Preparing For Long Term Travel
Traveling abroad is an art. It requires intellect to plan, courage to enact, and perseverance to endure. When planning your dream trip, you must walk a fine line between over- analysis and not-so-blissful ignorance (summer in Sudan, anyone?).
There are several things you should consider before booking your travel, and the most important will be deciding where and when to go.
Where to Go
After working in a cubical and day dreaming about traveling around the world, most people already have a pretty good idea where they want to go. It’s a personal choice and there are amazing places to see and experience all over the globe. If you intend for your systems to pay for your travels, the main factor in deciding where to go is your budget.
How Much the World Costs
These numbers assume a few things. Firstly, you travel slowly (no more than one out of every four days). Second, you stay in clean, basic accommodations. While it’s certainly possible to rent a $3 room in Cambodia, most people mature enough to run a business want a little more comfort. We’re talking rooms with a bathroom, hot water, shower, towels, a bed, and a TV… but not much else.
The prices below are for two people and include food, room, laundry, toiletries, visas and overland (usually local) travel:
o Southeast Asia: $50
o UK and Ireland: $100
o Australia and New Zealand: $80
o South America:$55
o Africa: $60
o Western Europe: $90
o Eastern Europe:$65
o Indian subcontinent:$40
o Japan: $90
As you can see, expenses can be very reasonable, far more reasonable than what you may be currently paying back home. However, you will want to travel somewhere that your systems can afford.
You can escape home faster and live better if you visit third world areas such as Southeast Asia and India. Though we’ve visited the UK several times, my wife and I are still a long ways away from living it up in London! There’s another more powerful reason for going third world initially: a new perspective. Chances are, if you’re reading this you are probably raised in the Western world. When you board that plane, you will no doubt be ready for a change, and the transition from first to third world will be as eye opening as the transition from worker to entrepreneur.
All in all, their calculations have been fairly close to my personal experiences.
Money Saving Tips
These are some tips I’ve learned from both working as a travel agent and personal experience. There are many, many ways to stretch your budget:
o Purchase tickets ahead of time, or last minute. So many people lament over rising flight costs, when they should have bought the damn thing months ago and saved a bundle. Here is my rule of budget travel: purchase tickets ahead of time if you know where you want to go, purchase last minute if you don’t. For example, there is currently a special discount flight to Hungary from San Francisco for three hundred dollars, last minute. Did you plan on going to Hungary? No, but when the opportunity arises, you should take it.
o Slum it, then go all out. My wife and I cycled across Ireland without breaking the bank, and yet we stayed in quality bed and breakfasts (including an old Irish castle). How did we do this? Simple: for every one night in a great location, we camped two nights. Once we arrived at our room for the night, we cleaned up and had a good time. The next morning we showered and hit the road. Following this approach you only miss a shower for one day at a time…
o Change your drinking habits. One of my largest grievances with budget travel writers is their silly notion that you should sacrifice a cold beer in the name of saving money. There are far better ways to save a dollar while you’re traveling. What you should avoid are bars. You can drink cold beer or local spirits for cheap from bottle shops (or oddly enough, 7-11’s). I found myself contemplating buying a can of Guinness in Thailand for more than it cost back home! True, it was an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day, but come on…
Health: Avoiding Problems
You need to start getting some of your vaccinations at least two months before departing on a trip. Several inoculations require three or four visits, spaced two to three weeks apart. Here’s a short list of the most common vaccinations required (or highly recommended) for global travel:
o Hepatitis A and B. (if possible, get the combined vaccine)
o Japanese encephalitis
o Polio, diphtheria and tuberculosis
o Yellow fever
While there is no vaccination for malaria, there are a number of anti-malarial tablets you can take to help combat the disease (though none of them is 100% effective). Check with your doctor to see which prescription is right for you.
To get these vaccinations, visit your local travel clinic or speak with your physician. If you’re currently employed, check if your benefits will cover vaccinations. I was able to save over $700 on vaccinations thanks to the health insurance provided by my previous employer. Talk about a severance package!
When it comes to food, I follow a few simple rules:
1. Eat at restaurants with a lot of people and high turn over. It probably means the food is fresher.
2. Eat cooked food. Try to avoid any raw vegetables and raw fish. Fruits and vegetables that you can peel are a safer option. Consider bringing vitamin tablets if you’re not getting enough fruits and vegetables.
3. Don’t over eat. If you stuff your face with contaminated food, you’ll feel a hell of a lot worse than if you ate a smaller portion. The only two times I’ve been sick abroad were shortly after a three or four course meal at a high end steakhouse.
Depending on where you travel, you might need to bring a water purification system. I use The Steripen Adventurer UV purifier. The same size as a screwdriver, this wonder tool can purify one liter of water in one minute using an ultra violet light bulb and lithium batteries. Though it isn’t cheap- retail is about $130- the Steripen is both lightweight and effective. Keep in mind it doesn’t work with ice, a common cause for getting sick among travelers.
If you’re planning on buying bottled water over seas, keep in mind that many merchants refill used water bottles with local water and resell them. If the plastic seal is broken- and it often is – you probably don’t want to drink it.
Traveler’s diarrhea claims 30-50% of tourists abroad within the first two weeks, and is often accompanied by vomiting. In other words, don’t be surprised if you’re leaking out both ends… it’s natural. The best thing to do? Take over the counter anti-diarrheal medicine or antibiotics (rather than something that just plugs you up), drink lots of water, lay low and let the good- or bad- times flow. Symptoms should clear up within a few days. Any more than that, contact a doctor.
Tying Up Loose Ends
Before you hit the road you’ll need to close up shop. While most of these steps aren’t necessary for short term travel, they are imperative for long term wandering.
o Three – Six Months Out:
o Get a passport (if you don’t have one).
o Book your airplane flights.
o Visit your doctor or travel clinic to get vaccinations. Check if your employer’s health insurance covers them before you quit!
o Determine how to handle your living situation. Consider renting out your residence furnished. This saves you the hassle of storing your belongings, and moves you one step closer to paying off your mortgage. Most people interested in furnished accommodations are working abroad for a year or more: perfect for your intentions.
o Book a dentist, doctor, and optometry appointment for one month before you go to make sure you have a clean bill of health. This gives you time to handle any cavities before you leave.
o One Month Out:
o Set cancellation dates for all insurance policies, credit cards, and other miscellaneous items.
o Close any unnecessary accounts (e.g. banking accounts and department store accounts).
o Sign up for Online Banking (if you don’t already have it).
o Set up a forwarding address with the post office to a friend or a P.O. Box in your name.
o Find someone to rent your car while you’re gone. Make sure they get insurance and to draft an automobile leasing contract.
o Go to your dentist, doctor, and optometry appointments.
o Get travelers insurance.
o Two weeks out:
o Give your two weeks notice to your employer.
o Email yourself copies of your passport, driver’s license, insurance policy, credit card, and any other important information you might need while you’re away.
o Get travelers checks and email the security numbers from those to yourself.
o Notify your bank that you’ll be making purchases in a foreign country with your credit card.
o Have a garage sale. If you don’t manage to sell the majority of your belongings, have another garage sale following week. My wife and I made over $1,500 of two days work selling our stuff- worth over a month of travel in Southeast Asia. If you can’t sell your stuff, look into a storage unit.
o Get a visa if applicable for your first country.
Remember, you don’t need half of what you may think you do, a truism that applies to a crucial step in preparing: packing for long term travel.
What (Not) To Pack
Prior to departure: create a checklist of items you need to take. At a maximum you should include:
Drivers license (international if possible)
Credit cards, travelers checks and US dollars
Photocopies of important documents
Youth hostel card
Scuba diving certification (if applicable)
Passport photos (1 or 2 per country)
One small day pack
A good book
Pen and notepad
Laptop and headset for Skype
Two pairs of light weight pants
One pair of shorts
Three shirts (one for going out)
1 Pair Sandals
1 Pair Shoes or Boots
Swim suit (if applicable)
Silk sleep sack (not a sleeping bag)
First aid kit
Swiss army knife
Possessions will only tie you down. For example, let’s say you purchase a brand new digital camera before your trip (chances are you will). Sure, it’s a great way to document your experiences, but it weighs you down a lot more than you think.
You have to think twice about swimming in the ocean for fear someone will steal it. Crossing a river could potentially destroy it. Strangers become potential threats.
And these are just the tangibles. The worst, and most common, is that it prevents you from truly experiencing a place before reaching for your camera. This effectively removes you from your surroundings, preventing you from ever really gaining anything at all.
Why Einstein Was Wrong – How to Travel
The theory of relativity states that time slows down when as speed increases. For example, imagine a friend whizzing across or solar system in a spacecraft while you remain here on the Earth. Einstein proved that your friend’s clock would seem to tick more slowly than your own.
Sadly, the opposite is true when traveling. People who travel near the speed of light- or at least sound- arrive home seemingly unaware of where they had just visited. Locations become nothing more than a check box on their itinerary, an experience not to be savored, but shown off to others. They develop the classic “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Rome” syndrome. Speed is not better, which is why you shouldn’t try to travel at the speed of light.
My advice is to travel at the speed of smell.
As I write this, there is a large Vietnamese market going on less than five meters away. The smell of pho boiling over and the sounds of locals conversing is something I wouldn’t have noticed on a five day whirlwind tour of Vietnam.
In order to really experience your surroundings, you must slow down. While guidebooks may offer walking tours that allow you to “do” a city in a day, it takes much longer to “feel” it out.
Somewhere along the line, we lost the point of travel. People visit pagodas, temples, churches, museums, and art galleries not out of personal interest, but out of some misplaced obligation. If you aren’t interested in art, skip the Museum of Modern Art. If you don’t like sports, forget the Superdome. Can’t stand witnessing first hand poverty? Don’t go to India.
It’s not about seeing the most acclaimed sights. It’s about experiencing those that affect you the most.
Your First Night Abroad: Make It a Soft Landing
Your first two days in any new region should be seen as a transition period. Don’t throw yourself into the mix right away; book your hotel prior to departure and stay there for at least two nights. This will help you acclimate to your new surroundings, and sleep comfortably for the first few days. Your first few nights shouldn’t be concerned with travel plans, budget, or any other logistics… just unplug and rest while your body adapts to the new sights, smells and time zone.
Lunch at 4AM? How to Deal With Jet Lag
There are several ways to combat jet lag, a common problem among travelers. It certainly hits some people harder than others; it takes me over a week to adjust, while my wife takes it in stride. Here are some ways to battle jet lag:
o Don’t eat. Studies have shown that your liver takes longer to adapt to a new time zone than any other part of your body. By not eating for 12 hours or more, your body will adjust much more quickly. If this seems like too much, try eating on your intended destination’s clock a few days before departure (dinner at 10 AM, anyone?).
o Sunshine. The sun helps you set your circadian clock, so the more the better. Exercise also helps.
o Pop some pills. There are additional over-the-counter pills that claim to help with jet lag. Though I have no personal experience with them, several people I’ve spoken to swear by No Jet Lag.
Now that you’ve freed up your time and location, you’ll need to monitor your systems and stay in touch with loved ones. Here are several crucial tools to maintain your systems abroad.
A great way to pick up care packages from home. Get the address of the main post office in whatever town you’re in (or will be shortly) and have people address your mail to the following:
LAST NAME, First Name
Poste Restante, General Post Office
When you arrive at the post office, simply present your passport as identification and you’ll be able to claim your mail. Generally post offices around the world will hold mail up to two years.
A great way to keep in touch is to start a travel blog. You can do so with free services such as Blogger.com or WordPress.com; both are free and can be set up in a matter of minutes. By creating a travel blog, you are able to avoid sending out group e-mails, which always come across as forced and rather generic. This way, people who were really interested in your trip can check up on you whenever they like, leave comments, and engage other people visiting your blog.
Also, blogs allow you much more creative freedom than sending emails. You can include pictures, video, polls, international clocks, maps and a whole host of other customization, all of which provide a great scrapbook after your travels.
Word of the Year: Wifi
Wireless is the name of the game. As time progresses, connecting to the Internet will only become increasingly important, so you might as well get used to ranking “free internet” higher than amenities such as free breakfast, swimming pool, and massages. Let’s face it: you’re now able to create systems that pay for your lifestyle, completely free of employees. Free of fax machines, cubicles, commutes, and water coolers… so logging into your accounts to make sure the money’s coming in doesn’t seem like too much of a hindrance, does it?
Expect internet cafes to run around $1-2 USD an hour. Seeing that your business is Internet based, you may want to consider traveling with a laptop depending upon your goals.
Laptop: Luxury or Necessity?
If you intend to develop more systems while traveling, a laptop is necessary. You will need to upload web-pages to your sites, conduct phone interviews with prospective freelancers, and keep tabs on your expenses and revenue streams. If you intend to just monitor or expand your existing systems, you can use internet cafes, though working amidst Chinese computer gamer ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.
Laptops also provide more security. You don’t know what kind of spyware (programs that remember your keystrokes for future use) might be on some random computer. To paraphrase sex ed teachers, a trusting, monogamous relationship is one of the best ways to avoid viruses.
Though I personally don’t use one, cell service is getting better all the time, and can save you a lot of time if you need to call people who don’t use Skype. For example, I spent thirty minutes in search of an international phone to call my bank for a phone call that lasted two minutes.
You can’t go wrong with free international phone calls, and Skype provides just that. Get your friends and family back home to sign up and you can chat through your laptop for free. More and more businesses are jumping on the bandwagon, though banks and credit card companies are still behind the curve.
An additional feature that may be of some use is the ability to forward calls from a US based phone number to your cell phone abroad. If you handle customer service questions, it pays to list a domestic number. After all, would you buy a product from a company that requires you to call East Timor with questions?
Dragon Naturally Speaking
If it wasn’t for this software, this book would never have been written. For less than thirty bucks you get a microphone, headset, and the ability to dictate to your laptop. I’m able to “write” at about 120 words per minute. An added bonus is that you can use the microphone and headset with Skype.
An absolutely essential tool. There will be times when you won’t be able to access the Internet with your laptop, and a handy USB allows you to backup your work.
Other Technological Marvels for Working Abroad
o GoToMyPC : This software allows you to access your home computer from any other computer in the world. If you are abject to traveling with a laptop, this is the way to go. Just remember, you’ll have to pay for internet connection along the way, making this a better solution for short term travel.
o World Electronics USA: Get information on global phones. Good explanation of which GSM frequencies and “bands” function in which countries, which will determine the phone you purchase for travel (and perhaps home).
o Universal Plug Adapter: I’ve purchased adapters in several countries in order to power our digital camera and laptop, though it can be a hassle if you’re exploring several different regions. This universal adapter works wonders around the world.
o World Electric Guide: This site is a life-saver when it comes to handling electronics abroad. It breaks down voltage, wattage and a slew of other technical requirements by country.
Use what you’ve learned and hit the road!