Simon and I have been talking about long-term travel for quite a while. We’ve been travelling on and off for years but never for an extended period of time. But two weeks here, three days there is no longer cutting it for us; there are just too many amazing places in the world to visit.
Heading off to travel for a year or two is not a decision to take lightly. It takes a lot of planning, saving and organisation. And you’ll want to be willing to leave everything behind, at least for a while. So it’s a HUGE decision to make! As we are heading off on our big adventure, I wanted to share some of the preparations we’ve had to deal with in the last few months. I am not going to lie, it was rather stressful and there are so many things to think about. At times you might doubt your sanity! But in the end, it’s all worth it.
If like us your 9 to 5 job is not keeping you happy and you are longing to change your lifestyle for a while and experience more of the world, here is a list of important steps for planning the perfect long-term trip.
1- Decide how long you want to be away for and when you want to go
You’ll really need to determine how long you plan on being away for. It will help with deciding how many places you can travel too and how much savings you need. If you are anything like me, your list of places to visit is going to get out of control very quickly and you’ll realise you might need longer than expected!
You should also decide on a departure date. Once you set the date, you’ll have something to look forward to and a target to aim for.
2- Decide where you want to go
This is by far the most exciting part of planning a long-term trip. Spend some time researching the places you want to visit, find out about their highlights, read other people’s travel blogs, guidebooks, check out the tourism boards’ websites. You can work out a draft itinerary for each country you plan on visiting, which you can always adjust as you go. No doubt you’ll meet other travellers along the way who will point you towards great places you’ve never heard of!
3- Decide what kind of traveller you want to be
You’ll need to decide what kind of traveller you want to be. The backpacking lifestyle might suit you just fine but if you are older or a couple like us, you might prefer private rooms, comfortable hotels or Airbnb. There’s always the option to cough surf, house-sit or to work for free accommodation too. There are many options out there and everyone is different!
4- Start saving as soon as possible
Saving is an important part of long-term travel because you will need money to make this trip happen. So start by cutting out unnecessary spending, eat out less, don’t buy that pair of shoes you already have in another colour. Start regularly transferring a fixed portion of your salary into a savings account that you won’t touch. Keep track of all of your expenses. The more money you have saved when the time comes the better. If you can, take on an extra job where the money goes straight into your trip’s fund.
5- Work out a monthly budget
Think about the flights, trains and buses you’ll need to take. Then there’s the accommodation, the food, tours or sightseeing trip you’ll want to take. Work out a monthly budget, or a budget per country you are planning on visiting. For example, if you are visiting Cambodia and Italy, both will have totally different budgets. European countries are a lot more expensive so your budget will need to be higher in Europe and lower in Asia to even it out.
6- Start travel hacking
Travel hacking is a great way to make your trip cheaper. Sign up for frequent flier miles and loyalty programs. There are also many credit cards available which will earn you points every time you use them. Earn points when you do your daily purchases like buying your weekly groceries. All these tricks will help you score free flights or hotel rooms. Travel hacking is genius and if you want to find out more about it, Nomadic Matt has put together an excellent guide on travel hacking.
7- Get your vaccinations in order
Depending on where you are travelling to in the world, you might need certain vaccinations. Visit a travel doctor as early as possible to discuss your trip and find out which vaccinations you will need. Some vaccinations need to be done as a series or need a six-month booster, so don’t leave this to the last minute.
8- Check your passport
You need to make sure your passport hasn’t expired or is about to expire. You’ll need at least six months validity to visit most countries. If you haven’t got a passport, you’ll need to apply for one.
9- Check visa situations
Some countries you visit may require you obtain a visa. Make sure you do your research on this. You don’t want to arrive in a country without a required visa. It could be a very annoying experience!
10- Make sure you do all your medical check-ups before you go
You’ll want to check your health before you go because finding good medical care while on the road is not always easy. Make an appointment with your doctor for a health check and request a blood test to make sure that everything is in order (especially if, like us, you aren’t a spring chicken anymore!). You should also make appointments with your dentist, optometrist and any of the other health professionals that you normally see. If you take regular medication, make sure to fill all of your prescriptions and request for a copy. You may also want to get a letter from your doctor for any medication you’ll be taking with you, that you can present when asked. If you wear glasses, get a copy of your prescription just in case you need to replace them.
11- Buy travel insurance
You absolutely must get travel insurance. That applies for every trip, short or long. You never know what might happen to you while overseas. You could get seriously sick, injured or have everything you own stolen. It happens! With no insurance, you could be in serious trouble and it really isn’t worse taking the risk.
12- Organise your house, start selling your stuff and organise storage if need be
If you’re going travelling for a long time, you’ll need to let go of many things in your house. You’ll be amazed at how much stuff accumulates over the years. You’ll probably find things that you’d totally forgotten you had and things that likely weren’t worth having in the first place!
You may be reluctant to let go of certain items due to their sentimental value. You’ll need to sort your possessions into four categories, the throwaway pile, the donate pile, the sell pile and the store pile. Try and sell as much stuff as possible to gain extra cash for your trip. Obviously, store as little as you can unless you can find a really cheap storage company or a willing friend or family member. But depending on your future plans you may not want to get rid of everything.
13 – Get a travel credit card
When using your credit card overseas, you’ll likely be stung with charges every time you use it. So it’s a good idea to do some research and find a credit card without overseas charges. There are a few of them around. For us Australians, the 28 degrees credit card was the best bet. Not only does it not incur charges on overseas transactions, but there is no annual fee either.
You should also find a debit card that doesn’t incur overseas transaction fees. You don’t want to be charged extra just for withdrawing from an ATM overseas.
Last but not least, buy some foreign currency and always bring a supply of US dollars. Several countries prefer that you pay for your arrival visas with them.
14- Make a packing list
Make a list of everything that you think you should bring on your trip. Buy everything that you need but don’t have. Keep an eye on sales to once again save some money. You’ll also need to get yourself a backpack or a suitcase. A couple of weeks before your trip try packing your bag with everything that you are planning to take. No doubt you’ll have to get rid of some stuff as it won’t all fit!! Doing this early gives you time to rethink what you really need. When travelling for a while it’s best to learn to pack lightly. It’s hard I know!
15- Get a universal adapter
If you are planning on visiting different continents, you may need a few different travel adapters. To save space, consider buying a universal travel adapter.
16- Make a copy of all your important documents
This is important in case your papers are lost or stolen. Scan your passport, driver’s licence, visas, yellow fever vaccination card (if applicable) and any other important documents you have. You should email someone you trust a copy and take a copy with you, stored separately to the original. Having scanned copies will make replacing them a whole lot easier.
17- Prepare yourself emotionally for the BIG change in your life
Leaving everything behind and to go travelling certainly sound great at first but the closer you get to leaving, the more you’ll doubt your decision, even if you’ve been dreaming about it for years.
We had been living in Melbourne for almost 13 years and we had so many wonderful memories. I realised I would miss the house we’d been renting, the suburb we’d lived in for so long and the wonderful moments we’d shared with our friends and family.
As our departure date rapidly approached, I started having doubts. Were we crazy? Living here is really not that bad. What if we hate being on the road for so long, we’re not that young anymore. I’d been wanting to do this for years but when it’s all finally happening it gets very scary.
We don’t regret our decision but be aware that you will need to prepare yourself emotionally and deal with these kinds of doubts. Once everything is organised there is no going back. Be sure to surround yourself with people who support your decision; it makes things so much easier. Negative people will just make you feel worse. It’s best to avoid them.
18- Get your mail redirected
Since you won’t have a permanent address anymore, get your mail redirected to a family member or a good friend that you can trust. While away there might be times when they will need to open important mail on your behalf.
19- Inform your bank you are going away
It’s very important to let your bank know that you are going away for a while. You’ll need to inform them of the places you are planning on going so they don’t freeze your account when you withdraw $200 in Siem Reap!
If you are from a country (such as Australia) with compulsory voting, you should either sign up to be able to vote while overseas or have your name removed from the electoral roll. Otherwise, you may have to explain why you didn’t vote or risk a fine.
20 – Have a farewell party
Make sure you organise (or have your best friend do it; you’ll be busy!) a farewell party. You’ll want to catch up with all your friends and family before you go.
21- Have fun!
Now it’s time to board your plane, and head off to enjoy your big adventure!