As many of you know, I backpacked through Malaysia, Bali, Australia and New Zealand starting mid-September. I’m going to write about how I prepared for this trip in this post.
In the beginning of this year, viz 2011, I was feeling my travel bug itch again. My wanderlust had not been assuaged for quite some time. I really wanted to go to Bhutan in 2010, but that plan was foiled due to various reasons. So, I was planning to travel towards the end of 2011 and I thought I might as well go to southern hemisphere and experience two summers in a row! I’ve always wanted to travel to New Zealand. When I hosted a kiwi couch surfer and heard tales of the place from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, I became even more convinced that this was a place I had to see. So my original plan was to go to New Zealand.
To my luck, at this time (in Februray of 2011), there was a huge sale on Air Asia. So I bought the tickets shown in the map below till Darwin in Australia.1
At this point in time, viz February, I didn’t know if flying to Darwin was a good way to get into Australia. Tiger airways which flew from Singapore to many locations in Australia was still operational (they were grounded by Australian authorities for not being safe in August!). So I thought it’d be a good option to be able to fly to Singapore from Bali and get a flight into Australia later. Hence, I also bought a ticket to Singapore as a sort of insurance, which turned out to be useless, eventually.2
Come June, I began to apply for Visas. First one I applied to was Australia.3 Incredibly, although I had given the date of my arrival as 28th September in my visa application, they gave me a visa that said “must not enter after Sep22″. When I called up the embassy, initially their reaction was something of a canned response from a call center – “I am sorry sir, but your visa has been issued with a certain date for internal reasons and it cannot be changed”. Later someone professional behind the scenes took over, I guess. They called me back and said they’d fix it for me if I could just courier it back to them. So I did that.4 Eventually, I did get a proper visa after about 3 weeks from the date of my applying.5 It let me enter the country for a maximum duration of 3 months per entry before 22 July 2012.
In July, I applied for New Zealand visa.6 The application I sent was pretty much similar to the one I sent to Australia. I fit in the “positive profile” as listed on the New Zealand immigration site and so I hoped there wouldn’t be much problems in getting a visa. My hunch turned out to be right, I was issued a proper visa with no further questions. It was issued by the New Zealand embassy in Bangkok for some strange reason, though.7
In August, I applied for Malaysian visa. I hired an agent in Bangalore, since there was no process to approach the embassy directly.8 The visa application process here was much simpler. I just gave the agent a copy of my tickets to and from Kuala Lumpur and that was sufficient.
At this point, in August, I was constantly on the lookout for special or sale fares in and around Australia. I really didn’t have a fixed itinerary although I did have a list of places that had to be in the itinerary. As such, I was open to tailoring it anyway around the cheap tickets that I could find. I did find tickets for the last two segments listed in the map above.9
Again these are including a 20kilo baggage allowance.10
International Driving Permit
Although strictly not necessary, this was one of the things I wanted to have. I approached the Jayanagar RTO for this purpose. When I went there, for the first time, the clerk responsible was reasonably polite and told me where to get the forms. However, instead of giving me the forms, the attender there gave it to a tout. I was not very happy about this and so asked the tout if he worked at the RTO, he answered in the negative. I asked him could I please have the application forms. He handed it over to me. I walked out with these, determined to bring a duly filled form without the tout.
The officer concerned had made it clear that the medical certificate to be attached with the application form had to be completed by a Government doctor. So, I took the form to a doctor in the Jayanagar public hospital. The doctor asked me some basic questions and signed and stamped the form and handed it over to me. He asked me for a fee and took INR 100 from me. Although I didn’t think much of it at the time (100 is a standard fee for any doctor in Bangalore, after all), after I had paid, I realised that this was a bribe. I felt stupid for having paid it. Later that day, I went back to RTO with every document asked for in the application form. The clerk promptly asled me to come back the next day. I asked if there was a schedule posted somewhere. He told me there was one just outside the building. I went there and there was no schedule posted for accepting forms. So I went back to this ckerk, who was getting ruder by the moment, and told him there was no schedule. At this point, the clerk suggested that I go and speak to his manager. I did this and the manager (politely) explained to me that the cash coutner closes at 1 and they cannot accept application after this.
On a side note, it made me wonder: why do they need a medical certificate to issue an IDP? If I am not fit to drive, how come I still have a license? Or is there a category of people who are fit to drive inside the country but not outside? Why is it required that only a Government doctor issue this certificate? Does the government not trust other doctors in the country? If they don’t, how come they are allowed to practice medicine? Another requirement was that passport and the driving license must have the same address. If they didn’t, you have to get one of them reissued so that they do. Again: Why? Why does the RTO care about this? Is it the case that it’s OK to have two address while inside the country, but the moment you step out, it’s a crime? They also wanted all the air tickets and visa copies. Why? What if I was getting last minute tickets to a country that issues visa on arrival to Indians? Should I not be eligible for a IDP?
From what I understand, the only requirement for issuing an IDP is a valid driving license in most countries. All these rules by RTO in our country makes me think that some babus sitting in their A/C offices are making up all these rules so that they can extract some bribes. In any case, after running around for three days, the the RTO of jayanagar finally issued me an IDP with no bribes paid.11
My next task was to buy some Gear. I did this in early September. I bought a backpack12, a sleeping bag13 and a pair of sunglasses14, which I was soon to lose, two quick dry hiking shirts and a quick dry hiking pant that converts into a short (the best clothing I bought)15; all at decathlon, Bangalore. I also bought some assorted supplies like a small flashlight, an umbrella, some earplugs and a pair of small scissors. I also bought a money bag at a travel shop16.
While I know that travellers cheques are a safer way to carry money, I also know that they are more expensive and you need a bank or some sort of money dealer to buy them. In my previous trip, I had carried cash as well, and it seemed like a good idea to me this time as well. So I bought some 970 AUD for INR 47556, 690 NZD for INR 27600, 1000 MYR for INR 15940 and 900 USD for INR 41400.
My intent was to travel very light this time. This was a lesson I learnt the hard way on my last backpacking trip to Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore. In that trip I had carried way too much – a lot of which I didn’t really use. I had carried two pairs of jeans, for example. Lugging it around really made me change the trip than what I’d have ideally desired. I could not walk around and shop for the best price before deciding on a place to stay, for example. Nor could I refuse a expensive transport option and walk instead. Towards the end my backpack tore near one the straps causing me additional pain (one of the reasons why I bought an expensive but reliable backpack this time). My target this time was 10 kilos or less. The “dry” weight of my backpack and sleeping bags was around 3 kilos. So I had roughly a payload of about 7 kilos to work with. I packed: two quick dry hiking shirts, one full sleeved shirt for any formal occasions, four trousers including the quick dry hiking pair and a lightweight night trouser, two t-shirts, 3 pairs of socks, 6 underwears, two towels, a rainproof, windproof and warm jacket, one old and disposable day-pack bag, one umbrella, one small flashlight, one deodarant, toiletaries including shaving cream, shaving razor, nail clipper, small scissors, toothbrush, toothpaste, other assorted supplies like earplugs, eyepatch, cleaning cloth for phone screen and sunglasses, a box to keep sunglasses safe, the sunglasses themselves, some prescription medication in case I get sick with cold, fever, upset stomach or some infection, my cell phone, an additional low cost cell phone, a camera and assorted chargers and batteries. The whole pack weighed in at about 8.5 kilos, I could do 10 pushups with the backpack on my back! Mission accomplished.
With only this much preparation, I set out on the 14th of September to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.17 My flight was delayed by 5 hours! So I had to get some stupid airport food18. After this, I was off. In all, including foriegn exchange, I had spent about INR 193000. My intention was to finish the trip under this budget with about INR 1 lakh more for my ticket out and other such expenses. Still with me? Good, either you have too much time or are planning a trip of your own. In the latter case, good luck, get in touch and may be I can help out.
Stay tuned for my experiences in the following posts!References & Footnotes
- I spent ~INR 15k on this segment of the tickets. The detailed breakup of ticket prices, including a 20kg baggage allownace, are:
Bangalore to Kuala Lumpur: INR 3119
Kuala Lumpur to Bangalore: INR 3119
Kuala Lumpur to Bali: INR 5055
Bali to Darwin: INR 2291 [↩]
- I spent INR 1436 for this ticket [↩]
- It cost me INR 4800 as visa fees and another INR565 for VFS as processing charges. [↩]
- This cost me about INR 300. [↩]
- All told, I had spent about INR 5650 to get my Australian visa. [↩]
- It cost about INR 4800 in fees and INR 120 in miscellaneous expenditures. [↩]
- In all NZ visa had cost me about INR 4920 and it let me enter NZ for one month before December of 2011. [↩]
- The agent took INR 1500 and picked up and delivered my passport to/from my home. The fees paid to the embassy as per visa stamp is INR 750. So I guess the agent’s fees was INR 750 too. [↩]
- Costs: Uluru (Yulara) to Sydney: INR 7676 (Virgin Australia)
Sydney to Auckland: INR 9108 (JetStar) [↩]
- All told, I had spent INR 16784 on these tickets. As I was to discover later, everything in Australia is ridiculously expensive, travel – doubly so. [↩]
- The whole thing cost me about three days of running around and about INR710 (including photos, parking, bribe to the doctor and the IDP fees). [↩]
- The back pack cost me INR 5999 [↩]
- The sleeping bag cost me INR 1899 [↩]
- The sunglasses cost me 599 [↩]
- The quick dry hiking clothes cost me INR 3297 [↩]
- All the supplies cost me about INR 1100 [↩]
- The bus ride to airport cost me INR 200. [↩]
- which cost me INR 249 more [↩]