First leg hiccups

Nothing serious! Just a couple of annoying little episodes that I’d have preferred to do without.

First things first though. It appears I have managed to bury the details of where we will be and when we will be there somewhere deep in the recesses of this blog, so I’ve added a link at the top of the page for easier access.

In my excitement, I set an alarm for Tuesday night at 9:29pm so I could check in for the Cape Town flight exactly 24 hours before take off. With BA, you have the opportunity to reserve your seat in advance if you have tier status with the Executive Club. Sadly, I lost those privileges a while ago when I stopped travelling internationally for work. You can still pay for seat selection in advance but an extra seventy quid just doesn’t seem worth it. Consequently, I wanted to get online as soon as check in opened to get decent seats for the 11 hour flight.

Bear in mind that I bought these tickets through BA in the first place, although the first and last flights are the only BA coded ones we have. I was unable to check in online and received the error message: “This booking has too many flights to check in online. Please check in at airport.” Hmmm. Never mind.

We got to the airport in good time for the flight, and were rewarded with Seats 18A and 18E. Disappointing not to be seated together, but they helpfully informed us that we should have checked in online, 24 hours in advance. Ishbel kept me calm and I explained in a controlled fashion that was exactly what we tried to do. Apparently, there was nothing to be done. The flight was completely full. Never mind.

The flight itself was very smooth and entirely uneventful, which is the most you can hope for in a flight. Big queues at South African immigration, but we were processed fairly efficiently and out into baggage reclaim. We picked up our bags from the carousel and Ishbel’s spangly dobro case from the outsize luggage desk. Onward to the Avis desk. If you find yourself at Cape Town airport headed for the car rental desks, take a trolley. It’s a fair old trek.

Easy drive into Cape Town itself and, since we were early for the AirBnB, we parked near the place and had a wander in town. We’re staying in Church St, and grabbed a drink at Greenmarket Square then went to the Slave Lodge Museum to be educated on the history of slavery on the Cape. By then, it was time to pick up the keys and get in to our AirBnB place.

One of the reasons for choosing this place was that parking was included. We went back and grabbed the car so we could drive into the secured parking under the building. By the time we got back, someone had managed to park a pick up truck in front of the entrance to the garage, and been clamped. We went round the block once more in the hope that it would be cleared up by the time we got back. What was happening when we got back was a vociferous argument between the pickup driver and the building’s security guard, which didn’t look like it was headed for a prompt resolution. As luck would have it, the car that arrived at the building immediately after us was driven by a lady who was part of the management committee. There was an alternative garage available and the security guard was able to point us to an unoccupied space there. At some point in the afternoon the situation must have reached some kind of conclusion as I was later able to move the hire car to the appropriate allocated space.

A little bit of excitement for Day 1, but nothing too traumatising. We relaxed in the flat a little, played our instruments then went for a relaxing dinner in Tiger’s Milk on Long Street.

We’re having an early night tonight and doing some planning for the rest of our stay here. We tried to get tickets for the early boat to Robben Island but for the next two days only later boats are available. Consequently, we’re leaving that until Sunday.

We’re spending a lot of time in the Southern Hemisphere on this journey so we’re going to see as many different types of penguin as we can, starting tomorrow.

And so it begins…

Tonight’s the night we finally set off on our travels after all of the preparation.  There are always last minute things to get done of course, made slightly more interesting by Mitsubishi choosing this as the day to drop not one, but two recall notices for our car through the door. Nothing we can do about it now so it’s just another task that falls to our son to take care of in our absence.

The suitcases are packed – one each – and both weigh in at just on 20kg, well within our allowable limit of 32kg. In the past, we’ve packed more for a two week holiday than we have for this eight month trip. It’s good to be more disciplined about what we’re carrying and it also means we won’t be buying much as we travel.

Apart from the suitcases, we have the instruments. My mandolin will go as hand luggage, but Ishbel’s dobro will probably need to go in the hold. That’s why she ordered the new case from the nice people at Chapman Cases. They have made a custom fitted case for her in a striking glitter green.


We won’t be mistaking that for anything else on the luggage carousel.

The only other things we’re carrying are a backpack for all of the camera equipment and other small electronics and a couple of carry on bags.

We’re due to fly at 9:30pm, but will be getting to the airport well in advance. Partly because of the unpredictability of the M25 in rush hour, and partly because we’ve got lounge access with the business class tickets, so why not.

This will be the last post in the UK. After today, reporting will be coming from the road.

The Planning Stage – Accommodation

Eight months is a long time to be away, so we need to manage the trip to some sort of budget. I’ve decided that a sensible cost would be an average of around £100 per night for accommodation, and around £50 per day for subsistence. In some places, the £100 per night is a fairly generous allowance while in others (I’m looking at you, Tokyo) it’s fairly tight.

AirBnB is very helpful in trying to hit the budget. This is our first experience using it, and it has been very straightforward. The problem is, when you know nothing about a city it takes a bit of advance research to decide which places are bargains and which are cheap because you don’t want to be in that part of town. Luckily, that’s the kind of research I enjoy. We’ll discover if I’m any good at it when we start staying at the places I’ve picked, or if I’m just suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

I’ve also been using Booking.Com to get deals on hotels where I think that’s a better option, For example, we have a side trip into China from Hong Kong and I decided we’d be better off in a hotel. This proved to be a good decision from the point of view of getting a (very expensive) Chinese visa.

So far, I have booked accommodation for the first 45 days of the trip, of which only 15 days are using AirBnB, but that’s partly because I was able to get good hotel accommodation in South Africa at a reasonable price. We are a little over budget for those 45 days, but that includes a 4 day safari in South Africa, and the Japanese costs.

I’m at the stage now where I don’t want to pre-plan too much more before we get on the road and start experiencing the places I’ve already chosen and learn some lessons from that.

Planning – Everything else

There have been so many things to consider in planning this trip that I keep worrying that I’ve forgotten something. This post is going to be therapeutic for me, because it will allow me to put down a checklist of everything I’ve done so far and hopefully allow me to relax a little once I see it.

So, flights are sorted. Accommodation is booked for the first month and a half. What else is there to consider?

Travel Insurance – I’ve always had annual travel insurance as a perk of a bank account, or credit card, or I’ve paid for it to cover holiday trips. I decided to read through the terms and conditions of my existing insurance(s) to see what would be covered for this trip. Nothing. Most standard travel insurance covers you for a maximum of 30 days outside the country. Some do 60 days. If you’re away for longer than that, it lapses. Obviously, we want to be insured as we travel, so we had to seek out specialist long term travel insurance. That’s when I discovered that there appears to be an entire industry dedicated to the Gap Year. For people our age, choices are much more limited. Luckily, I stumbled across Go Walkabout Insurance which was able to offer the insurance we needed at a reasonable price.

Travel Insurance (again) – One thing that Go Walkabout didn’t provide cover for was the musical instruments we intend lugging around the world: my mandolin and Ishbel’s dobro. We managed to get that from Allianz Musical Insurance and even got a discount thanks to our membership of the British Bluegrass Music Association.

Vaccinations – Cross referencing our itinerary against the advice in the NHS Fit for Travel website took a little time but once we had done that, and checked the results against our existing vaccination records, we found that Ishbel was all up to date, and I just needed a tetanus booster, which I was able to get done at a local Boots.

Money – A colleague at work (from when I worked) had recommended Revolut to me, so I signed up and I am so glad I did. I’ve been paying for a lot of accommodation and other things in local currencies, and the rate I’ve been getting from using Revolut for those payments, combined with the fact that they don’t charge a transaction fee, has saved me a fortune. I’ll be using Revolut a lot on my travels and topping it up from my UK bank account as I go. Ishbel now has a card too.

Visas – More cross referencing required here, using the UK Foreign Office’s website. It turns out that we needed electronic permissions to travel into Australia (free) and Canada (CAD 7.00). We needed a visa for China (£151 each!). For the USA, most UK visitors only need the electronic access form, the ESTA.  However, because the US Road Trip portion of our travels will have us in the US for more than 90 days, we would need visas. Luckily, I already had one, for reasons too complicated to go into, but Ishbel had to apply for hers, then attend the embassy for an interview. Luckily, they said yes!

Communications – This has been a difficult one. As we go on our merry way, we will sometimes be in countries in which our cellphone provider offers the opportunity to use our UK call, data and text allowance at no additional charge. And sometimes, we’ll be in countries where this is not the case. I tried to call them to talk about the situation we would be in but, of course, found myself in an infinite loop on their automated call system. I therefore used the online chat mode to try to get an answer to what would happen, since I had read the Terms and Conditions on their website and they talk about an undefined fair use policy which may result in our service being suspended if we abuse the facility.  In response to my query, the helper in the online chat mode basically copied and pasted the entire T&Cs (that I had just read) into the chat box. So, I’m just going to set off and see if they suspend us at some point. We’ll mostly be using WhatsApp anyway.

Advance Bookings – There are things we want to do that may sell out before we get there, or that you can only do from outside the country. For example, I just bought tickets for Merlefest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, (using Revolut) so we know where we need to be by April 25th next year. Also, the Japanese Rail Pass, which allows unlimited travel on Japanese trains for 7 days, must be bought before you get to Japan. And a big one: the car in the US for the Road Trip. A 3 month one way rental is not the easiest thing to put in place, but Avis stepped up and got me a reasonable deal.

Contingency Planning – Always hope for the best and plan for the worst. And besides, this is just a sensible thing to do when we get to our age. We’ve arranged to put in place Powers of Attorney for our two sons, just in case anything happens and they need to make decisions on our behalf. We’ve seen friends and family who, when the situation arose in their own lives, wished that they had planned ahead. It’s comforting to know this is there if required.

That’s what we’ve done so far. And I still feel anxious about missing something. There are still some things I want to get organised in advance, like diving lessons on the Great Barrier Reef, but I think that we have everything in place that will allow us to complete the trip.

The Planning Stage – Flights

Foolishly, I believed that after I had finished working my project planning days would be over. But travelling round the world is a major enterprise. Of course, the first thing that I launched into was planning the trip itself. That, after all, was always going to be the fun part.

I’ll be honest and admit that it was never my intention to rough it round the world. This isn’t going to be a late life gap year trip where we travel on budget airlines and sleep in backpackers’ hostels. I decided early on that business class was the way to go, if I could get it at the right price. The easiest way to achieve that was to look at the major airline alliances and decide which would be able to support the kind of itinerary we had in mind. In the end, we settled on the One World Alliance.

The conditions on a RTW ticket are very specific. You need to keep going in (roughly) the same direction: East-West or West-East. (North-South doesn’t seem to matter much.)  You need to cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans once each and once only. And you can only have 15 stops before returning to your start point. Even if you make your own way between two points – say land in Sydney and depart from Brisbane, that counts as one of your 15. Also, if there’s no direct flight and you have to make a change to get from A to B, that counts as 2 flights out of your 15.

These conditions don’t seem particularly onerous and leave plenty of scope for seeing a lot of the world, but we were surprised by how much it forced us to compromise on where and when we visited. The best way to maximise the 15 stop condition is to run the RTW planner side by side with the route map tool, so you can see whether your flight will be direct or require a stopover.

The planner allows you to save itineraries as you go. We ended up with five possible routes before finally settling on this one.