What to Pack: Women travelling Central Asia

“You’ll need to be covered from ankles to wrists,” said the Mongoose as I quizzed him about what I would need to pack to travel the Silk Road.

“And we need a plug and a Lada car window handle,” added Matty somewhat unhelpfully.

I sighed, looking at my wardrobe in despair. The bottom rail of office clothes were definitely redundant, so seemed my skinny jeans, long sleeved tops and the optimistic rail of summer dresses and little flower printed skirts and vest tops.

Nothing seemed to cover me from ankle to wrist, and also be cool enough for 45 degrees plus weather.

Truth be told, I had no idea of what to wear as a woman in Central Asia.

And so it was back into town again to look at Britain’s winter/early spring range, trying desperately to find a sort of Dalai Lama outfit that Topshop just doesn’t stock.

Somehow over the months I managed to cobble together a new Silk Road wardrobe of sorts and now, after more than three months on the road, I thought I’d let you know what works and what doesn’t so if you too are planning a trip across Central Asia it may be of some help with your packing.

First things first, you do not need to cover from ankle to wrist in most parts of Cental Asia. The Mongoose has spent the last five years working in Afghanistan, and while that completely is the case there, I found most parts of Central Asia surprisingly liberal. I’ve jotted down a brief dress code for the different countries at the bottom of this post.

Fortunately I failed on my mission to find really conservative summer clothes so as a result I feel like I have a good balance for most places we’ve visited.

So, without further ado, here’s my essential packing list for a woman travelling Central Asia:

Skirts/Trousers

Long skirt (I bought an American Apparel double-chiffon ankle length skirt from eBay – light material, flattering but loose and has an elasticated waistband, which is ideal for the kebab and fat diet you are about to embark on!)

image

A pair of baggy cropped trousers (as donated by my wonderful friend Nicki – amazingly lightweight in hot weather and like the skirt, if teamed with a little black boob tube, can feel quite dressy in the evening. Incidentally I actually wore these trousers for the entire duration of Nicki’s hen weekend. But that’s another story (and maybe best saved for a post on not losing your luggage on trains.)

image

Trekking trousers – These geeky trousers are an essential part of my new wardrobe. I’ve never really owned any trousers with pockets before, which I can confirm are extremely useful. (I opted for some lightweight North Face trousers that can be rolled up and kept in place with tabs, ideal for hot hikes).

image

Short baggy skirt – Not worn this out a great deal but handy to have and wear around the hostel/more liberal cities like Baku and Bishkek. (Picked this up at a Thai market years ago and takes no room at all).

image

I also have a pair of black skinny jeans but I have not worn them since leaving Europe… Just can’t bring myself to chuck them.

Tops
2 black vest tops – I have felt comfortable in a surprising number of places in Central Asia wearing a vest top, and when I am in more conservative areas they work great with a pashmina wrapped around my shoulders.

image

Black boob tube – perfect for turning my cropped trousers and long skirt into an evening outfit.

20130727-154814.jpg

(Cue: cringe at cheesy, posey picture).

3 capped sleeved t-shirts – Make sure one of them is baggy and high necked but you will often feel comfortable wearing tighter t-shirts too.

image

2 baggy shirts – I bought a peach and white shirt as an attempt to cover up, but don’t really think they are that necessary. In saying that I love the peach one as it is nice and light, the second one is white and makes me look like a school teacher so I’m saving that for Vietnam… when I will hopefully be teaching English.

image

Morino Lamb Wool Baselayer (long sleeved) – Amazing for the rare chilly nights, and NEVER smells! I wish I’d bought the t-shirt version too.

North Face Tri-Climate Jacket: a fleece and detachable waterproof/wind proof jacket – This has spent most of the time in my bag as we are travelling Central Asia but needed it through Europe at the beginning of the trip. It also came in handy for chilly evenings in the high altitude Pamir mountains.

image
(Here we are in our matching Northface jackets with our matching tablets.)

Other bits
Kikoy – An amazing wide scarf that might look like a bit like a pashmina to the untrained eye but as a kikoy it is designed to be worn dozens of different ways. Personally I tend to use it as a shawl and a blanket.

20130725-174415.jpg

(I’m frowning at another breakfast of bread and cheese here, not my kikoy).

Pashmina/head scarf – Great for Mosque visits etc

Jewellery – I was blessed with some lovely gifts from my friends and family before I left… From beautiful pandora charms to my St Christopher’s necklace and even a silver oak leaf (see above)… Oh and a fab broach for my pashmina. They all help glam up my backpack and remind me of my bestests.

Sports bra and trainers – With just these two items I can exercise anywhere and everywhere. Morning runs have become a lovely way to soak up local life here. We actually also brought Ripcord resistance bands for confined-space hotel room workouts, which are fab.

Footwear
I came away with three different types of flip flops (two dressier and a pair of Haviannas) and a pair of trekking shoes. I now have just one pair of flip flops (my Havianas) after the other two broke, my trekking shoes and my running trainers (after I got my mum to post them out to me).

image
My stumps in all their glory.

Wish I’d bought
A hat – but I steal Matty’s at times.

image
At least you can’t accuse me of only putting photos that make me look good on this blog…

Baggy, light knee length skirt – For when I don’t want to wear my maxi skirt.

A pair of pumps or something in between trekking shoes and flip flops (my poor toes are stubbed to pieces).

A collapsible cup – Would be perfect for train journeys and many a wine swigging moments. Matty has one and I get VERY JEALOUS.

Water purification tablets – Why isn’t we come away with these?! An absolute must for treks in Tajikistan and Kyrgzstan where you will be drinking from streams every day.

Other helpful things to pack for travelling Central Asia

A plug… And of course travel wash. Yes, Matty was right.

Beanbag/blow-up pillow for those long bus rides.

A mini fan – preferably one of those battery powered ones. What I would do to get my hands on one of those right now…

Hand sanitizer – almost everyone we’ve met so far has got quite ill at some point but this could help. And it will definitely make you feel better after walking out of the many TERRIBLE Central Asian toilets that you will be frequenting.

Bikini – Despite the lack of sea, there are often pools and lakes to dip in!

A multi-plug adapter – often the rooms only have one socket but this means we can still charge all our devices.

A torch/mini battery lantern – there are a lot of power cuts on this side of the world.

Sleeping bag liner – An essential packing item as many hostels don’t provide top sheets.

Earplugs – Because men here snore as badly as everywhere else.

Hanging washbag – Makes me feel like I’ve brought my bathroom cabinet to every grubby Central Asian hostel bathroom… Priceless.

Trekking towel – takes up no room and dries quickly.

Medical box – Immodium (trust me, you’re gunna need it), Nytol (works wonders on the sleeper trains) and all the usual pain killers. You can get all these things over the counter here too.

A Spork – An amazing piece of plastic that is a knife, spoon and fork all in one go. Another genius purchase by Matty that I questioned at the time… Yes, yes, you were right.

Gaffa tape – WTF?! Another Matty purchase, if we get holes in our clothes he offers to ‘gaffa tape’ them up. Personally, I’m glad I also brought a needle and thread!

A ‘secret supply’ of chocolate – For my ‘Easter present’ I asked Matty to take some chocolate travelling so that when the choc cravings came in hard and fast on the road he would have some Green & Blacks at the ready. Best move yet.

How conservative are the countries of Central Asia?

Turkmenistan – Women here wear fabulous, long, printed, figure hugging dresses with either short or long sleeves. Headscarves are not worn by the majority. Initially I felt more comfortable in a t-shirt and long skirt but our guide insisted that vest tops were also fine and that the long dresses are a cultural choice rather than a religious one. When I did wear vest tops I did not feel uncomfortable (but always had a pashmina to hand for certain sites.)

Uzbekistan – Surprisingly liberal. I felt comfortable wearing vest tops with my long skirt/cropped trousers almost everywhere. However we did not visit the Fergana Valley, which is meant to be much more conservative.

Tajikistan – Easily the most conservative country we visited in Central Asia. The women wore long, baggy clothing and many wore headscarves. I did not wear my vest top once here, even in Dushanbe – it just didn’t feel right.

Kyrgzstan – In contrast to the above, Kyrgzstan is easily the most liberal country we’ve been to. Girls in hot pants in the supermarket, thong bikinis at the outdoor swimming pool in Bishkek, it was like we’d crossed a border into Europe ūüôā

Choosing the best SLR camera bag to take travelling

We might have made a packing mistake that has cost us £130. Gulp.

Deciding whether to take our SLR camera travelling for five months was a tricky one… On the plus side it enables us to take photos that we just can’t seem to capture with our trusty, much loved compact (a Canon G12 which we use in conjunction with the SLR), but on the other hand, it is bulky, heavy and a bit of a nuisance. Especially when you also want to take three lenses and a tripod… Because otherwise you might as well just take a compact, right?

So last September, ahead of our big trip across Central Asia, we did a test run in Bali with the SLR and bought the Jack Wolfskin ACS Photobag to see how cumbersome it would be.

But it worked out just fine. The bag made for an ideal ‘day pack’, despite being a little large. Click on the link above for detailed pictures, but essentially it has a large Velcro-strapped area for the camera and lenses, with two other sections for all the other bits you might need for the day (including space for a thin laptop or tablet).

However, within a week of being on the road for the big trip, we realised the bag was completely impractical.

20130526-223843.jpg
Me looking a tad top heavy with the Jack Wolfskin, on the morning we left for our Silk Road journey.

While fine for a holiday in Bali, when we caught taxis to most places and stayed at guest houses for more than a few days at a time, it was a completely different scenario trying to squeeze it onto cramped mini-buses and sleep with it on sleeper trains.

20130526-214329.jpg
Matty sporting the giant ‘day pack’ on his front before attempting to wrestle it onto a sleeper train.

In fact, it got so bad that Matty started talking about getting a new bag on an almost hourly basis. One of the main problems was its large and rigid frame, that just couldn’t be squeezed into small spaces. It was just too bulky.

To cut a long, and somewhat boring story short, we have finally caved in and replaced it. We now have a tiny little SLR camera bag (relatively speaking) that fits in everything we need to carry, and can sits under all tables and awkward bus spaces with ease. But it came at a price.

Our new shiny Lowepro Photo Sport Sling 100 AW bag cost us a whopping £100, plus it cost us another £30 to post home the Jack Wolfskin bag (it is a great bag for weekends away etc so we were loathed to just chuck it.)

20130526-205549.jpg

So in a (geeky) bid to make sure others don’t make the same mistake, I thought I would write a small review of our new bag.

There is plenty to love about the Lowepro sling but I think perhaps the best thing is, it looks more like an ordinary rucksack than a camera bag, which is a big plus when you don’t want to attract unnecessary attention when travelling.

It has just one strap over the shoulder with a support belt around the waist to prevent your shoulder from aching too much. But the real benefit of this is that you don’t need to take the bag off to get the camera out, you just undo the support strap and swing the bag to your side.

20130526-222331.jpg
It feels only appropriate, if writing a geeky post like this, to include an incredibly geeky picture of myself. So here you go.

The camera is tucked away in this little section on the side of the bag, zipped up snugly, with a drawstring to make even tighter if your camera is smaller than ours.

20130526-222508.jpg

20130526-222734.jpg

So the camera takes up the bottom half of the bag, leaving space for bits and bobs in the top half. We can also slide our iPad down into the bottom half of the bag, beside the camera, and it fits in perfectly. In the top half I can carry my kindle, journal, guide book etc easily. (Yes, I’m a dirty ‘flashpacker’).

20130526-222958.jpg

Look, it even has a little zip compartment in there where we keep our camera connectors and polarising filter etc.

There is a pouch at the front, which is the perfect size for a book – and also a small zip up pocket on the top of the bag, giving easy access for smaller valuables etc, as well as a pouch in the side that easily carries 1.5 litre bottles of water. Oh, and it has a rainwater protector tucked in at the bottom for wet days. I did warn you this post was geeky.

20130526-223230.jpg
The water lives here.

It gets better. I know, I can almost hearing you crying: “How, how, can this bag get any better?!” It has straps at the bottom to attach a tripod and you can easily roll up a jumper or pashmina and fix it underneath the strap at the top of the bag. In fact, there are so many straps that you could hang all sorts to it, and I’m not sure why, but that makes me happy.

20130526-223127.jpg

The only negative factor is the bag only really has space for one spare lens. We are travelling with three lenses so bought a little case for our small 50mm lens, which we carry in the top half of the bag.

So the conclusion is, Matty is much happier and is talking less about bags. And that is definitely worth £130.

A Dummies Guide to Surving Sleeper Trains across Europe

Chugging along rolling countryside, watching green fields turn into slums, and slums grow into cities – there is hardly a more pleasant way to travel. So far, just six days into the big trip, we have already spent about 72 hours on trains.

We’ve sampled everything from posh trains with fancy buffet cars to rickety, smoke-choked carriages where even conductors are puffing away beneath the ‘No Smoking’ signs. We’ve sat, cooped up with strangers in couchettes, swigging wine from the bottle watching the world go by in Hungary, while rationing our last bottle of water meanly travelling through Bulgaria in the baking sun – and we’ve encountered many an unsmiling passport officer at borders, where the trains seemingly sit for hours on end.

Matty, the Mongoose and I will often glance up from our reading, journal writing or travel planning activities to exclaim excitement over the change in landscape, prompting all three of us to rush to the open windows and hang our heads out like panting dogs in a hot car. The phrase ‘travel is about the journey not the destination’ must have been coined by a train enthusiast.

And perhaps the best bit, for me at least, is snuggling down in my little train bed in one country, falling alseep to the reassuring chug of the train, and waking up in another country altogether.

image

Matty showing you how it's done on our Budapest to Bucharest sleeper train

But, there are you things you need to know before embarking on such trips. So, without further ado here are my handy tips for inter-railing across Europe on sleeper trains.

1) Shop, shop, shop! Buy all your provisions for the journey before you get to the station – you can never be guaranteed of a buffet car… as was the case on our 17 hour journey to Istanbul from Bucharest. Upon boarding a two-carriage train with just a small picnic for lunch, we realised the only facilities on the train consisted of a man in a white vest selling flat, warm fizzy water. In desperation this saw me buy Bulgarian Levs from a stranger and Matty and Donagh leg it across a random Bulgarian station mid-journey, with just five minutes to spare to get provisions.

20130430-172316.jpg

They returned with this. And let me tell you Flirt Vodka will liven up any journey.

image

Matty and the Mongoose train feasting at a previous, better planned picnic

2) If you spy any rich-looking westerners, struggling with their over-sized suitcases, offer to help them. They will probably tip you, which will help buy those much needed drinks in the buffet car.

image

In fact, the tip was big enough for three large Weiss biers on our Munich to Salzburg train. True story.

3) Take lots of photos…

image

Train photos are cool. Here’s some of me and the Mongoose taken by Matty…

image

image

And a few more snaps…

image

20130430-170438.jpg

image

4) When you go into the sleeper car, space is tight and you’re often sharing it with six people. Get everything you need for the night out of your rucksack before putting it into the luggage shelves above the top bunks – once it’s up, it ain’t coming down. Wash bag, towel, PJs etc…

5) Once the bags are up, sit down on the lower couchette with your roomies for the night- ask if you can push the middle couchette up to avoid having to hunch. You never know, they may just give you the best tips for your next destination… and at least it will avoid the whole carraige bunking down for bed at 8pm.

6) TAKE EAR PLUGS. TAKE EAR PLUGS. TAKE EAR PLUGS. Did I mention, pack some ear plugs? The snoring can be phenomenal… personally I think snoring tests should be carried out before tickets are issued and the snorers should be made to sleep together in a tiny little couchette where they can snore in harmony like a six-piece nasal band, making the kind of music nobody else wants to hear.

8) Open your eyes and enjoy… the train will take you through communites and parts of countries you would never otherwise come across. It’s magical.

Everything Must Go! Selling your world to travel the world.

It was when I started blowing the ‘raving horn’ at a recent car boot sale and screaming: “Everything must go – 50p – everything must go,” that I realised I had reached a new level of desperation.

20130417-092841.jpg

With just half an hour to go, I declared that everything could go for 50p – nothing was sacred.

My mother looked slightly incredulous. “Even these?” she asked, pointing at my collection of unopened Clinique miniatures – the last remaining evidence of all the ‘second skin care items’ I have purchased in a bid to get the all-so-necessary free gift.

“Especially those,” I glowered.

A lady came over (who had already bought one of Matt’s jackets for ¬£2.50 after making me try it on to convince herself it was actually quite feminine) and picked up my bottle of fancy-pants tinted, shimmery SPF 15 sun cream.

“I’ll give you 30p for this,” she offered. I grabbed her pennies gladly. I’d loved that cream but alas, the lid had long since gone and it would be sure to turn everything in my rucksack into a brown, shimmery mess if it came with me. It had to go. Like all my other half used, much loved lotions and potions.

20130417-095523.jpg

That’s me with my good friend Carly. She works in sales and was responsible for about 80% of our sales that day… Watching her sell Love Actually as a porn film to a middle aged man was a personal highlight.

As the morning drew to a close I ran off to collect more charity bags from the car boot organiser to avoid returning home with the loveless goods. We filled up about 6 bin liners with all my wise little purchases from years gone by, ignoring the slightly racist man opposite selling bird tables who was muttering something about Bob Geldof ripping off charities and how, if it wasn’t for immigrants, he wouldn’t be selling bird tables at a car boot sale.

Truth be told, I’d have given even more to charity if I’d been permitted but the charity shop at the end of the road sort of asked me to stay away earlier this week.

My recent giveaways on Facebook have been more successful – friends have gladly taken my old Tupperware, spices and condiments – although I’ve had less interest in an assortment of coat hangers I kindly advertised to my loved ones last night.

And perhaps slightly more worrying than that, is the lack of interest we’ve had in the house so far. Ah yes, that little thing. The small matter of covering the mortgage while we swan around deepest darkest centra Asia.

Almost three years ago exactly we bought our lovely little three-bed terraced house in Hyson Green, Nottingham… eating pizza with our hands and supping bubbles to celebrate picking up the keys. For three years we loved, cherished and thoroughly enjoyed our little home – but now it’s time for someone else to live on the door step of the best curries that Nottingham has to offer.

Yes, I have written this blog to try and convince you to rent our house. So without further ado (putting on my best Lloyd Grossman accent), ‘who lives in a house like this…?’

20130417-065528.jpg
My, what a LOVELY door… And great bins.

20130417-065634.jpg
And with a courtyard perfect for the looming summer’s evenings.

20130417-064209.jpg
Through the keyhole and into the lounge… (The rug is still up for grabs for first available collector etc).

20130417-063848.jpg
A nice, spacious kitchen/diner. Are you sold yet?

20130417-063714.jpg
Crikey, look at the fitted wardrobe on that. Just like a scene out of Clueless. Quite.

20130417-063751.jpg
“Darling, we simply must live here,” I hear you cry.

20130417-065606.jpg
Top floor bedroom.

20130417-063959.jpg
Best loo north of the River Trent. Fact.

20130417-063548.jpg
And a room for little Joey.

By the time you’ve reached this point, I’m sure the agent’s line will already be busy – you should have called after reading the first line. Those of you that are now considering emigrating from Oz and elsewhere to Nottingham, I can assure you that you will not miss the beach life. The Old Market Square is transformed into a beach (fully equipped with deck chairs and a bar) every summer. You will be very happy here.

Meanwhile, we are now a mere six days from beginning our big journey from Nottingham to ‘nam across the Silk Road. We have spent weeks selling everything we own for just a few pennies, cleaning out a house that we love but has no tenants yet and wondering what to do with the Rover 25 that should never, ever be combined with a moustache in any circumstances.

20130417-063352.jpg

Yes, you too could look this good. Just over 100,000 miles on the clock, 4 months MOT and guaranteed sex appeal. I’ll even throw in the car for free. All yours for just ¬£400.

In sum, giving everything up to travel the world at an age when you own more than a few bags of clothes and a wok (circa 2006) is tricky… Truth be told my mother is having kittens. There are, of course, risks, worries and concerns but then again we wouldn’t be doing any of this if we wanted an easy life.

Instead we are choosing to travel a corner of the world where hotel televisions sometimes double up as CCTV cameras and visa rules are harder to follow than camel tracks in the scorching desert sand. It’s not meant to be an easy ride… But something tells me it will be a little bit more memorable than a bottle of fancy-pants, shimmery suntan cream.

Bring on the adventure x

Where to get visas on the Silk Road

Last updated – June 2013

GEEK ALERT: This post will probably not interest you in the slightest if you are not also planning a trip across the ‘stans of Central Asia. (These kind of posts will appear from time to time, where I basically get to indulge my list-making-inner-geek by publishing ‘useful information’ to fellow travellers.)

However, for those who are also planning a trip along the Silk Road, and wondering about the big V-question, please read on.

Of course, V stands for Very Vexatious Visas. Said to be the single biggest headache on this fabulous journey, these little slips of paper seem to take more organisation and thinking ahead than some of the bills that go through Parliament… Well have you seen the state of some of them?

And so after about five late nights, 10 different lists and copious glasses of wine, I finally have a plan of how to get our visas while travelling the Silk Road. Our main problem is that we need our passports for work before we leave so we can’t send them off to get visas before we leave – to take a look at our proposed route click here.

I shall update this list as and when things change, as they seem to do so frequently in this corner of the world. This info is a collation from recent blogs and forums, the Lonely Planet and local travel agents in Central Asia. For your reference, I am a British passport holder… with a big 48-page shiny, new passport. Bring on the visas.

Georgia: EU citizens do not need a visa.
Update: Confirmed, easy border crossing, no visa needed.

Armenia: EU citizens do not need a visa from January 10th, 2013 according to the latest info from the FCO here. (Border is currently closed between Armenia and Azerbaijan and also between Armenia and Turkey).
Update: No visa needed, no fee at border.

Azerbaijan:Pick up in Batumi, Georgia. According to recent blogs, this is very easy to do and only takes 3-5 days to come through. Strictly speaking, British citizens do not need LOIs but they are widely regarded to speed things up… I think we will try without. From the embassy in London it takes 10 working days, unless you are prepared to pay quite a bit more to seed it up by four days.
Update: Easily collected the Azerbaiajan visa in Batumi. I think it would have been next day service if it wasn’t for the fact it was Victory Day when we handed them in so we had to hang around for a few days extra.

Turkmenistan: We have decided to get the tourist visa (you can get a transit visa for a few days, which basically allows you to pass through the country) but we’re hoping to spend about 7 days there. It means we have to book a tour ahead of our visit and be accompanied by a tour guide at all times. An LOI (valid for three months) is required and we plan to get the visa in Yerevan, Armenia, where apparently it only takes a couple of days to come though. The visa will state entry and exit dates and what parts of country you are travelling to – you can enter after the start date and leave before the exit date. Apparently Yerevan is the best option at the moment as Baku is only open two days a week.
Update: The lady in the Turkmenistan embassy in Yerevan was extremely helpful but warned us travellers have been having a lot of trouble at Azeri border (before getting on boat) if Turkmen visa has been issued in Armenia, due to the ongoing conflict between the two countries. She said for some it has been very bad and they’ve had to get their embassies involved as passports have been taken… She recommended we get the visa in Baku, which we will try next.
Update: We picked up our Turkmenistan tourist visas in Baku on the same day… Eventually. Turns out they only open Monday and Friday. Once you get there you have to fill out the forms and then they send you to a bank (a taxi ride away) to actually transfer the cash. Complete hassle but got there in the end. They are open 9-12.

Uzbekistan: Amazingly, Uzbekistan will let us apply for a visa with only a copy of our passport. About 10 days later we will need to go down to the embassy in London with our real passports to get the visa put in. Therefore we shall be doing this before we leave the UK, it will be the only visa we leave with. LOI not normally needed for UK citizens, but it can speed to process up anyway and some embassies will ask for one. We shall try it without. We have been told you can also get this visa in Baku and Istanbul.

Update: We successfully got this visa from London before leaving, they processed it without our passports (just requiring a copy) then we collected it from London with our passports about 2 weeks later.

Afghanistan: Looks like we can get this in Tashkent, Uzbekistan according to the latest information here.
Update: REJECTED! We tried to get Afghanistan tourist visas in Tashkent, Uzbekistan but were told that the system changed two months ago and now visas must be obtained in home countries. They suggested we got a letter from the British Embassy just confirming who we are and requesting the Afghan Embassy assist us in eating a tourist embassy, but the British Embassy in Tashkent refused to do this. Alas, we will be missing Afghanistan out now.

Tajikistan: Need visa and GBAO permit (for Pamirs), which we plan to pick up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan (open 9am – noon) or Baku, Azerbaijan (open 15:00 – 17:00). Baku sounds the easiest option according to various forums, so we’ll try there first. I found this link particularly helpful.

Update: We got this easily enough in Baku. It took about three working days and the embassy opens from 3pm – 5pm Tuesday to Friday. We put our in on Thursday and picked it up on Tuesday. They do not currently have the GBAO permit stamp but have said we can pick it up easily enough in Tajikistan.

Kyrgyzstan: No visa needed for UK citizens according to the latest information here.

Kazakhstan: Collect visa in Baku, Azerbaijan. No LOI required. Easy and cheap to sort here according to this information.

Update: We picked up our Kazakhstan visas in Tbilisi, Georgia. All went without hitch… Very nice lady in embassy. Took about four working days to come through so we went off for a few days and came back.

China: This is our main problem at the moment and I’m not entirely sure what we will do! We have been told by a local expert it has become ‘very tricky’ to get a Chinese visa in Bishkek and Dushanbe. Currently looking into getting a six month visa before we leave the UK. This is a work in progress…

So here’s our plan:

London: Pick up Uzbekistan visa… maybe China too.
Batumi, Georgia: Pick up Azerbaijan visa
Tbilisi, Georgia: Pick up Kazak visa
Yerevan, Armenia: Pick up Turkmenistan visa
Baku, Azerbaijan: Pick up Tajikistan visa
Tashkent, Uzbekistan: Pick up Afghanistan visa

Tips for Getting Visas on the Silk Road

Make sure you have loads of free pages in your passport – we’ll be travelling with brand new ones.
Take loads of passport photos – I’m thinking at least 20.
Keep an eye on the latest information, searching the Thorn Tree forum is helpful but I think this Caravanistan website is perhaps the most helpful of all – after all, things seem to change every day.

If you have any experience of picking these visas up, then pleas share your thoughts below!

14 Top Tips on How to Save for Travelling

So you’ve got a car, you’ve got a house, you’ve got friends (that like drinking and going out for dinner), and you know what, you don’t really fancy putting your life on hold. But you want to travel… and somehow you need to find¬†those extra pennies. I’m no Money Saving Martin (I think that’s his name, some bloke¬†my mum regularly quotes, “Well in Martin’s latest email…”) but nevertheless I am getting quite good at making my less-than-the-national-average-salary get me where I want to be.

Here’s how…

  1. Work out your budget. Dull, dull, dull – but sadly necessary. By all means pur yourself a glass of wine to help you through it (I’ll come to alcohol savings later!) Look at¬†your bank statements from the last three months, get a blank piece of paper¬†and draw up three columns with the titles: “Direct debits/outgoings”, “Things I don’t want to give up” and “Naughty”. The first column is fairly obvious – include all bills¬†and regualr payments, column two for me¬†had things like haircuts, dinners out, drinks, magazine subscriptions¬†etc, while my¬†column three featured naughty names like¬†H&M, Zara and Topshop. Next, add up column one –¬†plus your weekly food bill and look at that against your salary. It made me realise how much I was actually spending on things I didn’t want to give up/naughty purchases. This is the key stage – work out what you want to save against how much your willing to¬†sacrifice. Then set up a direct debit so your savings are transferred the day after you are paid into another account you can’t touch. I find it helpful to then¬†withdraw my weekly spending money every Monday so I can see it disappearing in my purse, plastic is deceiving but when your notes disappear you get a little bit more tight!
  2. What else can you give up? Be reasonable about this – remember if it’s a long-term savings plan you still need to enjoy life. I cancelled my contact lense direct debit as I had a surplus of lenses and my partner quit his gym membership and bought some weights, which he combines with running. I’d like to say we stopped drinking but we didn’t… each to their own.
  3. Can you get rid of your car? I did – got a bike instead – and now I travel everywhere for free!
  4. Use TopCashBack whenever you buy anything online – it’s a website that will transfer you to the page you want to go to (almost like a search engine) but it¬†pays¬†you a small percentage of whatever you buy in commission. While I only make about ¬£50 a year, I know someone who books a lot of hotels through work and made over ¬£1,000. Quidco¬†is another popular site but they charge ¬£5 a year.
  5. Everytime you’re about to buy something online go to www.vouchercodes.co.uk¬†– there is almost always a discount code you can use. For example, when we hired a car recently we went on this website and found an 11% discount, then we paid for it via TopCashBack and got 8 per cent cash back – we saved about ¬£10.
  6. Get a second job. Sounds rubbish but doing one night’s work a week could make the difference between you staying on budget rather than going into your overdraft by ¬£100 every month. I couldn’t get a bar job or restaurant work due to the nature of my day job, so found work copy-writing online a few hours a week. There will be something that suits your life… find it.
  7. Check your energy bills – are you in credit with¬†your gas and electricity provider? If so call them and ask for the money – why should they make interest on it? It’s yours! Put it straight into that ISA…
  8. What do you do with your “free council tax” months? Every Feb and March you are council tax free! But you’ve budgeted for it so transfer it into that tax-free ISA you’ve set up¬†before you are tempted to spend it…
  9. Put a pound in a pot every day. This one is priceless, I promise. Buy a pot you cannot get into (we once had a metal tin with a big tacky £50 note image wrapped around it and we currently have one of those posh pottery numbers that you have to smash on a ceremonial occasion) and put £1 in every day. The last time it provided all our spending money for a weekend in Sovenia and by the time we break into the next one we should have about £600 for our forthcoming Bali trip.
  10. When it comes to food shopping – set a budget and stick to it. Ours is ¬£50 a week –¬†it makes cooking imaginative and we don’t eat any worse for it at all.
  11. Don’t stop doing things – just do them cheaper. Living in Nottingham, I visit my friends in London about once a month and rarely spend more than ¬£15 on a return ticket – book in advance with Megabus (which is actually a train) and National Express buses are often ¬£5.
  12. eBay. Enough said. Everything you don’t want, or don’t need – stick on eBay (make sure pics are super, descriptions are enticing) and everything you do need –¬†buy it on eBay!! I unashamedly love clothes but cannot justify¬†fashion as an outgoing at the moment so I recycle clothes on eBay. For example, I bought a beautiful French Connection dress (retails at ¬£130 bought on eBay for ¬£30), whcih I intend to wear to a glitzy London hen do, then I will re-sell it to buy a beautiful dress for a wedding a month later. I will then re-sell that for the next wedding – and so it goes on. Make sure you buy labels because you are guaranteed to sell them on at the same sort of price – I normally make a profit actually. I think eBay tips might be worthy of their very own blog space soon. Watch this space!
  13. If you own your own house can you have a lodger? We had a great lodger for a while that stayed with us during the week and went back home at weekends, giving us the space and privacy we were used to on the most important days of the week! There are websites for these kind of arrangements, one of which is www.mondaytofriday.com – but there’s loads more.
  14. Want a weekend away? Do it! Camp or find a dirt cheap B&B… take homemade sandwiches for the road and work out where you want to splash your cash – one night posh dinner, cheap grub the rest of the time? Trust me, it can be done!

I’m sure there are more – I might have to come back to this topic, but if you have any more tips leave them below – I’m always on the lookout for more ways of saving cash. My motto is Live it Like you Love it…. but sadly that often comes at a price (flights to Bali were not cheap) so the cash has to be found!

Happy savings! x