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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Why Pamper Life’s Complexity?

Original posted in London to New York blog, February 28, 2010

WHEN I handed my notice in at work three months ago, this whole trip still seemed way out there in the distance, scarcely able to convince myself that this was really my life now.

But all of a sudden, and remarkably clear-headed after a leaving do which somehow involved being in the same pub for more than half of a 30-hour period, it is very real.

All that stands between me and this trip is three weeks, a To-Do list which has taken on remarkable expanding properties and an increasingly frantic search for someone to rent my house.

So how did we get here – a question Steve Cram must have been asking as he commentated on hour after hour of curling?

It’s been a little more than three years in the making, starting with a six-week American road trip with Nick Machin.

It wasn’t so much out on the American highways that an attack of wanderlust took hold, it was more amid the increasing struggles to settle into life back home.

The Blues Cafe, Beale Street, Memphis - and two blokes from Cardiff
Nick, right, Me and Mr Heineken on Beale Street, Memphis – 2006 US Road Trip

One change of job and a fairly traumatic year or so later and it was still there – early attempts by two of us to head off again being squashed by work’s refusal to grant us a sabbatical and the postponement of the early plans for the London to New York trip.

But at some point last year and fresh from a trip to Boston and New York – cementing a growing obsession with the Boston Red Sox – it all became too much.

All that prompted one of those pub conversations which normally go nowhere and are forgotten about the next morning – the two of us pledging to jack in work and head out on the newly re-advertised trip.

Normally, what seemed such a good idea after a few pints is dismissed out of hand when morning and sobriety take hold

But not this time – even the post-beer e-mail sent to the trip organisers the night before had been coherent. It still made perfect sense and, barely before the hangover had faded away, we were booked on the trip.

And that’s how we got to this point – not sure Steve Cram would be able to give you such a clear answer.

The last few weeks have been dominated by visas – from the high security, nothing which would help to pass the time allowed four-hour wait at the US Embassy in London to the same trip to the Mongolian Embassy, which saw us get the visa back in half an hour. Russia and China – still waiting – have involved hour after hour trying to fill in forms.

And now it’s time to start making a dent in that To Do list…

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