John and Craig of Flashpack at Forty are two forty-something travel bloggers on the journey of a lifetime. Having travelled extensively, they decided to make a radical change in their lives by taking a career-break. So at the end of 2011, they sold virtually everything they owned and bought a one-way ticket to Australia to start their “flashpacking” around the world trip. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Craig and John as they travel from the Philippines to Japan – and grapple with some of the daily challenges (and opportunities) for long-term travelers.
Travel Planning is essential and saves you money
Having spent some quality time relaxing and diving in Bohol it was time to pack and make our way to Manila for our exit from the Philippines. We were heading for Osaka, Japan.
We’d booked the flight a couple of days before arriving in the Philippines, 3 weeks earlier, for the bargain bucket price of US$55. Neither of us had visited Japan before so we didn’t have any idea of what we intended to do there; some serious travel planning required. We’d fallen quite behind with our adhoc research because of the dodgy internet connections in the Philippines, despite having a Filipino 3G SIM.
After a quick search of the internet it became clear that we’d require a Japan Rail Pass, which can only be purchased outside the country, which for us meant in the Philippines.
We scrambled on the internet and found the only travel agent in the country (Universal Holidays) that could issue the pass, unless you’re flying JAL airways. However, as we departed in just 2 days time it would be cutting it close to the wire.
We contacted the Manila Office of the issuing branch of JRP and confirmed they would be able to produce the pass tomorrow, when we arrived in Manila from Cebu.
Implementing your travel plans
Our flight was delayed by a couple of hours; nothing really seems to leave on time here, but the system does work in the end.
We eventually found the travel office, which was a task in itself lugging five bags around in the heat of the midday sun. The office was closed for lunch, why they hadn’t told us this yesterday when we rang was a little frustrating. When the office opened we started the process of acquiring our rail passes.
Everybody in the Philippines is very friendly and helpful, which is just as well, as trying to find up-to-date travel information is sometimes problematic. It is often done by word of mouth, i.e. we’d been stranded in Donsol about a week earlier as the airport had been shut and all ferries cancelled due to heavy rains and storms. None of this had been publicized on the internet so we had many wasted journeys to different places to trying to leave this area.
Thankfully, the local Pinoys keep you updated. One consolation of the delay was that we got to swim with the whale sharks – the biggest fish in the world, in the wild – an awesome experience.
We had to pay 90,000 Yen for both our passes. No credit cards are accepted and you can only withdraw relatively small amounts of cash from individual ATMs in the Philippines. We tried to withdraw as much as possible from the various ATMs and then our cards were blocked, and ATMs wouldn’t let us withdraw any more cash.
This meant an expensive telephone call to the bank, who sorted the problem and eventually after several hours, and another taxi ride, we managed to obtain enough cash to pay for the train pass.
Replacing and fixing things on the road
Whilst waiting at the airport for our bargain priced bucket flight to Osaka, we used the opportunity to sort and upload some of the photographs we’d taken. My camera had not performed very well of late, and I put this down to the heat of the Philippines.
Craig is travel gadget-mad and can fix anything; he completed an apprenticeship at a nuclear plant in his youth and part of his time was spent dismantling and repairing things. He’d already fixed the camera when we were in New Zealand. However, my camera had finally given up the ghost and would have to be relegated to the recycling bin.
What was upsetting is many of the pictures I thought I’d taken in the Philippines were lost, thankfully Craig’s camera was OK.
Needless to say, I think we’ve managed to go through two backpacks and about five daypacks during our first 6 months of Flashpacking around the world. Our roll of industrial strength duct tape has come in particularly handy for minor emergencies such as repairing flip-flops.
Arriving at a new destination
The first thing we do on arrival in a country is purchase a sim card for our MiFi device. This is an excellent travel gadget and allows you to connect a myriad of devices to your portable modem, simultaneously.
The problem with Japan is that you can’t buy a sim card unless you’re a resident or have an alien’s registration card (reserved for those living and working in the country). This is very annoying for a developed country.
So we had to make due with hotel wifi services as wifi provision is minimal in cafes and around the cities in Japan. Therefore, we were unable to prepare our itinerary on the road as we often like to.
Smelling sweet is always good
We’d tried several times in the Philippines to have our clothes laundered, but with little success.
When we’d been trapped in the torrential rain in the Donsol area, surrounded by volcanic mountains, we had discovered that the sulphuric aromas had permeated all of our clothes. Despite two local hand washes the stink of rotten eggs would just not disappear.
As we hit Japan it was out to the local supermarket to buy the strongest detergent we could find and some of the sweetest smelling fabric softener to try and banish this unwanted perfume from our clothes.
A wash in the hotel machine and three hours later our whole wardrobe smelled of summer meadows. It was such a relief; we were getting paranoid that people were moving away from us on public transport.
Osaka tourist pass
Smelling sweet, we decided we would do the sights on our first day in Osaka.
We made use of a great value Osaka pass which entitles you to travel anywhere on the system as well as free entries to some of the city’s main tourist spots. These include a host of ferris wheels, trips up very speedy lifts to the tops of buildings and some museums, and of course the Osaka castle.
For 2,700 yen you get two days of free travel and the entrances to the various sights as well as some additional discount vouchers. It’s great value to see the city this way; it makes for a busy two days but you get to see most of what the city has to offer the visitor.
Travel blogging, finances, and keeping up to date with administration
Now that we’re in Japan, it’s great to have super-fast internet in the hotels. So although we don’t want to, it’s time to do a few updates to our travel blog and spend some time travel planning, and sorting out other admin-type things. We’d much rather be out stomping around the exciting city of Osaka, but needs must.
One thing about being on a career- break and travelling long-term, is that even if you have sold everything, you’ll still need to keep in touch with your home country to keep on top of admin. We are lucky and our family keeps us updated by scanning through bills and other things that bureaucratic countries love to throw at you such as tax bills. We still have an apartment in Manchester, so we need to keep up to date with any tenant issues.
Not everything is perfect when you travel on a long-term basis (editor’s note – TELL me about it!). However, it is easier than ever with the latest travel gadgets. Especially for us being 40-something, we’ve worked many years to be able to afford to take a career break, and if and when we decide to return home, we don’t want to find we have a pile of debts waiting for us.
Being a long-term traveller you need to keep on top of your administration, whether that’s research for the next destination you’re headed to or your commitments back at home.
The sort of things that we still need to monitor:
Finances/Bank accounts: We check that travel expenses are correct, and keep up with any investments we have. We also keep an eye on currency rates, as this can have a bearing on how long and which countries you visit. For instance, when we visited Australia, the exchange rate was very poor for us, but we decided this didn’t matter as we wanted to spend NYE in Sydney.
Expenditures: We check our expenditures to make sure our credit/debit cards haven’t had any unauthorized expenditures. You are more susceptible to this kind of fraud in particular countries, and we always inform our bank of where we are and what we’re up to. It’s best to stop any fraud as soon as possible, in order to avoid any travel delays.
Travel Planning : We keep up-to-date with the latest airline and hotel operators and make sure we know what promotions and offers are available.
One thing we both enjoy doing is updating the travel blog. We love going back and reading some of the destinations and experiences we’ve had; when you’re constantly on the move and discovering new places on an almost daily basis, it’s sometimes difficult to recall some the amazing things you’ve already done.
We’ve created our own Flashpacking Facebook page so people can enjoy our trip along with us, and it’s great for receiving suggestions and travel advice from people. However, all this takes time when you’re travelling, and blogging on the road is not for the disorganized. It takes a great deal of self-discipline so that it doesn’t impinge on your main objective of travelling around the world. (Editor’s note: See also – Travel, Work-Life Balance, Time Management, and the Paradoxes Within)
But this is a reality for most people on the road and can’t outweigh the benefits or the experiences of travelling on a long-term basis. We wish we’d done it years ago.
John and Craig are currently touring Thailand, and are likely headed for Laos or Myanmar next. You can find more about their latest flashpacking travel adventures on their blog at Flashpack At Forty.