Asia here we come, right back where we started from…

One month from today will be our “last day in Australia for a while.”

4 and a half weeks. 
31 days.
744 hours.
44,640 minutes.

Who’s counting?

It’s a strange feeling to know that in in just a few short weeks, everything we know – our comfort zones and safety nets – will be stripped from us. We’ve had so long to prepare, yet it still hasn’t sunk in.
What will we miss? What won’t we miss?…

It’s a big bag of mixed emotions when we think about how we feel about departing Australia,  and “going home” [in a sense] to Asia.
There is this extreme excitement that is, some days, simply uncontrollable. We frolic about, skipping rather than walking, with this joy that I can not explain. 
Other days, we feel filled with a worry, or a fear of the unknown; For our health, for our safety… 
We’re nervous too. It’s hard to pin-point exactly what that’s about.
And, we’re a little stressed: We’ve got 4 VERY busy weeks left of work, a house to move out of, our lives to pack up into boxes and backpacks, and a heap of loose ends to tie-up.

I look forward to soon being able to write non-mundane, rather; exciting and interesting blog posts about fascinating places.

Even more so, I simply look forward to experiencing Asia.

I have a feeling this trip is going to open up doors that right now, neither of us can imagine.
We’re off to Asia again, which in a way, feels like where we started from.

 

Our Top 10 Picks: Ways to Save Money for Travel

To save as much as we can before we head overseas, we have been following these “rules” reasonably religiously. 

Feel free to add any of your own ideas and suggestions.

 
1. Live in Share Housing: 
Although not for everyone, and not without it’s annoyances sometimes, share housing can really be great! 
Rent and bills are super cheap in comparison to living alone, meaning you can save more money instead of paying off someone else’s mortgage. It’s also an opportunity to make new friends!
 
2. Cook at home instead of eating out:
We’re not the best when it comes to following this rule, but we have improved immensely since we began saving. We usually eat out a couple of nights a week, but we eat cheaply (around $10 per meal) – our reasoning is that it can sometimes work out to be just as cheap to eat out, and you don’t have to wash up!
 
3. Shop at the markets instead of the supermarket
We hate shopping at the supermarket.
We shop at the local markets and the price difference is unbelievable. The quality and range of produce is so much better, and it’s a great experience to just wander around the bustling markets. Going towards the end of the day means there are even bigger discounts.
Every bit we save means the more we can do while overseas.
 
4. Stop buying coffee:
Although we haven’t stopped buying coffee out completely, we’ve cut down on it A LOT! Jake buys coffee beans and makes his own, and Em has a ‘keep-cup’ she basically carries at all times. $3.50 here and there might not seem like a lot at the time, but in the long-run it adds up to a huge amount. Making your own drinks saves you so much money, and you don’t miss out.
 
5. Stop buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff:
We don’t buy anything really unless we need it these days. Our “big spending” in the last 6 months has been on plane tickets, immunisations ($280 each for Japanese Encephalitis…ouch!), travel gear, visas and insurance… There’s simply not anything we need, and as our focus is travel, fancy shoes and other things don’t seem as important.
 
6. Go to Free events:
We live in Melbourne, which means there is ALWAYS something on that’s interesting, fun and free.
We still pay to go out to shows and gigs occasionally, but cutting down and choosing to go to a select few means we enjoy and appreciate our outings more. Going to free events means we experience things we might not have otherwise if we weren’t consciously making an effort.
 
7. Have a budget: 
We really are not great savers. We don’t have a weekly budget or put away a specific amount each week… But in saying that, we knew from the beginning, roughly what the bare minimum amount of money was that we could depart Australia with.
From there, we knew how much we had to work towards, and we decided to put away whatever we could each week. We’ve saved a lot more than we were aiming for already, and we’ve still enjoyed luxuries and treats like coffee and concerts along the way!
 
8. Know the Worth of your Dollar:
We know how far one Australian dollar can stretch in the countries we are going to be visiting… And it can stretch a bloody long way. A $5 drink is one or two nights accomodation OR meals for both of us OR transportation to another place OR a fair few beers. Knowing the worth of our dollar makes us realise that even small amounts of money we ‘waste’ can make a real difference to our trip.
 
9. Use what you have:
We have everything we need, really. We haven’t bought new clothes this year – last years clothing is still perfect. We are using to the stuff that has been sitting in the back of our pantry, instead of buying other foods. We use things for longer, and have also started using things we’d put away for a “rainy day.”
 
10. Cut down on alcohol:
We’re not big drinkers in the first place, but buying alcohol in Melbourne bars and pubs can empty your wallet really quickly! We drink very occasionally, and when we do, we usually buy it at a liquor store and take it around to a friends place. It works out so much cheaper and we still have a great evening. Our friends and us also do other things together instead, that don’t involve drinking alcohol. 
 
All these simple things make a bit of a difference to our savings, and combined they have allowed us to save a great deal without compromising on our lifestyle.
 
What we save now, we can enjoy while abroad, and in the end, that’s our main goal.

Traumatic Visa Applications and Indian Touts

We’d been warned by many, been told horror stories and read about how traumatic it can be to try to organise and apply for an Indian Visa…

Our local travel agent warned us about the perils of applying for the Indian Visa without their help; describing the paper work as confusing, the wait-times as ridiculously long, the ques of people horrendous, and the embassy as so incredibly strict that without a travel agents signature of your approved itinerary, you’re bound to be rejected. We were encouraged to pay a $70.00 “convenience fee” each for them to organise our visas for us, as well  cover the extra cost of money orders necessary to pay for the $97.00 visas.

No thanks.

Those 160-odd dollars could stretch a looooong way in Asia… and if we can’t handle disorganised crowds of people, or expect constant convenience at all times, well.. we’re basically fucked in India, aren’t we?

One friend of ours warned of the crowds of people we would encounter at the Melbourne Indian Embassy, and staff so picky about application forms that they will do anything to make your application process more difficult.
Another told us we’d left it too late and would most likely have to pay a large fee to have it processed in a shorter amount of time.

We brushed off their caution, and decided to do it our way. If we can’t handle the visa application and the confines of the embassy, again, we may as well just give up now.

So we filled out the application online which was pretty straight forward.
We simply saved the application forms to PDF format and printed them, signing our names on the dotted line at the bottom of the forms. We each cut out a crisp, new passport photo depicting our mug-shot faces, and ticked off the nessecary check-list saying we had collected all the required documents.
Now we just needed to march ourselves down to the embassy with our paperwork, passports and a whopping $97.00…

So simple! Too simple…Where was all that hassle? Surely, that can’t be right!? The worst must be yet to come.

Monday morning, 8:30am, we stood silent in the lift as it took us to the 12th floor – to the Indian Visa Application Office. We were anticipating huge crowds of people, long-waits and unfriendly staff…

Ding! The lift opened and before we could even step out... “Yes, Hello Sir, yes, Hello Madame, hello, hello how are you? You want visa for India, you need passport photo? I can take, yes sir, I can take for you, only $10 per person, very cheaper than other place.”

Within the space of a few seconds in the Indian Embassy of Melbourne, yes sir, yes madame, we had been touted. Of all the things we were expecting, this had (foolishly) not crossed our minds. We had to smile.
Fuck! …already being touted and we haven’t even left the state, let a lone the country!… and we found that in itself reasonably shocking… we better get used to that shit quick smart and nip that unsettled feeling in the bud.

Escaping the tout, we walked into the empty, clean and silent visa office. We took a ticket from the self-service machine on the wall, and took a seat. Our number was called almost immediately, and together we walked to the desk… both wondering when the traumatic experience was going to start. Perhaps now?

“Hello. Forms and passports, please… You’re applying for a tourist visa? Okay… Jake you’ve made a small error on the form here, I will just change it now for you… Okay, It will be $97 per person… Can you sign here?… and here?… Cash or card? Paying seperately or together?… Okay, card please…”

Still so strangely, scarily… simple. No hassles. What is going on?… We’re still waiting for the drama to unfold.

With that, we were told our passports would be ready within 5 business days, and we would recieve a text message and an email letting us know when we could collect them. Within the space of a 5 whole, pleasent, pain-free minutes, we were done. We waved goodbye to our passports, $194.00 and to the man at the desk.

As we left the building I think both of us were in shock. Where the fuck was all that supposed garunteed commotion, hassle, bickering, inconvenience and turmoil? We’d mentally prepared ourselves for all of the above, as well as a two hour wait!

As we walked towards the lift feeling victorious, the tout came out of no where again, I guess hopeful we’d forgotten our passport photos afterall and required his very cheaper service. Thankfully, before he had time to pounce on us, the lift dinged again and some fresh prey began to exit into the corridor.
Mr. Touty no longer had time for us.

Just over 24 hours after we applied for our Indian visa, we’ve been notified our application is currently being processed. We’re still trying to figure out when the worst will come, but, somehow, it seems the worst of it was the smiling Mr. Touty.

Oh, India; we like you already.

 

Drop-Pin Map of Asia

Recently, I’ve started putting together my own version of a drop-pin map of the countries we’re going to visit in Asia.

I saw some coloured cardboard in the news agency a few weeks ago, and some of the colours just stood out and reminded me of Asia…
So I bought them, for nostalgia.
I’ve been looking over so many maps of Asia throughout our trip planning, and I thought it might be a nice idea to make my own – so our family can follow our journey of where we are.
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Tracing and cutting around the fine detail, piecing the different countries together and looking at the shapes laid out on the table left me thinking how incredibly big the world is, but somehow, how small it feels sometimes.
ImageLooking forward to sticking some pins into this!
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Have you ever bought or made a drop-pin map?

Bad Drivers, Strangers, Couch Surfing and a Little Bit of Trust

You’ve just got to have a little bit of trust in them.

Trust. It’s a beautiful and daunting concept. Hard to gain, easy to lose – isn’t that how it goes?
But, what about when you travel? Does it become a whole new concept? I think so.
Sometimes, you don’t get a choice… And sometimes, that can work out to be better than you ever imagined.

When it comes to travel, I am constantly reminded to think “You’ve just got to have a little bit of trust in them.”

And it’s true, for the most part. I don’t believe you can travel, if you are not open to trusting others.
Travelling, [especially backpacking], and trusting people work together.

I’m not suggesting you walk blindly into any situation and just hope for the best. Sometimes common sense kicks in, or maybe it’s your gut feeling that guides you, and you can tell wether it’s a situation you’re comfortable in, or if you want to get the fuck out. Sometimes you can just ‘know’ when you don’t need/want to trust, but other times… you just have to.

Like when you get into the back of a taxi, and spend the entire time with your heart beating wildly in your mouth. You don’t have a choice – if you want to cover a distance to get somewhere, then – at some point you’ll have to take transport, and trust someone to get you there safely.

Or when you check yourself into a backpacker dorm, pack your belongings into your locker and your important doccuments into your day pack… You need to be able to trust that as you sleep/shower/eat, your basic belongings  will still all be there when you come back to your room.

What about when you order a meal? Your common sense and gut instinct can help you here to an extent, but other than that – you have to trust what you eat is safe enough to not have you spending the next 4 days with your head in a toilet. As travellers – we all know this is really difficult and not always possible.

And what about people? People can be so hard to trust! How do you trust that overly-smiling tuk tuk driver when he says “yes, yes, very good, very cheap, the cheapest, yes, yes, follow me, come come, I give you so cheap.?
How do you trust that weird guy in your dorm when he asks if he can borrow your lap-top for a little while?
How do you trust a stranger in a foreign country when they say “Of course, I can help, I can guide you…”
How do you trust someone who you’ve never met before, and known only for a few short minutes, with your life?
I’ve been in all of those situations, and sometimes, you just have to trust.

Sad but true, I’ve found that occasionally when people offer me something generously in a foreign country – somewhere in the back of my mind, I wonder why they would be so generous. It’s terrible to admit, but sometimes that little part of my brain telling me to be cautious starts buzzing, alerting me to the idea that “it’s too good to be true”. Is it the same for you? Sometimes, because of this, I am reminded to trust – becuase not every person is trying to take advantage of me in some way.

What about Couchsurfing? Have you ever tried that?…
Jake and I plan to couch surf in every country we visit during our trip – we’d like to do a lot of it. Not for the “saving money” side of it at all – our reason for couch surfing is to meet locals, and see a country as a traveller, rather than a tourist. Couchsurfing can help us to do that…

But, how do you trust someone you’ve never met, and agree to stay in their home, travel with them, eat with them…? There are no lockers there for your pack, no locks on your bedroom door, and you have no idea who these people are…
Yet, you click a few buttons and type a few lines, swap a few e-mails and there you go – you’ve got somewhere to stay and the possibility of a great new friendship. What a foreign concept to me, what a great one at that! You push aside all those “stranger danger” and “online safety” alarm bells ringing in your head, after years of being taught that in school, from your parents, and through the media.

Couch surfing is built on trust. Trusting your instincts, and trusting others… Thinking of strangers as friends you just haven’t met yet… And I like the concept. A lot.
There are some not so nice people in the world, true, but I think there are a lot more, a LOT more good people out there. And I want to meet some of them.
We’ve already got some couch surfing opportunities lined up, and we hope they work out for the best…

I like how travel pushes people to trust, more so than they might usually. It’s a hard concept to get my head around, but I appreciate it.
We can’t wait to travel; we can’t wait for those dingy hostels and bumpy bus rides. We can’t wait for those people we are going to meet – where ever you are. We can’t wait for our new friends, and those couches we are going to sleep on.
We’re excited to experience travel, and life, and trust is simply part of it all.

So we’re going travelling with open hearts and big smiles, and we look forward to meeting you somewhere Asia!