FAQ

Some of the questions we get asked a lot, here are our answers!

LIFE ON THE ROAD

What’s it like?

The closest thing to pure freedom! Wake up, decide where to go, get there, don’t like it? Hop on the next bus out. We were homeless and happy.

Were the buses or trains rough?

Some were pretty bad but you get used to it. Some buses will have you redefine your understanding of “over capacity”; some twisting roads will have you hear a lot of vomiting. Some feel like freezers, some feel like saunas. Some buses aren’t equipped with onboard lavatories so we had to ration liquid intake. Toilets on long distance trains can turn ugly pretty fast…

What did you eat?

Cooked whenever we could but tasting local dishes was also part of the fun. From Iraq onwards there weren’t really any hostels with kitchen facilities so we were basically feeding on kebabs for 2 months.

Where did you live?

Mostly budget accommodation or couchsurfed. Hostels are a great place for space and meeting fellow travelers. Some hostels were like amazing designer lofts, some were more like a refugee basement camp.

Couchsurfing is a great way to save but more importantly to meet locals for cultural exchange. We had some really really magical moments especially in Iran.

How do you do laundry?

I don’t know why this question gets asked a lot! It’s not really that hard, most towns have a local launderette to do your washing. Most hostels will also offer the service whilst some places will let you do your own washing.

How do you communicate with language barriers?

Body language, a confused look, and a foolish smile.

What were your biggest challenges?

Visas!! Central Asia is a real tough one to crack. It’s a real good idea to have them done before hitting the road but in our case that wasn’t an option. If we were to successfully make our way home by land, there was no room for messing up even one visa application. We heard it was harder for HKSAR (Hong Kong) passport holders to get visas in Central Asia so we opted to use our BNO (British National Overseas) passports. There’s a lot of uncertainty with applying outside your home country, there’s no common language and you’re lucky if someone spoke English.

What were your biggest fears when traveling?

Entering Kurdish Iraq was one. We didn’t meet anyone headed there or who had recently traveled there so couldn’t get the latest scoop. But we were keen to see this part of the world… As we edged close to the Turkey-Iraq border, there were loads of military compounds and heavily armored vehicles… that was a pretty nerve racking one.

Crossing the Iraq-Iran border was pretty intense too. They don’t get a lot of tourists crossing this border. We entered on our HKSAR passports as I didn’t want to travel on a BNO in Iran (obvious reasons). However, we were crossing Turkmenistan next on our BNO. If, upon leaving Iran, they asked to see our Turkmen visa (in our BNO), do we show it or not? Would they accuse us for being spies because we had 2 different passports?? As we entered Iran, I remember feeling like we may be stuck in the Islamic Republic for a very very long time…

Were you ever in danger? Any close calls?

Not that I can recall… Many people seem to think South America or Middle East is dangerous but nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s dangerous if you don’t have much common sense or if you’re asking for it, e.g. flashing expensive iphones or bling bling jewellery. In general, I think people genuinely try to help travelers. All kinds of trouble will sort itself out.

What is the most amazing thing you have seen?

The fourteen colour mountains of northern Argentina and the burning gas crater in Turkmenistan.

Did you miss home? Did you have down periods?

Yes, about 1 month left in our journey I thought “right, sick of this fucking kebab, get us home!”  But within 2 days of being in China, we didn’t want to come back anymore. We wanted to keep traveling.

Were you ever sick of traveling?

Not really. We move around quite fast, so every new country brings that renewed excitement and much needed stimulus to keep us going. There were times when we felt travel fatigue, it takes more to feel excited. This happened in Europe and we decided our journey had to have more substance than just flying around wherever or whenever we wanted. When things come easy, your appreciation level diminishes.

So we decided to travel home entirely by land. We set ourselves this challenge to keep things interesting, some sort of goal or achievement to strive for. A destination that took 5 days to get to was much more appreciated than one that took 5 hours to fly to.

DEEPER THOUGHTS

Why did you decide to embark on such a journey?

We have always loved backpacking and dreamt of seeing the world on an extended journey. In previous travels, we met people who had been traveling for months and always envied.

Then we read a travel adventure by Japanese cyclist Yusuke Ishida, who set out to bike around the world and ended up doing it for over 7 years. Our envy turned to energy. Wishful thinking turned to “why not?” and we really couldn’t find a reasonable answer…

Why did you choose to quit your jobs?

We left our jobs because this was the only way we could disappear for an extended period of time. Letting go of our financial security and career future was part of a lesson that made us appreciate what life should really be about.

What was your biggest fear about making such a life changing decision?

Losing our careers, job security, financial future, and getting in some serious shit when we’re out there… such as being accused of espionage in Iran or dying of dengue fever in a ghetto hospital.

Where did you find the courage?

We thought, well… what have we got to lose? At the end of the day, life itself is a journey and everybody shares the same final destination. Steve Jobs once said death is “very likely the single best invention of life”.

I see my parents grow old and it’s like watching highly successful people slowly shed their surface of hard earned social status and just going back to basics, back to being children. I realized as you grow older, many things start losing their importance. What seemed to matter no longer matters.

We hear sad news of people getting sick, we’ve been shocked by sudden departures. Nobody knows when time is up. You can only do so much to prevent, but you can do everything to live a fruitful life. We don’t want to regret things we never did.

Realising you really have nothing to lose is the biggest motivation to get out there and do something your heart has always wanted but your brain was never able to rationalize.

LOGISTICS

Did you arrange all your visas beforehand?

No because we didn’t know where we’d be going!

How did you apply visas being on the road?

For some countries (e.g. Syria) we could get VOAs (visas on arrival). As things could change quickly, sometimes we just had to try our luck at the border.

For other countries where pre-approved visas must be obtained, we would work our route around a major city that had the embassies or consulates and travel around the area whilst our applications were processed.

Did you purchase RTW ticket?

No. We only bought a flight to Mexico City (our starting point), a short flight between Panama and Colombia (because there are no roads), and the pan-Atlantic flight between Brazil and Latvia.

How did you manage your guidebooks? Carry all of them?

We only purchased and carried 1 or 2 guidebooks at most. When we were close to finishing travel in the respective countries, we were lucky enough to meet up with friends who brought us guidebooks for the onward journey and take our used books home. Sometimes we’d have to plan ahead and buy guide books at any given opportunity, e.g. we bought Central Asia guidebook in Istanbul, we bought South America guidebook in Panama.

Did you have plans on where to go? How to plan trip?

Yes and no. We had a list of all the countries we wanted to see, mostly South America and Middle East. We only planned South America in more detail since we had to get vaccinated. But they were always high level plans that changed whenever we hear about cool places that we didn’t read about. After South Am, everything was pretty much done on the fly. We had no idea we’d go through Iraq, Iran or Central Asia. Actually we never would’ve dreamt of traveling back to Hong Kong by land!

How did you backup your photos? What if your stuff gets stolen?

I carried a laptop and a portable hard disk as backup. Photos would be downloaded to laptop and backed up on the portable HD. I always packed my laptop and HD separately to minimize risk of losing both at the same time. I also regularly backed up my images on DVDR and mailed them home. But this only happened up until Europe… then I got lazy. I also uploaded my most valuable pictures to my file server so I have a copy online.

MONEY MATTERS

How much money did you spend?

About US$1,200 per month per person, all inclusive (ie food, accommodation, insurance, transportation, guidebooks, etc.)

How did you manage your daily budget?

We kept a spreadsheet of every dollar out to track and monitor spending. Stayed at budget accommodation and made an occasional splurge on experiential stays (e.g. night in the desert or traditional historic house). Couchsurfed when possible to meet local friends. Cooked whenever we could and never really joined tours unless we had no other way to DIY.

Our travel philosophy was simple – we’re there for the experience, not the luxury. Whilst we’re on a budget, we also believe if pinching every penny won’t get you the real experience, then it kinda defeats the whole purpose of traveling in the first place.

How did you know how much was enough?

We worked on an average daily budget of US$50. We knew we could stretch our dollars farther in some countries than others (e.g. South America vs Europe) so we thought this average seemed reasonable. Multiplied that by our intended length of travel, then add on a couple thousand dollars for anticipated flight tickets. We rounded up the figure and put on an additional 10% buffer to reach our grand total.

This was the amount we had to be ready and willing to part with, and if it weren’t enough, well it would be time to look for a job and cut short the journey. Good news was, we ended up spending just over half of what we had anticipated.

Did you make money on the road or just used savings?

Just savings. Most hostels offer free accommodation and beer in return for a few hours of daily chores. But because we wanted to see as much as possible (and had to reach Hong Kong by mid Dec for our brother’s wedding), we didn’t have time to take up work.

How do you get access to money whilst overseas?

Primarily ATMs. Most ATMs in the world are linked on global networks (e.g. Cirrus, Maestro, Mastercard etc.) so we carried a couple debit cards that could access every network to ensure we could get cash.

We also stashed a couple hundred bucks as emergency cash in case things went wrong.