New name

Newsflash! (Warning, it’s pretty exciting so you may want to be sitting down).

We have a new Instagram name and are now @tweedtotokyo to match our shiny new Twitter account and this blog. If you’re not already following us we’d love it if you did.

As a separate thing I’ve been mulling over the whys of blogging/instagramming (is that really a verb?)/ twittering this trip. Why bother? Who are we doing it for? Come back for my musings soon….

Harriet

How to keep your family healthy on a round the world trip

How do you keep your family healthy on a round the world trip? For six months? When four of them are children?

I don’t know. I haven’t done it yet. And given I’m currently sitting in my front room nursing a filthy cold while one of my children is in bed having refused lunch or supper I may not be the correct person to ask.

But I’m trying. Lucy and I went on a mother-daughter shopping trip today. You know the sort of thing: matching swingy hair and handbags, cutesy selfies in the changing rooms, credit cards maxxed out.

Erm, no. We spent £77 in Boots and Superdrug and came back with this:

Actually looking at it, it doesn’t look very good for £77 but we did buy Lucy a hairbrush too.

Which we (by which I mean I) have turned into this:

I’ve not quite packed it down to the size of a match box, but nearly – top tip – take it out of the packaging. And don’t forget to recycle.

Because, while when you think about travelling for a long time, everyone worries about the big scary illnesses (more on them later), it’s actually more likely that we will get colds, bugs or scrapes and we need to be prepared for those too.

So, for anyone who cares, here’s what’s in our six-month-supply, overland, Europe and Asia, family health travel pack:

Painkillers: Ibuprofen (kids and adults), paracetamol (ditto), ibuprofen gel, cold spray (because I’m a big believer in the placebo effect). Antihistamines (for bites, stings and allergies): loratadine and cetirizine, plus a tube of anthisan-type cream and one of those clicky things that apparently makes bites stop itching so much. I wanted to get some Waspeze but they only sell it in the Borders in Summer. I did get a bottle of DEET based bug repellent too. For dodgy tummies: rehydration salts (and proper medicines – more below). For coughs and colds: glycerin throat pastilles (they don’t do much but they taste nice – see placebo effect). General first aid and health care: aloe vera (good for burns), bandage, sling, safety pins, sterile wipes, plasters, blister plasters, hand sanitiser, lip balm, antiseptic cream, mouth ulcer stuff (iglu, because it works and my children don’t like bonjela – weirdos), micropore tape, E45 (my cure for everything). All, because we’re on a budget, non-branded apart from the iglu and the Calpol fastmelts because no-one makes a non-branded version and it’s worth the extra money not to have non-branded Calpol leaking all over the inside of my rucksack).

Plus the following actual medicines:

(Backstory: I went to the doctor – if you’re reading this hello doctor (and doctor’s family) and if you’re not you jolly well should be – and had a full and frank discussion about what we actually needed. The conclusion was that actually the things that will hit us are likely to be random infections (stomachs, UTIs, ears etc) and travellers’ diarrhoea (and no I didn’t spell that right first time). )

So we have two bottles of (top tip) un-made-up amoxycillin (the horrible banana-flavoured one) and a course of doxycycline as well as a load of prochlorperazine tablets to stop us being sick if one of those bugs gets us (official advice – take those before you start on the doxycycline and see if you get better of your own accord first.) We’ve also got a tube of fucidin H cream (antibiotic and steroid) in case of nasty skin things.

So hopefully if the usual bugs, scrapes and viruses attack we can deal with them, at least for long enough to get ourselves to a doctor. Because they do have them in other countries, it turns out…

And as for the nasties once again we are grateful to the NHS. We’ve been advised on necessary vaccines (and indeed given almost all of them) by our practice nurse, using the NHS travel vaccines site, which for us meant boosters of all the stuff we’ve had already, plus Hepatitis A and B, Rabies, Tick-Borne Encephalitis, Typhoid and for very-brave-Magnus-only the BCG (all the rest of us have had it already – it was given at birth in West London where all the girls were born). And the good old NHS paid for lots of those too (a good thing – £800 on Rabies vaccines may not be the most fun thing I have to pay for on this trip – although I’d take it over the alternative (“nice doggie”)).

So it’s all, minus the packaging (but including the packet leaflets), packed in our kit. And no one is allowed to get ill. Not least because having got it all in there once it’ll never all go back in if I get it out again.

Is it enough? Only time will tell. But if you think we’re missing something essential let us know – we have 37 days to top it up in a language we speak…

Harriet

The Questions – Harriet

Where are we going?

From here to Tokyo. And quite a lot of places in between. Overland. With minimal plastic consumption.

Why are we doing this?

Because it’s there.  Because we can.  Because we told everyone we were going to and we can’t back out. Because hopefully it will make us stronger, individually and as a family.  So we’ve got something to talk about for the rest of our lives.

What are you most looking forward to?

Mongolia and China.  

Is it really bad that I’m rather looking forward to being able to ignore domestic politics for six months too?

And least?

Long train journeys. People whinging that they’re bored or hungry or cold or tired.  Lack of showers.

What will you miss about home.

Unlimited clean hot water.  I suspect there will be times when I will miss the routine, however odd that feels now. The simplicity of not having to make decisions every day.

Are you worried about anything?

Everything. 

I’m terrified of illness or injury or worse; to one of us or someone at home. My father has had Parkinson’s Disease for over twenty years and he’s really not very well now, so what if something happens to him?  I feel as though I can deal with that possibility at the moment but how will it feel after the event if I wasn’t here?

I’m worried we might just argue or whinge our way around the world.

I’m worried about how my mental health will stand up to it. I’m hoping I will get less anxious and become more resilient but maybe it will be totally the opposite. 

I’m worried we’ll come back and wish we had never gone.

How do you think you will change?

I really hope I will be more resilient. I hope I will be more patient. I hope I will be better at prioritising the things that I already know are important but which I somehow never manage to make time for.

Who do you think is going to be best at eating new things?

Me.

What skill do you have that will be most useful on our trip

I worry about everything which makes me good at planning and preparing for all eventualities. I’m organised.   I don’t mind a bit of discomfort or dirt (or puke or….)

I speak dodgy but basic Russian.

I’m excellent at playing My Cows.

What will you struggle with?

When things go wrong (or just not as I have planned), I tend to panic first and think later. It’s not hugely useful.

And how are going to try and get over that?

I’m hoping it will get over itself. Maybe?

What do your friends think about it ?

I think they all think it’s an amazing thing to be doing. Some of them wish they were doing it too. Some of them are very glad they’re not.

Are you glad we’re going?

Absolutely.  Even if I’m going to be unbearably stressed as it gets closer. Sorry Ben.

PS It’s my birthday today.  I’m 43 and I have been given (among many other lovely things) a European Road Atlas. 

By this time next year it will all be over.  That’s a very weird thought.

The route

This took months of planning. And we still need to do China. Blue in the car, red on the train

The route is, broadly, planned. We are leaving in just under three months and I know exactly where we are going to be sleeping for pretty much all of the first hundred days of that. Which is good: worry No. 4829 is turning up in a strange town with four tired children and not being able to find anywhere to stay. So at least I’ve put that one off for three months. Assuming AirBnB doesn’t let us down…

But how did we get here? How do you narrow down the whole world (after all you can go both ways round to get to Tokyo) to one route?

We’ve been talking about this a long time, and the route has evolved over time. Mostly due to geopolitics. That’s never previously been a major factor in my holiday planning before but it was this time. In 2012 there was no ISIS and going through Iran was a real (if possibly risky) possibility. In 2014 we thought we might arrive in Russia from Ukraine (not so easy any more). In 2016 Trump became president and we decided we didn’t fancy going that way round any more. And I haven’t even got on to Brexit*.

So by the time we sat at a table at a party (January 2018, great party) and agreed we needed to do some actual planning we had concluded we needed to go East and we needed to stay broadly North. (There was a brief flirtation with the idea of learning to sail and buying a boat but that lasted about five minutes before a sense of self-preservation kicked in).

And then logistics became and issue. How were we actually going to do this? Car gives us flexibility (and the ability to take more stuff with us) but neither of us fancied driving across Siberia (are we nearly there yet?). Train is expensive and means you’re tied to cities/towns that have a station. Bus is an option but not for everything. Please. Planes are out. No planes til we come back. Campervan is handy but again there’s the Siberia issue, and we’d have to buy one.

So the conclusion in the end was the slightly odd circuitous route above. We will take the car round Europe, ending up, oddly, near Lyon where we can meet Ben’s parents. They will fill the car full of wine and tins of duck (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it) and drive it home and we will do the rest on the train. Or bus. Or boat.

Which then made it up to us. Where did we actually want to go? Lucy was desperate to visit Mongolia. So the Trans-Mongolian route it was. Someone mentioned a chocolate factory: Brussels and Belgium. Apparently Cologne Carnival is awesome. There’s an amazing salt mine near Krakow. You can do a Europeean Safari in the North of Poland. We’ve got friends in Copenhagen, Vienna, Moscow, Oslo, Kyoto and the middle of Poland; check, check, check (sorry friends!). Someone invited me to stay with him in Uzbekistan twenty years ago; right, that’s in.

And so a route is formed:

  • Amsterdam
  • Brussels
  • Cologne
  • Berlin
  • Oder Delta
  • Krakow
  • Budapest
  • Vienna
  • Lake Bled
  • Italy (details TBC)
  • Lyon
  • Paris
  • Hamburg
  • Copenhagen

We’ll let you know how we get on….

  • Oslo
  • Helsinki
  • St Petersburg
  • Moscow
  • Tashkent
  • Samarkand, Bukhara, Nukus
  • Almaty
  • Bishkek
  • Irkutsk
  • Ulan Bator and Mongolia
  • China
  • Osaka
  • Tokyo and Japan
  • London and home.

*At present there is visa free entry to Mongolia for citizens of the EU. I’m prepared to bet that if/when we actually leave, with or without a deal, negotiating visa entry requirements to Mongolia isn’t going to be top of anyone’s priority list. We’re just going to have to hope the Mongolian Border guards aren’t big followers of UK and European politics. Or that we don’t leave.

Where it all began

What makes a family of six decide to give up their jobs, schools and friends for six months, tidy their house sufficiently that someone else can live in it (not looking forward to that bit) and go overland (no planes at all until after we’ve climbed Mount Fuji) to Japan?

The answer is a flight of fancy, a fifteen minute chat, and a desire not to back down once we’ve said we’re going to do something.

It’s Ben’s fault really.  When he was a child he and his family drove across Europe to what was then Yugoslavia and back.  I’m going to get him to write about that experience separately, but it was clearly a huge thing for him and it’s still an experience he talks about.

Add to that the fact that we met “too late”. Not really, obviously, but I was always a bit jealous of those people who met someone in their early twenties and then went off travelling with them, or took overseas jobs, or generally did exciting stuff before getting down to the (equally exciting, honest, sort of) business of paying mortgages and having kids.

Add to that the fact that we moved out of London in 2010, just when people were starting to get excited about the Olympics.   By the time 2012 came around, all our friends who lived anywhere near London, and lots who didn’t, were in a fever of excitement.  We, on the other hand, had been very jaded and cynical and can’t-be-bothered-about-the-Olympics-ish and never bothered applying for any tickets, or even accepted any when friends who had got tickets offered them to us.

And, as eny fule kno, we were totally wrong. The London Olympics were amazing and inspiring (leaving aside any debate or discussion of their legacy) and we really wished we had been there.

But we weren’t.  We were in France, having a lovely holiday, but, over a glass of wine and a sunset, a discussion of how we wished we were at the Olympics, turned into a chat about Ben’s family trip, turned into “I wish we could go on an adventure” turned into

“Well, why don’t we?”.

A quick google told us that the 2020 Olympics (2016 seemed a bit soon) would be in either Madrid, Istanbul or Tokyo and an overland trip, destination then unknown (but with fingers very much crossed for Tokyo), became a target.

And to make sure we did it, we came back and told everyone who would stand still long enough (including our employers) our plans.  No backing out now…

Harriet