One of my intentions when I returned what should have been a year of travelling was that I would not fly for another four years. I decided that I wanted to travel more sustainably more often than I did previously: with a major reduction in the number of short breaks that I take by air.
Living with a pandemic for two years made that remarkably easy. I didn’t leave the UK for almost two years once I returned from Thailand at the end of March 2020. My first trip was to Paris by Eurostar for a weekend towards the end March 2022.
By Christmas 2021, I was thinking about a slightly longer trip. Just for a month. And by train, so therefore within Europe or possibly just outside the borders.
At this point, there still seemed far too much uncertainty with our good friend Covid-19 to be contemplating a longer trip. Lockdowns could be imposed if numbers rose dramatically, and throughout December, it wasn’t clear how Omicron was going to play out.
May seemed like a reasonable month to choose for a break, particularly as I was going to travel by train across Europe and I had a hankering for Georgia. The weather would be comfortable and, courtesy of one of my favourite people, the Man in Seat 61, by January 2021, I had a rather excellent route planned to get me to Georgia – the journey was as important as the destination.
And then I reviewed the Covid-19 restrictions for each country I would be travelling through. Again, the Man in Seat 61 was making travel straightforward by including a page on Covid-19 requirements. At this point, I’d have to be organising PCR tests or lateral flow tests for each of the four countries that I would spend around five or six days travelling through (with a 24-48 hour window for testing) and Romania (with a stop in Bucharest) had England on its red list. Yes, this could all change – but let’s face it, there was the possibility it could get worse rather than better.
At this point, I went back to the travel planning drawing board.
While, as I said, there was obviously time for this to change by May 2021, I just didn’t want to take that chance and deal with the logisitics to arrange the testing. I did wonder if I was being a bit of a wimp about this but…
Go back to Summer 2019 when I was planning to travel through Belarus, Russia, Mongolia and China: all requiring visas, to be obtained in a specific order (no Belarus visa until the Russian visa has been granted, for example); and with at least one trip to London (and a jaunt into Manchester) in order to supply the paperwork and fingerprints necessary for Russian and Chinese visas; while Russia were taking 20 days to process them… yes, I was (and am) absolutely capable of completing the paperwork, creating a timetable for submission and managing the process… but could I be bothered? No. So, in that instance I paid a travel company to organise it all for me.
Back to January 2022 and I decided, instead of an epic multi day journey, I would take a look at where I could get to quickly and spend a month there. In 2019, the original plan had been to spend my final month travelling in Italy. Why? Because I really love it.
Decision made. Travel through France required a lateral flow test and Italy required a PCR test on departure (within 24 hours of arrival), and at London St Pancras, I would take a test in the morning and then travel to arrive in Turin on the same day in the early evening. Result.
By the time I set off the PCR test was no longer required and neither was a Lateral Flow test. As I am fully vaccinated, I just had to prove that. Nice and straightforward – I downloaded the proof from the NHS App the night before I travelled.
I then spent the next couple of months, keeping an occasional eye on the travel requirements just to ensure I wasn’t caught out, as well as planning the trip: you know, the fun bit. If you continue reading my updates, you’ll find out what some of these plans were/are.
But yes, there will be cake.
Yes, the planning did involve a colour-coded spreadsheet. And then there was the packing… I light to travel light and don’t carry anything more than I am prepared to run with.
I did a stock take of the kit I had brought back from my last BIG adventure and I didn’t need to add much to the existing kit. A couple of replacements were necessary, medical kit obviously, and it’s anybody’s guess where my head torch went, but also this:
As any devotee of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ knows, every hitchhiker (or in this case, traveller) should always know where their towel is.
…a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.Douglas Adams
Well, I know where the original towel (a groovy travel towel printed with a map of the London Underground) is… it’s on the back of the door to a shower cubicle in the Northern Quarter off the Stuart Highway.
Of course, it was bugger all use to me over there, so I have bought another groovy towel (this time with a map of the Peak District on it). I didn’t like the plain blue replacement I bought in Darwin. Naturally I bought another towel – at that point I was only half way through my intended year out and I’m quite keen on hygiene.
I also had to buy these:
FFP2 masks are a requirement on Eurostar and also on Italian public transport until the 30th April, at least. So I thought I might as well go colour-coordinated.
A bit different to the packing for my last big trip back in 2019.
So, by the evening of the 28th, the trusty Osprey, yes, that would indeed be the 40 litre Osprey, would be ready to go.
Actually, it was ready to go by the 19th April.