Transport

Chinese Bureaucracy

Traveling to China is a dream for many travelers. One of the largest countries in the world, the largest country by number of citizens, and vast differences between hyper-modern cities and frozen-in-time villages. Getting into China is easy IF you adhere to the quite complex visa application rules. At least complex compared to any other country I’ve visited so far. You have to supply entry and exit tickets, exact itinerary, and contact details of hotels within the country to be able to apply for a visa. Plus some hefty visa fees. Luckily there is a way around the visa application if you’re willing to live with a few drawbacks.

Transit!

The solution is visa free transit. China offers for certain regions up to 144 hours of visa free transit time. You can enter the country and move freely, the only restriction is that you have to leave the country within 144 hours and you are not allowed to leave the designated provinces. At the time of the writing, October 2018, there are 3 regions in China eligible for transit: Beijing (+surroundings), Shanghai (+surroundings), and Liaoning, with Guanghzou to be available soon. And no, you cannot travel from Shanghai to Beijing, you have to stay withing the transit zone that you’ve entered. The second restriction is that the country you came from needs to be different than the country you’re flying to. I flew in from Japan and returned to Germany, so no issue there. If this works as well if you book a flight, say, from Germany via Paris to Shanghai and from Shanghai via Amsterdam back (yes, the famous KLM-AirFrance-Combination with guaranteed luggage loss) needs to be tested. Not by me, thou.

To get my first glimpse of China I decided to have a 4 day layover with Janina and Björn on our way back from Japan. We had a very uncomfortable flight with Spring Airlines from Tokyo Haneda (HND) to Shanghai Pudong (PVG), leaving Japan at 1.30 am and arriving in Shanghai around 4 am. Luckily, or maybe not, we were the only plane arriving at this ungodly hour, and as we had lots of time to waste before we could check in we took all the time to walk from the plane to the immigration. There were only 3 counters open, all marked “Chinese nationals”, but the security guard sent us there anyways. All the Chinese passengers already passed immigration and only 1-2 other passengers were behind us. As I reached the counter and handed over my passport I was immediately asked for an immigration card. As I didn’t get one on the plane I had do decline and was sent back to fill out the yellow immigration card. After filling out the usual name, date of birth, passport number, etc, I returned to the counter. I handed over the card and added that I want to enter on the 144 hour transit regulation. Then I got handed a blue immigration card and was sent back yet again to fill out the blue immigration card. The content was virtually the same, except for additional information on departure country and target country. Björn and Janina had the same process. We returned yet again to the counters. Now with all but “hotel phone number” filled out we were confident that they can process our immigration forms. But even the hotel phone number needs to be provided. Luckily the booking.com app had the number available, so we could add the missing information. Obviously the Chinese nationals counter staff was completely lost in processing the 144 hours special case. They called their supervisor who came down and had to assist in entering the data. But this wasn’t enough, so the supervisor collected our passports and then she disappeared in the back and we were told to wait. So we waited. And waited. And waited. Around 10-15 minutes later the supervisor came back and handed each of the immigration officers one passport. Then we were allowed to step forward, have our fingerprints and pictures taken before we could finally enter China.

tl;dr

The take away message here it: coming to China with the 144 hour transit is pretty easy. Just be aware that you should line up behind the “special” immigration counter (a third counter besides Chinese and alien), ask for and fill out the blue immigration form, and make sure to fill out everything, even phone number of hostel. Then don’t hurry and expect to wait for a while, but it will all work out in the end.

Final remark: Currently, information on transit visa can be found here: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/tour/visa/free-transit-144-hours.htm

What TAE-FUK?

When I told this story to my friends, the common response was “What, I never thought this could happen to you!”. Usually followed or preceded by full-hearted laughter out of Schadenfreude. But I have to agree, it’s actually really funny and I never thought this could happen to me. But let’s start from the beginning.

On 5 September the Osaka area was hit by a typhoon Jebi, the strongest typhoon within the last 25 years, which destroyed parts of the Kansai airport built on an artificial island in the bay of Osaka. As one terminal and one runway was completely unusable flight operations were completely canceled. Around the 10th the first airlines, like ANA, started operating a few flights a day. I had a flight booked from Daegu (TAE) to Osaka (KIX) with Air Busan for the 16th fo meet up with Björn and Janina. The days after the typhoon I monitored the situation. Every day some new information, some more flights going in or out, but operations were far from normal. Around 12 September I had to make a call, so that Björn and Janina can adjust their plans if necessary, that we could end up in the same place on the 16th. Of course due to the upcoming holidays in Korea and Japan flights were already expensive. For about a day and a half we checked various destinations across Japan and different departure airports in Korea. We agreed that most likely the best solution would be to still meet up in Osaka but fly in to Fukuoka and then take the Shinkansen to Osaka.

I tried to call Air Busan to have my existing ticket rebooked to the new destination, but their service center was completely overrun and even after hours of trying I never got through. The best option was then to just book a new flight and hope that the other flight will get canceled and I could get a refund. I selected the one-way trip from TAE to FUK for the 16th, entered my personal information and credit card info and bam: your credit card does not support 3D verification, proceeding without verification. But it only showed a white screen. I tried again. No luck. Next try was booking through my mobile phone. Usually it’s the mobile website that does not work properly and I use the desktop as fallback, why not once the other way round? Again selecting departure airport, destination, one-way flight and date, entering personal information and credit card and guess what, this time it worked. I confirmed the payment with the N26 app and the flight was booked.


Now everything was clear and I went to my trip to Daegu. On the 16th I got up in the morning, had a relaxing breakfast and made my way to the airport around 11 to be there on time for my flight at 14:00. I arrived shortly before 12 and looked for the check-in counter. On the information counter I was told that for the flight to Fukuoka at 14:00 Air Busan would open the counter any minute. So I waited for a few minutes and lined up for check in.

“Konichiwa, I have a reservation for the flight to Fukuoka.” I greeted the woman behind the check-in counter and handed her my passport. She started to check the system and then handed me my passport. “How do you spell your name? I cannot find it.” Only partly confused – having an umlaut and a dash in the name regularly leads to issues – I showed her the international spelling and she checked again. “Sorry, nothing. Do you have the booking confirmation?” Alright, I looked up the confirmation mail and handed her my phone. She started scrolling around and then pointed at the phone. “Sorry, your flight is from Busan. This is Daegu. You’re at the wrong airport.” I looked at the ticket and realized “Fuck, I’m at the wrong airport.” Busan, the home airport of Air Busan, it about 2 hours away in the very south of Korea. No chance I would make it there in time for the check-in. “Oh fuck, are there any seats left on this flight? I need to get to Fukuoka.” “Yes, there are free seats. Please wait, I check if I can rebook you.” Now a 20 min journey began of phone calls the woman made, while I was checking the website to see how much a new ticket would cost me. As there were only regular tickets left a new ticket would cost around 154.000 Won, at that time ca. 115 EUR. A lot, but still affordable.

In total the woman made maybe 7-8 phone calls, apologizing in-between for letting me wait, and in the end offering me to rebook my flight for 150.000 Won. Virtually the same price as a new ticket. Somewhat disappointing, but still better than to have Janina and Björn wait for me a day in Osaka. So I paid for the new ticket and went for the security area. However, I was still very lucky to get a ticket in the first place. As I boarded the plane as one of the last passengers, I saw that all seats except for very few seats here and there, were taken. And a couple of people were still behind me.

I was still confused. How could this happen to me? I’m an experienced traveler, booked all kinds of things through phone, texts, or website in all kinds of languages without any problems. So I looked at the mobile site and tried to figure out how this could have happened. And then I found it. As I said above, I entered departure and destination airport, selected one-way, and then the flight date. The mobile Air Busan website, however, changes the airports to their default selection Busan – Fukuoka when you switch from return ticket to one-way ticket. I guess that’s where it slipped through my attention.

Crossing the border

What did I know about Cambodia before coming here? I knew it’s location between Thailand and Vietnam, I knew Angkor Wat is there, I knew it had a violent past with the Khmer Rouge (though I knew nothing more than that), and I knew it was or is one of the poorer countries. Then I started reading up on the border crossing from Thailand to Cambodia. “Watch out for visa scams!” “Keep an eye on your valuables, lots of pickpockets!” “Beware of bag snatching!” And so on. But I was in for a big surprise!

But first things first. One evening we were sitting over dinner and discussing when we’ll go to Cambodia. We decided to stay for two more nights on Koh Chang but move to Lonely Beach and will then go to Cambodia. We checked up on immigration regulations as the Thai-Cambodia border is infamous for visa scams, where tourists end up paying way more than the official 30$. We found out that Cambodia offers e-visa which can be obtained online and take up to 3 days. I decided to give the e-visa a try, as we didn’t have passport photos and I’m always preferring digital over analog solutions for things like this. The process was surprisingly easy. Enter your passport data, upload a picture, a selfie works fine, and send. Then you pay by credit card the 30$ visa fee plus a 6$ processing fee. Little preview: even though we payed more than the base visa price we were the two people on the bus who payed the least in the end. After the payment we got the confirmation that our application is complete and we have to wait for our request to be processed. It was 23:00 and about 2 1/2 days before we planned to enter Cambodia. I was curious if the up to 3 day processing time would deliver the visa in time.

The next morning around 10 I received an e-mail. “We are happy to inform you that your visa application was successful. Please find attached your e-visa.” That was real quick. Processing starts at 8, and 2 hours later they already completed my visa. The colorful pdf showed the usual shape and information on a visa, plus my selfie from last night. The following day we booked our bus ticket to Sihanoukville, Cambodia at a travel agency around the corner from our guesthouse. As it was already pretty late and one company was already sold out for the next day we did not ask around too much and went with a lady who had a good but not too cheap price. When we came back to our guesthouse we told the owner where we bought out ticket. Her reaction was just a sigh. “If you had asked me before, I would have told you to buy anywhere but there. Their service is bad and they overcharged us last time at the border with additional fees.” Well, what is done is done, so we went to bed and I was excited how the next day will be.

The next morning we got up early to be picked up by a minivan which would bring us to the border where we are supposed to continue with a big bus to Sihanoukville. We stowed our bags and the driver took our tickets. He didn’t even let me take a picture of the ticket, just pulled it out of my hand and told us to get into the van. So we drove on to the pier, set over to mainland Thailand, and continued towards the border. After around 3 hours we arrived at the border, where eager tuktuk drivers were already orbiting the van to offer us to transport the bags to the border checkpoint. We left the bus, received another slip of paper from the bus driver, and grabbed our bags before the vultures could lay their hands on them. As it was only a few hundred meters and to disengage this vulture culture, we walked straight to Thai Immigration. The line was rather short and we quickly were processed and left Thailand.

In the no-mans land between the checkpoints, another couple of hundred meters, loads of beggars and service men approached us to get some no longer needed Baht. We ignored them and marched straight to the Cambodian checkpoint. There the next flock of vultures was waiting already. “Can I see your ticket?” “Can I see your passport?” “You need vis, this way please!” I ignored all the visa requests and showed but never handed my ticket to people who looked like representatives of a bus company. One guy told us he is the driver of our bus and he will wait for us after immigration. So far so good.

Next we fought our way through the people to get to the immigration window, which was strategically clever locates between the window where you apply for your visa and the window where zou pay for your visa. So all people had to get back and forth before they could line up. After 15 min I reached the window, the officer looked at my passport and handed me wordlessly an immigration form to fill out. Another clever move not to put them out where everybody can just grab one and fill it out. This way they make sure that the visa vultures still stay in business if more people get e-visa, because they have these forms of course and for a fee will give it to you and help you to fill it out. So we filled out the forms and lined up again, as we were not allowed to cut in line. More people had arrived, and this time it took about 30 min to get to the window where the officer then processed my passport and after a few minutes the passport was handed back to me.

Our group from the bus had by then been scattered over the whole checkpoint. Some still applying for visa, some about to pay, some waiting at the immigration window and some had disappeared. A guy, who we were not sure if it was the same as before, approached us and told us he would bring us to the tuktuk that would then take us to the bus station at the border town. We followed him to a tent nearby where a family was living and selling drinks and cigarettes. We got some plastic chairs and were told to wait for the rest of the group. After 15 minutes a man came, set down behind a desk, and started processing our tickets. “So you are going to Sihanoukville. The bus leaves at 14:00 from the bus station in town, we will bring you there shortly. There you will get a big bus towards Phnom Penh and then change at the highway intersection to another bus to Sihanoukville. You will arrive there after 20:00.” Dramatical pause. “But we can offer you to upgrade to a minivan which leaves in 15 min, at 13:00, from here and takes you in 5 hours directly t Sihanoukville. This will save you at least 2 hours.” I looked at Melli and back to the salesman. “How much?” – “150 Baht per Person.” So about 4 EUR extra for the upgrade to a minivan, if you can call this upgrade, but including 2 or more hours saved and 2 bus changes avoided. I briefly discussed it with Melli and we agreed to the upgrade. Shortly after another tourist came. He only had a ticket to the border and wanted to buy a ticket to Sihanoukville. For him the price was almost 20 EUR. So I did not feel too bad for our upgrade, as we payed 17,50 EUR from Koh Chang to Sihanoukville plus the 4 EUR upgrade. Then we promptly got led to the minivan.

After we sat down in the minivan more and more people joined us. Some of them from our original group, some from other groups who where heading for Sihanoukville or the border town Koh Kong. A discussion started about the upgrade price we paid. Most of us paid 150 Baht, two paid only 100 Baht as they refused the first offer with 150 Baht and so got a discount. One guy did not pay any fee. He insisted on taking the included bus even though it takes longer for so long that they upgraded him for free. The rumor was there is no big bus, and this is part of the organized scam that they tell you in Thailand it’s a big bus so they can squeeze off a few Baht for the upgrade. Then we discussed about the visa fee. The official fee is 30 USD or around 1000 Baht. The others in our bus, even though at the border at the same time, paid 1400-1800 Baht, so 36-46 EUR. Even though all knew the official price, they were not able to get it. Even the Cambodian border officials were part of the scam, as they received the payment and, my guess, they distribute it later to their helpers. E-visa makes this less likely to happen, but there is still a way to go. The rest of the drive was fine. The van was overfilled, with people siting on stools in the isle for all 5 hours, but we arrived as planned right before sunset in Sihanoukville.

In Sihanoukville the tuktuk drivers were waiting for the people to leave the bus to start their singing: “you need hotel? where you going? You want tuktuk?” Our guesthouse was 3 km away, so we decided to get a tuktuk. The guidebook said the appropriate price would be 4 USD to the center, but drivers at the bus station go as high as 10 USD. Our driver as well checked where our guesthouse was and asked for 5 USD per person. After some haggling I brought him down to 5 USD for both of us, which was fine as I had exactly one 5 dollar bill. We started driving and he started asking where where we want to go next and if we need ferry tickets. We declined and asked him to bring us to the guesthouse. After a while he topped at a travel agency and said we should get our tickets there. I declined again and asked him to continue to the guesthouse. He replied that they had good prices, so I repeated that he should continue to the guesthouse. He started to talk again, so I rudely interrupted him with a vigorous and angry “no, please guesthouse”. He tried again and I put a more aggresive and determined tone into it. “No, guesthouse!” and I pointed down the street. He finally continued, just seconds before I would have unloaded my bags and hailed another tuktuk. He then drove us correctly to the pier where our guesthouse was located.

So, where is the big surprise? Well, that was about to come when we went to Koh Rong and Kampot the next days.

Thumbs up

The last days I shared a room with a French guy in Puli. He told me that he was trying to hike back from a museum 7-8 km away from town, but for almost an hour no one stopped to give him a lift. That really confused me. My experience in Puli was completely different. During the 2 1/2 days where I was hiking around town I was offered 5 times a lift without even asking. From teachers who were eager to practice some English, to an old man in a pick-up who didn’t speak any English but was just happy to meet a foreigner, to high school or college girls on bikes who tried to convince me to ride on their Gepäckträger for laughs and giggles. Still, must of the time I declined the offer as I enjoyed to walk.

I don’t know what the French guy did wrong or what I subconsciously did different. But this really reminded me of Argentina 12 years ago, where people were just eager to talk to foreigners, learn why they come to their country, and send them home with good memories. It was heartwarming to see that this openness and friendliness still exists.

Japan travel cost

If you talk about going to Japan one of the first reactions you get is “oh, Japan is expensive”. After 3 weeks I can tell you the perfect answer for this is the German “Jein”. So yes and no. I found that the variance is a lot bigger than in Germany, or at least you don’t see directly if the place is cheap or expensive. The best example for me are beer and coffee. In Germany, for a cup of regular black coffee you pay between 2 and 3 EUR. In Japan, I found that coffee is more between 250 and 600 Yen. 250 Yen are about 2 EUR, 600 are almost 5 EUR. But from the outside the coffee shops look the same. So if you travel on a budget it’s extra important to check the menu before ordering.

Since a lot of my friends said they are interested in visiting Japan as well I decided to give an overview what the cost of travel in Japan is, based on my travel style.

Accommodation

This is maybe the biggest cost factor in the budget planning. Space is expensive in Japan, so if you want a spacious hotel room with private bath and things like that, you better start saving. On the other side, simple hostel dorm beds can be surprisingly cheap. In most hostels the dorms are like capsule hotels. Each guest get’s his or her own little capsule with lamp and power outlet, enough headroom for sitting up, and a curtain to close for privacy. Capsule hotels work in the same way. Towels, shampoo and shower gel is usually included as well. The price was mostly 2000-3000 Yen per night, so around 15-23 EUR, especially if you book ahead. Double or twin rooms in hostels or guest houses were significantly more expensive already. Here, prices were 3500-4500 Yen per person. Still not including a private bath.

A capsule hotel, on the left the view of the dorm with all the capsules. On the right the view into a capsule. It’s high enough for a normal man to sit upright on the bed.

Traditional housing, a ryokan or temple stay, is always more expensive, but totally worth for a night or two. Having to set up your futon to sleep, from a European perspective, on the floor, is more fun than it sounds. Combined with the paper thin walls and sliding doors this is a very particular experience you shouldn’t miss. So plan some extra money for that.

Food

Eating can be surprisingly cheap in Japan. Having a bowl of ramen or Japanese curry easily feeds you and costs in the simple eateries around 600-800 Yen. Bakeries offer great snacks for a few hundred Yen, and many locals go to the food courts inside the shopping centers, where you get really good food for under 1000 Yen. Eating in a regular Izakaya, traditional Japanese restaurant/pub, will cost you 1200-1500 Yen for a set meal. Sushi in conveyor belt restaurants starts at 100 Yen a plate and goes up to several hundred for special plates. But for fine dining with Japanese beef, seafood, chef-selected sashimi and things like that you look at several thousand Yen per person. Not including drinks.

A really good alternative if you want to have sashimi but do not want to spend much money in a fancy restaurant, then go to the local fish market. There for a couple of hundred Yen you get fresh sashimi to eat right away. It doesn’t get fresher than this.

Simple set menu in an izakaya which includes the main, here the soup, plus rice and several small side dishes, for around 1200-1500 Yen.

For me, I usually grab something from a bakery or a simple eatery for breakfast, have some Ramen or small dish in the early afternoon, and something typical and local for dinner. This way I spend 2000-4000 Yen (15-30 EUR) a day on food, which is quite affordable for eating out all the time.

Drinks

What I really like about Japan is that in every place you go, you get water for free. Tap water is potable and every place where you can eat you get a glass of water even before you order. So it that’s all you need, drinking is free. A small bottle of water (0.5l) cost 100-120 Yen (1 EUR), big ones (2l) have the same price, just not as convenient when walking through the city.

Coffee has a wider price range, starting from 100 Yen at McDonalds to 500 or 600 Yen a cup at non-chain cafés. Black drip coffee, to be precise. Cappucino or latte macchiato are usually 100-200 Yen extra. Starbucks, as a reference, charges 300 Yen for a small cup of black coffee. So if you’re looking for something black and strong to wake you up in the morning, McDonalds is a safe choice. For a rest in the afternoon to watch the people passing by, chains like Starbucks or Tully’s usually have the best spots with great views from the upper floors.

Craft beer tasting set. Nice selection, but often too far away from what typical beer tastes like.

Craft beers are ubiquitous in Tokyo, either concentrated in craft beer bars or 1-2 on the menu of the more modern restaurants. But they are quite pricey. Around 1000 Yen for a small (350-400ml) glass of beer is normal, even more sometimes. Regular draft beer starts mostly at 600, if you get lucky it’s 500 and I even found places where they only charge 400. But the cheaper local alternative is shochu longdrinks, which are 400-500 a glass. A can of beer in the supermarket starts around 130 Yen.

Entertainment

A lot of the entertainment is free in Japan. Most temples were free, or you only had to pay to see the inner sanctum or special exhibitions. Also the viewing platform of the metropolitan government building in Tokyo is free. Other sights charge around 500-1000 Yen, but since I don’t like museums anyways I skipped most of these. Games in the slot machine halls cost 100 Yen, and you should really try one or two when you’re in Japan.

Another very special attraction are the themed cafés. Cat café, maid café, owl café, robot café. All very particular and sometimes entertaining. Usually you pay a fee per hour or half hour you spend in there plus one drink or meal you have to order. Half hour or hour, whatever their smallest unit is, is usually enough to get a good impression. Prices are around 1000 Yen for the smallest unit, cat cafés are a bit cheaper, but then sitting in a room with cats is not that special anyways.

However the main attractions, like the shimmering lights of the big city, the buzzing life, the exotic markets, and the special flair are free anyways.

Transportation

For long range transportation on the main Island nothing beats the Shinkansen. So fast, so punctual, so comfortable. It is as if you are flying on rails. But also quite expensive. Local transportation is, from a German point of view, difficult. Several providers offer local transportation, and with a ticket for e.g. the Tokyo Metro you cannot take the local trains or buses. So the easiest solution is to buy a contact-less payment card from one of the providers, for example pasmo card from Tokyo Metro, and charge money on it. You check in when you enter the station and check out when you leave the station, the price is then calculated and subtracted from your card. If your funds are not sufficient, you cannot leave and have to recharge. Pretty easy and convenient, as these cards work in almost all local transportation around the main island, and can also be used to pay in convenient stores or coffee shops.

Since I prefer to walk all distances below 2-3 subway stops I usually don’t spend much on local transportation. 2-3 subway rides a day is usually enough. The rides are around 300 Yen, more for longer distances. Google maps is quite a good source for connections and prices in Japan. I’d say about 1000 Yen/day is a good estimation.

One very attractive offer is the Japan Rail Pass, which is only available for tourists and allows the use of almost all Japan Rail (JR) local trains and all but the fastest Shinkansen and a few other exceptions. The rail pass costs about 30,000 Yen for 1 week, but if you want to make trips from Japan to Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka and other big cities within one week, then it really pays of. You can even use it within the cities for the local trains to save some extra Yen.

Cheaper than train but also slower are the highway buses. So they are a feasible option to save some money or to get to places where no shinkansen station is around, for example to mount Fuji. 1-2 of such trips will set you back another 10000 Yen, but if you travel longer than 7-10 days this might be really worth it.

Summary

To sum up what kind of budget you should plan if you want to visit Japan at a basic yet enjoyable level:

Daily budget
Accommodation 3000 Yen
Food 2000 Yen
Drinks 3000 Yen (1000 if you don’t drink alcohol, 200 if you drink only water)
Entertainment 1000 Yen
Transportation 1000 Yen

Plus per trip:
Japan Rail Pass 30000 Yen
Temple stay or Ryokan 10000 Yen
Kobe steak dinner 10000 Yen
Transportation 1-2 Daytrips 10000 Yen

So roughly 10k Yen per day, which are about 75 EUR, plus 60k (450 EUR) for one-time things. Not cheap, but still more affordable than first I thought.

A farewell, Deutsche Bahn style

As I wont be using the Deutsche Bahn for the next four month I think they decided to give me a very special farewell. Last night I wanted to take an IC train from Frankfurt to Nuremberg, stay there overnight, and continue today to Munich. Usually it’s 2-3 hours from Frankfurt to Nuremberg, and little over an hour from Nuremberg to Munich. This time it went a little bit different.

The train arrived in Frankfurt with about 15 minutes delay. So far nothing special, as I travel every week by train this happens about once a month. As I didn’t have connecting trains this didn’t bother me too much. The IC was a refurbished one, with comfy leather seats and in my coach only a hand full of seats were taken. When we left Frankfurt the lights started to flicker. All but the emergency lighting went off, then it started to flicker and buzz, and after 20-30 sec the light stayed on. This happened every 10 minutes. Shortly after the next stop the train attendants came to my coach and asked all passengers to move to the next coach, as they have to close this one for technical reasons. Surprising to hear this in fall, as this is usually only the case in summer when the AC breaks or in winter when the heating breaks. But fall and spring are usually fine. So I moved all my stuff to the next coach.

Shortly after the train stopped in the middle of nowhere. Afar in the mist you could see the outlines of a vacant train station, but all around was pitch black. The train attendants made an announcement through the speakers, but the volume was to low to understand anything. So I decided to check the Deutsche Bahn app for information on my train. But we were standing in the middle of the lower Franconian wilderness. Cell reception was at a minimum, so the app did not refresh. And since the train was an IC, there was no wifi. I waited for the train to continue, another announcement, or a train attendant to pass by. Then 3 train attendants ran by my booth wearing orange workers vests. It doomed me that this might take a while.

A few minutes later the next announcement came. This time loud enough to understand. The last coach, the one I was in before, has such a severe technical defect that they have to detach it here and now. We all should remain seated as the outer doors have to be unlocked and the neighboring tracks have trains running. I thought that this should be a matter of a few minutes, but boy was I wrong. With only a short “please be patient, we’re working on it” announcement every 10-15 minutes it took them more than an hour to detach the last coach. With a delay of more than 90 minutes we continued our trip and I arrived late at night in Nuremberg.

The next day I planned to take the ICE to Munich, which takes about 71 minutes. The train came on time, I even had to rush along the platform to the other end of the train to get to my coach. I boarded the train, searched for my seat, had to ask the man sitting there to find a different seat as the seat reservation display was defective again, and stowed away by backpack. Just in time for the next announcement. “Dear passengers, due to a track suspension this train will be rerouted. Expected delay 45 minutes.” When I checked the schedule in the app 5 minutes before there was no indication. But at least the wifi was working, so I enjoyed the extra time in the ICE. Maybe that’s the farewell, Deutsche Bahn style.

 

18 and ready to roll

Packed and ready to go. About 18 kg of shorts and shirts, sun screen and insect repellent, and travel books and iodine cream. Prepared for cold hikes in the Japanese Alps, the humid heat in Malaysia, for diving in the Philippines, or expeditions through the Vietnamese jungle. Everything ready, all but a plan. Four months on the road, meeting up with friends here and there, and be surprised where to go next.

Choose to pack? Or pack to choose?

Packing clothes was surprisingly fast this time. I don’t like carrying around things I don’t need at the end of the trip, so I’m a classical “pack to choose” person. I check what I want to do during the trip and pack accordingly. Ideally I used all the cloths I packed, not more, not less. But this time it’s different. No planning like “how much socks and shirts do I need? Shall I pack 1-2 spares? Or do I want to wash in-between?”. I’ll just wash whenever I run out of clean cloths. And if I really miss something then it’s worth buying it if I need it during that time. So I have all I need for 10-15 days. Even for shoes the decision was quite easy, a pair of robust running shoes for hiking and running, Chucks for laid-back city days and going-out at night, and flip flops for, well, everywhere you might need flip flops. So apart from alpine hikes and fancy dress code clubs I should be covered.

The curse of the gadget addict

The easier the packing is with cloths, the more difficult it is for me as gadget addict. I want to have my digital camera, ideally with 1-2 lenses for different occasions, my laptop for photo editing and writing, my phone for staying connected, my tablet for streaming or reading pdfs, my kindle for reading ebooks, a power bank for when there’s no outlet in the dorm, an external disk for backing up photos, my gopro for diving, spare batteries for long days of shooting and filming, and charger(s) to recharge all those things. As my new laptop uses USB-C PD for charging I opted for a charger that has 4 regular USB and 1 USB-C port with PD (20V instead of 5V) capabilities. So I can charge all important things at once using just one outlet. Especially useful in hostels where outlets are rare and always occupied.

So I’m ready to go. With a mixture of anticipation, excitement, curiosity and a dash anxiety I’ll start my big trip tonight. From Frankfurt via Nuremberg and Munich to Tokyo. Godspeed!