Travel Hints & Tips

We have spent numerous hours trawling the web reading blogs and travel guides for various bits of info such as visa's, best travel bank account, keeping in touch, etc etc. Some of this was easy to find but a lot wasn't! So we have decided to dedicate a page for info that we found difficult to find and/or we believe is invaluable to know. Because its not listed here doesn't mean we haven't spent hours trying to find the answer to your burning question... so feel free to drop us a line and if we can help we will!

All the information here was correct when published. We strongly recommend you check the information is still up to date and if you believe any of the information is incorrect please do not hesitate to get in contact.

Travel Partners & Friends

We have been using for many years to help organise small overland trips. To say this is the best website for info on international train travel does not do it justice. We can't estimate how much time and research has saved us whilst planning our big trip. Most importantly it gave us the confidence to stop armchair travelling and go and see the world! Don't take our words for it go and check it out for yourself you will be amazed!

Visa - Pages Required & Application Dates

18th April 2013

Country Best method to apply Passport page required Earliest application date & Max Stay
Belarus Real Russia 1 full page Valid on exact days on application - max 90 days in advance
Russia Real Russia 1 full page Valid on exact days on application - max 90 days in advance
Mongolia Real Russia 1 full page 90 days
China Post 1 full page 90 days
Vietnam Applied in Nanning, China 1 full page Specific date
Cambodia e-visa N/A Specific date
Thailand - By land Apply at border Stamp Max stay 15 days
Thailand - Tourist visa Applied in Vientiane, Laos 1 page 90 days - Max stay 60 days
Laos Applied at border 1 page Max stay 30 days

Our Trans-Siberian trip

1st December 2012
We won't have time to put this much info on the web too often but as the Trans-Siberian is always deemed to be something that is expensive to do we want to quash that image. As this shows it won't cost you an arm and a leg just a leg.

We did a massive amount of research and looked at several agencies the cheapest being EUR1375 per person (approx £1,115) for 1 night in Moscow, train tickets to UB and onto Beijing and accommodation in UB with tour. Not a bad deal for what is included, but it does not include visa's or any assistance in obtaining them.

This is what we ended up booking after a little bit of research:

Train tickets Cost per person Info Booked via
1st class to London £16 Cheaper for 2nd class! Booked direct
Eurostar London - Brussels £39 Booked via - print at home tickets
Brussels - Amsterdam £36 We missed the cheapest tickets available Booked via - print at home tickets
Amsterdam - Berlin £38.50 Booked direct - print at home tickets
Berlin - Warsaw £23.50! Booked direct - print at home tickets
Warsaw - Moscow £115 Overnight sleeper berth Booked via Real Russia tickets delivered to UK address
Moscow - UB £300 4 bed sleeper class Booked via Real Russia tickets delivered to UK address
UB - Beijing £125 Overnight sleeper berth Booked via Real Russia tickets delivered to UB accomodation
Visa's Cost per person Info Booked via
Belarus £77 Transit visa Real Russia
Russia Visa £116.40 Tourist visa Real Russia
Mongolian Visa £94 Tourist visa Real Russia

So to make it 'comparable' to the best agency quote we could find. If we add in 3 nights in Moscow (just 1 in the agency quote) and 4 nights in UB with Ger tour this adds another £253 on a per room basis.

So in total from UK to Beijing it cost us £1,233 (excluding hotels in cities before Moscow) compared to approx. £1,115 from just Moscow to Beijing excluding visa's! So we effectively got the London to Moscow transport and our visa's for free... not bad for few evenings of research!

We discovered Real Russia on the fantastic You can sort out your own visa's etc to save more money but Real Russia are amazing and it is well worth parting with a few pennies to save yourself a lot of hassle and hidden costs! For instance their Mongolian Visa's seem expensive until you realise the consulate do not accept postal applications. After factoring in the cost of two return trips for 2 people on a weekday to London, they aren't a bad deal after all. The other major cost saving would be to take a big risk and try and purchase the Trans-Siberian tickets when in Moscow. Potentially this could be a massive saving and might be doable in the off peak season, however Moscow has stupidly expensive hotel prices and the train only runs weekly in the off peak so the hotel cost whilst waiting for the next departure could cost considerably more if you can't get on the first departure.

Another great tip is to contact a local hotel and ask them to organise your stay. We did this in both Moscow and UB and in both places the hostels were more than happy to sort us out an itinerary which included transfers on arrival and departure. Accommodation and then activities at considerably lower rates than agencies wanted. Go direct and put your money in the hands of locals taking the tour and avoid paying an agency for nothing. Obviously this has less come back if the tour isn't top quality but watch this space as we will let you know how we get on.

If you are interested in further info on the hotels and hostels please contact us.

Malaria Tablets - Malarone or Doxyxycline?

20th December 2012
There are lots of different malaria tablets available but the most common two are Malarone and Doxycycline, both have pros and cons and we are not going to advise which is best, we will leave that to your GP. But one of the main differences between the two is the course before and after exposure. With Malarone you only need to take it 1-2 days before exposure, every day during your holiday and 7 days when you get back. Whereas with Doxie you need to take it 7 days before exposure, every day during your holiday and then 28 days when you get back. When we first heard this we opted for Malarone but after crunching the numbers we soon changed our minds!

Admittedly we only did a little bit of research on Malarone and I'm sure if you hunted high and low you could probably get a better deal but we were quoted in the region of £2.35 per tablet! So for a 6 month trip for two this would be approx. £900!!!

After picking ourselves up off the floor we decided to research Doxie a little bit further... and was pleasantly surprised to find it was significantly cheaper around £1 per tablet from Lloyds Pharmacy. Having saved ourselves a massive amount already we were happy to pay this until... we discovered that Doxie is a general antibiotic and is used to treat a wide range of infections. So we thought how can the NHS afford to dish them out so frequently if they cost £1 per tablet? Well if you do a quick web search just for Doxie and do not mention malaria a whole host of new cheaper options come up. A little wary at first we decided to check with our GP and he confirmed that it is the same stuff you just need to ensure you get the correct dosage as it is dispensed in both 50mg and 100mg tablets. We needed 100mg per day. So after further web surfing we found our new friends at Chemist Direct. Wait for it we paid just 7p per tablet... yes 7p slightly more palatable than £2.35! So 350 tablets including delivery and dispensing fee cost us just £27.99 saving us a massive £820, not bad for a few hours research.

We must admit until they arrived we were a little worried that they would be dispensed lose and were concerned that we could have problems when we pass country to country. But Chemist Direct did not let us down and they arrived the next day in blister packs and boxed as you would get from any high street pharmacy. Job done! Thanks Chemist Direct.

*** UPDATE ***
Having been on the road for 3 months and chosen Doxie, based mainly on the cost we underestimated the possible side effects of photo-sensitivity of the skin. We have both been badly burnt to the point of skin blistering. Changing to Malrone on the road is not as simple as it might sound as it is not freely available in some Asian countries, and therefore we have had to stick to Doxie. Weigh up all the pro's and con's before deciding which is best!

Best Travel Bank Account

22nd May 2013
The best travel bank account available at present is the Gold Account provided by Norwich & Peterborough building society as it does not charge foreign commission or charge a withdrawal fee at cash machines worldwide! Note some machines especially in the Fast East have a cash withdrawal fee and in Thailand this is typically a fixed 150 Baht, nearly £4 at today's exchange rate. Unfortunately this fantastic card doesn't work in all machines and when you are patiently waiting for your cash to be dispensed it returns the card with little to no explanation why. Although this has happened to us on many occasions (touch wood) we have yet to have the money taken from our account without receiving the cash. We have started to compile a list of ATM's we have used with some handy tips. If you know of any more please get in contact.

The Gold Account is intended to be used as your main current account and therefore it requires a minimum monthly deposit or an average balance throughout the month, failure to meet this requirement will result in a small monthly charge of £5. Even with this monthly charge the bank account is a great deal because if your card issuer charges circa 2.5% commission which is fairly standard you will break even with just £200 worth of transactions within a month.

Country Bank ATM Fee Comments
Netherlands ING No charge
Germany Reisbank No charge
Russia Bankomat No charge
China ICBC No charge
China Bank of China No charge
China Agricultural Bank of China Wouldn't dispense cash
Vietnam HSBC No charge Larger cash withdrawals than other ATM's
Cambodia Vattanac Bank No charge
Thailand Bangkok Bank 150 Baht Fixed ATM fee regardless of withdrawal amount. Max withdrawal 10,000 Baht
Thailand Krungthai Bank 150 Baht Fixed ATM fee regardless of withdrawal amount. Max withdrawal 10,000 Baht
Thailand Siam Bank 150 Baht Fixed ATM fee regardless of withdrawal amount. Max withdrawal 10,000 Baht
Thailand Thanachart Bank 150 Baht Fixed ATM fee regardless of withdrawal amount. Max withdrawal 10,000 Baht
Thailand Citibank No charge Only a few ATM locations. A current list of all ATM's can be found on Citibank's website ATM Finder
Thailand AEON No charge Normally located in big supermarkets and department stores. A current list of all ATM's can be found on AEON website ATM Finder

Credit Card

1st December 2012
There are now a few credit cards that offer commission free purchases. We opted for the Halifax Clarity card a few years ago when it was in its infancy. It's a great card and we have used it many a time on trips. It did get stopped once when travelling in the Fast East after multiple cash withdrawals over several days but this was easily fixed by a quick call to the UK call centre. Although not as low as some UK specific cards if you get the representative rate it offers competitive interest rates so it can be used in UK for everyday use too.

Keeping in Contact - Outgoing

1st December 2012
Skype - A no-brainer. Great call quality at low cost what more do you need? An easy way to receive incoming calls we hear you ask.... Okay so Skype isn't the only solution but we feel it is best for outgoing calls. Take a USB handset so you can talk on your laptop without wearing a cumbersome headset. We have been using a Sogatel USB phone for the last couple of years and it has served us well, its light, compact and rugged we just throw it in our lugguage and so far it has always come out in one piece. With the availability of Skype on many mobile handsets and the iPad it makes keeping in contact even easier.

*TIP* For peace of mind turn off your mobile internet before connecting to Wi-Fi to make sure Skype uses the Wi-Fi connection and you don't get a nasty surprise for data charges.

So what's best for incoming calls?

Get a local sim card in each country as it will be free to receive calls but local sim cards do have some disadvantages.

  • Firstly you need to find one! In some countries it's not as easy as it sounds and also they are not always that cheap.
  • Credit is normally time limited and so might expire before you might return to the country so make sure you are careful with topping up!
  • Each time you get a new card you will need to provide everyone with your new number
  • Incoming call costs will cost the caller more as they will be at international rate

Global Sim Cards

We spent a lot of time researching 'global sim cards' and there are now a lot of them available. These have the advantage that most come with a +44 prefix and in addition some come with a USA prefix which allows callers to call the number for the cost of dialing that destination. Further info below in "friends and family calling..."

*TIP* Some cards offer a headline rate but it is only available on a predefined network sometimes with minimal network coverage. If you opt for one of these cards make sure you turn off 'automatic network selection' on your mobile otherwise it will connect to the network with best reception which could cost you significantly more than you expected.

What we decided to do...

We have purchased global sim cards - We decided to choose GoSim as the call costs were reasonable throughout the countries that we are going to travel through and also offered free or cheap incoming calls in many countries. Some are more expensive and some are much less than those offer on other cards but on average this was the best card for us. We have yet to extensively test the call quality but will update this when we have.

Countries where we are planning to stay for longer than 1 month we will also invest in a local sim card.

For those of you who want to get in touch please try Skype first as this is cheapest for us and in our opinion it offers the best quality too. Otherwise call our GoSim mobile number we would love to hear from you but depending on where we are in the world we might be less talkative if its costing us an arm and an leg!

Please do not contact us on our normal +44 mobiles numbers we will be keeping these connections live but we won't be checking them regularly.

A rough guide of what it will cost us to receive a call via GoSim:

Country Cost per minute
France Free
Belgium Free
Netherlands Free
Germany Free
Poland Free
Belarus £0.31
Russia £0.06
China £0.31
Vietnam Free
Cambodia £0.31
Thailand £0.68
Laos No Service
Malaysia £0.31
Singapore £0.31
Phillippines £0.31
Indonesia £0.06
Australia Free
New Zealand Free

In Thailand we will be using a local sim card and will not be contactable on the GoSim number.

Family&friends calling...

If you have a global sim card with a +44 prefix the call cost will be the same as dialling a local UK based mobile. If you decide on a local sim card we recommend the family and friends call you via Skype. We have tried calling cards and other call tunking services and often the quality is so poor they were just a waste of money.

Family&friends! Please note it is always nice to receive a text or call once in a while, if you are calling or texting a +44 mobile it doesn't matter where in the world the phone is you will only pay your standard network charge. We can't remember how many times we have told you all come on guys it's not rocket science!


A cheap and good way to tell those at home you are safe and well. But remember texting is for text not chatting there is a clue in the name! Having a chat by text can cost you more than picking up the phone!


Great tip we picked up from another blogger and long term traveller. Get yourself a 3G Kindle! They are light to carry and as well as being able to store massive amounts of reading material you can also check your email on them. The great advantage of the 3G version is you never have to pay data costs as these are picked by Amazon. Although a bit cheeky it's a great way to check text based emails on the move. If you have an attachment you will need to log in from a PC but nethertheless it's a great tip, don't leave home without one!

Using UK websites from Abroad

22nd May 2013
If you are on the road for any length of time you will probably want to check bank accounts or catch up on the news and TV etc. Although most sites allow you to access them without problems from abroad some only allow access to certain content if you are based in the UK. The way around this is via an VPN also known as an IP cloaker. We are not condoning in anyway the use of a cloaker to give you access to stuff you shouldn't be able to access from aboard but if you want to check your balance invest in a cloaker its safe, secure and could save you a lot of hassle.

The Road Test

We opted for StrongVPN paying US$55 for an annual subsciption. The service has been pretty good, it is slow at times but it is hard to say how much of this is down to the VPN as the local connection is often poor. We use it daily to download TV programmes and to access our UK bank accounts. We have setup the VPN on our laptop, iPad and mobile phones which all have niggles from time to time but generally work very well. We have found the best time to use the VPN which gives the fastest connection rates is early morning when it is still the middle of the night in the UK. We are happy with StrongVPN service and would recommend the service to others.

Backup Your Camera

22nd May 2013
Remember the days when you could only take 36 photos on a roll of film and you had no idea what you had taken until you got home, got them developed and got 36 blank photos back?... luckily those days have gone. But taking hundreds of great photos is no good if you lose your camera or damage the memory card. Back them up regularly! Backing up to a laptop is a must but a I bet at most times your laptop is kept in the same luggage as your camera so if one goes walkies both do! The answer is to back them up to online storage. This is also a good way to share large amounts of photos with friends and family and if you ask them nicely to save them locally at their end you can then clear out the storage and reuse the space.

There are many free services now available, personally we prefer Google Drive, you get 5GB free and can increase this to 25GB for a small monthly charge. You can also download a Windows App so you can access your online folder as if its stored locally on your machine. This is great but beware if you save your login details into the App and your laptop goes walkies you compromise your online data too. If you are travelling in remote areas and don't have access to a fast connection to connect you to the cloud, invest in a small flash drive or if you're laptop has an SD reader even a MircoSD we recently brought a 32GB version for our phone and it cost under £20! You should be able to hide these somewhere else in your luggage so hopefully you don't lose both at the same time! If all else fails drop the card in the post and send it home it might cost a few £'s but it will be worth it.

The Road Test

Since being on the road for 4 months we have tried various ways to backup our photos. Firstly we tried 1&1 online storage. Initially this was very good and although a bit cheeky it was an incredibly cheap way to get masses of online storage for free. With 1&1 each email address gets 2GB of free online storage and our hosting package allows us to create up to 1000 email addresses, more expensive packages allow even more. Therefore we just kept creating email addresses as we needed more space. However the big downside with 1&1 was the uploading method. Firstly they provide a web interface which was pretty poor and it took ages to manually create folders. They also provide a Windows App for supposed easy integration with Windows Explorer but we experienced reliability issues and it kept crashing or failing with large transfers.

After ditching 1&1 we purchased a 32GB USB drive which worked well until we filled it up. We then purchased a dodgy 64GB USB which ended up in the bin. We were just about to purchase another drive when we found ADrive. ADrive is another online storage provider but has FTP access. As FTP access is old technology it is strange that only a few storage providers even offer the service and those that do charge for it. But nevertheless the service is fantastic and well worth the US$6.95 per month we are paying for 50GB of space. The 1,2 and 3 yearly packages offer better value for money but we intend to cancel the service after our travels. If you are cheeky and can upload all your files within 14 days via FTP you can then downgrade the package to the 50GB free service, which doesn't have FTP access. What makes the service so good is we can queue up files and leave it to upload overnight. If the connection fails or drops out which it frequently does in Asia the upload restarts automatically when the connection resumes.

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