Thursday, January 04, 2007 Jordan Jordan

Forty days

Today is the fortieth day of our trip! Time has taken on a whole new meaning: in some ways the forty days have absolutely flown by, but in other ways our experiences in places like Budapest feel like they happened months and months ago. So we thought it might be a good idea to have a bit of a review of where we are.

The luggage

A favourite topic of conversation in emails from friends and family at home has been: "Are you still only carrying those two tiny bags? How are you managing to live with so little luggage?" Well actually, we've found it very easy. We chose hi-tech clothes which were quick drying, warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather, and and in most places we have been able to dry them overnight. When this wasn't possible we just had to think ahead a little bit more. In fact that has been the only challenge of living with so little: you just need to plan more than usual. We have only two sets of underwear with us (what we're wearing, and one other set), but we have only had to put them on for a second day once.

When the time comes to walk to the next bus or train station, our travelling light strategy pays dividends. We have just the one bag each to carry, and while they are slightly uncomfortable for long walks, they are so much less cumbersome and frankly embarrassing than the enormous backpacks that all of the other travellers seem to have. We have had more than one taxi driver ask us where our luggage was, and several "Why didn't I do that" glances from other travellers.

The most essential item

Without a doubt, the GPS. To sit on a train where there are absolutely no announcements or staff, where you can't communicate at all with any of your fellow passengers, where it's dark outside and the stations have unlit or non-existent name signs, but to be unflustered because you know you're still 50 km from your destination, is priceless. We honestly don't know how we would have coped without it. Our free bonus is that it allows us to tag the location of our photos so we can have a progress map. The only price to pay is that we have to spend half an hour before each journey in an internet café finding the approximate latitude and longitude of our destination city, and if possible, the precise coordinates of our hotel.

What we have missed

There are only three things that we have missed. The first is our iPod. We could have easily fitted it in, but we chose not to because we wanted to have a complete break from our lives at home and we felt that having our entire music collection with us all the time would lead us to plug in to that rather than listening to the sounds of the country we were in. Even on a long coach journey, the trashy music on the radio and the unintelligible conversations of the locals are all part of the experience. However, if we started again, on balance we would take the iPod.

The second thing we wish we had brought is our driving licences. Why we left them at home is a mystery—they would have allowed us to hire a scooter or a car for the day if we wanted to, and fitting two bits of paper into the luggage would hardly have been a problem. We might try to get the licences sent out to us if we are ever in a place for long enough to receive mail. For now it's not a problem.

Finally, we have missed our laptop. We could have backed up our photos to it, connected to the wi-fi networks which seem to be everywhere, and written our emails and blog posts offline when it suited us, rather than having to sit in grubby internet cafés trying to be creative and remember everything that has happened when we really wanted to be outside exploring. Like the iPod, we didn't bring it because we wanted a complete break, but also because we thought it would be far too bulky to carry.

We have a slight confession to make at this point. We found a computer store in Amman the other day and we bought a laptop. It is very small (12-inch screen) and it still fits into the tiny bags with all our other luggage, although we now have to carry our even tinier day-bag separately when travelling between destinations—before, we used to be able to fit it into one of the two main bags. But the freedom the laptop has given us already has made it worthwhile and we don't regret it at all.

What we could have left at home

Nothing really. We have found that our planning was pretty good and we have had most things that we needed, and nothing that we didn't need. We have only used our travel towels once (in Brussels!) because all of the other hostels and hotels have provided towels. But we will undoubtedly need them again at some point.

How we are actually enjoying the experience

We have found the trip to be everything we had hoped it would be. We have got through the first few weeks of repeatedly asking ourselves "Why the hell are we doing this?". We are already much more confident. Our bargaining skills are coming on nicely, and we now think nothing of walking through the dark streets of an unknown city in a strange country not knowing quite where we are going or how we are going to get back. We are comfortable with not knowing where we will be sleeping tomorrow night, too. Something always works out. We are not yet ready to set off to a new city without any booked accommodation, especially if we will be arriving after dark, and we don't know if we will ever be able to do that. Some travellers swear by it—their huge backpacks mean that they have warm clothing options, sleeping bags and maybe even tents, so they automatically have a bigger safety margin than we do. Nevertheless they have our complete respect, especially the solo ones.

We thought we would have a lot of time to think about the future. We were wrong. We are considerably more busy than we ever were at home, and we seem to have had no spare time at all. We plan to stop somewhere soon where it's cheap and warm, probably Goa in India, and take a break. Hard as it may be for people at home to understand that we need a break, believe us: travelling like this is an amazing experience, but it's hard work and at times stressful. We need a holiday.