*Disclaimer: this is not a sponsored post, I simply love these brands or websites and am providing the links but I get no kickback for providing them*
Our big 9 month honeymoon is creeping closer and closer and being a veteran to long term travel, I have established a tried and true list for preparing for such trips. This will be my longest trip to date, but I prepare the same way for a three month trip as I do for a nine month trip. The only difference is the amount of money I save. I almost always buy one way flights in the hopes I can stretch my money longer than planned.
Currently, I’m going on three years since my last trip and I’m getting super antsy. Luckily, I’ve already completed the first few steps of my long term travel plans and I’m here to share them with everyone.
- Do your research. Where is the best place to travel this time of year? Where is it really affordable to travel right now? What places have you been dying to see? Once you figure out where you want to go, the next steps are pretty easy.
- Start searching for flights. I like to start searching up to a year in advance. I use Skyscanner Price Alerts, which has an option to email you when prices go down for the destination you are wanting to visit. I also use Kayak, which lets you search by the month and see where are the cheapest places to fly. When I was 24, and still using my college email address (even though I graduated), I was able to still book a flight through STAtravel. They only request your college email as proof that you are still in school. You can also use their discounted flights if you are under 26 years old. Another tip is that I look for hubs that fly to the countries I’m trying to visit and instead of trying to book a direct flight from where I live, I book two separate flights- one to the hub and then from the hub to my destination. This saved me hundreds of dollars. If you are going to South America the hubs are LA, Miami, and Texas. Sometimes NY comes up too. Since, we are flying from Philadelphia it could have cost $1,200 one way. So, I booked a flight from Philadelphia to Miami for $110 and from Miami to Buenos Aires, Argentina for $500. This saved us $600. I don’t purchase my flight right away. I wait until I notice a trend in the price or it drops significantly, then I buy it.
- Start developing a money saving plan. Once my flight is booked, I have all the more motivation to start saving my money. I do a few things to get this ball rolling. I look at my paychecks and my expenses each month, then figure out what I can feasibly afford to put in my savings account each month. I set a savings goal and keep track of it. It is important to establish this pattern of putting away the same amount each month, because then you are budgeting for it. Remember to still leave yourself enough money to eat and have a little fun. If I don’t make enough money at my job, I pick up odd jobs to cover my daily spending. I babysit for local families. I once did demos at Whole Foods on the weekends. I tutor in the evenings; anything to make some extra cash. I also try to stop spending on things I don’t need. Every time I think about buying a new dress or shoes, I remind myself of all the things I can do on my trip if I don’t waste it on clothing. Sometimes I even put that money I would have spent into my savings as well. I start cooking all meals at home and making all my lunches in advance. I’m not a coffee drinker- but if you are stop going to that pricey coffee shop and make your own coffee at home. Also, file 0 on your taxes to get the most return back and put your entire return into your savings. Tell family and friends you don’t want birthday gifts or holiday gifts this year and to just give you money towards your trip. Or the ultimate thing to do is if you are getting married like us, use a honeyfund like Wanderable instead of registering for gifts (you don’t need), register your trip, so guests can help you out. Also, pay off all credit cards and get a travel mileage card. Put expenses on your mileage card that you know you have the money to pay off right away, so you can build up mileage. The card I like best is United Chase Visa.
- Start your planning phase. I like to do a combination of things for trip research/planning. I usually buy a guide book from Frommer’s or Lonely Planet. I scan the book for general tips and then I set it aside. I also reach out to friends or family that I know have traveled to the places I’m going, and I pick their brain for good travel tips. I take notes. Pinterest also has a way of sucking me in. I start following boards related to the places I’m visiting, and then I create my own board, where I collect all the pins that relate. Slowly, but surely I read through as many of the pins as I can. I then start dropping stars on my Google map to pin point all the cities and places I want to visit. This develops my general route. Then I use my new favorite website Rome2Rio. It lets you plug in the route you want to travel and it provides resources for how to travel from one place to the next. It offers bus, car, and plane routes plus websites to purchase the tickets. It also gives a ballpark on prices. This way you can really budget how much transportation will cost. I also enjoy watching movies set in the countries I’m visiting, practicing the language via Duolingo on my phone, and reading books by local authors or about the countries.
- Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months during the trip.
- Buy the right gear/clothing. Find out what the weather will be like when you visit. Prepare yourself with versatile clothing. I always pack layers in case I am cold or hot. If it is tropical, bring a thin rain jacket. I always go with a backpack, instead of a suitcase. If you are going short term, a suitcase makes sense, but if you need to lug your stuff everywhere for a few months, you are going to want a backpack. I made the mistake of bringing a duffel bag on wheels to Europe for three months and it completely fell apart, plus I really struggled going up and down all the steps in the train stations. With a backpacking backpack, you don’t have to worry about lifting it up and down. Since that trip, I purchased an Osprey backpack and have used it ever since. It has lasted me through Ecuador and Australia and SE Asia over the past 6 years. For shoes, I always go with Keen Footwear, because they are very sturdy and great for walking around town and hiking. My first pair of Keen’s lasted me 5 years. For the rest of my gear, I get advice from friends and REI experts. I find that you can buy most gear way cheaper on Amazon.com though than at REI. As long as you have a good backpack, shoes, and a good sleeping bag you are set. The rest, you shouldn’t spend a fortune on. I also buy a bulk of my clothing at Goodwill or other thrift shops, because I generally ditch my clothing halfway through the trip and buy local clothing instead.
- Purchase travel insurance. Most insurance companies won’t cover you outside the country, so you must purchase travel insurance. My favorite company for that is World Nomads. They allow you to enter all the countries you will visit and the length of the trip, and then choose between standard and explorer coverage depending on the activities you will be doing. We are going to do a lot of trekking and other extreme sports, so we have to get the most comprehensive insurance. You most likely will never have to use the insurance, but better safe than sorry. This way you have the peace of mind, that if anything happens you are safe.
- Quit your job. This is the toughest part, but unless your work allows sabbaticals, you must quit. Other western countries allow employees to get a month off or a leave of absence without losing their jobs, but alas in the U.S. we only get 2 weeks vacation a year if we are lucky. So, I normally travel at the end of something like after I graduate from college, or when I’ve finished a one year contract with AmeriCorps, or in between jobs. This is the best time to travel, when you are in transition and can take a gap year. If you are past that and have started your career, consider quitting on good terms and getting recommendations from your supervisors before leaving. This way when you return it is a little easier to get a new job. I also have been joining networking groups in my field to meet lots of people at different organizations, so that I know people in the industry when I return. You should also do something enriching to your career on your travels. I plan to become fluent in Spanish and to work/volunteer in each country to gain more experience in nonprofits.
- Find programs that will sustain you on your travels and help your career. I don’t just like to travel and do touristy things on my trips. I like to do enriching things that help better my life and the world. I have tried a few different websites for these types of experiences. My favorite ones are WWOOF– which provides you with the opportunity to work on organic farms for free room and board and experience the local culture. You must pay for a membership for each country that costs between $20-$35/ year. I worked on an olive farm in Tuscany for two weeks picking olives during the harvest and had the most spectacular time ever. I have also tried Workaway, which is more assorted tasks not just farming. You can teach English, help build infrastructure, teach yoga, do permaculture, pretty much any task under the sun. It costs $29 for a single person and $38 for a couple or two friends. My sister and I worked on a Buddhist monastery in Northern Thailand through Workaway, and it was the most life changing experience ever. We learned about meditation, yoga, and Buddhism, while also learning permaculture practices and helping build a retreat center. The people there were so loving and caring, we felt like we found a new family. There are other programs too that I haven’t tried yet, like Worldpackers, which caters more towards work in hostels. You arrange jobs at hostels in exchange for lodging and 1 to 3 meals a day depending. It costs a small fee depending on the hosts. You can do anything from housekeeping to leading tours from the hostels. I joined the website and plan to utilize it at some point on this trip. I’ve also found websites that list simple volunteer projects around the world that are free. You can teach English, build housing, apply your medical skills. There are so many opportunities out there. We plan to supplement the money we have saved with participating in several of these programs to enrich our trip and save money at the same time.
- Make sure to call all of your banks, credit cards, and any other companies you are tied to to inform them that you will be out of the country. I always give my banks a heads up that I will most likely be using my cards in different countries. If you give them the dates and which countries you will be in, then they can put a note on your card and make sure you don’t get flagged for using it. I also change my mailing address to my parents house temporarily, so that my mail doesn’t get sent to my old apartment. Calling your phone company and letting them know as well, to find out if there are any international plans available is important.
- Get your vaccinations. And a checkup. A lot of third world countries or even just tropical places require vaccinations. These are important and sometimes are required to even enter countries. Make sure to get them at least a month before departure. I usually go to the local travel clinic, because normal health care providers don’t do these vaccinations. Be prepared to pay out of pocket, since insurance doesn’t cover these elective shots. Also, making a simple visit to your primary care doctor to get a physical will help prevent any unforeseen issues, that you didn’t know you had. I just like to make sure I’m healthy before I leave. I also try to visit the dentist one last time and get a haircut. All these things are important to do before you leave.
- Hit up the pharmacy. This is usually my last stop before I leave for a long trip. I hit up the local pharmacy to buy travel size shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and all the other medical supplies I need for a first aid kit. I buy bandaids, neosporin, advil, tums, and all the other essentials. It adds up in cost, but believe me it is much cheaper to buy here than when you are traveling.
- Get rid of a bunch of your stuff. This is the best time to do some “spring cleaning” and purge yourself of your crap. I love to sort through my clothing and bring it to my friends or donate it before a big trip. You aren’t going to see any of this stuff for a long time, so why not use this opportunity to cleanse your house. If you have to get a storage unit, you may also need to downsize everything you own. Do you need all those books from college that you couldn’t sell back? Do you need those patchwork pants? How about that pile of papers you saved from your last job thinking you may need them one day? Get rid of it!! If you won’t miss it while you are gone, then you don’t need to keep it. This is such a freeing experience.
- Throw yourself a going away party. Instead of trying to catch all of your friends individually before you leave, why not throw one big bash to say goodbye to them all of them at once. This way you can get in all the last hugs and advice from friends. It is a great way to have one last hurrah before you take off. You will hopefully see everyone when you return, but you never know so it is best to catch them now.
- Finally, get on that airplane and wave goodbye. This first flight leaving home, is a great time for reflection. Write in your journal all your hopes and dreams for the trip and all the things you will miss. Write a letter to yourself that you can read on your flight back home to comfort yourself. Also, remember that when you arrive all your well laid plans may go out the window. That is why it is called an adventure. I try to plan a rough outline and leave the rest up to fate. I only book the big things like Machu Picchu, that sells out far in advance, the rest I just go with the flow. Also, book your first few nights stay so you aren’t stranded, but beyond that you can chance it. Get lost, find yourself, discover the world!