Practical Beginnings

I promised you a series of practical blog entries, and a series is what you’re getting. You can read the first one here.

So here’s some advice on going travelling for the year:
1. Don’t be poor
2. Don’t not be rich

I’ve said it before, but citing travel as an indispensable part of the meaning of life is just flat out elitist. If it’s something you can even contemplate affording to do, you’re lucky.

Travel costs money. If you really work hard, embrace a certain lifestyle, and get lucky, it can eventually cost not much money. For example, if you spend your whole time working for accommodation and food, hitch-hike whenever you want to travel, eschew socialising that costs money, and get random friends to cut your hair, then you can essentially live for free – for a few months at least. But the thing that we maybe tend to forget is that starting costs money.

Deciding to go travelling is an expensive endeavour. You have to buy things. In the spirit of trying to give practical advice, let’s look at some of the big-ticket expenses I incurred in coming to New Zealand.

One-way ticket from Heathrow to Hong Kong; one-way ticket from Hong Kong to Auckland
Price: £700

Well this is an obvious one. Gotta have a plane ticket, and it’s going to be the most expensive thing you buy. Use Skyscanner to get the price down as much as possible, and be prepared to have long or multiple layovers if you want to fly cheap. Bear in mind that this price was just one-way for me: I didn’t buy a return ticket. But it’s inflated by the fact that I wanted to stop off in Hong Kong for a week along the way.

By the way, if the cheapest flight is Malaysian Airlines, then you fly with Malaysian Airlines. Don’t give me any of this superstitious paranoia.

One year New Zealand working visa
Price: £80

No way around this one either. A working visa will cost you money. It varies from country to country, but as a general rule, prices seem to rise a lot faster than inflation.

Travel Insurance
One year, worldwide (excl. USA/Canada)
Price: £200

Another essential. Seriously, don’t be an idiot and travel without insurance, it’s not worth it.

The cost of my travel insurance was raised by two things. The first was that I didn’t constrain it to one country. Restricting it to New Zealand would have made it considerably cheaper, but I already knew I was going to Hong Kong, and suspected I might travel to other countries too, which required a broader package.

The second problem – and this is actually some useful advice I’m dispensing here – is that almost all insurance companies require you to have a return flight for your travel insurance to be valid. It is incredibly easy to accidentally buy a policy that is technically invalid if you don’t have a return flight booked. You can take the risk, and not check the small print, but it means that your insurance company has an easy get out if they don’t fancy stumping up when you make a claim. There are only a handful of providers that will insure you without a return flight: I went with Go Walkabout. I haven’t had to make a claim yet, so I can’t tell you whether they’re any good, but they do at least respond to emails.

Passport Renewal
Ten yearly passport update
Price: £75

£75! £75 to renew your damn passport! And here I thought it was essentially a human right to be allowed to travel. Anyway, no-one’s going to give you a one-year visa if your passport is due to expire during that year, so you won’t even be able to apply for one until you make sure your passport is up-to-date.

Canon PowerShot SX280 HS
Price: £150

You can’t really visit a country like New Zealand without a camera. And I don’t mean the one on your phone. Back in the UK, I own a DSLR, along with both a macro and a telephoto lens, not to mention a tripod. It was a tricky decision to leave it all behind and buy a simple point-and-click, but it was definitely the right one. As much as there have been times when I wish I’d had my ‘proper’ camera with me, I’m fairly sure I would have lost or broken it within about a month of lugging it around in a backpack. Plus, I’d have had to take all my photos while naked, because there sure as hell wouldn’t have been room for any clothing once I’d packed all my camera equipment. (Full disclosure: I didn’t buy this. It was an early birthday present from my parents. Thanks mum and dad.)

Um, I don’t actually know what backpack I have
Price: Free!

Don’t skimp on your backpack. Get a good one, and get a big one. Sure, having an 80-100 litre backpack may seem excessive, but otherwise you just end up with loads of additional stuff strapped to your chest or the outside of your bag. Far better just to have the one. Also, if it’s not waterproof, buy a waterproof cover. You can get them cheap on the Internet, and the last thing you want is to have every single one of your earthly possessions saturated with rain.

Oh, it was free for me, because my excellent friend Alex gave me her husband’s old backpack. Thanks Alex and James – you should know that the James Beer name tag is still in place should you want it back at the end of the year!

Sleeping Bag
Vango Ultralite 350
Price: £50

This is a tricky one. You’re almost certainly going to need a sleeping bag at some point, but you won’t need it for any hostels or any time that you’re working for accommodation, so arguably you can get away with not buying one, and just try and borrow/rent one when you need it. Even though mine is small, it still takes up a fair amount of space, and I’ve hardly used it, except for the entire month of February when I was camping, and a few nights when I’ve slept in airports and cars.

That said, it’s good to have as a contingency. If you’re going to buy one in advance, there are three factors you have to balance: cost, size, quality. For once, I would say compromise on cost before either of the other two. There’s no point getting a cheap, small sleeping bag that doesn’t keep you warm, and a cheap, good quality sleeping bag that doesn’t fit in your backpack is similarly useless. Think about what conditions you’re going to be using it in as well. My sleeping bag is only two seasons, which was fine for camping in the summer, but would make it trickier for me to start sleeping under the stars now…

Price: £30

If you like reading – and there will be plenty of times during the year when you’re going to want a good book – then this is a much better solution than trying to carry actual sheafs of paper around with you. I just went for a cheap, basic one, but it might be worth spending a bit more to get one with a backlight, so that you can read in your tent at night.

I would definitely say this was a good purchase, but I didn’t get much use out of it, because it got killed in Invercargill by a car glove compartment.

Hiking Shoes
Oh, I can’t be bothered to look at the make of my hiking shoes, they’re just hiking shoes
Price: £35

This is pretty obvious. Get a proper pair that are durable and comfortable. If you’re like me, and you couldn’t give a rat’s bum about what you’re wearing on your feet, then you can double up and wear these all the time. That way, you don’t have to pack a separate pair of trainers. I wore my hiking shoes every single day between leaving the UK on 21st September and the first day I had to work in an office on 18th May. That’s 239 days in a row.

(OK, if I really think about it, there were probably a few camping days when I just wore sandals, a few Nelson hostel days when I just wore socks, and a few zoo days when I just wore gumboots. But my point still stands.)

Work for Accommodation Membership
One year membership of WWOOF NZ
Price: £20

I talk more about this here and here. Definitely worth it.

Health check-ups
UK doctor and dentist appointments
Price: £50

Healthcare isn’t free in New Zealand, and the last thing you want to do is arrive and immediately discover a smorgasbord of medical issues. Insurance only gets you so far. Better to have a check-up with your GP (free) and with your dentist (£50 once they decide you need a filling) before you leave the UK.

I’ve had to visit a doctor once in New Zealand so far and it cost me $85 (~£40) for them to tell me I have ringworm. So, y’know, don’t take the NHS for granted.

On a final note, although it costs a lot to get yourself set up in a country, it’s surprisingly easy (and cheap) to leave. One always considers that there must be a lot of paperwork involved in not being in the UK for a year, but actually hardly anyone cares. You can tell your bank that you’re leaving so that they don’t cancel your card when you try to use it overseas, but they just shrug and suggest they’ll cancel it anyway. Really the only organisation you need to keep informed is the bloody Student Loans Company because, soulless vultures that they are, they’ll feast upon the dried-out remains of your bank account the second they can’t track your income, unless you prove to them that you’ve buggered off travelling. Which reminds me, they’re about to try and steal my money again. I should probably do something about that.


2 thoughts on “Practical Beginnings

  1. So true Jonathan, I love how you write. I definitly need to remember all those funny expressions you use!
    When are you leaving New Zealand?
    I do really miss travelling, but I will start studying in Cologne now so if you want to go on travelling-just come around 🙂

    Hope to see you again,

    Pia (with greetings from Maria)


  2. Pingback: Practical Packing | Fof's Off

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