When a rare opportunity for extended travel arrives, you just have to grab it with both hands

I’m going backpacking in South East Asia for 90 days. I know, I hate myself too. We haven’t plotted a route yet but it may possibly cover Burma, Vietnam, Laos and perhaps Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines; and if we have time, South China. And to start off with, we’ll go to north-east India (which curiously feels a lot like south east Asia in terms of climate, food and faces) and attend my niece’s Himalayan wedding.

I’m so excited. I have my jabs, some guide books, I’ve checked that my passport is valid and where I last left it, and I’ve dusted off my favourite backpack. If curiosity and excitement had a weight, I’d have a hefty surcharge at Heathrow in 10 days’ time.

It’s kind of liberating to not know exactly where you’re going, to not have booked hostels and transport ahead of time.

I’ll be blogging as much as I can on-the-go, so if you want to follow my updates just enter your email address in the box on the right – it will only be used to inform you about new posts.

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Hearing reactions from friends

It’s been interesting hearing the reactions from friends when I tell them what we’re doing. Most have a longing fondness tinged with mock-jealousy.

‘The last hurrah before you have kids,’ said one, a little presumptuously. 

‘Get it out of your system,’ said another friend. Out of my system? Did I hear that right? Get TRAVEL out of my system? Travel that great teacher, that harbinger of hope in hopeless times, the bringer-together of the races, the nationalities, the classes, the faiths and the faithless. Travel that catalyses ideas and trade, crystalises mutual respect and understanding and dissolves intolerance.

No, I never want to get travel out of my system. Unless it’s gastroenteritis.

When Jenny in the office learned that I was going away for 3 months she enquired, ‘Prison term is it?’ It’s flattering the high esteem my colleagues sometimes hold me in isn’t it?

Without doubt we’re very lucky and grateful in the same measure to have this opportunity and I don’t take it for granted. Travel, when you’re not trying to escape from natural disasters such as storms, floods, earthquakes and the worst form of natural disasters, other people, is a privilege.

In fact it was a fortuitous set of circumstances, a perfect storm, that conspired to make this trip a reality …

  • Firstly, our jobs. Sarah’s a contractor; this doesn’t mean she kills people for a living, but rather that she has the flexibility to have clearly delineated periods of employment; the gaps between them are usually the fun bits. As for me, my employer is quite an enlightened company that has a strong focus on wellness, flexible working patterns and work/life balance; it allows its employees to have unpaid mini-sabbaticals of up to 12 months twice in their career.
  • Secondly, our friend Sharon’s parents were planning to coming to London from abroad and needed a small place to stay for 3 months. Not only that, but her parents love cats. We have a small flat, we’re leaving for 3 months and we have a cat. You couldn’t make this up. Bingo! So now we get a wonderful couple, Terry and Heather looking after our flat and after our cat, the myth, the legend, Silver. It’s a big tick-box ticked.
  • Thirdly, we’ve been saving up and planning for this trip for a couple of years; 90 days away from home doesn’t come cheap, so we’ll be booking up in hostels, and taking night trains, buses and boats and flights.

By the way, I think our Silver doesn’t know we’re going away. I did have a quiet moment yesterday to tell her, heart to heart. She just scratched her ear with her hind leg, yawned and started licking her bum. I think she doesn’t understand. Perhaps she does.

Hey ho. I’d better start packing; I’d better check those other animate creatures, the passports, haven’t gone walkies …

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This post is part of the blog series

’90 Days in South East Asia’

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All the links to blog posts in the series are as follows:

1) I’m backpacking around Southeast Asia for 90 days

2) Packing for backpacking: 16 useful things to take on your travels

3) How to sleep on a flight (aches on a plane)

4) Flying past Mount Everest

5) A storm in an Assamese teacup

6) On the lazy man’s road: the story of Dhodar Ali

7) Digboi, the oil town in the rainforest

8) To Sivasagar: home of the Assamese kings

9) Things to see in Majuli, the world’s largest river island

10) An unexpected treat on the river Brahmaputra

11) Helpful hints on how to climb a 17 foot elephant on your wedding day

12) Where the rhinos roam

13) The Assamese Bihu: a time of unbridled joy

14) A tale of a dry day in India

15) Kalimpong and a magical Himalayan wedding

16) Chiang Mai, a pretty little temple town

17) Replanning our route, re-routing our plan

18) Luang Prabang in Laos: the jewel on the Mekong River

19) A slow and unintended minibus to Vang Vieng

20) In the laid-back city of Vientiane

21) Laos: Caves, a jungle trek and the mysterious turquoise lake

22) On our way down south in Laos

23) Goodbye Laos, you beauty

24) Friday night at the Saigon Opera House

25) Getting over a fever

26) Vietnam days: Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi

27) Landing in the sea at Halong Bay, Vietnam

28) Mandalay Days

29) Bagan, the jewel of Myanmar

30) Three nights on Lake Inle in Myanmar

31) Finding a perfect perfume in Singapore

32) In Borneo, watching the orangutans at play

33) Watching turtles at Selingan Island

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