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Perth, Western Australia

We’ve finally bought travel insurance. This was a bit of a sticky point since my father works for HBF and was pushing us to buy a $1500 platinum coverage thing, but that’s insanely expensive for travel insurance and also only lasted for three months.

Instead we opted for World Nomads, a company that, much like Lonely Planet, is comfortably laidback and dispenses with corporate spin (or at least employs PR agents who know how to conjure that facade) yet is not quite so breezy it seems unprofessional… actually, yeah, I’d definitely say it’s a slick piece of PR. Anyway. The point is they’re geared solely for round-the-world backpackers, and they’re based in Australia, so they were perfect for us. They’re also quite cheap; we spent just over four hundred dollars each for six months of coverage, including individual item protection for our laptops, iPods, cameras and backpacks. Plus they provide free downloadable language guides for iPods, which is pretty cool, and they’ve come up with a novel way of collecting donations for charity. If a telemarketer rings me up and asks me to whip out my credit card to donate $2 to starving orphans, that’s both an intrusion of my privacy and a hassle, so I’m going to be annoyed and say no. But tacking an optional $2 donation onto a purchase when someone’s already spending $400? Why, that’s just crazy enough to work!

We also signed up to Couchsurfing, which you may have heard of. It’s a “hospitality exchange network,” which means people let each other sleep on their couches, when they actually have a fixed address and are not wandering the globe sleeping on each other’s couches. You’d imagine this seems like a really great way to get stabbed as either a surfer or a hoster, yet with seven years of history and 1.7 million members, there’s only been one (attempted) rape! I think we can all agree, that’s pretty good odds! Since I still live with my father I can’t exactly offer my own couch up to random hippie drifters, but depending on how our experience with the site goes during our own time as random hippie drifters, I may very well do some hosting when I settle down in Canada or Europe on the other side of this trip.

30 days to go!

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Perth, Western Australia

Chris and I went into the city on Tuesday to drop off our passports at the Thai consulate. It was not a good day for me – I hate driving in the CBD, where everything’s busy and compact and crowded, and I hate driving when Chris is yelling in my ear about how stupid I am, and combining the two leads to problems. At one point I nearly got rear-ended because I didn’t realise I was on a one-way street and just swerved across the other lane when I saw a parking spot. While parking elsewhere, I also managed to hit the curb with an awful crunching noise that somehow didn’t do any damage to my bumper.

I also noticed throughout the day that the gearstick was very stiff, which culminated the next day with the engine gears making a horrible shrieking sound when I tried to put the car in reverse to go to work. I got it moving eventually, but every time I changed gear I had to really force the stick. I got my Dad to check it after work and apparently I’ve worn the clutch out. It still works as long as I really force the clutch down to the floor, but I was counting on selling this car before we leave, and that’s the sort of thing that would probably put buyers off. Also the passenger window won’t roll up. Also there’s a huge dent in the side. Also you have to turn the engine over a few times before it starts. Also it’s fourteen years old and hasn’t been serviced since 2002.

Anyway, I didn’t want to risk driving all the way into the city again today in case my car exploded halfway down the freeway, so I took the train. Visiting the consul was a quick, hassle-free five-minute trip, which is probably the last time I will say that about any consulate visit for the next two years. A sixty-day Thai tourist visa costs $45, by the way.

The consulate had a framed portrait of the Thai king, whom Chris commented looks like the kind of guy who just grew into power on the shoulders of a more legendary father. Apparently it’s illegal in Thailand to insult the king, so remember, it was Chris that said that. I think he’s dashing and handsome and undoubtedly a just ruler.

Incidentally, what’s with protesters pouring blood all over the streets of Bangkok? That’s weird and gross.

On the way back to the train station I stopped off at Budget Backpacker, a little store on Barrack Street with discounted backpacking gear. I bought my backpack there last year, before taking it to Korea, leaving it in the corner of my apartment for two and a half months, and then taking it home. This trip should be a little more intense than that, so I bought a sleeping bag as well. Chris is confident that we’ll need one (each, we don’t share, that’s super gay). I’m not so sure we’ll ever find ourselves in hostels and guesthouses that don’t provide bedding, or venture into a wilderness area without renting lots of other stuff first, but better safe than sorry. It was only $45 and takes up virtually no room in my backpack anyway. Now I just need to buy good shoes and a micro-fibre towel.

Now the biggest hassle we face is applying for a Russian visa, for which we have to sift through several tour companies to see who offers the cheapest business visa invitations, then mail our passports and papers off into the cruel concrete maw of the Russian consulate in Sydney, and hope that some bleak and miserable Soviet bureaucrat finds it in his vodka-clotted heart to approve us for business visas, rather than stamping DENIED across everything. I think it’s quite telling that the Russian consulate has an email address, but doesn’t bother to provide a phone number. I sent an email to them with a few queries; it was, of course, ignored.

41 days to go!

Perth, Western Australia

Okay. Here’s my travel blog, which I’m going to use to keep friends and family updated on my backpacking trip, showcase my dazzling writing skill, and take the place of a physical travel journal.

On April 27, 2010, my best friend Chris and I are leaving our dreary lives and dead-end jobs in suburban Australia and embarking on a voyage that will take us through Asia, Africa, South America and North America, living as cheaply as we can and, in the tradition of backpackers everywhere, taking advantage of poor economies and exchange rates in order to go on an extended holiday on relatively little money. At the end of the trip, if I’m not ready to go home, I plan to either get a working holiday visa for Canada, or use my Irish citizenship to work in Europe, thus returning to a dreary life and dead-end job, but in another country, so I assume it will be totally awesome!

43 days to go!

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