I've just realised it's now a little over six months and we'll be heading off to Barneo ice station to prepare for the journey north. Pretty excited. I'm still working on sponsors and we already have a couple of pledges. This is the one area that concerned me most about the whole endeavour - money. Trust me, if there was a way to get to the North Pole for free I would find it. But putting together an expedition like this needs more than cold, hard cash. And that's what I want to talk about today.
Back in the old days, my kit was always ready to go - the job demanded short notice moves; some taskings would see us deployed from base to a hotspot in as little as a few hours. Those days are gone and now my approach can be a little more sedate. That said, I've carried forward a few ideas that you might find useful when planning your own adventures.
Visas and Passports
Visas can be the bane of your life. There are many countries where simply getting across the border requires huge amounts of preparation, a lot of patience and, occasionally, a little 'sweetener'. The FCO has a dedicated page offering travel advice - https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice - scroll down the page and you'll visa requirements for the respective country (but no details of any 'facilitation payments').
Filling out the paperwork can be a a long, slow job, but do you really want you trip of a lifetime tripped at the last hurdle just because you left your visa application until the last minute?
I know, there's no need to tell me - insurance feels like a tax, but it's necessary. Do you have a family? Kids, maybe? Partner? Mortgage? Outstanding finance? Answer yes to any of those and you're going to need to insure yourself. Cost of insurance varies depending on where you're planning to go e.g. mountain biking across the Hindu Kush then it's fair to say you're going to be hit with a pretty big premium. Prices will be lower for more sedate adventures such as riding from Land's End to John O'Groats in a rickshaw.
Whatever you do, make the insurance covers you for every eventuality. Also be aware a trip that takes you through multiple countries on different modes of transport may require several policies.
No need for a map at the North Pole as the place is one vast expanse of shifting sea ice. Now think about somewhere like South Africa and we're looking at the complete opposite. On a few occasions in my past, a map has quite literally been a life saver for me. Paper maps are the best. Failing that, you can use an app for your smartphone.
Depending on your destination, you may find it difficult to obtain up to date mapping. Don't panic - even old maps are sufficient, especially in places like the Sahara desert (trust me on this one - we were using maps made in the 1950's during this trip and they were more than adequate for the job).
Planning Your Route
'Yeah, I'm just off to climb Mount Everest!' Cool, well done. Question is this: who knows where you are at any given time? Let me make this clear - create a route card and make sure you leave it with someone you can trust and agree a method of passing updates. This person is then responsible for notifying authorities in the event you don't check in. On top of a route card, you need a communications plan (mobile phone, satcomms, email... whatever it is stick to the schedule). If you're off to the wilds of somewhere like Kamchatka consider using a GPS tracking system.
Scorching Heat or Frozen Tundra?
It goes without saying that you need to pack the right kit for the climate or the regions you'll be trekking through. Very cold, like Siberia, and you'll need lots of cold weather gear. Alternatively, if you've decided to run the length of the Gobi desert you're going to need to travel light and with cool clothing that protects you from the sun. But there's also a middle ground you need to consider - hot places where the temperatures can drop below zero degrees Celsius.
The Sahara desert is hot by day and bitterly cold at night. Know the environment you're going to be travelling through and pack accordingly. Do your research before you go.
Fortunately mankind has done a pretty good job of eradicating most of the nasty bugs that cause us to grow a second head or outright die. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security - there are plenty of nasties out there just waiting to find an orifice via which they can invade your body. See you doctor, get the necessary vaccinations and be safe.
You may also need to visit your doc after a trip abroad. Sounds a little counterintuitive, but you never know what you're bringing back with you. Trust me when I say ringworm are cunning little buggers who can hide under even the sparsest of beards so beware you newbie globe trotting hipsters.
Some destinations require the use of specialist kit. A prime example is one of walking to the North Pole. Not only will you need extreme cold weather gear, dehydrated food and a portable hygiene system (baby wipes), you may also need to take some form of self-defence. In the colder, more northerly regions of the world you're going to need a rifle to keep polar bears and Norwegian ski tourists at bay. At the far end of the spectrum you might need to consider employing guides to see you through areas of tension or war zones.
Bottom line - don't try to dabble with Death as he tends to have the upper hand.
That's it for now. Just threw some ideas out there. If you have any further thoughts/tips, please put your views down in the comments below.