Too Ambitious for a Novice Solo Traveller?
Replies: 23 - Last Post: Aug 2, 2012 10:13 AM Last Post By: kiwibabe
Jul 3, 2012 1:24 PM
Too Ambitious for a Novice Solo Traveller?Hi there,
I'm new to the forum, 23yo male from England. I'm a fairly inexperienced traveller - my main experience being Japan for 2 weeks in 2010 on a GAP Adventures tour (but I made it out there and to the Tokyo hotel on my own, and spent 3 days by myself at the end and managed to move about a bit! :D ).
Basically, for the last year I have not been able to get the idea of a long-term solo adventure out of my head, and am looking to depart around this November, but I can be flexible if visas etc. take longer than expected. My general plan is... London to St Petersburg by train, stopping for around 2 or 3 days at each Belgium, Germany, Poland and Belarus (or Lithuania/Latvia??), and then onto the Trans-Siberian/Mongolian railway, ideally stopping off a few times in Russia (at Irkutsk for example), through to Beijing, and then travelling around China for as long as I enjoy it and if, by some miracle, my money lasts and I want to move on from China (doubtful on both counts) then onto Vietnam, Laos etc. But I have a feeling China will keep me entertained!
I'm planning to leave my job in the UK before doing this and will have about £12000 solely for daily expenses, visas, transport etc, so will have both time and money on my side hopefully. No rush to get anywhere!
Has anyone here ever done this or something similar? Does it sound practical? Also, is it feasible to book and arrange things on the move, like train tickets and hostels, in order to have more flexibility? (e.g. if I'm really enjoying St Petersburg I don't want a ticket dictating that I have to leave the next day) The thing is, booking organized tours like what I did in Japan would put a lot of my doubts/fears at rest I'm sure but I don't want to waste loads of money on things that I could accomplish on my own.
Some things about me: I'm kind of a solitary person and spend lot of time on my own. I also suffer from some OCD & anxiety but am trying to get that under control more before I set out. But I would say I am a strong, level-headed person overall, although I guess there's no telling what I'm like under travel pressure until I have a crisis in the middle of nowhere! I just want that feeling again, of waking up everyday not knowing what's going to happen, and having a rucksack strapped to my back. :)
I'm just looking for any advice, whether it's support or criticism (some reassurance would be nice though!)
Thanks very much.
Jul 3, 2012 2:50 PM
1Over all your trip is very feasible, even for a novice traveller. It's not the easiest route due to language but possible. You'll have to consider visas. For starters from Poland catch a bus through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (stopping in each) firstly because they're well worth checking out and secondly because you don't visas whereas I believe you do for Belarus.
When you get your visa for Russia you may need to provide an itinerary but don't worry you won't have to stick to it. China is more of a pain though for the visa. when I got one recently I had to show bookings for every single night. Of course nothing stops you from cancelling bookings.
Jul 3, 2012 3:53 PM
2I think it's a good idea to stop doing tours and start doing your own thing. Strange choice however, as most people start with SE Asia or S America however Russia is great.
Regarding OCD and anxiety, travel can be stressful but it will give you a brand new perspective. In Russia you can blend in more (assuming you are white) so they will think you are Russian and thus the hassle will be less sometimes. Moving around is good, but not to fast and not to slow.
Regarding your itinerary I don't think you should do Belarusia on this trip, it makes more sense to get a double entry Russian visa and do Kaliningrad. You'd have to get the Chinese and Russian visa as well and this would take time.
Don't start your journey in November, way too cold in both Russia and China. Spring or autumn would work better.
No need to pre book hostels and tickets unless you are going to be traveling in August/high season. At least if you'd be willing to "slum it" a bit and live and travel the way the locals do, you'd be fine.
I'd suggest learning the Cyrillic alphabet. I'd tell you to learn some Russian phrases as well however this is one of the hardest languages in the world and no one will understand your simple phrases unless your pronunciation and grammar is perfect.
Jul 3, 2012 4:33 PM
Jul 3, 2012 7:48 PM
Jul 4, 2012 2:02 AM
I would not do it this way.
I've been in 86 countries and live now full time in Russia so have handled all sorts of hurdles and situations but you are planning to jump off into the fire from the frying pan with no fire extinguisher. Many of these places will place a lot of stress on you as nothing goes as planned, ever, in China Russia or Belarus or any of the smaller SEA countries. So do not plan anything except starting first 50 miles and do not put yourself on a time schedule, you can't possibly keep to a schedule without major disruptions.
Why not ease into it, say 2 weeks in the western part of Russia and learn how to be very flexible and relax when things are not as expected or planned. No matter how much you read, you will not have enough knowledge of local details to pre-plan a trip unless using only major hotel chains and McDonalds.
The plan for 2-3 days each in such fascinating countries seems like a total waste or fuel and time. You will not get anything from it so why introduce more complexity. If your goal is China, just go to China. But skipping getting anything from whirlwind pass-through of Belgium, Germany, Poland and Belarus Lithuania/Latvia Russia. Each deserves more time, particularly Russia. I can't imagine spending less than a week or 10 days in St Petersburg alone. I visited 100 times before moving here full time 9 years ago and still discover fascinating things every day.
Why the rush to expose yourself to such a taxing adventure when it was not such a high priority in the past or else would have already done it? Pick any one of those countries and concentrate on it, you will have much less to learn in getting around, how to deal with problems, knowing some local customs, and how to get the most out of the visit. China seems to be your preferred destination but have not done enough research apparently or you would know the restrictions on just winging it there. Unless living like a local in each of these areas(something I recommend), you may not have enough money for your plan. Some of those countries have restricted windows of advance application for visas so it might be difficult in a few to apply away from home. Russia is one, for example where applications can't be made very far in advance and have to be made at home, not on the road.
Go someplace for two weeks where you are totally dependent on the local economy and work up to longer adventures when you find out the reality of problem solving far from home and without local resources.
Jul 4, 2012 2:23 AM
6Thanks so much for your replies guys :)
ToadofToadHall - Thanks for your support, bus through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia sounds like a plan! Yeah I've heard that Belarus is one of few countries in Europe where you need a visa together with UK passport. And thanks for the heads up on China visa awkwardness!
hurricanebertha - Yeah it's been recommended that I start in a place like Thailand as apparently it's much more beginner-traveller-friendly, but it just doesn't have a natural appeal to me. Japan was always at the very top of my list, and now that I've been there (and will definitely go again) the next place is China, and then I started thinking about the whole rail idea. I've been told it's a bit unwise to go with the plan in my first post rather than an easier country in SE-Asia but I'm having trouble changing my mind now =/ Yes I am white and have very pale skin, so I suppose the main things distinguishing me from Russians will be luggage and dreadful pronunciations! Thanks for your advice on Kalinigrad, I'll keep that in mind. Yeah I understand Russia and China at the end of the year are extremely cold but the thing is, I was planning to leave in August/September this year but now my bro is getting married in October and I don't want to delay it again, I just want to get out of here!! - surely if travelling for like 6 months to a year you will be in some countries during bad weather whatever time you go??
JimBurns - Haha, trust me I'm NOT an ideal travel partner! Well I have a "checking" type of OCD; get stuck in a loop of checking things repeatedly (a LOT) and doubting myself. It's caused me a bit of a nightmare checking out of hotel rooms in the past and consumes a lot of time. I really want to get it more under control before going travelling and am going to the doctors again soon, as on a bad day it can feel quite stressful and cause headaches. I don't really have social anxiety, just sometimes a bit fidgety and shaky. What I meant was I think I'm a REASONABLY confident person and capable of arranging things by myself... hopefully. Thanks for your support :) yeah that was kind of my idea with going by train - ease myself into foreign places gradually rather than just flying to China and feeling lost
kmingnath - Thank you, I'll bear that in mind and try to keep bookings to a minimum
Jul 4, 2012 5:35 AM
7Hi Lee - my wife and I are planning a very similar adventure to you - starting in May next year after we return from a few months in the USA/S.America we plan to get an InterRail Pass and explore Europe a bit, maybe catch a late deal on a cruise round the Greek Isles, then up to Northern Europe and on to St Petersburg and on to Beijing.
From there, we intend to spend about a month in China, 3 weeks in Japan, cross over to India overland and spend about a month there, then onto SE Asia, eventually ending up in Australia where we will look to work for a year or two under the working holiday visa scheme.
We are both inexperienced travellers, and are too planning to quit our jobs at the end of the year to pursue our travelling dreams!
I must say, having looked into booking a the Trans-Sib, it's not as easy as I thought it would be - looks a bit of a minefield, which trains to get, which cabins to book, etc.
Another thing that worries me is malaria in SE Asia...but don't get me started on that!
Jul 4, 2012 6:19 AM
8Another thing that worries me is malaria in SE Asia
I've spent about 18 months traveling in all the countries of mainland SE Asia, and I haven't met a single traveler who caught malaria there. It's very rare these days. Most travelers I meet (including myself) don't even bother with malaria medication.
Dengue fever is much more common, and much more likely to affect you. I've met a number of travelers and expats who have caught it in SE Asia at one time or another.
Jul 4, 2012 6:23 AM
9Since you have time between your original departure date in August and your new date in October, I would suggest that you consider going to the Baltic countries and Western Europe for 4-6 weeks. Then take a cheap flight back to the UK for the wedding and then return to where you left off. You will need a double entry Russian 90 day business visa but this shouldn't be impossible to obtain. Also it will give you some idea of whether a longer trip is really feasible for you at this point in your life.
Jul 4, 2012 1:41 PM
10Which appeals to you the most then? China or Russia? Because you may want to choose just one. Making extensive plans and having to cancel them due to anxiety can feel horrible, so starting with a plan that lasts say, 1 month and has the possibility to turn into a 6 month trip may be better. Focusing on one country can be good at first. You'd feel more stuck in China I bet, because you'd stand out.
How about simply going back to Japan or what about South Korea? The thing about China is that you wouldn't even be able to read simple street signs. The Korean writing system is extremely simple and I think the Japanese is somewhere in between. Cyrillic is the best one of course. I mean if you don't want to feel stuck, it's nice to be able to read street signs, boards etc.
Russia is great, you have the ability to blend in, unless you wear a Hawaii shirt, SLR around your neck, white sneackers etc. Russians seem very arrogant at first, drinking alcohol can help you get to know a lot of people, however people do socialize without it as well. There are hostels but mainly locals stay there, specially off season and they speak like 3 words of English each so...
I've actually only been to Russia in winter, but I'd recommend going in spring/autumn.
Jul 4, 2012 3:56 PM
11Thanks for taking the time to reply everyone, appreciate it.
km6xz - Very insightful post, thank you. You're right, after thinking about it more it does seem very silly to plan such little time in certain countries. A while back I told myself I would not fall into the trap of becoming one of those people who just wants to tick off loads of countries instead of really experiencing what it's like to live in one place, but seems I almost fell into the trap anyway!
chrisraybould - Sounds awesome :) Yes the Trans-Siberian does indeed seem a bit of a minefield, lots of different information on the web. Obviously most people (myself included) would want to stop off at least a couple of times to make the most of travelling through Russia, but I've heard that there isn't really a "rail pass" that allows you to hop on and off of trains, and therefore you need to pre-book quite a few different tickets for different trains for different dates. I wonder if it's easy enough (and maybe cheaper?) to just book/buy tickets as you go along, or if there's some difficulty in doing that (besides language barrier) ?? Maybe someone on here could give some advice on that. One thing I remember reading is that you can buy Trans tickets at most ticket stations in Russia but due to demand you might be stuck for a few days or a week, but I guess if you keep things flexible that isn't really a problem =/
everbrite - That's a nice idea but I don't really want to go back and forth, and since a while ago when I decided that I'd wait until at least November I haven't really motivated myself with planning, so not really in a position to leave at the moment.
hurricanebertha - That's kind of my problem, I don't really have a preference! Yeah I'll definitely be attempting to learn the cyrillic alphabet soon. Most people have recommended I do Russia in Spring or Autumn, but after delaying the travelling idea a fair few times I got my mind set on November-ish, otherwise I'll be waiting a number of months again. I don't mind the cold, in a way I prefer it to being too hot, but I suppose it depends how cold we're talking...
After reading more of your posts I'm really re-thinking things, particularly km6xz's. I guess I shouldn't be putting pressure on myself to leave at a certain time, and just go when I'm ready, but you know what it's like - just want to leave! What's making me indecisive is my lack of preference of places to visit; really I just want to leave my job and head for the road alone, and see what happens, go where the wind takes me. I think I should do more research to see what interests me enough to spend a lot of time there. I'm pretty firm on doing the Trans-Siberian/Mongolian though - maybe I'm romanticizing it and it will be boring, but it just appeals to me (I like trains hehe) In all the excitement of wanting to quit my job and go on an adventure I'm probably trying to bite off more than I can chew >_<
More advice welcome. :)
Jul 4, 2012 4:13 PM
12Don't go when you are ready, because you will never be ready.
When you feel as though you have nothing left to live for in your own country - go. Travel is the best medicine.
Regarding November travel in Russia, we are talking pretty cold here. Their heating isn't sufficient for Westerners and you'd have to spend more money on hotels etc.
Minus 25 in St. Petersburg felt colder than minus 40 in Norway...
Booking tickets as you go in Russia. I don't see why this wouldn't be doable. Surely Russians themselves don't have to book tickets months in advance. You may have to be stuck in a few towns though, or take a bus instead of a train, or take the lowest class... The language barrier would be a problem yes, but it would be regarding virtually ALL travel in Russia.
Well, let's just say there's a reason Russia isn't Thailand, frankly they don't need tourist dollars.
How about at least considering some other options? I'm not suggesting Thailand or India, far too many hippy's and as it seems you aren't looking for that style of travel... There are non touristy countries out there that are relatively easy to travel in, and people speak more English than in Russia, for instance, Mexico, Iran, Indonesia. I haven't been to that many countries as I prefer quality over quantity but I'm sure you could find another option.
Jul 4, 2012 5:31 PM
The language barrier shouldn't be a problem if you get a few basic words learned and have paper and pencil so you can write down the train number, the date, the class of ticket, etc.
If you aren't interested in a bit of adventure, then perhaps this isn't the trip for you at this time.
There is nothing wrong with traveling in Russia during winter. In fact, I would rather travel in mid winter (December through February), than in mid March and April. There are winter activities. The trains are warm, sometimes even too warm. The bigger issue for me is the limited amount of sunlight but being from England this might be less of an issue for you.
There are fewer tourists so no lines. You just need appropriate clothing and that can be a hassle because winter clothing is bulky so it seems like you are carrying more than you should need. Most important is waterproof footwear. Also scarves, hats, gloves and winter underwear. Plan to dress in layers. Plan to ditch the clothing and buy new things as you travel.
Most important is the issue of visas and timing. The Russian and Chinese visas need to be obtained at home prior to departure. The Russian visa is a maximum of 30 days for a tourist visa and 90 days for a business visa and it is date specific. So you need to figure your arrival and departure. And you need to buy an invitation from someplace like realrussia.co.uk.
The Chinese and Mongolian visas are different. The Mongolian visa is good for 30 days within a 90 day period which begins when the visa is issued. It can be obtained in advance or in Russia in several cities along the trans Mongolian route.
The Chinese visa is more of a problem. It cannot be obtained along the way. Do NOT plan to try to get it in Mongolia as it is very complicated and costly. Chinese visas have three numbers.
1. The number of stays. This is usually 1, 2 or multiple
2. The number of days per stay. This is usually 30, 60 or perhaps even 90 days.
3. The valid for entry before date. This is usually 90 days from the date of issue for a single entry visa, 180 days for a double entry visa and sometimes a year for a multiple entry visa.
Note that you can enter on the last day of the 'valid for entry date' and stay the entire number of days. So if you obtain a visa on May 15 and it is valid for 30 days and you enter on August 12, you can stay until September 10. The date of entry and the date of exit both count in the 30 days.
Since this will be your first Chinese visa, you will probably only get a single entry and probably only 30 days unless you find an agency or visa service that can get you longer. But don't worry, Chinese visas can be extended as much as twice so that you can probably get 80-90 days and then you can go and buy a new Chinese visa in Hong Kong if you want to spend more time in China.
Most other visas can be obtained as you travel though I would check about the Vietnamese visa and the Thai visa prior to departure.
Jul 8, 2012 8:54 PM
14I'm a Chinese. As for China, there're loads of places worth visiting (think about this: in terms of size, China almost as large as the whole Europe)
Beijing is a great city, but as nowadays international metropolises are becoming more and more alike, I'd recommend some less developed regions, such as Yun Nan, Gui Zhou, Si Chuan, Tibet, Xin Jiang etc.
Those places preserved their distinct culture and identity better, and they got fascinating nature sceneries too.
(A few days ago, I spent 2 weeks on a road trip, exploring southest Gui Zhou. It's really amazing)
Btw, don't worry about language. There're plenty of English speakers in China.
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