Friday, December 31, 2010

How to Travel Flightlessly, Part 2: Luggage

There is one simple principle governing this aspect of traveling: travel lightly. For the most part, I had only a small suitcase and a shoulder bag as shown above. At other times I did have a third piece of luggage: a small backpack. But carrying all three was a bit hard so I ended up giving away some stuff, posting other stuff back home and giving away the backpack. Just the two pieces of baggage was much more manageable. There were many occasions on which I had to run for a train or couldn't find a taxi or bus and had to walk a considerable distance. Being able to walk and carry everything is a big advantage.

You don't need much to travel. Just clothes, toothbrush and toiletries (just the minimum - I used hostel soaps rather than carrying my own), a book to read. I didn't have a towel, just a sarong that I used as a towel when needed. I also had a laptop computer in my shoulder bag. I had one pair of shoes and one pair of sandals, always wearing the shoes when traveling so I could put the sandals in my suitcase. I carried only one, thin jumper and bought a thick jacket once I reached colder temperatures in Russia. I had only a thin jacket until then which was a bit of a pain to carry in Asia where I hardly ever needed it.

I did buy souvenirs as I traveled but posted them home at the first opportunity. That can cost a bit, but not too much, and it's better than carrying them around with you. All my packages - from Australia, Southeast Asia, China, and Russia, arrived safely home.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Back in New Zealand

From this:

to this:

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Even though I completed my official mission a few weeks ago when I arrived in the UK, I haven't really stopped traveling because I've been moving around London and visiting family around England. First there was a trip to Norfolk to seek out a reclusive uncle who I've ever met. Despite catching a bus to his remote small village I didn't manage to make contact or find him - perhaps another time. Then there was a trip to Ely to visit another uncle and his family, where I also saw a house that Oliver Cromwell lived in for several years. I also visited Oxford which is city I lived in over ten years ago and revisited some of my old haunts - it was nice to be in a place where I didn't feel lost, for the first time in nearly ten months. I also got to see one of my favourite bands - the Bluetones - in concert and they were fantastic.

All this traveling was pretty difficult because England is going through a cold snap at the moment, with lots of snow, ice, and very cold temperatures. It is tiring getting from A to B when freezing cold and transport is delayed.

The end of my travels, however, is in sight. For tomorrow morning, I board a plane bound for New Zealand, arriving on Tuesday 7 December. I've had enough sight-seeing to last me a long time and am looking forward to relaxing in the warm summer weather.

Friday, December 3, 2010

How to Travel Flightlessly, Part 1: Visas

I thought it would be helpful to put some information here for others who might be thinking about doing a similar trip to mine, starting with the subject of travel visas. Overall, it was fairly easy to get visas on arrival for most countries and fees were not unreasonable. I was using a New Zealand passport throughout and the rules might be different for different nationalities. The rules might also change so it's worth checking before going. The Lonely Planet website has a section containing visa information for each country. Make sure you travel with half a dozen passport-size photos for visas. Here is visa info for the countries I visited in the order I visited them, with emphasis on how long the visas are for and whether you get them on arrival or in advance:

Australia: NZ nationals can travel to Australia without a visa, indefinitely I think. I arrived at Brisbane port and passport officials came onto the boat and checked my passport before I could disembark. The German couple also on board seemed to get through without any trouble.

Indonesia: a one month tourist visa on arrival. I read that these can be got on arrival at ports but this was the one country I arrived into by air.

Malaysia: ninety-day visa on arrival. I got this at the port of Melaka and I've read that they can be got at other ports such as Penang.

Thailand: two-week visa on arrival. This is different from if you arrive by air - in that case, the standard visa is for one month but arriving by land you only get a two-week visa, for what reason I don't know.

Cambodia: ninety-day visa on arrival. There are some scams at the border where officials will take you to an office some way from the border and while they give you a valid visa, you end up paying more than you have to. That's what happened to me but I suspect that if I'd just ignored those officials and gone right to the border I would have got it fine there.

Vietnam: one-month visa in advance. They might be possible to get when arriving at the border but the standard practice seems to be to get it in advance. I got mine while in Phnom Penh, my hotel getting it for me for a reasonable fee and it only took one night between my requesting/ paying for it and it arriving.

China: one-month visa in advance. Again, the standard seems to be not to get these on arrival. There seemed to be plenty of tourist operators and backpacker places in Hanoi that will get them for you for a reasonable fee but they take a long time: mine took about a week.

Mongolia: two-week visa on arrival. Even though I got mine on arrival, I recommend getting it in advance (which is possible). In advance seems to be the standard practice and wanting it on arrival met with surprised officials and negotiations over fees and visa duration.

Russia: one-month visa in advance. This was by far the most difficult visa I had to get. In addition to the application form, you need a detailed itinerary and an invitation from a Russian tour agency. There are tour agencies with websites that will provide these for a fee. I was fortunate in that Kristen already had got these for me when she was getting her's in New Zealand. In China, the Russian consulates in Beijing and Shanghai will not give visas to those who are in China on visas of less than 90 days, i.e. you have to be a Chinese national or living and working there. The Russian consulate in Hong Kong, however, is more flexible and will give visas to travelers so go there or even do what I did and send your passport and forms to someone there who will do it for you (the HK consulate doesn't seem to have a problem with not being there in person) - but remember you need your passport to check into any hotel in China so only send it if you've already checked into a hotel for at least a few days (or alternatively sneak into your girlfriend's room when the staff aren't looking, until your passport comes back!)

Finland: no visa needed. I'm not quite sure what the situation here is. They stamped my passport and there doesn't seem to be any date-limit and no fee to pay. So I think New Zealanders can stay as long as they like so long as they don't work.

The Rest of EU: there were no further passport checks through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, or Netherlands. There was a passport check when I arrived in the UK which surprised me - they are in the EU aren't they? - but there I used my UK passport. I'm not sure if this is going to result in any confusion when I leave but I can't see why it would, which is not to say it won't.