The travel experience is a lot of fun once you hit the road. The period beforehand, though, is considerably less fun, and filled with nervous anxiety as you stress over whether you're prepared for what lies ahead; psychologically, physically and mentally.
Between now and Saturday week, here's my checklist of things to do. Kinda like Homer's list after he samples too much Japanese cuisine, except with less fear of death at the end:
1. Sort through guidebooks. Unfortunately, the gaggle of destinations I'll be heading to don't group nicely into a single Lonely Planet guide, and so I'll end up carrying my own body weight in different books. So far I have SE Asia on a Shoestring, China and Korea. For political reasons, Taiwan is not included in the China book (and fair enough, too) but the stand alone Taiwan book is hard to get hold of (not so fair).
2. Bag. A big bag. A big, fat, chunky bag that can carry socks, jocks, dirty undies and a whole lot of Lonely Planet guides (see #1). I took a new back with me on a previous trip, and it lasted just on the six month length of that trip, although was in no condition to travel again. It's important to get this one right, because there's no easy way out when a bag breaks in the middle of no-where. Not many camping stores in down-town Vientienne, apparently.
3. Toiletries. If you get this one right, it looks a little like a scene part way through Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the real one with Gene Wilder, not that Johnny Depp rubbish). From the outside, it looks like a tiny entrance that could barely fit a thing, but once inside it's wide and spacious and there's something there to clean your teeth. A shaver, toothbrush, toothpaste, Band-Aids (TM), Panadol (TM), batteries and a comb.
4. Vaccinations. Two sessions down, one to go. I've taken a minimulist approach to shots, based on a bit of research that suggests that the risk is low inside the major cities in the countries I'll be venturing through. When off the beaten track malaria and rabies can be a risk, but otherwise it's best to make sure you're up to date with all the others. Measels, Mumps and Rubella is all sorted out, as is Hepititis A, and one more shot to go in the Hep B regime. Feeling good.
5. Paperwork. Fingers crossed (or its agnostic equivalent) that the visas have all come through successfully. I'll find out early next week whether any of the six embassies I've applied through think that I'm a threat to national security. Thankfully it's been a fairly painless task, thanks to the fine folks at Travcour, as well as the work of the wonderful Nat at STA in Camberwell.
6. Tickets. All have been issued, but I've get to take possession. Some careful checking and attention to detail (something that I've never been a big fan of) will be in order. Probably best to include a Fine Tooth Comb in the toiletries bag (see #3).
A fine tooth comb, sighted yesterday.
7. Money. Stocking up on Thai Baht, Vietnamese Dong and Korean Won before departure? Nope. Instead, I'll be taking a wad of the closest thing the world has to the Esperanto of currency - crisp US dollars. They'll be easily exchangeable anywhere I visit, although exchange rates will be rather crippling when I do. Also some travellers cheques thrown in for good measure. Where possible it will be using a local ATM to get some of the local currency, but technology can be an enemy as well as a friend.
8. Names, numbers, email. I'm lucky enough to have made some new friends in a variety on cities on the itinerary, and I'm keen to be in contact in person once I hit the road.
9. Tell Lexy where I'm going. It would have been laughable a couple of years ago, but thesedays there's real value is letting DFAT know where you'll be travelling to. Not only can they quickly and easily work out where to send the body to if things go horribly wrong, but you can also recieve email updates with the latest travel advice on the places you'll be heading to. Though I'll usually disregard the "don't go there" advice, it's worth knowing what the risks are.
10. Clean my room. I'd hate to come home and find this place is in the same messy state it is now. Instead, I want to work back in the door in late February and find a place that's as clean and virginal as the Pyongyang McDonalds.
Lists like this are easy to write and hard to follow through. I guess I need to spend more time getting these things done and less time doing wasteful things like surfing the web, sleeping in and preparing for exams. It's all about priorities.