just how much trip planning and research is too much?

Today I watched a TV programme with Prunella Scales and her hubby, on a boat in the backwaters of Kerala and it got me thinking:
– Should I have even been watching this?
– When I visit the backwaters will it feel new, given that I know what it looks like?
– Have I planned and researched too much?

With five weeks to go until we’re off on our travels I’ve been playing that difficult game of trying to do some research without doing too much.
Just for info my personality test results put me well in the ‘likes to plan stuff’ category which makes not over planning quite difficult.

why do any research at all?

It’s simple, we’ll be time-limited whilst on holiday, we only ( 😀 ) have four weeks.
Four weeks might seem like a long time but there’s only so many holidays this length I’ll ever be able to take in my remaining years, which is a strange thing to say for someone still (albeit just) in his forties. So I need these weeks to count, there’s a lot we want to see and do.
Being a happy-go-lucky-carefree-itinerary-less traveller appeals to me far more than an it’s-Tuesday-we-must-be-in-Kochi tourist, but our reality is we can’t be both.
Or can we?

could we go without an itinerary?

Yes, of course, we could arrive in Mumbai with a rough idea where we want to go then try and organise travel to our next destination, once we’d thought of somewhere.
Or we could arrive and try to immediately book a flight to Chennai for a couple of days’ time.
We could also try our hand at booking some trains when we’re almost ready to move on, but I know with trains in India we are unlikely to be lucky unless we settle for the lowest possible classes. One of the biggest issues would be getting so far away from Mumbai and then not being able to get a return train or flight to arrive in time to fly home from Mumbai.
Knowing us we’d probably only get to see a few places, mostly close to Mumbai.

could we plan every day to the max?

Yes, of course, but it would turn us in to the tourists I have no desire to be. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been that tourist and I’ve had great times. I’m not sure how I would have managed the three african safaris I’ve done without being that sort of tourist.
With today’s internet and online payments it could be very tempting to plan every single day, its activities, where we’ll eat, trips we’d do. Doing this would mean our time-limited holiday would be full and we’d waste no time whilst away. Sounds tempting but no, this isn’t for us.

an acceptable compromise

I think we’ve come up with a good plan.
All travel is booked, many hotels are booked, especially in time-limited or hotel-limited areas. We’ve got a rough idea of some of the things we’d like to see and do – as without this we’d have no idea how many days we wanted in each place – but only one activity has been planned for a given date. Well, I say planned, we think we might do it on a certain day, but we might not; I guess that’s not really planned either then.

and the research?

Research of the places we’re to visit has been difficult to keep a lid on. On one hand I can’t wait find out information so I can decide whether I want to visit a place, on the other I want the discovery to be amazing, fresh and new.
Even though I’ve planned much of the trip I know very little about each place, just roughly what’s there and what people say is good or bad.

But will I be able to keep it like this?

A visa-bly much better experience: India’s e-visa application process

Today, I’ve been mainly editing photos, scanning pages of passports and applying for our tourist visas.

It was a lot easier easier than the last times I’ve done it.

Back in the day

In 2009 it was possible to do most of the application process online but you still had to send your passport off, or visit the office in Victoria and pay for the passports to be sent back, or collect them yourself days later.
You were applying for a minimum of a three month visa and as soon as your visa was granted it started running out.
So there you were, you’d spent a year saving up, planning the trip of a lifetime, booking flights and hotels and then had to wait until six weeks before you went to apply for your visa. If there was any trouble getting it granted because of missing photos/documents you’d be panicking.
We got our visas of course, we’re tourists, not anyone to cause any worry to the High Commission.
Move on two years to 2011 and I’d grown a little panicky from horror tales I’d read on the web, the High Commission were allegedly scrutinising everything and visas were getting denied first time through. I decided to take a lovely day trip to London with Amy get our applications processed and accepted in front of our eyes, meaning we only had to wait for the post to come a few weeks later.

How times change

My work friend Narinder travelled to India last year and told me about the new e-visa which she used. A simple process she said, much easier than before. I trusted her but thought to myself that the system would still probably be a pain in the arse.
How wrong was I?!
It really seems simple now – fingers crossed though, the visas haven’t been granted yet! – after filling in a few pages of an application form online you upload a photo and a scan of your passport’s page with your photo on. Pay the free and you’re done.

Why is this so much better

Three things make this process so much better than before:
– Well simply that you can apply up to 120 days in advance and the visa doesn’t start counting down until you enter India. That’s a lot better than before.
– You don’t need to send your passport off, so no worrying it getting lost in the post.
– It’s all totally online.

All you need is….

First go to the visa application page https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html and take a read.
Scan the page of your passport shows your photo. Save that to a PDF, noting the sizes mentioned on the help page on the visa site.
Scan a photo of your head and shoulders against a plain background, no shadows must be present. Read the rules etc..
Start the application process, fill in name, passport details.
Then details about any previous visas, where you’re going now, where you’ve been before, that sort of thing.
You’re asked for the name of a reference in India which will be tricky for most but just enter your first hotel’s details if you don’t have anyone you know in India.
Give the name, address and phone number of a reference in the UK.
Upload your photo (JPG) and passport page (PDF).
Pay your money.
And relax.

And wait for confirmation that everything is okay.
*crosses fingers*

Visa has been granted.
It took just 13 hours since I submitted my application.
The best thing is that everything’s done, nothing to wait for in the post, just print off the form and attach a photo, then make sure I arrive in India between June 15th and October 17th.

***UPDATE 2**
Within 24 hours all three visas had been approved.

train-mazing bookings

For those who’ve travelled on UK railways it’s hard to comprehend just how massive, busy and booked up trains in India get. Not only do trains get booked up way in advance but they also have people who book when all seats are sold out and they join a Wait List, hoping that enough cancellations will happen so that the purchaser can travel, and these waitlists have dozens of people on them.

The posher classes are often fully booked in advance, and this on trains with often 21 carriages, taking 60 odd people per carriage, which can run for 3 solid days. You can even book 120 days in advance of the date of travel, something I’ve been making full use of as I plan our journey around.

Booking is easy these days: research trains on erail.in, create an IRCTC account on irctc.co.in, book a train, pay using an international debit/credit card, print a ticket, eventually get on the train, show ticket to the inspector et voila.
Now there’s an app you can use, showing all your previous bookings and cutting out the need to print a ticket at all.

But it’s gone one stage further now…
You can pre-purchase your food.

No longer must you get on a train and hope there’s something being sold on the train you’ll feel happy eating, no, now you can pre-order for delivery to your seat when the train arrives at certain stations. There’s a great choice too, from Indian food (Southern and Northern), to Burgers, to Chicken, to Pizza.

I just couldn’t resist doing this and ordered a full meal of Indian dishes for three to be delivered to my seat where I’ll pay cash on delivery. It came to less than a tenner.

First you enter your PNR reservation number, from this they know your train, your carriage, your seat number and pretty much exactly where on the platform the door to your carriage will line up.

Then pick the station you want the food delivered at and which vendor:

Then pick what you want – it’s all pretty cheap:

Finish off the order, board your train, wait for your food to be delivered, pay the delivery guy, and eat.