Whether you’re going to be traveling for just a few days, or going on an epic multi-month or even year adventure – preparing for it can be almost as daunting as the trip itself. Many, ourselves included, will make mistakes. We second guess ourselves, pack too much, pack too little – you get the idea. Travel preparation can be difficult.
To make things easier on yourself, start off with these tips to get you going. Our advice here is more directed for those who are going to be abroad long-term, however it still applies to most situations.
We began our travels in 2015, and stayed abroad for nearly 14 consecutive months! We’ve returned momentarily to a more stable existence, but are simply better preparing for our next prolonged trip. In the mean time, we’re taking shorter trips.
So with this in mind, we’ve come across some great tips and tricks to help you better prepare for any travel you may do.
Top Tips for Travel Preparation
Here are some of the things we did to prepare for long-term travel. We don’t know how long we are going to be digital nomads, but it is always better to be prepared. Most/many of these are applicable to short-term travel as well.
Figure Out Your Basics
We didn’t know we would be embarking on our journey, but a series of events made it clear to us that this was the best choice for us at this time. Because we hadn’t planned to do this, we had a bunch of stuff. Some people will just sell everything before embarking on long-term travel – the longer you are gone, the more if makes sense financially – but we didn’t want to get rid of things so we opted to put our stuff in storage back in San Jose.
We brought the rest of our stuff – clothes / basics – home to Florida where we also left our darling cats with my parents in Niceville. All of our plants were given to friends, except our avocado trees which we left in Jacksonville – two years later and they’re doing amazing. We visited people and said goodbye, and of course we bought our tickets.
Good Decision Upon Return
This turned out to be an excellent decision for us, as we got a place in San Jose upon return to the United States. So aside from another cross-country road trip, we already had all our stuff. We knew there was the chance we would come back to San Jose, so this made sense for us. However, you should be aware of your intentions and the reality of your situation before committing to putting stuff in storage.
There was a period of time where we were thinking we would not be returning, and the money spent on storage would have been a waste. It would have also cost us significant time and money in fixing the problem.
Check Expiration Dates
We already had our passports and made sure they wouldn’t be expiring soon. Most countries require at least 6 months validity beyond your stay. We also checked the expiration dates of our debit and credit cards and IDs.
You do not want to be abroad and find out that your legal documents are about to expire. As well, you do not want to have your credit card expire, and then be left with no money. We unfortunately experienced this – though not entirely due to our own fault.
In 2016, most banks switched to chip-based credit and debit cards. So they cancelled our cards when they sent out the new ones. Unfortunately for us, they sent it to our mailing addresses in the US, and would not send it abroad. After a lot of difficulty, we eventually managed to get the cards sent to us through standard mail, with the help of parents and a friendly AirBnb host.
Look at Travel Information of the Countries You Plan to Visit
Research the countries and areas you plan to visit. We found that we didn’t need visas for Korea but will need them for some other countries. Through research we found that it can sometimes be difficult to get an American visa for country X while in country Y. If you are buying a one way ticket and will be coming as a tourist it may also be necessary to prove that you are leaving the country before your allotted time is up.
For example, if you are able to be in a country 90 days on your tourist visa (such as us in Korea), you may need to show that you are leaving the country before 90 days is up in form of a transportation ticket out. In most cases they will not check (no one checked us), but if they do you may need to purchase another ticket at the airport before departing and be subject to the last-minute fares.
If you don’t know where you are going afterwards you can make reservations – without paying yet – or buy a refundable ticket. Some people will fake onward tickets as well. The process is easy enough, but we won’t go into how to do that here. It is a good way to get yourself banned from a country if they find out. Either way, it is probably best to document your onward travel if the country you are visiting requires it.
It is also worth noting that some countries aren’t so easy to simply travel to. Countries such as:
Amongst many others – require visas to enter. In these cases you may be forced to visit an embassy in your home country to obtain one. Some countries will allow you to go to a foreign consulate for this process, but it’s good to keep in mind. You don’t want to show up at the airport and then be turned away at customs.
Go to the Doctor
If you don’t have insurance, you may just want to wait until you are abroad – depending on where you are going – where the healthcare is cheaper. Medical tourism is a real thing, and some countries such as South Korea and Thailand offer phenomenal care at a fraction the price.
However, medical care does vary abroad and it is a good idea to make sure you are healthy before traveling if you can afford it. This is probably one of the first things that travelers should do because appointments sometimes need to be made a while in advance. We both had doctor and dentist appointments.
I would also recommend getting refills for any prescriptions before leaving (e.g. insulin, birth control, acid reflux medication, etc.) and if you wear contacts, make sure you have enough. Check if you need any immunizations and get them. It had been just over 10 years since my last Tetanus shot so I got a booster and Kyle got Hepatitis B (which I had as a child.) We thought about Japanese encephalitis and a couple others but didn’t get them.
Decide What Gear / Things You Want / Need for Your Travels
We began by making a list of what we thought we would need and then we checked out the malls and outdoor stores to find these items. Next, we looked online for the items we could not find or didn’t like in stores. You could go straight to the internet, but for us, it was nice to go out and get an idea of size and feel for things before ordering online. We could not spend a lot of time looking, because some items take a while to arrive and we wanted the ability to return items and find something new if anything was not up to par.
In regards to gear:
- Plan according to the weather. Don’t bring a coat to the tropics, and leave your flip flops at home when in the tundra.
- Figure out what types of things may be hard to find where you are going- whether it be tylenol, deodorant, or feminine products and be sure to stock up.
- If you are bringing a Kindle or tablet device, download any books and apps you might want there. I copied my library cards and hope to be able to check out books as well.
- Check your tech stuff and see if you need a voltage converter for any of your items that plug into the wall. Many items are 110-240v and 50/60HZ now and so a converter will not be necessary but some products may require one.We only needed one for Kyle’s electric razor. Most electronics today can switch between both, but it is good to check. Regardless of whether or not you need a voltage converter, you will likely need a plug adaptor. These are separate items, but can sometimes be purchased together.
- In some countries, like China, you will need a VPN to access normal sites (like Facebook). Look it up and decide if that is something you will want/need. We choose Express VPN and initially paid for 6 months. The VPN worked well, and proved necessary at times for some of our work. Be sure to have it installed and working before you leave though.
- If the internet is important for your work or anything else, be aware that internet speed varies greatly across the world. Korea has some of the fastest internet in the world but we brought a device to help improve wifi range for when we travel to other countries. While it didn’t directly increase speed, it did help keep our speeds at what the local limit was.
- Don’t forget to make sure everything you are bringing will fit in your suitcase/backpack! You do not want to find out that you don’t have enough space for everything you need.
International Driver’s License
There are a couple non-legitimate online sites which claim to provide them. There are only two locations you can actually get these. We got our’s at AAA. The application is $15/person and if you let them do the passport photos they are $10/person (2 photos).
These proved to be pretty important in our travels. Although they do not cover motorbikes, an IDL will probably get someone to rent you one in some countries. We were pulled over in Bali by an officer, and while we were told off because our license did not cover motorbikes, he let us go with a warning. That would not have happened had we had nothing.
As well, it allowed us to drive all over Cyprus during our 3 months there. Whether you house sit for someone with a car, or rent one yourself – having the legal option to drive is a major plus.
Take Care of Your Bank
You will want to know if your bank(s) has any locations abroad and know what fees will be charged if you take money out of a foreign ATM. Your debit/credit card may also charge an exchange rate fee, so check that too. Take advantage of any rewards programs you have access to and consider getting alternative cards if you will be long-term traveling. We ran out of time to get a good bank card, and sadly spent far too much on exchange and withdrawing fees.
We didn’t have any special rewards cards initially because we did not feel we could justify getting an additional credit card when we do not spend much in the first place. We’ve since learned the folly of that, and currently utilize several rewards cards which grant us free miles and perks. Travel Cards are a topic for an entire post, but just be aware that they are very useful but demand careful respect too – you don’t want to find yourself in debt.
Before you leave, make sure to let your banks and/or card providers know that you will be leaving the country so they don’t put a hold on your card after your first international purchase. It is no fun going to the ATM and being told your card is denied.
Travel insurance, health insurance, car insurance. Deal with all of these. Travel insurance can cover a little or a lot, depending on the plan. At the time we couldn’t afford it. Ultimately, it was not needed for us, but we had a few close calls. We were lucky with a motorbike accident in Sri Lanka to be able to walk away with only a few minor scraps and bruises. We would still recommend it to others though, and we will get it in the future. Keep in mind though, that many insurance companies will not cover motorbike accidents.
Kyle called his car insurance and let them know he would not be driving his car, so they lowered his rate. I am not sure how most health insurance holds up abroad, but I didn’t have health insurance anymore and Kyle wouldn’t have it after his 26th birthday which is coming up. We will simply use the services we need. Even without insurance, many places have more affordable care than even the copays in the US.
Read Up On Culture
Research and be aware of the customs of the areas you will be visiting/living. You do not want to offend or disrespect. Even the finger you point with or the way you set your chopsticks can be interpreted as rude.
Read books – or at least articles – on the area and learn at least a little bit of the language. While some places will be more forgiving of tourists, others will not be. It also can go a long way if you show respect and understanding of the region.
Make Copies of Everything
Copy your passport, IDs, international DL, and anything else you think might be useful. Take some extra passport photos as well if you plan to move between countries as well. I have paper copies and scans of these documents on my laptop.
This may be the hardest of all the bits of advice to follow, but is also very important. DO NOT OVER PACK. As a general rule – you don’t need it. There are so many things that you can get abroad already, it doesn’t make sense to bring with you.
For over a year abroad, we brought too much stuff. Ultimately, we were carrying about a dozen shirts, underwear, socks, and a few pants each – too much. We dropped a bunch of stuff a long the way to lighten the load.
You can always buy another t-shirt, socks, pants – whatever. Basic toiletries, batteries, etc. the rest of the world has them too. Perhaps not in the same brand, but you’ll live. Your back will thank you when you are not carrying an entire closet on your back.