We were supposed to leave in April.
Two warm, sunny, gentle months of travel across China, riding horses on the blossoming Mongolian steppe, and finally the Trans-Siberian train, where we’d watch Siberia bloom into life, and frolic along the shores of Lake Baikal before enjoying early summer in Europe. (Not that we’d idealised the trip, mind you…)
But then … Zak’s leaving date was moved up to January.
Siberia in winter? Are we crazy?
Why Hong Kong to London?
Thanks to Zak’s job, we’ve been living in Hong Kong for almost two years. But we always knew it was a temporary assignment, and we’d have to return to London at some point.
For years, we’ve talked about taking a Big Trip. Taking some time off work and really exploring. Years ago, our original idea was to do a Round-The-World trip with one of those RTW airfares. But over time we’ve travelled a lot, and visited many of the cities that were on our RTW list. Plus, it never felt like the right time to take a big chunk of time off from work.
Since Zak is relocating between offices, it seemed like a natural time for a break.
We immediately thought of the Trans-Siberian train, and from there it just expanded, into a 10 week train journey from Hong Kong to London.
Once we had the idea (originally scheduled for April-June), the planning started. And even though we hadn’t told anyone else, it started to feel real, like this was OUR trip.
And then … Zak’s leaving date was moved up to January.
By this point we’d been thinking about the trip for so long, it felt like cheating if we just flew back to London.
Were we going to let a little cold and ice stop us from this epic adventure?
The Planning Begins
This has been the most complex travel we’ve ever planned. Here are some of the issues:
- Visas. You can’t just travel freely around China and Russia – you need to have your itinerary planned in advance to get travel visas, and then, these visas are often time-limited. We could only get 30 day visas for China, so we had to cut back our original itinerary by two weeks to make it fit. Getting visas also involves finding a tour company to write invitation letters, having all your hotels pre-booked, and a couple trips to each embassy to submit paperwork and pick up your passports. Plus the cost of the visas themselves.
- Language. If we were only doing the Trans-Siberian train, I don’t think it would be so challenging, because that train regularly has many foreigners on it. But during our month in China, we’re getting out of the major cities, and have heard English is quite rare. From our research, it seems that trying to buy train tickets, or even give directions to a taxi driver in China (and parts of Russia) is going to be extremely difficult. So we wanted to have all of our tickets booked in advance, and are going to print out each of our destinations written in Chinese, so we can simply show people. But if we need to rebook or adjust anything on the fly, it’s going to be a challenge.
- Too Many Choices! Usually we have a specific goal for a trip and a limited amount of time. Rome in a weekend? Two week safari? Generally you know what you’re going to do on a trip. But this trip is completely different. As much time as you want to go wherever you want and end up in London. All we knew for sure is that we wanted to take the Trans-Siberian train, and end up in St. Petersburg (a city neither of us has visited before.) Other than that, it was completely open. That turned out to be overwhelming. We honestly didn’t know much about China or Siberia, so how do you know what you want to visit, when your options are endless?? After lots of internet searching and guidebook reading, we had a list of 20+ destinations, then got a huge wall map of China to plot them out, and eventually narrowed it down to our final itinerary. We also could have taken more time to travel, but figured after 10 weeks of freezing cold and living out of a suitcase, we’ll be more than ready to get home to London.
- What to Bring? We’re still figuring this out… more on that later. But train luggage space is limited, so we need one small bag each and a daypack. Our bags are just slightly bigger than a normal airline-sized carryon … for 10 weeks. And it’s WINTER. (Packing a small bag for a summer trip in SouthEast Asia would be easy – flip flops, sundresses and sarongs! But all the clothes are 10x bigger in winter – plus a heavy coat, boots, hat, mittens …) And besides clothes there’s the gear: electronics, toiletries, first aid, snacks… We’ll talk more about our packing list later.
We’ve got spreadsheets for packing lists and itinerary, shared folders for all the PDFs of reservations, a couple travel guides and a big wall sized map of China. Three weeks out from departure and the planning is finally wrapping up…
Here’s What You’ll Find on This Site
We created this website to share this big overland trip, and hopefully other trips in the future (as well as our favorite finds as we travel, travel tips, etc.)
We’ll be posting regularly here (hopefully twice per week, depending on connectivity) and on Instagram.
Amanda’s going to do most of the writing, and Zak will do most of the photos. I’m sure we’ll overlap a bit too – we’ll have a lot of time on the train to experiment!
This page outlines the plan for our trip, and we’ll update it regularly with links to where we’ve been!
Also, if you join our email list, we’ll email you periodically with our latest posts and trip updates!