When I last went back-packing – at the age of 26 – I just packed a bag, cleared my room and set off. It’s just not that easy when you’re 55 (or even 44).
A week ago now, we still had a house to sell, our belongings to pack up for storage, Anita still had a week of work to do and a health check-up to undergo, and I still had to collect one of our last visas to make the trip possible.
Go back two weeks, and it gets worse: we still had three visas to get; we seemed nowhere near selling our house; Anita’s health was a real worry and her father didn’t seem too good, either.
Things felt so inconclusive that we were even hesitating to tell all our friends and neighbours that our trip would finally go ahead.
And that’s the big difference between travelling in your 20s and hitting the road in your 40s or 50s: there’s literally so much more baggage now.
Most people travelling in their 20s still have parents in good health who are a safety net in case of crisis on the road; by our stage in life they are either gone (in my case) or potentially a source of anxiety as their own health gets more precarious.
Back in 1986, I must have left any superfluous belongings with my parents and just packed that one rucksack. 28 years on, we have soooooooooo much stuff. When you think that we began to sort and clear on 1 June and were still panicking over final trips to the rubbish tip on the day we left Yorkshire, it shows just how much you accumulate as the years go by.
And the big difference on my round-the-world trip in 1986 was that I was planning a route as I went, getting visas only for the neighbouring country (involving many hours on the road sitting in consulates before hopping on trains or buses to the next destination).
We may have changed the route for this trip 100 times as world events conspired to complicate our journey, but we did know where we were heading: from Yorkshire to Kiama in Australia, and there are only a limited number of routes you can take to get there overland and sea.
We also have a time constraint – a desire to spend the Christmas period with family – so needed to get as many visas as possible before departure from the UK (the whole visa process is worthy of a blog entry on its own, but we may delay that until we have gone through the countries concerned, just in case some over-zealous border official happens upon UnwindontheRoad and knows who we are…).
With 6 visas to obtain in as many weeks, we turned to the excellent Real Russia agency to help organise those visas (but we’ll give them more of a write-up when we do that blog post on visas). So our passports are now full of exotic, colourful stamps preparing us for entries to countries we have mostly only seen before on those long-haul flight route maps.
That’s what lies ahead of us as we sit now on our first international train ride (Eurostar from London to Paris).
The whole process of preparing to move may have been stressful, but it’s also actually quite cathartic. How many 40 somethings and 50 somethings have sifted through every single drawer or box in the loft and know exactly what they own and what they no longer need?
Our major task in the last weeks has been to divide possessions into those going on the freight ship to Australia, those going into storage pending the purchase of our future Yorkshire bolthole, those going to ebay, the charity shop or the tip, and those going with us on the road.
I think both of us have ended up with too much stuff to carry for the next 12 weeks, but hopefully we’ll shed a few things as we settle into a travel routine.
Back in the 1980s I booked nothing ahead of arriving in each town or country. We are slightly less carefree now in our 50s and 40s, so have booked accommodation most of the way through Europe and in the big cities of China. And I doubt we’ll be staying in many youth hostels this time around (though who knows?).
As I sit and write this first entry, Anita is already knitting (a hat, I’m told – useful for when it gets a bit nippier some way along the route), and I’m planning which tea and coffee shops I hope to try in Paris.
But before we look ahead to the delights on our future journey, let’s end this first entry with a thanks to those who gave us such a great send-off from Yorkshire and from London.
Thanks to both our removals companies for making the process of emptying our house a smooth one. Devereux of Cleveland were brilliant in their packing of our stuff for Australia and local firm Dowse in Richmond fitted us in last minute on Friday and did a grand job clearing our house once our sale had come through.
But best of all were the personal send-offs, from new(ish) friends in Richmond, our neighbours in Bargate who helped us out right to the last minute, and our older friends in London whose goodbye from Beckenham Junction led to lots of tears being wiped away from cheeks as our train pulled out.
So that’s it. We’re on the road.
And after the last three to four weeks we’ve had, we really need to Unwind on the Road…