Category Archives: Planning

Two Years of Travel in Apps: Our recommended travel apps

It is getting increasingly easier to travel, the wealth of information from bloggers like us has made researching and travel planning a quick search away. Timetables and bus routes are generally easy to find for all but the least touristed destinations, and translation apps are arguably taking the fun out of ordering meals in restaurants – though you still have the choice to use them, and we never did!

Andrew's 64GB WiFi iPad Mini

Both our iPad Minis have been invaluable in preparing, planning and travelling around Europe and Asia for two years

Here follows a few mobile apps, websites and resources that we’ve used during our trip – are there any you’d add? Let us know in the comments!

Kayak - flights

Kayak – Getting there

We tried to travel overland as much as possible, but on the few occasions we needed to fly we consulted Kayak. It’s our favourite app (and website) for finding destinations and checking routes because it shows lay-over times clearly and has easy filtering for the number of connections.

Rome2rio - travel planning

Rome2rio – Getting there and getting about

Do any kind of search of the format “how do I get from Place A to Place B” and Rome2rio will rightfully be in the top results. It quickly became invaluable to us in planning our movement around Europe and Asia on our two year trip. It shows trains, busses, ferries, and flights on an interactive map and it’s an excellent starting point for finding out possible routes and rough pricing.

BlaBlaCar - car sharing
Bla Bla Car

Bla Bla Car – Getting about with the locals

A late entry to us but an easy recommendation that we’ll be using after our trip is BlaBlaCar – a car and journey sharing website! Introduced to us in its French language version – – it was especially handy in Europe as some of the train journeys would have really eaten into our budget, plus we got to meet new people!

AirBnB - staying with locals or entire apartments

Accommodation – Finding somewhere to stay

Throughout our two year trip we’ve generally booked our accommodation about 2 weeks in advance, except for major capital cities and well, pretty much everywhere in Japan where we had to start booking about a month in advance to get the best deals.

For longer stays we prefer to rent private apartments or stay in apartment hotels so we can shop at the local markets and cook for ourselves. We’ve used a combination of fellow traveller recommendations, other travel blogs and accommodation booking websites, and our favourites (in order) are these:

  • AirBnB – Our favourite for booking homes and rooms around the world. We’ve had some truly amazing hospitality when staying with families through AirBnB, and its often been cheaper than hotels or hostels! We tend to seek out the new hosts – those recently registered, with few if any reviews but good descriptions and photos.
  • – The first app or website we checked when looking for shorter stays.
  • – Great when we started out, but over the two years we’ve been away the prices, especially in Europe, have rocketed up. It tenuously maintains a place on our list as a resource of last resort as I can’t remember the last time we actually made a booking through it. Oh, and there isn’t a secure way to log in to the website.
  • – AirBnB-like rival that we’ve used occasionally when we haven’t found anything on AirBnB.

No CouchSurfing on our list? We did stay with friends 5 times on our trip which would qualify as CouchSurfing experiences, but we arranged them with people we met on the road as we went, or who we already knew. - essential offline maps – On the ground

We’d usually pick up a map from the hostel, hotel or local Tourist Information office as they’re quicker to consult and easier to carry, and in some poorer Asian countries we didn’t want to be flashing expensive electronics around. However, there were a few times in some of the smaller towns when it was difficult to ask directions where proved invaluable. Note that you need to download the maps for the country or region in advance, and they’re often a few hundred MB so remember to save the remoter destinations before you depart!

XE - currency exchange rates
XE Currency

XE Currency Exchange Rates – Knowing what stuff costs

Not an app that we used often, but essential nonetheless as we used it to work out a rough exchange rate to our home currency we could carry in our heads. It also works offline too. - weather forecast – Planning around the weather

Once we had our list of sights to see, activities to experience and restaurants or cafes to visit we’d have a quick check of the weather forecast. Oftentimes we only had a few days in a place, or other constraints like opening times or museum closed days would dictate the order of our travel itinerary more than the weather, but when we had flexibility we’d plan the outdoor things for the better days. We’d often do the outdoor activities sooner if we knew the weather was going to be good.

Google Translate icon

Picking up the lingo

We always try to learn a few words of the native language and it really helped build rapport when ticket sellers, market vendors, shopkeepers and waitresses heard us making an effort. Not everyone speaks English and nor should they!
This involved a quick online search for the common phrases before we arrived, such as “Hello”, “Please”, “Thank You”, “Sorry” and the first few numbers. If we were staying longer we’d make more of an effort to learn the most common questions and our answers. We’d occasionally use Google Translate but it was often easier (and more fun) to watch people decipher their language written by us or to draw pictures in a little note book.

TripAdvisor icon

TripAdvisor – What to do when you get there

We took it in turns to do the majority of the planning each month, an idea we got about sharing the workload from a post by travel bloggers Warren and Betsy. Guidebooks and longer-form travel articles form the starting point, but then we’d do typical “Top 10 in X” searches and cross-reference with TripAdvisor to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. With the latter we found it’s important to read the most recent reviews as often the bad reviews complain about things that either aren’t relevant or don’t bother us – don’t just use the star rating! Good reviews often contain tips for visiting, e.g. best time to visit, how to skip the queue or join a free tour.

In no particular order, here’s a list of travel blogs we follow for inspiration or consulted often..

  • Legal Nomads – Jodi has a wonderful writing style and fantastic posts for South East Asia, especially Vietnam. We stayed at the Nyugen Shack in the Mekong Delta because of her post!
  • Never Ending Voyage – An inspiration for us when we started researching at home as they’re a young couple from the UK like us. Their photos are amazing and Erin’s posts on Thailand accommodation are excellent. We happened to be in Chiang Mai at the same time and we tried to meet up but they were too busy!
  • Married with Luggage – Warren and Betsy have created a great archive of travel writing, though more recently they’re about helping others find the good life through travel and the “how” rather than the “where”.
  • Ottsworld – Sherry Ott’s one-woman adventure-seeking is inspiring travel writing, and she also takes stunning photos.
  • Uncornered Market – Daniel and Audrey have put out a wealth of information and inspiration that convinced us to visit Central Asia. They’ve covered most of the planet and remind us to be more adventurous!
  • Amateur Traveler Podcast – Chris Christensen interviews people about the their recent travels. His entire back catalogue is available and we’d often listen on trains, busses or over dinner to tales about the next country or city on our itinerary. See if you can spot the names of guests from the links above!

While we’re researching, we make notes of places that interest us as we find them on paper, in Trello or in spreadsheets, which we then go back through to look into further: reviews, how to get there, opening times, etc

Dropbox icon

Dropbox – Documents backup and photo sharing

We planned for the worst – lost or stolen baggage, technology, and travel documents – and we kept photocopies of passports, passport photos, visas and insurance documents in Dropbox. It’s also great for sharing photos with fellow travellers when we were in places without internet access as we could swap email addresses and upload and share them via a shared folder later. If you sign up with this affiliate link we’ll each get an extra 500MB of space!

WiFi Photo Transfer icon
Photo Transfer

WiFi Photo Transfer – Simple, local photo sharing

We’ve often wanted to transfer photos between our iPad minis, onto the laptop, or with other travellers we’ve spent the day sightseeing with. This amazing free app is really handy for transferring larger numbers of files, but its killer feature? It shows photos in albums by default so we could quickly organise then transfer just the photos we wanted!

Skype icon

Skype – Keeping in touch

We kept this blog for two reasons: we wanted to write about our adventures as a reminder for ourselves, and to let our friends and family back home know what we’ve been up to. In addition we’d always send our families an email or text message with our travel plans such as flight numbers, accommodation etc, but there’s no substitute to actually seeing and hearing those we missed most. I talked to my Mum about this and we agreed that just the first few seconds of a Skype call are enough to reassure us that they’re alive, well, and enjoying themselves – and that goes both ways! Our Christmas presents to both sets of parents before we left was setting up their computers with webcams and a quick Skype training session :o)

Rain, Rain icon
Rain, Rain

Rain, Rain – Help getting to sleep

The soothing sound of rain on all manner of surfaces helped us get to sleep by blocking out the noise of other travellers on trains or in hostel dormitories. My favourite sound is the rain on a tent, but Julie preferred listening to podcasts (which she’d then have to listen to again as she’d often missed the endings!)

Trainyard icon

Games – Idle entertainment

We found we couldn’t see sights every day for weeks on end and remember everything – sometimes we just needed a break, and a favourite way I like to relax is playing games. When there wasn’t anyone to play cards or boardgames with, like the time we played cards with a bunch of Mongolian students on the train from Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar, we’d play the occasional computer game. Ones that work offline are obviously the best.

  • Mahjong Solitaire Epic – Classic tile puzzler
  • Flight Control HD – Cute traffic controller-style simulator that’s also one of Julie’s favourites. I like to play it on flights
  • Extreme Road Trip 2 – Dukes of Hazard meets Paperboy in this go as far as you can stunt racer
  • Asphalt 8 Airborne – I love racing games. Asphalt has amazing graphics, beautiful cars, and enough upgrade management to keep it interesting
  • Trainyard – Clever twist on the routing puzzle game, with coloured engines. A good game for train journeys!
  • Reckless Racing 2 – Lovely top-down racing games with plenty of sliding and drift
  • Letterpress – a very clever word game that Julie usually wins because she plays strategically whereas I try for impressively long words. This one needs internet access.
  • Clash of Clans – Saw this advertised everywhere in South Korea and became addicted. I now lead a clan named after Penny Arcades D&D exploitsAcquisition Inc (#RG98U9P) – and we’re recruiting! This one also needs internet access.. :o)

What do you pack for a Two Year Trip? Our Packing List

The purpose of our packing dry run 4 months ago was to see what our packing lists looked like in the flesh.

As I mentioned then, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking we need to cater for every eventuality – the “oh, that’ll be handy” thoughts that prompt the reflexive action to drop another item on the packing pile.

How are we stopping ourselves from taking everything and the kitchen sink, while still doing our best to adhere to the Boy Scout motto “be prepared”?

Well, mainly by trying not to confuse “being prepared” with “taking everything”. If you have been a Boy Scout, a Girl Guide or have a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, I’m sure you’ll remember that most of the activities we did each week were learning – learning how to use nature and the materials at hand to make shelter, to make fire, to find food, to survive.

In essence, we were learning resourcefulness.

And resourcefulness doesn’t count towards our baggage allowance.

With that I’m mind, here’s the list of things we decided to take that do count towards our baggage allowance:

Andrew’s Kit


Essentials & Admin

  • Passport
  • Drivers License
  • Copies of Passport, Drivers License & Visas
  • Copies of Travel Insurance Documents
  • Debit Card
  • Credit Card: Halifax Clarity, currently the best choice for overseas spending and cash withdrawals
  • $USD Emergency Cash
  • Spare Passport Photos (for visas as we go)
  • EHIC Card
  • Vaccinations Record Card
  • Travel Document Walletkeeps everything together and organised
  • Couple of books


  • Rucksack: Lowe Alpine TFX Kongur 65:75
  • Drysacks: Exped Ultralite Fold Dry Sacks (x5: xl, l, m, s, xs) – for easy packing, organising, and keeping my stuff dry
  • Day Sack: Jack Wolfskin Velocity 12great little rucksack for carrying a few essentials while out and about, and it comes with a rain cover
  • Small Penknife: Victoronix Ranger – includes scissors and a bottle opener – essential!
  • Small Padlocks and Retractable Cable Lock for Rucksack – to deter opportunistic thieves, especially while we’re sleeping on trains
  • Water bottle: Sigg 1ltr – A hand-me-down that I’ve had for years, and taken almost everywhere
  • Mug & Spork
  • Cotton Sleeping Bag Liner – handy for trains, and as an extra layer in the cold


  • Digital Camera: Sony DSC-HX9Vsuperb. 16x optical zoom, good manual settings, panorama, full HD video and GPS/geotagging. Charging cable, spare battery, case, 4 memory cards (2x 16GB, 2x 4GB)
  • Mini Tripod: Manfrotto MKC3-P01 Compact Photo Kitbit of a luxury, but I love long exposure shots, and want to experiment while we’re away
  • Apple iPad Mini: 64GB WiFifor staying in touch, booking places as we go, sorting photographs, and updating this here blog. Charging cable, USB camera connection kit and case
  • Mobile Phone: Cheap Samsung E1120 and UK PAYG SIM – for emergencies and the odd text message. Mains charger
  • Small 8GB USB Memory Stick – contains copies of our documents
  • Torch: LED Lenser – very small and very bright. Spare batteries (3x AAA)
  • Notepad: Field Noteslo-tech, but very handy for jotting down times, what we’ve spent while out shopping, thoughts and ideas.


  • 5 normal and 1 long-sleeved t-shirts
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 1 pair of hiking trousers
  • 1 belt
  • 1 pair of shorts which double for swimming
  • 14 normal, and 1 pair of hiking socks
  • 14 pairs of underwear
  • 5 handkerchiefs – I do like a clean handkerchief
  • 1 woollen jumper
  • 1 fleece-lined hoody – bought in Riga, as a t-shirt, jumper and jacket wasn’t enough!
  • 1 Jacket: Berghaus Men’s Choktoi II GoreTex Fleeceeveryday jacket, superb – especially when carrying a rucksack
  • 1 Waterproof Jacket: Berghaus Benvane GoreTex Jacketexcellent waterproof jacket with rolled up hood in the collar
  • 1 pair walking shoes: Scarpa Crux – I’ve hardly taken them off since I got them last year. They are the most comfortable and grippy shoes I’ve ever bought. When I wear them out, I’ll be getting another pair
  • 1 pair trainers: Nike Air Pegasus 28 – I’m hoping to get a few runs in here and there, and I’m not really a fan of sandals or flip-flops
  • 1 pair of gloves – they’re liners really, if they aren’t warm enough, I’ll pick up some proper gloves later
  • 1 Tilley Hat of trekkingkeeps the sun off my head and out of my eyes. I also get comments about it when I wear it: “that’s a great hat” an old lady once said to me in Galway. And no, she wasn’t taking the Guiness.
  • 1 beanie hat – also bought in Riga as the Tilley doesn’t keep the wind from my ears!
  • 1 pair of Sunglasses, and case (thanks to Stu’s sister Karen for the case ;o)

Washbag & Toiletries

  • Toothbrush, case, and toothpaste
  • Bottle of multi-wash: shower gel, laundry, and washing up liquid in one
  • Shaving razor, shaving gel, and spare blades
  • Suncream
  • Deodorant
  • Aftershave – the last of my bottle from home, until it runs out
  • Toilet Roll – when you need it, you need it
  • Mosquito Spray
  • Large travel towel
  • Small hand towel – actually a bar towel
  • Small bottle of hand sanitiser
  • Ear plugs
  • Lip balm / chapstick

Julie’s Kit


Essentials & Admin

  • Passport
  • Drivers License
  • Copies of Passport, Drivers License & Visas
  • Copies of Travel Insurance Documents
  • Debit Card
  • Credit Cards: Halifax Clarity, currently the best choice for overseas spending and cash withdrawals and Santander Zero, also no charges for spending abroad
  • $USD Emergency Cash
  • Spare Passport Photos (for visas as we go)
  • EHIC Card
  • Vaccinations Record Card
  • all kept in Travel Document Wallet
  • Books – just a few…



  • Compact System Camera: Olympus PEN E-PM1 – with 3 lenses, flash, spare battery, charging cable and 2 memory cards (8GB)
  • Camera Bagwith rain cover and enough space for all camera related paraphernalia and my tripod
  • GorillaPod TripodHybrid size, so that we get some photos of both of us!
  • Apple iPad Mini: 32GB WiFifor staying in touch, booking places as we go, sorting photographs, and updating the blog. Charging cable, headphones and case
  • Torch: Mini Maglite
  • Hardbacked Notebooks and pens – for diary writing


  • 3 normal and 3 long-sleeved t-shirts
  • 2 long sleeved shirts
  • 2 vest tops
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 2 pairs of hiking trousers
  • 1 belt
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 bikini
  • 1 sarong – can double as a scarf, shawl, light blanket, etc.
  • 10 normal, and 2 pairs of light hiking socks
  • 10 pairs of pants and 3 bras
  • 1 fleecy jumper
  • 1 pair leggings, sports top and sports bra – going to try to do some yoga
  • 1 Soft-shell Jacket
  • 1 Waterproof Jacket
  • 1 pair walking shoes
  • 1 pair Birkenstock Sandals
  • 1 pair flip flops
  • 1 pair of gloves
  • 1 fleecy hat
  • 1 Polar Bufffleecy snood to keep my neck warm
  • 1 pair of Sunglasses, and case

Washbag & Toiletries

  • Large Wash Bag
  • Conditioner, comb, mousse and hair bands
  • Toothbrush, case, and toothpaste
  • Shower gel
  • Soap and soap dish
  • Body butter
  • Moisturiser
  • Lip balm
  • Deodorant
  • Suncream
  • Insect repellentfrom Avon (thanks Dawn!)
  • Large travel towel
  • Small travel towel – for drying my hair
  • Small bottle of hand sanitiser
  • Bottle nail varnish – my one concession to bringing make-up!
  • Nail scissors, tweezers, compact mirror

Shared Kit

Medical Kit


  • Paracetamol
  • Ibuprofen
  • Rehydration sachets
  • Imodium tablets
  • Selection of plasters, dressing, micropore tape
  • 1 bandage
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Antiseptic cream
  • Antihistamine cream – for insect bites
  • Antihistamine tablets
  • Hydrocortisone cream – for eczema
  • Ibuprofen gel
  • Water purification tablets

Too much? Too little? What do you think we’ve missed, or what wouldn’t you be without? Let us know in the comments.. :o)

Packing dry-run

Although we’re about 5 months away from setting off, we thought it’d be a good idea to see if what we have so far fits into our rucksacks, and also get a feel for how heavy our stuff would be – you might have seen that we’re planning quite a trip..

Our kit lists are still a work-in-progress, so we laid out what we had so far, adding in substitutes as we went.

Here’s pretty much everything I intend to take. I’d just recalibrated my “oh, that’ll be handy”-O’Meter by re-reading the packing section of Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding so I’ve got my kit down to a pretty lean pile of travelling possessions.

One glaring omission for the geek in me is the travel tech we’ll be taking. As I write this, Apple’s new iPad Mini has just been released, and after a quick play with it this morning it’s definitely made my shortlist. That said, we won’t be making this decision until a couple of  months before we depart as technology changes so quickly – indeed, Google’s new Nexus 10 Tablet is due on the 13th of November, just a couple of weeks from now.

We’ve been avidly researching what to take, and the accepted wisdom seems to be “you ain’t going to need it” – hmm.. where have I heard that before? Even so, seeing it all laid out on the floor, we weren’t sure how much space we’d have left once we’d packed it all. At Julie’s suggestion, we even packed the set of clothes we’d be wearing, including our walking boots!

Through the miracle of rolling, both our rucksacks easily took our stuff with space to spare – I even managed to fit in an empty 30ltr day sack, though I’ll likely take a 12ltr one on the trip.

Next – to the scales!  My pack came in at 11kg, and Julie’s at 15.5kg – I reckon that leaves plenty of room for tech and associated cables  ;o)

Hoisting the rucksack on for the first time, containing (almost) everything we’ll have with us for two years was a bitter-sweet feeling. An idea and some planning are the start of any journey, but packing makes it real.

Do you have you any tips, tricks or kit suggestions for us?  Let us know in the comments!