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Perth, Western Australia

We spent this weekend camping down south, as a final hurrah before going away. It was great, despite being fucking freezing. We went skiing in suits again. I drank my North Korean wine. We went for a last kneeboard and a last disc and a slalom. It was also sort of sad, though, because for a long time it’s felt as though this trip isn’t really happening. It was difficult to comprehend. You can’t really imagine yourself actually doing it, because it’s so vast and different to your life at home. But this weekend it really did feel like it was looming up, and I realised how much I was going to miss everyone and how much everything in my life was about to change.

My cousin Georgie, who is a flight attendant working for Qantas and based out of Sydney, was supposed to be in Singapore on the 28th. She told us we could come to her mind-bogglingly ritzy hotel and ask for her at the front desk, and I was totally looking forward to doing so at 4 in the morning, which I don’t think she’d anticipated. Then her flights changed and now she’s leaving two hours after we get in, so we’re back to our original plan of bunking down for the rest of the night somewhere in the airport, which is probably still crammed full of Europeans trying to get back home after that unpronounceable volcano messed everybody’s plans up. That’s a shame.

Anyway, I still have a dozen little things to do, and then I have to SUIT UP to go have dinner at Chris’ house.

1 day to go!

Perth, Western Australia

You know what I need from you, WordPress? A better imaging system. I want that thing where you click on the thumbnail and it expands to full size in another window. How am I supposed to dazzle and delight our friends back home with blurry, jagged jpegs that have been reduced to the size of a postage stamp in MS Paint? I guess I’ll have to download a plugin or something. WHAT IS THIS, THE MIDDLE AGES

Anyway, here is a blurry jagged jpeg of what I’m taking with me around the world:

Clothing
Underwear x7
Socks x6
Explorer socks x1
Button-down shirt x2
T-shirt x2
Hoody
Jeans
Boardshorts
Converse sneakers
Trail shoes
Thermals
Belt
Thongs*
Shorts*
Watch
Vacuum packing bag

Electronics
ASUS 900HA netbook + charger + little USB mouse (I hate touchpads)
External harddrive
30G video iPod + case + headphones + connection cable
USB stick
Nikon Coolpix S560 + charger + cable (do not buy this, it is shit, shell out the extra $100 for an Olympus)

Toiletries
Retainer + case
Toothbrushes
Toothpaste
Soap
Razor
Chapstick
Sunscreen*

Other
Novels x2
Wallet – driver’s license, 2 bankcards, Medicare card
Travel towel* (going with a regular beach towel for now)
First aid kit (see Costs page for contents)
Anti-malarials
Australian passport
Irish passport
Vaccination record
Passport photos (for visas)
Notebook + pen
Insect repellant*
Leatherman
Sunglasses
Plastic toy horse (long story)
Tissues
Sealed Glad-bags (learned my lesson after a wet day on Miyajima)

*Have yet to buy, either here or in SE Asia

Now I just need to actually pack all that into my bag and see how it fits! Oh, and since we decided to squeeze in a last-minute trip to Collie for the Anzac Day long weekend, I also need to pack for that.

5 days to go!

Perth, Western Australia

It’s common knowledge that the world outside Australia, Europe and North America is a constant nightmare of seething diseases, oozing infections and Lovecraftian parasites, where much of the populace is stricken with horrific maladies that send them crawling up and down the streets, moaning through mouths speckled with weeping sores, or else lying in sweat-soaked sheets shaking with fever as monstrous insects burrow deeper into their brains.

That’s why it’s important to take proper medical precautions when travelling. A fully stocked first-aid kit could prove to be the difference between life and death, unless, like me, you don’t have even basic knowledge in first aid. I’m picturing myself lying at the bottom of a ravine with the bone sticking out of my arm, using my other hand to triumphantly retrieve the triangular bandage/sling from my first aid kit, and then bursting into tears because I have no idea what to do with it. Why the hell aren’t first aid courses part of the standard high school curriculum? They spent months and months on STDs, trying to scare the hormones out of us, and not one second on CPR or anything like that. I know how to put a condom on a banana, but I don’t know what to do if somebody drives their car into a letterbox in front of me and is launched out the windshield.

In any case, a first aid kit is better than nothing, so we bought some standard St. John’s packs from Woolworths and are now fortifying them with other things we need. They came with gauze, pads, bandages, bandaids, tape, scissors, a needle, tweezers and an emergency reflective blanket (which I can see myself simply pulling out and using when I’m cold); to that I’ve added anti-diarrhea tablets, a fuckload of painkillers and some antiseptic cream. I’ll also be adding cold and flu tablets, paw-paw cream, antihistamines and maybe something else for gastro sickness. I also took a few medi-swabs and gauze pads from the ridiculously overstocked first aid kit at work (that we will never use because in the event of a code blue all the first aiders in the store come running with their own kits), but I’m not sure why I bothered, because medicines are more important than bandages and space is at a premium.

On the topic of medicine, we also bought our antimalarials. This a fun subject and is apparently the cause of much debate amongst backpackers: in the tropics, do you bother taking anti-malarial pills, or do you just hope not to get it? The reason it’s a debate is because, depending on your brand of antimalarials, the side effects can be pretty severe, sometimes being indistinguishable from malaria itself. We’re taking doxycycline, the side effects of which include:

  • Severe headaches, dizziness, blurred vision
  • Fever, chills, body aches, flu symptoms
  • Sever blistering, peeling and red skin rash
  • Urinating less than usual or not at all
  • Pale or yellowed skin, dark coloured urine, confusion and weakness
  • Severe pain in your upper stomach spreading to your back
  • Nausea and vomiting, fast heart rate
  • Loss of appetite, jaundice
  • Easy bruising or bleeding

If I suffer from any of those I’ll just stop taking it and run the risk. There’s no point protecting yourself against malaria if you’re half-dead and can’t enjoy your trip. You have to take precautions to guard against mosquitoes anyway, to prevent dengue fever, for which there is no pill or vaccination.

The other question was when and where we should be taking them. Some health maps can be pretty dire, urging us to be popping pills all the way from Singapore to China, but the CDC map is a lot more reasonable. We’ve decided to take them only in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos (and, of course, for the necessary four weeks after leaving a malarial zone). The absolute maximum amount of time we’ll spend in these countries is a month, or about twelve weeks, so we each got fourteen weeks worth of pills. Come to think of it I’m not sure how we calculated that, since it’s two weeks short. Well, whatever. It’s not like the people who actually live in malaria zones have the luxury of taking pills every day.

Malaria Zone sounds like a 1980’s Nintendo game.

13 days to go!

Perth, Western Australia

I had what I thought was a case of attempted credit fraud last week, when – on the same day my World Nomads payment cleared – I had a $394 debit show up in my account from some electrical company in Sydney. I told the bank about it, cancelled my card etc, but they said nothing could be done until the payment was actually authorised.

Instead of going through, it just disappeared the other day, and Bankwest has done a fucking shithouse job of explaining why. I get that sometimes companies use financial details with different names, so you might be concerned when you buy something and it shows up as a golf course in another city, but this was another payment in addition to my World Nomads debit, for a different amount of money.

I’m still waiting on my new card, and this incident has made me realise just how much shit I’ll be in if my details are compromised while overseas. My Cirrus card and my Mastercard are literally the only means I have of withdrawing money abroad. I don’t relish kicking around in some third-world border town waiting for a new card to get FedExed to me just because Bankwest’s online statement system is fucking loopy.

In other news, I folded and bought some Salomon Tracks trail shoes at Kathmandu. It was an Easter sale but they still cost $150, which was the absolute maximum I wanted to spend on footwear. No doubt Chris will be laughing at me when he picks up a better pair in Kuala Lumpur for $50. I’m one of those people who’s utterly powerless to resist when a sales assistant starts working their black magic. They sure are comfy though, even if it does feel weird to be wearing a thick shoe after four straight years of Converse.

18 days to go!

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!

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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