The To-Do List

This article first appeared in a travel company’s newsletter in July 2011. It was the first of a planned series of pieces plotting my route from starting preparations for a three-month adventure all the way to journey’s end in Sydney. Sadly, only two were written before the plug was pulled on that trip… of which more to come.

EVERYONE has their own methods. Some need guidance, some stick to a schedule, some do everything as early as possible, some squeeze it all in at the last minute. Some of us make lists.

What happens to those lists is not as straightforward as it should be.

In moments of clarity and efficiency, they get worked through, amended and crossed off obsessively. In other times, the lists enter my brain, swim around (usually just as in time to prevent sleep), reorder themselves and grow until they are out of control and the original list needs to be radically redrawn to incorporate all the bright ideas flapping around between the ears.

What invariably happens is that when the two lists are compared, the unnecessary items – those frivolous luxuries which the trip provides the perfect excuse to buy – have been sorted. The things which really must get sorted to prevent a last-minute rush remain steadfastly uncrossed out.

Two weeks into the countdown to departure to Sydney and what has been done?

Well, this article is being tapped out on a shiny new laptop (the last one has not recovered from its last trip around the world slung over my shoulder) and there’s a sleek new phone sat next to it which evidently will map my trip, keep me online, store my to-do list and, oh yeah, even makes phonecalls (the only thing worked out so far).*

The playlists are already being put together for the iPod and a shiny new camera (to replace the two which ground to a halt on the road to New York) is sat in a shop somewhere, just waiting for us to forge a lasting relationship (or brief encounter, as recent history suggests).

Of course, all these gizmos come complete with their own power cables, USB cables and headphones, so the must-have section on the clothes list will have to be severely shortened or the advice to pack light just won’t be an option (again).

So while the power outlets of mainland Europe, Asia and Australia brace themselves for an onslaught of my travelling hardware – and the travel adaptors needed to make them work – a lot of the pre-trip admin sits patiently on the list, just waiting to catch my attention.

None more important than visas. Tucked away inside your passport, they take up a mere fraction of the space of the electrical goodies and the items you realise are filling unwarranted space in you backpack somewhere around Prague, these little pieces of paper are the key items on the to-do list.

Along with vaccinations, insurance and the passport they sit inside, visas are the must haves, the must dos.

Everything else, that new pair of shoes or trousers, even (though it pains me to say it) the laptop, iPod, phone et al are extras (evidently, you can go travelling without knowing where the next wi-fi connection is. Who knew?). If you don’t have any of them when you climb on the bus, the trip will still go ahead and you can live without them – or get them on the road.

Not so most of the visas.

Anyone who has ever travelled has tales to tell about visas, the last-minute fretting, the long hours waiting at embassies and returned applications.

China provided a minor panic last year when they were not exactly enamoured by a less than wise admission of being a journalist (similar to the reaction you got admitting the same in the UK in recent months) while a desire for a longer stay in the USA meant a long day hanging around in their waiting room with just a book for company.

But as they require your passport, you can only have one application pending at a time. So approach them logically and with a clear schedule and they are reasonably straightforward, be it the wait for official authorisation to apply for an Iranian visa, the bureaucracy of India (complete with their strict new rule of a 2″x2″ photo rather than passport size) or the single page application for Nepal, more akin to a permission slip for a school trip compared to the lengthy Indian form.

Wade through it all, embrace the experience and write your own visa tales… it’s the first step on the road to Sydney and for that alone, well worth it.

* The laptop remains (although an iPad has replaced it for travels and a new, lighter one is calling), but the phone has long been consigned to history and replaced with an iPhone. Never did work out how to do much more than make phonecalls.

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The Mosquito Manifesto

First appearing in a July 2011 travel company newsletter, this is the second and, sadly, to date last in a series building up to a now cancelled trip from London to Sydney…

A FEW weeks into serious preparations for the off and, without wishing to jinx anything, it has all been going pretty smoothly.

There was a brief stomach-dropping moment when my Indian visa application was returned unprocessed – courtesy of their need for a 2in x 2in photo, not the standard passport shot optimistically attempted to sneak past them – but the second attempt was successfully returned inside a week.

Nepal, who require much less information, was just as quick and the online Australian application was granted in just a few hours.

That just leaves the Iranian visa, which means playing the waiting game. Details and copy of my passport have been sent off, now it is just a case of waiting for the Foreign Ministry to provide authorisation to apply. Then it is a trip to the Iranian Embassy in London to file the actual application – thankfully without having to be there at 6am to queue up now they have altered their opening times.

Vaccinations have gone as smoothly, just a couple of boosters needed which were wonderfully pain free until waking up in agony having slept on the arm that had received them.

And the malaria prescription is on order – something high on the must-have list with my propensity to attract any nasty little buzzy creature within a few hundred miles (the evidence of which is written in marks on my forearm due to an even greater propensity to scratch any bites).

My mossie magnetism was welcomed by fellow travellers on the London to New York trip when we hit Alaska as they were left largely untouched as word went out around the local insect population about the meal on offer.

It all earned me the nickname Honey Boy, courtesy of tales from exclusive golf clubs where rich golfers were kept free from mosquitoes by the presence of a poor local paid pennies to follow them round the manicured fairways covered in honey.

Honey’s definitely not on the packing list, but malaria tablets and the strongest anti-buzzy thing spray most certainly are.

The rest of that list keeps growing – at least it would if written down. ‘Write Packing/To-Buy List’ has been on the to-do list for days without being done. Instead, it exists merely in my head and grows every time a new travel website pops into view.

A new rucksack definitely needs to be on the list (courtesy of an irreperably broken zip on my last one), along with a smaller laptop/day bag (the current shoulder strap is about to give way in spectacular fashion), three months supply of contact lenses and a new camera, unless some technical wizard can mend either of the current ones which steadfastly refuse to even turn on (to say nothing of the smudge on the lens of one of them).

Clothes-wise, it is a case of working from the feet up as the ultra-comfortable all-purpose outdoor shoes which saw me round the world once are consigned to history – at least on wet days, even falling apart they are just too comfortable to dispose of altogether.

Two hunts for replacements have so far proved fruitless – these are old friends that need to be replaced, not any old pair of shoes. It’s an emotional moment. Less so replacing the pair of sandals which did not get on that well with the soles of my feet last time, judging by the way they repeatedly rubbed each other up the wrong way.

At some point, there’ll be a rifle through the wardrobe to see just how many clothes are suitable, still fit, will stand up to life in a rucksack for three months and are not likely to be pulled out somewhere near the first laundry opportunity to be met with the phrase: “Why on earth did I pack that?”

At least one top will be consigned to the bottom of the rucksackĀ neverĀ to be worn – at least not after the first week or, on London to New York, the first day – or only as an emergency to signal the urgent need to do some washing.

Only then will the list be completed and the mad dash round the shops squeezed in, at which point the intended clothes for the trip will be laid on the bed and the realisation that there’s way too much there to qualify for the intended target of packing light.

It’s an admirable aim and one that is being strictly adhered to, right up to the point where temptation takes over and that bout of just-in-case seeks me out like a persistent mosquito.

If only there was a spray for that.

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