“As far as I’m concerned, it’s still Saturday.”

Day O – March 18

Last night at about 2 o’clock I was finally done packing. I skipped some of the things I wanted done before leaving along the way, and tried to be super picky about which clothes to actually bring, but still ended up with too many. That’s ok though since the total still weighs no more than 13 kilos.
And since then I’ve been feeling this strange calm I haven’t felt in weeks. I’m ready for the 6th and most intense move this year.
So. Time to go to Asia!

My parents and two of my closest friends show me off at the airport. The goodbye is a quick hug in a line that is already closing in behind us, whereafter I leave them on the other side of the fence.
It’s getting late, so I make a dramatic run to arrive a tat late at my gate. Turns out the plane came in late itself, so now I’m sitting here waiting anyway. Ah well, at least I got a little run today. The last in an every-other-day series where I got to 7k in 30 min, that’ll slack over these next few months I fear.
Once boarded I have to hand it to them; Emirates is very fancy! 200 movies to pick from, a nose cam with a pretty cool view and as many complementary drinks as you can drain. Even the food is very good, for a plane. And I’ve got my own private lane.
So, this is it. Here I go, all by myself.
We’re hardly on altitude before I remember the first thing I forgot.
1) some tape to scrapbook with – I know; lame!
2) the doorstop dad promised to get me last night right after dinner, but then forgot about again.

Next movie: Drive. And a first wave of homesickness washes over me. This is currently the favorite movie of the guy I’ve been fooling around with these past weeks. What started out as a one-time incident, happened again and again, then turned into a no-strings-no-feelings regular and ended in –thank you Mark Zuckenburg- a complicated relationship. However, we said no-strings still applies and we’ll see what feelings will be like when I get back.
Again, but much stronger this time, am I caught by the thought “What the hell am I doing? Why am I doing this? Why now? Really?” Only a few hours in, only just on the road, with still no freaking idea of what I’m about to get myself into… Yet at the same time I realize I’ll be back on this very plane 11 weeks from now and it will feel like it was just 11 days ago and much too short.

It’s funny how such a short day can feel so natural, may it be with a little help of the wine; 3 hours later it’s pitch-black outside and local time at current position is 11pm. My watch tells me it’s not even dinnertime yet, but I could go for a nap.

We touch down on Dubai at midnight where it’s 20°.
First thing I do is go into the tax-free to get some tobaccos. My regular, Luckies, are expensive -130 local units- so I buy a carton of Gauloises for 42 dirham. Comes down to €9,15. Then off to find the smoking area, that should be on the other side of the terminal, about a mile away.
This place is HUGE!
I find a crowded room, white with smoke. Luckily a few doors down there is a so called pub, also crowded but with AC so you can actually see and breathe, and I find a seat. I ask the person whose table it is if I can sit down and thereby start my first conversation with a stranger. He responds with “Sure, then can I have a cigarette?” He is a 65-year-old Swiss telecom manager, who was here to set up a system in a small town in Saudi Arabia. He has to leave for boarding before he can tell me much more of the 15 years of travelling he’s been doing after a career as a snowboarder, and about his latest hobby: skydiving.
I order a glass of wine and am shocked when presented with the bill. Alcohol is prohibited in this Muslim country, and it is sold only on the airport, in maybe 3 places, at about 10 bucks per glass. I’ve had 3 of those little bottles on the plane already so I start to feel slightly tipsy. A sudden rush of loneliness comes up and I long for my iPhone, a facebook-chat or any way of contact with my people back home. None of that is around however. I’m here on my own, setting out on an awesome adventure with no other to keep me company than my backpack, and I’m going to love it. I still have to tell myself this in a convincing manner, though.
Another hour until boarding the double-decker airbus to Bangkok, so I’ll have another smoke as the second stranger boards this table’s empty seat; an elder British lady who’d been visiting a friend in Africa.

Again I come in a little late but boarded just fine. I was late this time because I got to talking in the pub with a South-African fellow – born to Dutch parents, the Van Barendrechts, but didn’t speak a word of Dutch. He bought me another glass of wine just so he wouldn’t have to drink alone. He told me that next time I should spend a day in Dubai; it’s worth it, and assured me again I’m about to have the time of my life.
These 3 encounters ensured me once again I have nothing to worry about meeting new people, chatting to strangers. I’ve lost my shy years ago and have been a very outgoing person since, but still I’m in a situation I’ve never been in before, and have a lot of new impressions to take in, to find a way of dealing with.
Also I’m proud to have already gotten “You don’t sound Dutch at all,” twice. I hate that double-Dutch accent.
At 2am I wake up to the smell of food; not as good this time but still a nice, warm breakfast at local time to current position: 8am. As the sun rises over what must be the Himalayas, we fly into a new daytime. Time to destination: 4hrs.
So far I’ve slept less than 2 hours so I shut my blinder to all that beauty and try to catch some more, dreaming of what it will be like, 11 weeks from now, passing through the gate back at Schiphol.
3) a set of playing cards.

Counting days

14 days prior to departure – March 14

So, 2 more weeks until I leave.

Yesterday I saw A Map For Saturday by Brook Silva-Braga, a documentary by a guy who quit his job as a TV-producer to travel for a year. I’d like to quote a little something from it:

“It isn’t really like a vacation where you’re racing to as many museums or as many beaches as you can. It feels more like a weekend. You didn’t have to go to work today and you don’t have to go tomorrow, so you stay out late again, sleep in the next morning and realize when you finally do wake up, as far as you’re concerned, it’s still Saturday. (…) Every day, someone is starting their eternal Saturday and someone is ending it. (…) I watch them get comfortable in a hostel room, watch them step out of the week I’ve returned to and settle into their Saturday and smile as they realize what’s ahead.”

While it scares me a bit, I feel at the same time like my trip is going to be way too short and this lifestyle is exactly the kind I’ve always aspired.
When I lived in France for half a year I realized I’m more bound to everyone and everything I have back home, than I always thought I was. The first 3 months were great. But after that, once most of my colleagues had left, I felt so lonely so often and I missed home so much. And now, seeing my friends again feels so good. But maybe my leaving again in 2 weeks strengthens that feeling.
Then again, backpacking is nothing like having a fulltime job and an apartment to spend lonely nights in.

People keep telling me it’s such a brave thing I’m doing; leaving all on my own. I feel a resentment when they say that; anyone can do it!
Then, sometimes, I do get scared now, for how I’m going to be lonely out there. But I know I will have no trouble making new friends. And I do get scared for having to figure out everything on my own in a very different culture. But certainly many have done it before me and paved a road I can surely walk on. And I do get scared of becoming a victim of robbery or whatever the hell might happen to me this time; I’ve proven to be quite a bad luck-magnet – in Lyon alone I was robbed 3 times, I’ll tell you about that some other time. But if you’re too scared of that, you just shouldn’t go, or stop living altogether; those things can happen anywhere.
It’s true that I live in a very secure surrounding with my sweet friends always around to guard me, but I’ll just have to be careful and learn to do the guarding myself.
And still I do get scared of how much I have left to do before I can leave. But I’ll figure it out, it will be fine. It just has to.
Other than that, I can’t wait!

Visa and vaccination factuals

28 days prior to departure – February 20

With just one month to go by the time I finally made the cut and booked, I got the heebie-jeebies last night, trying to figure out which visa and vaccination I’ll have to get and whether I’ll make it all in time. Kilroy Travels doesn’t cover that sort of information and just gave me a flyer with links to check out.
One of those sites, visum.nl, has a visa-service, but it takes about a week sending my passport to the embassy, 4 in my case, and charges about €100 each.
Now I encountered another problem: my current passport expires on June 28th. I will be home by then, but to apply for a visa it needs to be valid another half year after entering a country. So I will have to get a new one, which will take an extra week.

I never was too big a fan of Lonely Planet before, but I bought myself one anyway, right after I booked and walked out of the Kilroy office. The American Bookcentre (one of the few international bookstores in The Netherlands) is conviniently housed across the street from it. And I was really glad finding the following information in there:
It’s very possible to get the Laos-visa at the Huay Xai-border, for a mere $40, just stand your ground and make sure they don’t overcharge.
I do have to get my Vietnam-visa in advance, but on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum I found a link to this site where you can get a letter of approval for just $15. Show that at the airport and you get your stamps for an additional $20, no problem.
I can get an e-visa for Cambodia that costs $25, but it’s not valid at every border post. Bavet -where I most likely will cross- however is fine, and should even issue visa at arrival.
Indonesian visa should be issued at each airport for no more than $25.
Checking the Thorn Tree forum for updates and recent experiences really helped there!

Next up: some nice little shots to ensure my wellbeing under tropical circumstances. I’m still counting on some food poisoning, it’s just bound to happen. But that should only keep me down a few days.
After a call this morning with the local Travel Clinic I got an appointment this afternoon where we discussed the necessities for the areas I’ll be visiting. We’ll be able to fit it all in prior to departure.
I got a full cover for hepatitis A today, in just one shot that should hold up to 3 years, and the first of 3 shots for hepatitis B. I decided to get the voluntary rabies shots since I often can’t help myself when it comes to petting fluffy things. This also comes in 3 rounds, of which I had the first today.*
Next week I come back for typhoid of which 1 shot covers 3 years, and a second round of hepatitis B and rabies.
The week after that I come back for the last of those and one to cover general stuff like tetanus etc.
I got this pretty little yellow booklet, you know, the ones pets get for going to the vet, with all these stamps in it. And a slightly blue feeling in my upper arms.
All through my stay in Laos and while volunteering in Cambodia’s remote area I’ll have to take a pill named Malarone to keep clear from malaria.**
The travel clinic told me also to be careful, mostly in public transport, for tuberculosis. And a fever virus named dengue, for which there is no cure, just precautions like wearing Deet(40%min) and covering clothing.
A well-traveled friend also told me to bring ORS (oral rehydration salts) to keep from dehydrating and Imodium against diarrhea (very sexy) so I started gathering my travelkit together today.
So much on diseases for today.

I’m feeling a lot more relaxed now then I did last night when suddenly it looked like things wouldn’t be settled in time.
My budget is still extremely tight and I will have to keep a close eye on it to make sure I won’t end up having to spend nights on the streets or get in trouble with transportation. All these vaccinations and things left on my to-do and to-buy lists turn out to be much more expensive than I calculated. But I’ve invested way too much now to back out. So even if in flashes of fear I might want to, I won’t. I’m going.

-gloves (gibbon experience)
-raincover/flight bag for backpack
-ziplock bags for clothes etc
-a wooden wig to use as a doorstop
-Deet 40%, ORS, Imodium

* In hindsight this was a complete waste of a whole lot of money; they’re €75 each. I never even encountered a case of rabies. And should one get bit; you’ll have to be rushed to a hospital whether you’ve had those 3 first shots or not, to be completed with another 2. Or just have all 5 when needed. The clinic made it sounds scary with the whole story where you die in a few days. But it really doesn’t matter if you’ve had them in advance or not. So really, don’t bother getting shot for nothing.

** Many people I met in those high danger areas weren’t taking anything, and they were just fine. In Cambodia, not far from where we stayed, cases of malaria still occurred under the poorest, but not everyone in my group took pills and no one fell ill.
In hindsight I wouldn’t have spend the €157. In Asia you could buy those same pills for a 10th of the price, so should you want to, get them there.

It’s happening!

31 days prior to departure – February 17

So I had another hard crack at the numbers and everything, and it was a near miss. But I can now say I am the proud owner of a ticket that will take me half way the other side of the world. It’s happening!
So here’s what I have planned for now:

18-03 flight# EK148 14.45 AMS – 23.45 DXB
flight# EK384 03.15 DXB – 12.05 BKK
19-03 12.05 arrival at Bangkok, Thailand
18.00 meeting G-Adventure group
20-03 overnight train to Chiang Mai
22-03 3-day hilltribe trekking Karen villages with G-adventures
27-03 making my way into Laos
28-03 The Gibbon Experience, 3-day ziplining through Nam Kan National Park
31-03 Straybus to Luang Namta
01-04 Straybus to Nong Khiaw
02-04 Straybus to Luang Prabang
07-04 Straybus to Vang Vieng
11-04 Straybus to Vientiane
12-04 flight to Hanoi, Vietnam
taking the train down to Ho Chi Minh City
21-04 making my way to Cambodia
22-04 Green Lion volunteering in Samroang; teaching English and community work (2 weeks)
12-05 making my way to Indonesia
14-05 LaPoint surfcamp Bali, Padang Padang (1 week)
22-05 making my way to Jakarta
04-06 flight# EK359 00.40 CGK – 05.30 DXB
flight# 147 08.25 DXB – 13.30 AMS
And that’s the end of it already.

Yes, I realize that’s a lot of planning ahead, but there’s also plenty of room for leisure. After all, plans are made to be broken. And since it’s my first big trip that far out there and all alone, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
Anyhow, quite a lot of awesome if I may say so.

Right now it still feels so incredibly unreal – that finally it’s actually going to happen. No more daydreaming, no more question marks, no more far and distant future talk; just to-do lists, shopping and packing.
I guess it still needs some time to drop in to the full extend.

Tips and tricks are very welcome in the mean time. I still have a lot to find out about visa and vaccinations and all those details.

Is it happening?

35 days prior to departure – February 14

I’ve always been talking about making the big trip, usually putting it in Aussie. And last July conditions changed so that I decided to take a year off, stop talking about it but actually do it. In one crazy week I dropped out of art school, gave up my room in The Hague and moved to France for a summer job in Lyon.
I was going to come back in September and save up for a half year trip from January until June. But the job, and mostly Lyon were too great an experience to quit, so I ended up back in The Netherlands no sooner than the last day of 2011. All the while I’d begun looking at my options. It became obvious that I wouldn’t be able to leave for more than 3 months and would have to let go of expensive Australia. I traded it in for cheap Asia.
Still my budget was nowhere near the naïve goal I’d set. I almost gave up on the whole trip ever happening in 2012.
But last Monday I got my last paycheck from France, and it turned out they owed me a whole lot more than expected. ‘Just’ €1300, but suddenly things were looking up again!
So yesterday I went by the travel agency I’ve been mailing with, Kilroy Travel and we drew up a lovely little intenarary. Of course there are still some bumps to work out, and I still need to find some funding. But tomorrow is going to be booking day!
Suddenly it’s real, and darn close too! My flight is going to be in just another month?!