Step Five: China Visas, Renting Rooms, and What To Do When It All Goes Wrong

“So, you all organised for the big trip?” Ive lost count of how many times I’ve been asked that question over the past few months. In the beginning, the answer was always a resounding “no!”, but, to my incredible surprise, about a month ago, that “no” slowly began to morph into an “um… Yeah, kinda”.

I have a to-do list a mile long that I’ve slowly been ticking off, with a rough outline of what stage I should be at on different dates. Once I was past the initial overwhelming stage of figuring out where to go, booking flights, figuring out insurance and visas, and making a rough plan for the next year, I entered the phase of slowly but steadily ticking off tasks. One day I’d call my bank to tell them where I was going, the next day I’d read up about crossing the Mongolian border, and the next I’d make a mammoth packing list. Of course most of my time was spent on writing and filming. When I wasn’t working on my online writing course, pitching a story to a website, or trying to build contacts, I was reading about documentary techniques, practising conducting interviews, and learning more about the camera equipment. But despite the seemingly insurmountable workload, I slowly started to feel like I was on track.

Until I wasn’t.

The first major problem Adam and I encountered was China refusing to give us visas. After researching the notoriously tricky application process, we made sure to avoid all the common difficulties such as leaving gaps on the form or having the wrong sized photos. But we were refused a double entry visa because our bus across the Mongolian border wasn’t booked in advance (we’d looked online, it can’t be done). The second issue was that, as a filmmaker, Adam was only entitled to a one month visa, whose validity started on the day of application.

We left the embassy feeling as if our whole itinerary, which hinged on flying into China, crossing overland into Mongolia, then crossing back into China, before flying out from Hong Kong, had collapsed. After an initial panic, we decided on a Plan B (getting a double entry Chinese visa in Nepal), a Plan C (getting a single entry visa in Nepal and another in Mongolia), a Plan D (getting flights to Mongolia and Hong Kong), a Plan E (change the flights to somewhere else entirely) and so on, right up to Plan Z (screw it, let’s just stay in Nepal for the year).

And so we seemed to be back on track, at least for a few days, until the next big hurdle appeared. The new tenant for my room backed out last minute, leaving me with the options of finding someone else for the room, or losing a sizeable deposit. And so, in amongst completing assignments, submitting articles, studying filming, and planning the biggest trip of my life, not to mention still working at a full time job, I now had to advertise the room and sort out house viewings.

I felt swamped. As if by a domino effect, minor issues kept cropping up. My bank decided to send me a new bank card (to an old address, because of course they did!), I realised I’d left it far too late to buy and properly break in new hiking shoes, and I started receiving emails asking why I hadn’t delivered articles as promised.

And if I was expecting any sympathy, I was out of luck. When you tell someone you’re planning the trip of a lifetime filming and writing around the world for a year, then try to complain about the amount of stress and workload that comes with it, people tend to be less than understanding.

But, in time, I started to realise these people were right. So what if I had a heavy workload and a few things were going wrong? If China wouldn’t let me in, I wouldn’t go. If I couldn’t find a tenant for my room, I’d lose my deposit. If my new bank card didn’t arrive, I’d somehow find a way around it. In less than two weeks, I’d be in Nepal, realising that none of that stuff ever mattered.

Some tips for when it all goes wrong before your trip:

  • Take a deep breath and focus on the end result. All the stress will be worth it.
  • Share the burden. If you’re travelling with others, communicate about what needs to be done, and what each of you are going to do.
  • Make a to-do list with EVERYTHING on it. Ticking off minor tasks will show that you are making progress, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
  • Have a back up plan, and be prepared to follow through with it if needed.
  • Take time to relax, enjoy yourself, and spend time with the people that you’ll miss while you’re away.

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