ın Nepal, but ın Indıa ıt ıs far worse.

9. If you ıntend to do stuff ın Indıa, be prepared for ıt to take about ten tımes longer than you mıght otherwıse expect. If you sımply want to bum on the beach and do yoga, you shouldn’t encounter thıs sort of problem!

10. Always ask at least three people when tryıng to fınd dırectıons – go wıth the majorıty rule.

11. ‘Eve-teasıng’ ıs the name gıven to the harrassment of women – there are women-only coaches on traıns to attempt to avoıd thıs. Every traveller we met had met someone who had been affected by sexual harrassment of some sort. Basıcally, don’t take any shıt. It’s not acceptable, and Indıans who aren’t perverts (everyone mınus a tıny mınorıty) don’t fınd ıt acceptable eıther. If you’re not comfortable wıth a sıtuatıon, don’t accept ıt because you’re ın a ‘dıfferent culture’ and ‘people are more tactıle here’ or anythıng lıke that.

12. Sayıng thıs, you won’t avoıd beıng stared at, especıally on the beach. People takıng photos of you ın your bıkını, however, ıs not normal. One gırl reported a man for vıdeoıng her cleavage and he spent a nıght ın a cell.

13. A few places ın whıch you don’t need to spend more than a day to see everythıng – Kanyakumarı, Trıchy. Mamallapuram ıs VERY tourısty, as we already mentıoned, and ıts food suffers as a result. Bhopal ısn’t a nıce place, go there for the Sambhavna Clınıc and to fınd out about theır amazıng work.

14. A few places and thıngs that, ıf you’re ın the area, you should go to/do – ın Kerala, defınıtely do a canoe backwaters tour, don’t just stıck to the bıg boat waterways. In Ooty, pay the money to do a tour of the tea plantatıons, they’re really beautıful – the mountaın areas between Kerala and Tamıl Nadu are lovely, partıcualrly to get out of the heat. There are lovely beaches ın Karnataka whıch are lıke Goa before ıt got lıke Goa ıs now.

15. Carry toılet paper ıf you ıntend to use the toılet.

16. When orderıng from a menu, always have a second and thırd choıce. Often you wıll fınd that whatever you have chosen ısn’t avaılable and neıther are half of the other thıngs on the menu…

Browsing facebook you might stumble across a group called ‘The Kathmandu Indian Visa Line Club’. While it only has 26 members, all of them are united in having experienced the embassy from hell.

After returning from our trip to Dhulikhel we hoped to pick up our Indian visas. Retrospectively, this seems a rather silly thought, especially given our initial encounter with the embassy.

We arrived at the embassy at just before 8.30am – our first mistake – and took the obligatory ticket. We were A16. This didn’t seem too bad, given we thought there must only be 15 people ahead of us since there were about that many other people also waiting. However, 4 hours later we had discovered that the system is not that logical. As are also randomly interspersed with Fs, and Cs.

Eventually, at just before 1pm, we joined another mini-queue in front of the ONLY counter (by this point there were at least 60 people in the waiting room!). We paid our 300rs to Telex our forms to England and left, being told to return in 5 working days.

6 working days later, returning from our blissful trip, we hoped for a relatively hassle-free pick-up. We arrived earlier this time – around 7.45am – and were almost at the front of the queue. We again took our ticket, this time being C13, which seemed very unreasonable given that there were only 5 people ahead of us, and, already clued up about this process, went to go and get drinks and investigate jabs. We returned an hour and a half later, checked the number on the board and left again for half an hour.

When we were finally seen, we were told that the Indian Embassy in London had not confirmed that we aren’t mad terrorists (or whatever it is that they do) and so we could only get a 3 month visa. After a little dispute, we filled in the Telex form again (not having to pay this time) and were told to come back 2 working days later.

So we did, having called the embassy in London ourselves to make sure they would reply. This in itself was not as easy as expected as I had to explain to the man on the other end of the phone that I wasn’t “in the pool” as he thought, but “in Nepal”. Luckily, we’d found a mind-bogglingly cheap phone. We went through the whole morning rigmarole (see above), this time being told we had been granted a 6 month visa. Brilliant. Of course we then had to join another queue in order to pay.

One would think that an embassy taking tens of thousands of rupees each day, would have the fore-thought to have some change. No. The annoying man told me to go away (this being after queuing for a total of over 10hours) and get change. I think it was not unreasonable to try and rip his head off…it worked. Well his face certainly changed shape and colour, and I left with change and a smile.

The smile withered in the next queuing process we had to endure. After being told to return at 5pm, we started queuing at about 4.30pm. 5pm came and went. 5.15, 5.30, 5.45…the end of the queue in the mean time was almost out of sight. After asking what the problem was, we were told that the passports had not arrived yet! Eventually, once it was dark, an old man in a wooly jumper took two suitcases out of the embassy and around the corner. It was after 6pm before we were even let into the insane asylum. However, the arbitrary ticket system was this time not even in use, so the 2 and a half hour, carefully collected queue dissolved as people took their seats.

It was another 20mins until the old man (who happily hadn’t been mugged) returned and Lucie fought her way back to the front of the “queue” where we had begun. Finally, finally, we picked up our visas, never again to return.

Lesson of this story: If it is possible, get your Indian visa anywhere other than the Kathmandu Indian Embassy!

Tips for travelling in Tibet

Travelling into Tibet is not the easiest of things. In fact, the Free Tibet campaign organisation suggests that you don’t do it at all, since your presence will probably benefit the Chinese government much more than it will benefit the Tibetan people. However, if you really want to go there, or if it happens to be on the way to Nepal when you make your way there overland from China, then here are a few tips.

1) Prepare yourself for the cost, but shop around (and find other people to travel with).

Because the Chinese government doesn’t want you finding certain things out about Tibet, the only way you can enter the ‘Tibetan Autonomous Region’ is with a Tibet permit, and a certified guide to meet you, probably in Lhasa. If you leave Lhasa, you must also have a jeep and a driver for that jeep. You have to pay for all of your personal members of staff, and for their food and lodging while you travel through the country. This is even the case for cyclists, who have to organise for a jeep to drive behind them with their guide! This means that going in a big group is a good idea, as you can split the costs – check out the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum for people trying to find other people: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forum.jspa?forumID=19.

For the two of us (we couldn’t find anyone to join us), it cost 250GBP each, not including food or accommodation, for only five days! Once we reached Nepal, as is always the case, we found a couple who arranged it for much cheaper . So you could check hostels in Chengdu for cheap options, but I think they ended up flying over the border, which is a bit silly when you can take the train…

2) Think about where you spend your money

If you don’t want to support the Chinese occupation of Tibet, try to make sure your money goes to Tibetans. It is relatively easy to find a Tibetan guide rather than a Chinese one, and it is much more likely they will give you a realistic picture of life in Tibet. Also, if you arrange your tour through the guide themselves rather than a travel agency, it will cost you less and the guide is more likely to get paid more as the agency does not take a massive cut. Get in touch if you’d like contact details of our guide.

You can ask to stay at Tibetan-owned hotels and eat at Tibetan-owned restaurants.

Read http://www.freetibet.org/files/Travel%20Guide2010.pdf for more tips.

3) Decide what you want to do with your trip

This may not necessarily be what your guide wants you to do!While your guide may claim to be tailoring your trip to you, the likelihood is that they are choosing from one of several ready-made trips. If you’re trying to get through Tibet as quickly as you can whilst taking in stuff en route, this should take no more than 5 days.

4) Watch out for the altitude

An obvious point, but watch out for the altitude change on coming into Tibet – Lhasa is over 4000m, which is rather high! Especially given that altitude sickness can start to kick in just below 3000m and from there on you’re only meant to climb 300m a day. On the train you climb over 1000m in under 24 hours, so you’re almost guaranteed to get some of the symptoms.

See http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Altitude-sickness/Pages/Introduction.aspx for symptoms, treatment etc.

Diamox can be useful, as it reduces the severity and likelihood of the symptoms – we met some people in Xi’an who gave us their leftovers, which was handy.

5) Look after your guide

This applies to porters as well, should you choose to go to Everest Base Camp (tip: do this from the Nepal side as it will be cheaper and possibly easier, particularly as 2011 is ‘Year of Tourism’ when I believe climbing to EBC will be free). While you may be amazed that your guide and porter are in flimsy shoes and thin clothes when you have to wrap up, they should have good equipment and if it was available I bet you they’d use it.

6) Check out freetibet.org

http://www.freetibet.org/about/travel-to-tibet

Hi all, we’ve both been planning for The Future and spending all available internet time frantically making applications to various establishments to set ourselves up for when we return to England. They’re all sent off now, so we’re hoping to get y’all up to date on the news where we are – we’ve journeyed through Tibet to Kathmandu, spent a brief period at a children’s home, explored some beautiful places in the Kathmandu Valley, been spoiled rotten by Josh’s generous mum who came out to meet us, been amazed at Pashupatinath, nursed one another through the inevitable food poisonings (including our poor friend Sean who managed to get ill only 24 hours after arriving in the country!), trekked the Annapurna Sanctuary trail, rowed on the lake at Pokhara… There’s a lot to tell you all about. But first, the more pleasant bits of Tibet.

Fury at the oppression aside, Tibet was a fascinating place. It’s a riot of colour, as almost every available space (the Chinese area of Lhasa excepted) is filled with prayer flags. When journeying through the country, every pass would be decorated, and all doorways seem to be elaborate.

This can particularly be said of Tibetan monasteries, although I must admit that the monasteries we saw in “official” China (i.e. Amdo) were more spectacular, as have been those we have seen since entering Nepal. The buildings are every single colour imaginable on the outside, and elaborately illustrated on the inside. Many contain enormous statues, a lot of them gilded. One of my favourite characters is the protection deity which looks terrifying – it is often portrayed draped in skulls or decapitated heads,  stamping people under its feet. At first I wasn’t so fond of this, but now I understand that it’s a bit like having a seven foot tall skin head with tattoos on his eye balls for a big brother. It’s alright because he’s on your side.

A particularly memorable monastery-related experience was watching the monks debate in the Sera monastery. It was an incredibly theatrical event as debators stood clapping their hands loudly and lunging towards their opponents to emphasise their points.

Tibetan food, on the other hand, is not something I will remember fondly. Agriculture cannot thrive in the harsh climate in Tibet, so food is restricted basically to noodles, potatoes, radish, and yak. By the time we reached Nepal, we were gagging for some real (any) flavour that wasn’t yak. However, you would be amazed at the amount of uses the Tibetans have found for yak. In India, cows are sacred so they cannot be killed. In Tibet, yaks are sacred, so when they are killed, they use every single last bit of the body. Decorations, meat, milk, rope, bone broth, yoghurt, wool, dried cheese(!), leather, I could go on…The one really tasty thing we had in Tibet is sweet tea. While yak butter tea is salty and definitely an acquired taste, sweet tea is exactly what you need after a 12 hour jeep drive. Made by boiling yak milk, adding sugar and few strands of tea, it’s comfort food in drink form.

We were not hit as hard as those who had taken the nearly 48 hour train journey from Beijing to Lhasa, but the increase in altitude from Xining definitely affected us both. Although we thought we were just a bit headache-y and run down, climbing stairs in our hotel (which seem inordinately steep) was incredibly difficult. We plonked ourselves down in our hotel room wondering why we were so out of breath. Apparently, if you were to take a flight to the top of Mt.Everest, you would have a few minutes of consciousness before you passed out and died. Walking:1, Flying:0.

I think we experienced the most dramatic change in landscape so far as we journeyed on our final day towards the border with Nepal. Dropping down from stark and barren plains where dust storms bother the yaks, we were suddenly surrounded by lush greenery. The roads also changed, falling in quality and up in fear factor. Having said that, the road was only recently officially finished (bits are still under construction) – before that it was simply a dirt road which would have upped the fear factor a couple more hundred percent!

We passed some stunning pieces of natural beauty, including a turquoise lake and an enormous glacier. The latter used to be much more enormous, but it has receded from the roadside where it was in the 1990s, right up the mountain. Climate change anyone? We also had several peeks at Everest, which is called Qomolangma in Tibetan – this seems, as far as I can tell, to translate as ‘Big Momma’. Annapurna, incidentally (that’s the trek we’ve been on in Nepal), means ‘full of food’. I think the massiveness of the mountains was the main thing their namers were trying to convey…

So if you forget/ignore the overwhelming oppression and destruction in Tibet, it’s quite a pleasant place to holiday or travel through… The cost, however, is another matter, which we’ll address in another blog.

The Egg Blog

Eggs. Simple yet versatile. They come in many different sizes, but some things remain the same. For instance, they have a shell. It works and it makes sense: it’s natures way of protecting the soft inside with a hard outside. You can scramble, fry or poach eggs. You would not be surprised to see them hard-boiled on a restaurant menu (depending on the type of restaurant). What might surprise you is when your hard-boiled eggs are brought to you with their naturally evolved shells removed and replaced with shiny plastic vacuum packaging for each individual egg. Ahhh…China.

Our experience of China was…mixed. That is not to say there weren’t positives, but there were certainly negatives as well.

While there was no fresh tap water, there was hot water everywhere. As this water had been boiled it meant that you could get free drinking water almost everywhere, including train and bus stations, hotels and shops. In England there are many places where drinking water is not available, but is an alternative usually provided? Also, hot water is much more useful than cold – although we’d thought we would never look at another pot noodle again, they’re pretty handy train food.

Due probably to the fact the people piss everywhere, there are free public toilets everywhere. You can’t go more than 200m without finding one (at least in the big towns – in the small ones there are simply walls that people seem to go behind). The condition of them is another matter, but at least they are there. However, this doesn’t stop children from pissing and shitting everywhere including train stations. Parents put their children on their knees and away they go…

Once you are outside of Beijing the landscape is generally incredible. “From another planet” as Lucie described it in Quiko. There is a lovely combination of mountains, rivers and greenery. It was a bit odd to get used to the fact that Xining sits against a backdrop of stunning mountains (this happened more and more as we entered Tibet). However, the locals don’t seem to appreciate what they have as far too much of it is being used as a landfill – the beautiful hillsides are often scarred by streams of rubbish.

While Beijing would certainly fall into one of the cons in our experience (although many of the people we met thought it was great), the underground there is amazing. Its reliable, fast and cheap. Plus, since the Olympics were held in China’s capital they re-vamped the entire thing. The stops are announced in English, and there is even a light to signify which side of the train you should get off at! ‘Where’s the fun in this?’ Asked a Dutch guy we met at our hostel. After the bonkers Metro in Moscow (this was incredible for different reasons, as we’ve mentioned), this was amazing. On the flip side, everyone else seems to have also realised this and therefore it is always busy, but nonetheless a positive.

Unfortunately, the negatives outweigh the positives and the rest of this blog, will be devoted to the negatives.

Spitting is incredibly prevalent. Everyone spits, everywhere. In the major cities its not that surprising given the amount of pollution, but this does not detract from how disgusting this habit is.

In Xining we were reassured that not only do you have to have a licence, but you have to pass a test to get it in order to drive in China. Before that, we hadn’t been so sure. Lanes don’t seem to mean anything and neither do red lights. Honking seems obligatory.  As we have written previously, pedestrians have no rights.

The generally shared mentality that, as a Londonite who has lived in China for the past eight years put it, ‘if you get there first you win’, makes a lot of everyday experiences more stressful. This covers the driving (and the tendency for people to simply overtake on roads if someone slows down in front of them, which led to complete gridlock one day when four lanes of traffic were all facing in the same direction – the police had to come and encourage the cars onto the right hand side of the road…), the queuing (which does happen as a standard practice, but it is just as standard to find that someone slips in front of you just as you reach your destination) and the dash for the trains at every station (the queue starts half an hour before the gates open, and then people literally run for their seats. The only reason we could fathom as to why this could be rational is to get there when there is still space in luggage racks). Occasionally people were exceedingly friendly – a man went totally out of his way to help us onto our bus, writing things on a clip board as he understood written English better than spoken, and on the sleeper bus to Xi’an the man in front of us kept offering his food, insisting we partake in cakes, gum and bananas, but these were the exceptions to the rule.

Staring and lack of non-verbal communication have already been discussed and certainly form a negative.

The negative consequences of smoking don’t seem to have reached Chinese lands yet – at least not for men. No women smoke, and all the men smoke. Again, they do this everywhere. Buses, trains, restaurants… Makes you become all nostalgic for those days in the past when we went into pubs when the smoking ban had begun!

Neither of us are keen to go back to China in the forseeable future, but we’re both glad we’ve been. We’ve even gained a T-shirt with pandas doing martial arts. Awesome.

So after writing a rather negative blog, I feel I should attempt to portray the other side of Beijing (with help from Lucie). Almost all the people we have spoken to have said how much fun they had there, so clearly there is something good about it, even if I can’t see it. Although when it comes to seeing and our rather damned trip to the Great Wall, I think we were just unlucky with the weather.

There are lots of nice, or to be less bland, impressive temples. You probably don’t need to see more than 2 or 3, as unless you are a temple geek, they all look rather similar – just like churches in Europe. We went to a Buddhist and Taoist temple. While they were different in many ways, I was interested by how far they both placed gods so centrally. This is most likely my ignorance, but I always saw Buddhism as more of a philosophy than a religion, so I was quite surprised by the amount of statues which people were leaving offerings to and praying to.

The Taoist temple was interesting for several other reasons, though. Firstly, it was one of the few places we found peace in the whole of Beijing. I’m not talking spiritual peace, but more the kind of no horns honking, no spitting peace (although there were still little kids taking pees all over the shop…). The most we heard when sat in the main square was chirrupping sparrows. Bliss.

It’s also fascinating for its idiosyncratic almost ‘bureaucracy of morality’ style of seeing the world. As you walk around, there are many different departments. Each is overseen by a massive moustachioed bloke, before whom are gathered various characters, from weeping women to headless men and grimacing demons trying to cut people’s tongues out. To give you a few tasters of department names, you could hang out with the funky dudes at the department for ‘Official Morality’ , look into ‘Implementing 15 Kinds of Violent Death’,  or just chill with the rain gods…

While this is meant to be a positive blog, I can’t help but criticise the Forbidden City. Don’t go there. It’s full of tourists, costs loads and is just one palace after another. Once you’ve seen one you have basically seen all of them and there are over 50 in the Forbidden City…
If you are going to the Great Wall, make sure you look around and maybe think of getting there independently. Most the tours will bump you and some sections of the wall can be reached for Y10 and on one bus. Also don’t get taken in by ‘we will take you to a secret part of the wall’. They aren’t any secret parts, that’s just a secret kept from you.
In Beijing there are lots dingy, but cheap and tasty places to eat. Just look for the places that are covered with spit and cigarette buts on the floor. We found a a place next to the hostel that did 10 dumplings for Y10. This was compared to our hostel which charged 3 times that for a “continental” breakfast. And don’t go paying 20yuan for a beer, either. Instead check out the joints which look like the equivalents of workers’ cafes – there a beer shouldn’t be more than Y4. In one of these we had some incredible hotpot which had initially worried us by the amount of tripe just floating around, but eventually uncovered some tender beef (you just can’t be vegetarian here…). We’d not opted for the lamb’s spine or sheep’s tail versions!

On the subject of food, there is street food market just off Wangfujing Street, which in itself looks like the Beijing Oxford St equivalent. A level of bravery is required to eat here though – knowing what you are putting in your mouth isn’t ever a certainty. We had deep-fried crab – which you eat shell and all. Then there is something called smelly tofu – basically what its called, but also really salty. You could also try snake, eel, or scorpion – these are still alive when they put them on the sticks and you can see them wriggling about for quite a while after being skewed.

After subsequently visiting quite a lot of over-priced and generally not that great places, I now have a much greater appreciation for the National Art Museum of China. Costing only Y20 its a bargin with 3 different floors of art, in a beautiful old building. The upper floors are less interesting, one has an exhibtion on Italian futurism and American print making, but the ground floor had some amazing Chinese art, ranging from the blurry lines just about looking like a human, to paintings which you had to study intensely to realise they weren’t photos. Some even combined the two, with the ‘traditional’-looking broad brushstrokes refined to incredibly detailed faces in the same painting.

The markets in Beijing were also great, though not if confrontation and stubborness aren’t for you (I was in my element!). We went firstly to the Pearl Market – 2 floors of absolute mayhem and then two floors of pearls, which Clinton apparently visited. The rule of thumb when haggling is ‘pay about one third of the price they start at’. No such rule here. At worst or best (depending how you look at it) we paid around a 10th of what they first asked for. Lucie bought a scarf which they claimed cost Y300 for Y30. The techniques they use to try and get you to part with your money are classic. ‘I give you friend price…’, ‘you think I crazy, no way!’, ‘don’t tell anyone but you can have it for ___’, or ‘let me go check with my “manager”‘. I think the only rule when haggling is pay what you feel its worth, taking into consideration the context of where you’re buying it and how much the seller probably originally paid for it. Our best buy though must have been two pairs or leather, fur-lined (goat not panther) gloves for Y90. Putting mine on is like a little orgasm for my hands…

I think that kind of balances out my rant – there were some great places, although the stress of simply existing in Beijing means that I probably won’t ever return. I left with a twitch, which could only be cured by the application of a beer to my lips.

So we figured that we’ve already accumulated some wisdom from the amount of preparation we have already done, so here are a few hints and tips if you’re planning a similar trip.

*Visas*
Obviously you need lots of these to go through as many countries as we intend to.

Getting a Russian visa was the most nightmare-ish of any of our experiences (well, for Josh it was, I got off pretty lightly as I’m still a student, or was when I filled in my visa… Not that I’m encouraging visa fraud in ANY sense, obviously *STANDARD DISCLAIMER* but they didn’t check my status as a student, although my life with Oxford University officially ended a few weeks later). They don’t tell you this until you try to give them your application, but if you are unemployed or self-employed, you officially have to bring in stamped bank statements for the past three months which demonstrate that you have £100 for every day you are in Russia. I suggest that you tap some rich friend just for the occasion – get them to lend it to you for the period of visa processing. In some Kafka-esque ‘horror of bureaucracy’ scenario, it turns out that you don’t need that money when you actually get there, just for when you apply for your visa!

Also, a tourist visa is up to 30 days. If you actually WANT 30 days, you need an invitation for that entire time. Our invitations were for the 10 days we planned to visit St. Petersburg and Moscow for, so we had to change our plans and leave a week earlier as the Trans-Siberian takes an extra five days in Russian territory after it sets off from Moscow. So don’t get an invitation from your hostel, get one from http://www.realrussia.co.uk, particularly because it’ll probably cost you less!

None of the others were really that much hassle – Nepal is by far the easiest, and you can top-up that visa whenever you like. The Chinese system isn’t nearly as complicated as you might expect! We are yet to try to get visas for Iran, we’re going to try this from India, we’ll keep you updated on that.

*Vaccines*
Some GPs are nicer than others and offer lots for free – we bummed Hep A, typhoid, diphtheria and tetanus. Basically, go to the nurse at your GP and ask for a travel clinic to discuss where and when you’re going – they’ll talk you through it all. Make sure you leave about three months before you have to leave when you do this – some treatments take at least 28 days to administer.

As we were paying for some of our vaccines at NOMADs in Russel Square, a woman informed us that Superdrug are doing an offer with 25% off all vaccines after your first one. However, allegedly Superdrug are involved in funding oppression in Burma, and they’re implicated in Tar Sands (http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/FreeBuyersGuides/traveltransport/Petrol.aspx) so you’d need to decide what’s more important there…

*Money*
Check which European countries haven’t joined the Euro. Just in case you weren’t aware, Poland and Lithuania still have their own currencies, although both are intending to switch to the Euro soon.

Dollars are useful in a lot of countries, not just the USA.

*Trains*
http://www.seat61.com rocks my socks. The website is jam-packed with information, and the man – Mark Smith – has been really helpful, replying to various questions we’ve had. He does often point out that the information we’re looking for is hidden somewhere on his website though, so have a good look before you ask him!

If you want to book the Trans-Siberian before you leave the UK, do some price comparisons, but according to our research your best bet is with Svezhy Veter (www.sv-agency.udm.ru), though RealRussia are a more reputable company who are UK-based rather than SV who are Russia-based.

Thomas Cook European and Overseas timetables are amazing – they include every train, most buses and most ferries for the countries involved. With both these books you can work out how to get from London to Indonesia if you want! It shows when your trains are, how long they’ll take and where you need to change. Prices fluctuate, so they’re not included, but other than that it’s basically an all-inclusive guide!

*Hitch-hiking*
If trains aren’t your thing and you fancy hitching some or all of the way (we’re hitching to Lithuania most probably), if someone tells you that ‘no-one hitches any more, you won’t get picked up’, ask them when they last tried to hitch! Our experience has been that every time you get picked up people tell you that, but they’ve just picked you up, proving themselves wrong!

http://www.hitchwiki.org is a brilliant resource, mapping good and bad hitch spots out of all the big cities in Europe and probably worldwide (I haven’t checked that).

Once we got really stuck for hours and hours in the arse-end of nowhere (in the Midlands), and the veteran hitcher who eventually picked us up said to always go by service stations. This has been a revelation – people can check you out, decide you don’t look like a mad axe murderer and then offer you a lift if you wait by the petrol pumps. That’s much more thinking time than is offered to someone who zooms past at however many miles per hour.

Take road maps of the countries you are going through. AA ones are good as they have service stations marked on them. Michelin ones (at least for Germany and Poland) are a bit crap as they don’t have these little ‘S’ diamonds.

*Boats*
We’re currently investigating how to get by sea away from India, to various potential destinations, with Turkey as our nearest European destination. We’ve just found this website which seems pretty useful – http://www.freightertrips.com/bookings/index.html
You fill in a form and they send your details to booking agents to see if anyone can deal with your requests. We’ll keep y’all updated on how this works out.

*CouchSurfing*
This is obviously a much cheaper way to travel than from hostel to hostel, although you do not get to meet as many people this way as you might in a hostel bar. Join the community! http://www.couchsurfing.org/

Right, I’m wisdom-ed out for the moment…