Wednesday, 4 July 2012


After 17th June 2012.

Jules, Hottie and Martin

From Harwich it was back to my original start point up at Mundesley, Norfolk, to be revived by Martin and Jules. This visit gave some symmetry to my voyage. It didn't seem that long ago that I left their front door on my way to catch the MS Tanzania at Felixtowe on the 25th January 2011.
As promised, and primarily for my own benefit if and when I go on further voyages, I aim here to lay out lists and tips for planning purposes. It might help others and I expect there are some areas of which I am still ignorant ( or just plain wrong ) and better solutions have already been identified. If so, I hope someone will advise me. Nothing like passing on information and recounting disasters to make people aware and avoid the same pitfalls. I usually try not to forget the six Ps; Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance, or major disasters anyway. Having said that, the only serious prior planning I did was sorting out my tedious domestic affairs before I left and booking each container ship passage about a couple of months ahead. Travelling on these ships requires early(ish) reservations, a medical certificate ( it inconveniences the crew to have to fill in all the paperwork for burials at sea or keep your body in cold storage which takes up valuable beer and food space ) and a bit of documentation done through agents. Other than that I planned everything else on the back of the proverbial 'fag packet' as I went along and never bothered with prior accommodation reservations. Even the 'Palace on Wheels' and the 'Hurtigruten Cruise' were booked only a few days before they left; and I got a discount for the last minute bookings! I was prepared to be entirely flexible. I also wanted to publish a final blog just so that I can title it 'THE END', because the first one, if I remember correctly, was entitled 'THE BEGINNING'. 
I will arrange and edit this as I go along, so initially, in no particular order, a few things which I benefitted from, or fell foul of. You will get it in instalments. Eventually. It will be amended periodically as I think of other things to add.
1. MONEY. The advice which I received from my UK bank ( Lloyds TSB Canary Wharf branch ) in preparation for a prolonged absence, with no fixed abode, during which I would require access to funds worldwide was, quite simply, non-existent through appalling to downright misleading. In my ignorance, and I was admittedly somewhat naive and in a hurry, they persuaded me to transfer money into one of their deposit accounts with a pathetic interest rate from which I could move funds to a current account and from which I could withdraw cash, when necessary, using a debit card. Also to take one of their credit cards, and sign up to some ( £6.99p per month ), useless as it turned out, fraud alerting scheme. They robbed me blind with a scandalous exchange rate, the credit card never worked for some reason and they even had the nerve to charge me £50 plus later penalties the following year for holding it without using it. All the debit card withdrawals abroad were subject not only to the foreign bank charges but also to a % charge by Lloyds. Lloyds TSB benefitted from me, and certainly not the other way around! Bandits.
I actually went ballistic about this just after leaving which I followed up with a vengeance on my return and, to avoid bloodshed in front of other customers and losing whatever little money I had left banked with them, they gave me a reasonable sum in compensation and paid me back all my ATM and other expenses. It pays to be utterly persistent and an unforgiving Mr Seriously Bloody Angry Basil Fawlty with these greedy blood-suckers and they will re-fund you, a bit, from their bottomless pit of filthy lucre. Although many of you will be much more financially astute than me, and there are no doubt many alternative ways of preparing one's finances efficiently, the basics that I would have changed prior to departure, and the few things I got right are:
  1. Open a deposit and current account with an international bank such as HSBC, CityBank or even ANZ. You will find branches of these in most parts of the world and if you have a financial hiccup they should be able to sort you out on the spot.
  2. Take one of those international cards onto which you can transfer amounts of money ( free ) and withdraw cash at ATM machines without charge.
  3. Get some advice from an independent source and not from a provincial UK bank!
  4. I used a MBNA credit card which proved fine. No annual charges and, as far as I am aware, gathered no fraudulent expenditure.
  5. I kept MBNA aware of where I was going and to be aware if any charges were made from other countries unexpectedly. I thought they were rather helpful.
  1. Point of Contact in UK. This is essential for peace of mind. I had a mate in UK who was willing and able to hold copies of various important documents on his computer so, should I lose any, or my computer, he could transmit copies to an internet cafe or anywhere else. He was also available to run any 'emergency' errands if necessary
  2. Insurance. I took out a year policy, the max they would do, for worldwide travel with a company called ‘Insure and Go’. It cost me about £500, but did not cover loss of any valuable items ( over £150 ). I regretted this when my expensive computer was irreparably damaged. I had to extend the period of cover for another six months from India and they were initially reluctant to do so. As it happened I had no need to use any of their insurance so didn’t put it to the test. 
  3. Copies of passport and visas. I had these as photocopies, documents on my computer and, if that all failed, copies with my ‘point of contact’ in UK.
  4. Passport photos. Hold a generous supply for visas and other things, like ship ID cards etc. Keep printable copies on computer. Saves searching in vain for a passport photo shop in Bongobahatmingtung, or wherever
  5. Codes, PINs, passwords. Needed to access numerous accounts and computer services. I kept several copies of personally encrypted, and to any potential thief incomprehensible, passwords etc. One in each bag. 
  6. UK mail. Royal Mail redirection to my UK point of contact ( POC ).
  7. Contact telephone nos. Again, important contact numbers for banks, services, insurance, and anything else you can think of, to be kept on paper and computer, encoded if necessary. The one thing I was always aware of was someone nicking any bags or documents I carried and then be able to access my confidential details.
  8. Notebook and diary. I found both invaluable. Like any good army officer, I carried a small pocket notebook and pencil wherever I went. Often came in useful.
  9. UK plastic driving licence. This is, of course, necessary should you wish to hire a car. I was never asked for the paper bit. I only used a car once, in Tasmania. The UK plastic licence, once you had carefully superimposed an ‘official’ badge on it ie EU stars, UN logo, Armed Forces etc, then photocopied and laminated the result was good enough to fool some foreign countries ( one in particular which you can probably guess ) into giving you a hotel or tour discount. I even had one headed with Alcoholics Anonymous which I never did find a use for.
  1. Dummy wallet. I always carried a cheap soft wallet containing a selection of out of date credit/debit cards, my Dennis the Menace Fan Club membership card and a small amount of local currency. This was to be deployed should some bandido come up and wave a gun or knife at me and demand my money or my life. They never did. My real cards and money were carefully zipped up or left elsewhere. In fact this wallet was one of only three things that I lost on the entire journey; it was pickpocketed, from an open pocket, by Romanian brats in Oslo central station I think. I had got complacent and had rather forgotten about it by then. The only other things I lost were my Alcatraz baseball cap which I left on the bus on arrival at Guadelajara, and my Burmese walking stick which I left on a train in Hanoi.
  2. Storage of valuables. When travelling I kept valuable docs ( ie passport, tickets and wallet with cash and cards ) in strong zip pockets inside my jacket. Second most valuable things ( ie computer, camera, rat ) I kept in my small backpack which never left my sight. Of course I never kept back-ups in the same case as the originals. I never left valuables in hotel room safes which can be accessed by dishonest staff who know the emergency opening codes ( often 0000 with a # or * ) Where else would they look to find valuables? I hid them somewhere in a lock up suitcase. I only took the minimum needed when out on the wander ( plus my dummy wallet of course ).
  3. Cases. Initially my main bag was a very nice large zip-up model with towing handle and wheels. It was fine but I soon learnt that zips on unattended baggage are very vulnerable, even if padlocked. You just stick a pointed object ( like a biro ) through the zip and it breaks open. Someone did this to my bag on the rare flight I took between Panama and Lima. They also broke open a small padlock. Nothing was stolen, but it had been opened. I got it repaired ( something you can do in Lima ). When I got to Singapore I replaced it with a bright red hard lock-up suitcase which, although heavier, had good wheels and was much more secure and user friendly. I also put a garish purple coloured lock-strap around it both for added security and easy recognition. You could sit on it apart from anything else. I also carried a small trolley bag ( blue with pink spots ), and a very small backpack. By the way, get bags of weird bright colours. Black or grey bags are so common that people often mistake theirs for yours or vice-versa. A thief would be reluctant to run off with a blue pink spotted model as much to preserve his macho image as for the fact that it would be instantly recognisable.
  4. Check lists. I always ran through a check list of valuable items before leaving any location; room, train, cabin...anywhere. It became second nature ( pilot training and previous habit probably helped ). I used a mnemonic to remember this list. In my case it covered watch, wallet, specs, passport, papers ( tickets ), camera, computer, pen, keys, hat. Make your own up of course.
  5. Stay sober. Of course I don’t mean stay sober all the time! I just mean stay sober when you are packing or on the move or wandering around down-town. As  I think I have already pointed out somewhere, 90% of travelling mishaps of whatever nature occur to people when they are pissed. It is almost stating the bleedin’ obvious, but bears repeating because it seems to go on happening to the stupid and ignorant . Thems what overindulge almost deserve to be robbed, lose things, miss deadlines, fall off balconies, drown, get into fights, get run-over, get beaten up, get lost, get ripped off and the list goes on.
  6. Avoid dodgy areas. It is not difficult to realise when you are somewhere dodgy ( unless, of course, you are pissed ). Every country/city/town has them including, to a greater extent than many, London and all big American cities. Enough said.
  7. Taxis. Another subject dear to my heart. Once you are in a taxi you are at the mercy of the driver. BEWARE, especially in 3rd world countries where dangers range from just being ripped-off to being abducted and robbed or even robbed and murdered. Always order taxis from a reliable source.
  8. Documents. As mentioned, you need to carry sensitive details such as passwords and codes for financial and personal information. Just make sure they are kept secure and suitably encrypted and make sure you would not be embarrassed if any bag or computer was stolen.

  1. Computer. I am ignorant about computers. I took a small and expensive one. I should have taken a small and cheap one. However 'tough and rugged' the smooth-patter salesman says they are, they are all wrecked by just a splash of liquid in the wrong place. I also learnt ( after mine was destroyed by liquid ) that you can buy keyboard protection 'skins' which protect effectively against liquid spills. It begs the question 'why don't they sell these computers with protection against spills in the first place?' Because they want you to wreck your computer so you have to buy a new one, that's why! Bandits again. I expect everyone reading this will be more computer savvy than me. I expect everyone is aware of carrying, in a seperate bag, a hard-drive back-up.
  2. Camera. I used a small Lumix/Panasonic job which fittted into my pocket and which produced decent enough photos. I saw some tourists carrying enormous lumps of photographic equipment. Some looked as if it needed wheels. They must have been knackered just carrying it around, not to mention the expense and chance of it getting damaged or stolen. I mean, unless you are doing a professional job for National Geographic or similar, you just need something that takes decent snaps with which to bore your friends and family when you get home. I kept a back up of my photos on a memory stick as well as on my computer.
  3. Kindle. ( or any electronic book I suppose ). Invaluable. I think I read more books ( of the trashiest kind I hasten to add ) during this journey than in the whole of the rest of my life put together. Electronic books are marvellous for story books, but not good for guide books ( ie Lonely Planet and of that ilk ), because with these you need to be able to flick back and forth and make notes and jottings. 
  4. Alarm clock. Useful. You can also use your mobile phone, but a cheap plastic alarm clock by the bed or bunk I found more user friendly and effective ‘cos you can see the time when you wake up.
  5. Ziplock plastic bags. Incredibly useful. They cost bugger-all and I bought about 20 of these in America and they served me for the rest of the trip to store items such as electic adaptors, chargers, pens, memory sticks and a multitude of other little things which otherwise would have got tangled up or lost.
  6. Mobile phone. Actually, I never used one, except in Vietnam where I had my old basic Nokia model and which worked perfectly, and cheaply ( 2p per minute ), after not having been there for 18 months ( in UK they pack up after 6 months and cost the earth on a pay-as-you-go system ) and also sometimes as a back-up alarm clock. I don’t have one of those ‘smart-phones’ or ‘i-phones’ or anything like it. It is just another expensive small item to lose or get stolen, and anyway I think you have to buy new ‘sim’ cards for them when you change country. Not sure about that. I found the ‘Skype’ service on my PC, and I had a small credit account to enable ringing landlines worldwide, incredibly efficient, user friendly and, above all, even when skyping long distance on phone links, incredibly cheap. Most calls to mobiles or land-lines were only about 2p a minute, or less. A £10 credit lasted me a couple of months on average. I am a Skype fan now. I will use Skype in favour of any other rip-off communication system when back in Blighty.
  7. Calculator. OK, I know these calculator facilities are on all computers and smart-phones etc., but I found carrying a basic cheap little pocket calculator useful. You can whip ‘em out quickly to check how much you are being diddled at money changing facilities without having to fiddle through the programs on an expensive ‘clever’ device.
  8. Adaptors and charging units. I kept these separated in ziplock plastic bags, in a larger bag in my suitcase. In fact I gathered a considerable quantity of them. It was probably the heaviest collection of gizmos that I carried. I didn’t realise that so many countries in the world had their own separate electric plug systems, and I found I had chargers for so many things ( PC, camera battery, Kindle, mobile phones, even my electric toothbrush! ). Perhaps I should have discarded some, but I didn’t. I still have Peruvian adaptors which, as far as I can see, are not useful anywhere else. But they might have been; who knows.
  9. Tools and maintenance. Leatherman ‘multi-tool’, bottle opener, corkscrew, knife/fork/spoon ( KFS ), scissors, heavy duty adhesive tape, selection of padlocks, super-glue, roll of string, Stanley knife, large 18” long hefty spanner which I kept to hit things with and, if in doubtful company ( taxis in Mexico ), as a handy close-quarter weapon. Not needed as such, thankfully.    
  1. Sleeveless jacket.The most useful item of clothing, by far, for me was a lightweight sleeveless jacket. I had a couple of these. To get a good one is like finding ‘rocking-horse droppings’. I don’t mean a stupid fancy looking ‘fisherman’s’ thing with thousands of pockets, rings to hang things from and patches, I mean a simple, unostentatious, light, tough, comfortable jacket with four outer pockets and, importantly, two large zip-up inner pockets for wallet and documents ( such as passport ) when travelling. This light jacket can be worn under heavier cold-weather clothing if necessary. It is surprising how rare quality garments of this type are. I think I will design a suitable product when I have the time.
  2. Cold weather kit. I carried with me all the way my cold weather kit i.e. quality North Face jacket, gloves, woolly hat, thick socks, heavy sweater etc. I used them on MS Tanzania, in northern USA, Canada, south island of New Zealand, Mongolia, Siberia, Norway. So for the greater part of the journey they were just bulky heavy baggage. Maybe it would have been more efficient to have bought cheap warm stuff when I needed it and chucked it afterwards. I hate throwing stuff away. Why else would I find a model of the Statue of Liberty, packs of awful CDs, a large atlas, German dictionary, book of magic tricks, a large plastic bottle of Sri Lankan herbal tonic, maps and travel guides from most of the places I visited, three Indian race-cards, 5 hats which I never wore, a fistful of fridge magnets and goodness knows what else in my suitcase on unpacking in London. No wonder my suitcase weighed a ton. On the positive side, it made it more difficult for a thief to run off with it.
  3. Perhaps the real message regarding clothes is not to pack too many and buy and discard as you go. I only ever had one pair of shoes at a time ( I got through 4 pairs ); ones that were sturdy and comfortable to walk longish distances in. 

6. GUIDE BOOKS I used a selection, and they are rather essential if you don’t want to waste a lot of time and to make the most of your visits. The most consistent was Lonely Planet which was particulary reliable for info on accomodation and gave a good selection of different price ranges. I never pre-booked hotels and by avoiding, by accident, the busy tourist periods, never had a problem in finding a room; until I got to Denmark. Rough Guide is much more oriented just towards the back-packer. I remember using a Fodors and Frommers in Central America and Australia respectively. They were excellent too, especially the Fodors for Central America.  I could only find a Michelin one in St Petersburg ( the others had sold out ) for the Nordic countries and which was absolutely useless in comparison. Sometimes I just had to take what I could find. They were all pretty expensive and I had to leave them behind at a grateful hostelry or with someone I met when I left the country. It is possible to download them from a computer or onto Kindle, but I reckon it is necessary to be able to thumb through them, sometimes on the street, and make notes in them. The LP guides tended to have excellent city maps. Even so, they are not foolproof and contained several inaccuracies.

7. PHRASE BOOKS.  What a joke they are! The problem with most of them is that you should not need to speak a language you can't understand in ‘phrases’, and it is even counterproductive when trying to do so. If you do actually manage to make yourself understood ( unlikely ) to a Chinaman in Mandarin asking something like “Which is the best way to Tiananmen Square”, the answer he gives you will be entirely unintelligible unless you speak fluent Mandarin which rather defeats the idea of having a phrase book in the first place. They also have loads of utterly unneccessary rubbish in them along the lines of “stop the coach, the postillion has been hit by lightening” or “I think you dance very well”. They might as well add things like “...and you don’t sweat much for a fat lass”.....I mean, what a load of cobblers. I remember a phrase in a Welsh language phrase book; "Can you tell me where I can get coverage for my mobile phone?". Can you conceive of any Welshman out in the hills or valleys of Wales who doesn't speak English but who would have intimate knowledge of mobile phone coverage? Ridiculous! These books just look nice and sell at biggish prices to the gullible and are, on the whole, useless. What you need is a small pamphlet, or even a single sheet of paper, with key words on it. You know like “stop”, “yes”, “no”, "arrive", “go”, “when”, “bugger off” etc. etc. plus numerals, days of the week, months, and other essentials, even pictures, for use in extremis. I have discovered just the thing; slim ‘pocket dictionaries’ published by Periplus ( ), or what used to be Tuttle Publishing. They slip easily into a pocket, are so simple and basic to use and have all the words you will need at a glance both from English to Language and vice-versa. I have had many an interesting conversation with foreigners using these by passing the little volume back and forth between us. I remember nearly buying an elephant by mistake using this method. I think major UK bookshops have them or can order them. I got a couple over the internet. In fact the only countries where I had even remote difficulty with locals ( of the tourist orientated variety ) not speaking enough English to get by were bits of China ( I was impressed by how much English was spoken in Peking and the proliferation of signs in English thanks, I suppose, to the 2008 Olympics ), Mongolia, Russia and parts of Central America. Outside the hotels, Russia was perhaps the most awkward.

  1. Innoculations. I got the minimum essential jabs before I left. I was told that some innoculations can even have bad side effects. Someone mentioned Hepatitis B and Japanese Encephalytis ( forgive spelling ) in this light. I am not a medical expert of course, but I don’t like the idea of pumping my body full of chemicals which are not absolutely necessary. I think I had Hepatitis A and Tetanus/Typhoid jabs. I most certainly never took any anti-malarial stuff. It really isn’t necessary unless you are off to live in the jungle. I remember being compelled to take some ghastly green pills ( anti-malaria ) called Doxycyclin for a period of 8 months when working in Cambodia. They made me feel quite ill, and had worse and quite long lasting effects on some others. Of course Americans are persuaded, using fear tactics and concerted advertising by pharmaceutical companies, to buy every vaccine, pill and prophylactic known to mankind. I remember one couple on the Palace on Wheels train who proudly showed me a whole suitcase full of drugs which they humped around with them. It was one of their main topics of conversation ( yawn yawn ). They have probably both died from an overdose of something by now. So, regarding pills and potions; get real. I reckon judicious infusions of whisky, gin, beer and wine get rid of most bugs. In any event I didn’t suffer from anything as far as I can remember! The fewer pills you take the better in my humble opinion.
  2. Medical treatment. The only treatment I required was in Adelaide, Oz, after my arm swelled up after being attacked on the Ghan train by bed bugs. The Aussie medical system even provided me with some sort of repayment and medical ‘card’ for treatment by an excellent ( British ) doc in a local clinic. I knew the treatment you would receive in most places, especially Costa Rica, Panama, Singapore, Thailand ( they all specialise in treating foreigners as well as their own ) would be excellent. I had to get medicals to travel on the container ships ( they don't want to risk the bureaucracy of burials at sea ) and found remarkably smart, efficient, pleasant and inexpensive clinics to do this in Costa Rica, Panama, Lima. Russell ( NZ ) and Adelaide. There is nothing in these places like the squalor and mayhem that exists in many of the medical establishments in UK.
  3. Documents. Of course I had insurance to cover any serious medical treatment and repatriation which thankfully was not needed. I remembered to keep the little insurance plastic card with me. I also carried the European Health Insurance card ( EHIC ) issued in UK before I left. I gather that this is also valid in Russia. It gets you free/cheap treatment in the participating countries.
  4. Medical kit. I carried lots of seasick preventions; elastic things to go around my wrists and pills. I used them initially because I was not at all keen, paranoid perhaps, about getting seasick ( I had a very bad experience many years ago on a smart yacht in the Med after a delicious lunch; an experience which put me off boats for life ). As it happened I never did get sick even when I stopped taking these pills soon after leaving UK. I didn’t even bother when the sea was pretty rough on the ferry between N & S islands in New Zealand. I must have become immune. I carried immodium for tummy upsets which I didn't get, and some stuff to clear yourself of lice or fleas if unlucky enough to become infested. Apart from the bed bugs on the Ghan I didn’t get any other things crawling over me and sucking my blood. Or if they did I didn’t notice.


     a. Always give yourself plenty of time.
     b. Don't trust anyone who offers unsolicited services or goods.

     c. Get references and advice from an impartial source.

     d  Don't believe anyone who gives advice who hasn't been there and done it themself, recently.

     e. Is it safe or good? Use your instinct and if in doubt, don't.

     f. You lose money on exchange rates. Avoid unnecessarily converting currencies.

     g. In Oz and NZ join their YHA hostels association.

     h. If you 'have' it, carry ID for forces, UN, government agencies in USA. Hotel discounts follow.

     j. Ask for local advice on tipping and DON'T if the locals don't, except in USA where it is compulsory .        at 15 - 20% !!

     k. Have a check list for kit.