There was a considerable amount of planning that went into this trip. Overland trips typically require a lot of planning, and this one especially so because:
- I was really trying to go quite quickly, cover a lot of distance and had to be in certain locations at certain times e.g. a course in India, conference in Australia.
- Some of the key links and trains don’t go regularly e.g. Istanbul to Tehran, Taftan to Quetta.
- Some of the countries have difficult to get Visas, and you can’t get them at the border. Iran is the most awkward.
- Some of the areas are not that well-documented in terms of other traveller’s experiences or how to travel overland/sea e.g. Iran-Pakistan, Singapore-Indonesia, Indonesia-Australia
- I was trying to spend as much time sleeping on transport as possible, and succeeded (at least a third of my nights were on trains, ferries, buses).
If you are planning a similar trip, below is a list of tips. You can also contact me if you want copies of some of the Excel templates I used for planning my itenerary and currency conversions, or if you want to ask advice about different locations or modes of transport.
- Buy, read and use the Lonely Planet or other guidebooks, and Seat61.
- I bought particular chapters from the web in electronic downloadable pdfs and kept them on my laptop and even navigated using maps on an old PDA I had with me.
- They really are amazing documents, and will save you lots of time and money, especially on your first taxi ride / bus trip / day in a new country or city. Or, in the case of Iran, being totally stranded because you didn’t know there are NO ATMs in Iran and you must bring all your cash in with you.
- I bought many of these and was using them over 6 months before I left the UK.
- Really read the weather section carefully. A couple of hundred kilometres can make a big difference to the weather, esp. if you are in the mountains.
- Seat61 is absolute fantastic, even if you are not travelling by train.
- If you have a computer with you (as many wealthy travelers now do), use excel/openoffice to plan your itenerary.If you don’t have a computer, still use excel/openoffice but just upload to googledocs so it is online wherever you are.
- If things change you can easily see how that flows through to the rest of your trips.
- I had to re-schedule things several times and it was really complex when trying to figure out what that meant for three countries/weeks later. I really don’t think you could do this on paper…although (random idea) maybe you could with lots of little index cards that you shuffle and re-arrange?
- Also use excel/openoffice to do a budget. It is relatively easy to make a guess at how much it will cost per day in different countries, and for different legs of travel. It is very, very easy to not budget, think that everything is a bargain and needlessly spend twice as much as you need to.
- Identify different visa requirements then plan and prioritise how you get them all. I was travelling within Europe for work etc. prior to leaving the UK, and needed my passport to travel. So I planned out the exact dates I needed to get my passport to different consulates depending on expected time they would need it, how early I could get it etc.
- Some visas you can’t get too early (e.g. more than 3 months) or they will expire by the time you get there.
- Start trying to get your Iranian Visa early! For various reasons, none of which were my fault, this took months to sort out, is a very mysterious process, and has caused many frustrations for others. Also note the Iranian consulate in London has very little English (at location, and none on the web) no phone number, and opening hours that you can only find out by visiting (late morning is a good time).
- Visa conditions can change fast, but be prepared for the worst. e.g. China was far easier than I expected, but I am glad I was prepared.
- Do frequently check and keep up to date with currency exchange rates.
- It saved me a lot of money to be able to haggle with confidence, even in the desert on the Pakistani-Iranian border where the exchange office is some old guys in the sand with plastic shopping bags of money in their laps and guns in their pockets.
- Many of these currencies are such that you encounter are denominations of hundreds of thousands and millions. Knowing where the deminal point is and the first 6 or 7 numbers in the exchange rate matters.
- Where and when you get what currency can also make a big difference to the rate you get…or if you are going to get stuck somewhere with a whole pile of money that no-one wants, and none that they do want.
- Check out as much as you can online before you go. Especially the details of how you get from landing in a new city to the hostel etc. This is where you can spend a lot of money, but if you know the local bus timetable or just that it goes you can save you a lot.