In part one of this two-part series, we shared a set of questions to ask yourself (and your travel companion) as you consider long term travel.
In part two of this series, we describe the tactical planning steps to take prior to departure.
It’s okay if you don’t know where to begin
When we began preparing for our 18-month trip, we read through hundreds of Rick Steves forums, TripAdvisor recommendations, Reddit threads, and travel blogs. Each post felt like it contradicted the next — on one blog: buy everything before you go and another: buy stuff along the way. It seemed like each new piece of advice added on a new set of things to worry about prior to take off.
All we wanted was peace of mind that we left the home front in good shape prior to departure
When we look back on our planning and why we read so much planning advice, we were really after peace of mind that we had taken care of the home front prior to departure.
We wanted to know that we had done all we could to mitigate for as many avoidable headaches as possible. We wanted to spend our moments abroad being present in the moment rather than worrying about an unpaid bill.
After coming home from our trip (that included unexpected emergency surgery abroad) we now have a better sense of the “musts” versus “nice-to-haves”
After returning home from our five continent, 35 country, 250 city trip with two Kelty 40L backpacks and a single personal item each, we understand now more than before what is necessary to do before departure.
Yes, there are items on this list that can be completed anywhere in the world with a computer and internet connection. But there are many things that require moving physical items and putting together hard copy documents and records. Most importantly, providing the people you may lean on with a sense of your plan helps avoid strained conversations in the future.
Below is a comprehensive list of the items that we completed prior to departure — a list of what we wished we had when we set about on our journey.
None of the items below are particularly stressful to complete if you give yourself enough time
Prepare to plan ahead. Do not attempt to complete all of these items at the last minute.
You need a longer time horizon for items like housing, immunizations, and processing times for paperwork. Waiting until the last minutes is frustrating, expensive and creates unnecessary pressure on the people attempting to help you complete these tasks ahead of departure.
Regardless of whether you follow this list in its entirety, or select certain portions that align to the particulars of your own life, planning for your trip does not have to be a stressful experience.
The list we wished we had as we prepared for our trip
- Naming a Trusted Point of Contact + Critical Documents Folder
- Passport, Visas & Ticketing
- Health + Insurance
- Credit + Debit Cards
- Day-of Flight
Note: we don’t include information about animals or children in this post. We hope to connect with a reader for their thoughts and guidance about their experiences preparing for these two major categories.
Naming a Trusted Point of Contact + Critical Documents Folder
- Determine who your trusted point of contact is at home.
- This is the person who will appraise you of the mail that comes in, serves as an emergency contact, and can help out if you run into credit card issues. Make sure you describe to them what their role would be while you are traveling and get their sign off they are okay with this.
- Create a hard copy folder of critical documents. Leave it with a trusted person. The folder should include copies of your:
- Flight information
- Driver’s License
- Social Security Card
- Birth Certificate
- Immunization record
- Health record
- Debit and credit cards overview
- Create the same critical documents folder online.
- Make the folder available offline (store a copy is locally on your phone that you carry with you while traveling).
- We recommend Box and Google Drive as they are easy to use and free.
Passport, Visas & Ticketing
- Make sure you have at least six months between the time of passport expiry and your first date of travel. Many countries won’t let you travel without this.
- Make sure you have enough free pages to stamp.
- File for an e-visa or make an appointment with your consulate for a visa to your first destination country, where applicable.
- Some visas require proof of ticketing. Understand what order of operations you need to take.
- Purchase your flight.
- Check if proof of onward travel is required by the country you will be arriving into; if it is, have evidence that your travel plans show you will be leaving that country before your tourist visa expires.
- Driver’s License
- Renting a car abroad can sometimes require an international driver’s license, like in Japan. If you plan to drive, get an international driver’s license. In the USA, they are available through AAA for $20 with a typical processing time of about 30 minutes.
- Keep a photocopy of your passport, driver’s license, visas, proof of immunization and travel insurance in your hand luggage. If you are traveling with someone else, also keep a copy of their information in your luggage.
Housing + Material Possessions
- Determine whether you will give up your apartment/house, sublease, sell, Airbnb or find a long-term house sitter to care for your home. Depending on your answer, make plans accordingly.
- If you are moving out of your place, go through your belongings and decide what to keep, sell, or donate.
- Pack linens and clothing away in sealable containers
- Store valuables like engagement rings, cameras and computers with a trusted friend or family member
- Forward your mail to your new permanent address (trusted person/loved one/commercial mailer/etc.). Update all accounts with this new address.
- Determine whether you are selling your car or keeping it in storage.
- If you are planning on selling your car, make the necessary appointments to get it into sellable shape. Determine whether you will sell privately or through a dealer.
- You may consider keeping your car insurance if your provider charges additional fees for a lapse in coverage. Through your state, file non-use forms and switch your insurance policy to “non-owner”. Confirm with your insurance company that they can provide coverage for you. They may be able to reimburse you some money due to changing the policy from a full to non-use policy.
- Filed for auto insurance reimbursement due to vehicle non-use
If you keep your car:
- Determine where your car will be housed if you do not sell it.
- Give your car keys to a designated person.
- Think about having someone start your car every couple of weeks to keep the battery alive and ensure the gas does not go bad. When gas goes bad, it’s not good for the engine.
- Determine what an ideal outcome looks like for when you return back home from your travels.
- [If desired] Attempt to create a return plan with your company and partake in necessary discussions.
- Talk with your team/manager about your plans and create a migration schedule with them.
- Have a sense of how you want to communicate your leaving so you can share it with your peers. Though you may decide to change career paths when you return, you can’t place a price tag on the peace of mind that you left things in good standing.
- Submit final reimbursements
- Receive your final paycheck
- [USA only] Submit any Flexible Spending Account (FSA) reimbursements claims
- [USA only] Submit any Health Savings Account (HSA) reimbursements claims
Health + Insurance
- If you have medical, dental, and vision insurance plans offered through your workplace, determine when the final date of service is and make necessary appointments.
- Schedule appointments
- Physical Exam
- Prescription Refill
- Eye exam
- Contact lenses and/or glasses update. If you wear contact lenses, plan to bring a six-month supply with you.
- Each country has different requirements for the types of vaccinations each traveler should have.
- See our post about Immunizations for Travel — An Introduction here
- Purchase travel insurance
- We recommend World Nomads. More on why you must purchase travel insurance in a separate post.
- Create two budgets – what you want to spend on the overall trip, and a target of how much you would like to spend day-over-day. Determine how much you are willing to spend on accommodation, food, activities/entertainment and transport. Our rule of thumb was $60-100/person/day, depending on region of travel.
- Keep a list of your credit card numbers, CVV and expiration dates in an encrypted file, in case they are lost or stolen.
- Automate ongoing bills
- Keep a running list of recurring vendors & payments
- Switch all notifications to paperless e-statements and alerts
- Ensure all documents are available online for you to download
- Plan to e-file
We will more comprehensively outline the cost of travel in a separate post.
Credit + Debit Cards
- Sign up for credit cards that do not have foreign transaction fees
- Determine whether your credit offers any kind of travel insurance
- Place a travel advisory on all credit and debit cards
- Most banks will not allow you to place an advisory on the card more than three months out from the date of travel. Mark your calendar to send an email to your credit and debit card providers with your travel plans.
- Download a proof of funds
- Some countries require travelers to prove that they have “sufficient funds” in order to be granted a holiday visa.
- Sufficient funds means different things in different cultures. In Australia, we read that sufficient funds meant over $5,000 AUD ($3,435 USD).
- Create a four-digit pin. Many ATMS will not accept pins that are longer than four-digits.
- If you download a banking app and try to log-in from abroad note that it may not work abroad depending on where the IP pings from. Prepare to have to authenticate in to the account by calling in, especially in the first couple weeks of travel.
We will more comprehensively outline credit cards in a separate post.
- Our #1 piece of advice for packing: purchase a high quality pair of walking shoes and break them in prior to departure.
- Weigh bags to make sure that they comply with air carriers guidelines.
- Ensure all electronics have a matching charging cord.
- Pack snacks for the flight (see our post about that here).
- Pack your in-flight essentials kit.
- Make sure all of your bags have a TSA lock.
We comprehensively outline what to pack (a his and hers guide) in a separate post.
Technology (Hardware, Software & Apps)
- Cancel subscriptions
- Sign up for a Google Voice plan & add $10 of credit
- Port your cell phone number to Google Voice
- Cancel phone plan
- Create a WhatsApp group for friends and family
- Purchase a SIM card, if needed
- Update apps on phones
- Downloaded music playlists for offline listening
- Downloaded movies for offline viewing
- Clear space on computer hard drive
- Back up photos on computers into an external drive and cloud provider
- Update software and security on all devices
- Purchase memory cards for cameras
- Purchase external hard drive to store copies of photos (for use in case the bandwidth is limited)
- Purchase a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to use when banking or working with sensitive information
Day of Your Flight
- Check in for your flight.
- Add in frequent flier numbers to your e-ticket.
- Make sure luggage has identification bag tags.
- Toss any perishable food from your fridge.
- Place your laptop and toiletries in an accessible area of your bag.
- Look into lounge access at the airport – your credit card may provide access.
For those who traveled long term, does your list look similar to ours? If not, what did you do differently?
For those who leveraged this list in their planning, was this helpful?
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