Dropping everything to travel the world is definitely fun, but there is actually a ton of planning that goes into it. It was a lot more work than we ever anticipated. In case you are currently thinking about taking a similar trip, we thought we would share some of our thoughts and considerations that went into making our plans. So here are 25 steps to consider when planning an extended world trip. For those who just want a general idea, just focus on the bolded to-do items, but for those who want more of the nitty gritty details, read the details in each category. Let us know if you have any questions about anything!
- This is obviously one of the most important steps, as you need to make sure you have enough money to do your trip. Traveling can be a lot cheaper than you think; I was blown away when I started researching and found out a year worldwide trip would be a lot cheaper than I ever imagined (as long as you are willing to sacrifice some comfort). Our daily budget ranged from about $40-$110 per person per day, depending on the country. That includes everything you would do in a day, but not things like international transport, health and travel insurance, visas, big excursions (safaris, Everest base camp trek, etc) and toiletries/clothes (we budgeted for those separately as they were not always country specific nor regular expenses). Our travel style was what I liked to call "adult budget." What that means is we stayed in hostels, took long bus rides, used public transport, usually ate at cheaper places and focused on cheaper countries to save money. However, we definitely could have spent less money as well, as we almost never cooked, always stayed in private rooms in hostels, took a lot of flights, occasionally splurged on fancy meals and went to a number of more expensive countries.
- Once you are off, you need to try your hardest to stick to your budget. We actually entered every single purchase into an app on our phone called Moneywise to make sure we were on budget. This seems like a horrendous task, but we actually got quite used to it. Moneywise is a great free program (with a cheap pro version) that was an amazing help to keep our spending in line.
- This is both the most and least fun thing to do. It is great to read up on countries, cities and tourist sites and decide where to go, but it can also be a bit overwhelming and stressful to have to limit yourself. We had a few too many places on our original itinerary, but we cut them as we went as it was easier to cut down to slow our pace than it would have been to add countries in the middle (as it may not be convenient to fit in to your travel path). Reading travel blogs is a good way to get information on which countries you want to visit (see our recommended blogs here)
- A few factors we considered when picking where to go: cost, “interestingness”, weather, safety, ease of getting a visa, etc. And when deciding what order to visit the countries, important considerations were geographic proximity (duh), weather and ease and cost of transportation between locations.
- We decided not to do an “Around-the-world” ticket, but it may work for some people. There are a few different options out there, but generally they all have limitations on the number of miles you can travel, the number of flights, the number of stopovers and usually the direction of travel. None of the world trip tickets seemed to work super well with our travel plans. Given the abundance of cheap airlines in many regions of the world and other budget travel options (e.g. rail pass in Europe), we decided to buy one-way airline tickets and other transport options as we went. The around the world tickets also usually require you to book each date in advance. Although there is some flexibility in changing those dates, you are at the mercy of availability on that particular airline while we had a lot more flexibility.
- The one exception to our strategy of booking flights just a week or two in advance was inter-continental flights. Those can get costly if you wait until a few days before to book, so we booked those at least 1-2 months in advance. Also, if you are buying a eurrail pass, do so before you leave the country (they usually have to be purchased in the U.S.)
- As you probably know, the major U.S. airlines (United, American, Delta) all have many international sister airlines in the same frequent flyer program. So it's good to make sure you are signed up for the three major frequent flyer programs so you can rack up free flights for all that traveling.
- Generally, we did not do a lot of day-to-day planning. However, some of the very big travel items book-up fast, particularly in high-season, so those need to be booked ahead of time. These would be things like safaris in the Serengeti, gorilla trekking in Uganda or the Inka trail at Machu Picchu.
- Caitlin went the backpack route and I went the rolling bag path. Both of us were pretty happy with our decisions, so it is clearly a personal preference thing. Either way, you want as small a bag as you can manage to be able to carry it on to planes, fit it into small vehicles and not get annoyed about lugging it around all day. Because of the small bag, you need to give a lot of thought to each and every item you pack. You will get annoyed quickly with lugging around a big bag. Go MUCH smaller than you usually use for even a week vacation. Use packing cubes and compression bags to help organize and cut down space. You can see a general idea of what items we ultimately decided to bring in the “What's in our bag” section
- You should check whether or not your current health insurance policy covers you abroad. However, if you are quitting your job, then odds are you will lose your insurance anyway (unless you decide to pay the insane amount for COBRA) and need to buy something new. We bought very basic, catastrophic-only coverage through Obamacare for the worst-case scenario of developing some sort of chronic problem abroad and needing to come back home.
- Travel insurance will usually cover you for medical emergencies while abroad (it's not called foreign health insurance). It is a lot cheaper than U.S. health insurance (but does not cover any care in the U.S.). In addition to medical emergencies, it usually covers lost/stolen bags, travel cancellation and delay costs, as well as other things. You can sometimes customize the policies and if you cut out the trip cancellation protection, it will save you a ton of money. Since you will have lots of time and flexibility in an extended trip, it's not really worth it to pay all the extra cost for trip protection. As for which company to use, we found Allianz and Trawick to be the best/most affordable.
- It might not seem like you need to put a lot of thought into this, but consider the timing consequences of when you leave your job if doing so, such as when your insurance will stop (you will need it for pre-trip doctor visits and medications) and how long you have to use the rest of your flexible spending account. Some people may have great employers who will be willing to let you take a 6-12 month leave of absence. We ran into people who were on a leave, so you never know...may be worth asking!
- If you own your home, you will have to decide whether to sell it or rent it out while you are gone. I decided to sell because the market was hot and I didn't want to have to worry about being a landlord from 5,000 miles away. If you currently are a renter, there is the added complexity of figuring out if you are allowed to sublet.
- Once you decide what you are doing with your place, then you have to get everything out of there. We hired movers to help the process along (money well spent) and moved all of our stuff into a single storage unit out in the 'burbs. By moving to a storage unit outside of the city, we saved a bunch of money.
- Pick a place for all your mail and bills to be delivered while you are gone. Hopefully you have a helpful relative who will be willing to get it all and read through it for important things.
- Make sure your passport doesn't expire until at least 6 months after you plan on returning (many countries have a requirement that your passport will not expire within the next 6 months for you to enter). Keep a couple of copies on you and give a couple to family members in case it gets lost or stolen while traveling. If you will be visiting a large number of countries, be sure to get some extra pages added, if they still do that (I heard they may stop doing so). It cost us approximately $80 and it can take up to 6 weeks, so plan accordingly.
- Surprisingly, this is not as big of an issue as it used to be. A lot of places require visas, but most allow you to purchase them upon arrival so there is no pre-planning required. There are exceptions to this (China, Vietnam, Russia, etc.), and requirements constantly changes, so take a look at the countries you are visiting to see what the requirements are. The state department travel site can be helpful for determining visa requirements.
- You want to make sure you are healthy and ready to go! I have heard stories of people finding out they need minor surgeries and had to postpone trips, so don't wait until the last minute!
15. Get all inoculations/pills and year-long supply of prescriptions
- While you are at the doctor, be sure to get pumped full of all the inoculations you will need (or make a special trip to a travel clinic). We got injected with pretty much everything available, except rabies since it was super expensive and if you get bitten you still need to go to the hospital and get a shot anyway; it just extends the time you have to go to the hospital, but that may be important time if you are somewhere remote. You may have to reach out to some old doctors to get records of past inoculations, so be aware it may take some time.
- Also get extended supplies of prescriptions (including contact lenses) and keep written proof of them in case asked at a border. We were never asked, but you don't want to get into a sticky situation where they think you are sneaking in some illegal drugs. Note that some prescriptions are illegal in other countries, so be careful with that.
- Some of you may have no clue what this is, others may have some experience using a VPN when accessing work documents away from the office. Essentially, all of your information is not secure when sent on a public wifi network or on any private network you don't know/trust. Whether logging into your bank accounts or just browsing the web, you risk data breaches. This is particularly true in a lot of international countries with sophisticated hacker groups. By using a VPN, all your data is run through a secure, private network keeping it safer from prying eyes. In addition to security, there is the added benefit of some websites thinking your computer is in the U.S. if you are running through a U.S. VPN, which will help lower red flags when signing into your bank accounts from abroad. There are many options for a VPN out there; I purchased Witopia for my VPN. It generally worked pretty well, though I did have issues connecting sometimes.
17. Unlock phones and get world SIM cards
- The international plans of the major U.S. carrier are constantly changing. Look into your carrier's options for using your phone abroad as they have started to become more reasonable, but most there will be high international rates that won't make sense for long lengths of travel. Even if they don't, it really isn't necessary to pay your normal high monthly fees when you will be making very few phone calls abroad and can usually take advantage of free wifi in restaurants and hotels. Thus, we decided to get a World SIM card.
- In order to use a SIM card from a carrier that is not your own, you need to first unlock your phone. As of this writing, it was legal to do so. Some carriers will do this for you, if you have paid off your phone. Otherwise, you can pay a nominal fee to do it online with a number of different companies. Some carriers do not have SIM card phones, so do a little research on your specific phone/carrier.
- Once unlocked, you can use any SIM card in your phone. A number of companies offer “world” SIM cards that work in several hundred countries around the world. The cost to call another phone in that country or to call home to the U.S. is still not cheap (about $0.20 to $1 per minute), but it is a lot cheaper than the roaming charges U.S. carriers charge and there is no monthly fee. The cost for data is usually prohibitively expensive with world SIM cards. Based on reviews and a comparison of the rates, we decide to use OneSim. We thought it worked pretty well. We had service in pretty much every country and even in quite remote places. It did have a “lagging” problem when making calls in less developed countries. Note that another option is to use local SIM cards in each country you visit. This will end up saving you a lot of money with cheaper rates in that country than using a global SIM card, however, you have the added pain of having to find a shop selling SIM cards in each country, setting the card up (sometime in another language) and have your phone number change every time you get a new cards. Since we are only really using our card for emergencies or quick calls, we went with the convenience of a world SIM card with occasionally buying a local one so we could have some data usage.
18. Download offline mapping software/maps
- Getting lost in a city can be a fun and exciting way to learn about a new place. It can also get annoying or be dangerous if you are lost in the wrong part of town. Google Maps is great in the U.S., but if you don't have data cell service (which we did not) or wifi access, you need to either constantly download your next city ahead of time or you are out of luck. Fortunately, there are a ton of mapping programs that work offline. You simply download the maps of entire countries you want to use and it will work with your current gps location which does not require any data to use. There are a ton of android options that range in price from a couple of bucks to a few hundred. We used a combination of Sygic and OSMAnd+. We bought a world package for Sygic for about $70 and bought extra maps on Osm for about $10. Sygic is more advanced and much cleaner interface than OSM, while OSM is cheaper (and allows 10 free maps) and has more countries available than Sygic. OSM also has a lot more points of interests listed. I would recommend them both and think mapping software is a must. As mentioned before, you can also download offline maps in google maps, but it is only of a small city area and you can only download a few at a time.
- Tripadvisor is great to use while traveling to find restaurants or accommodations. They also have a lot of cities which you can download for later use offline in the app. Airbnb, Hotwire, Kayak, Google Flights and hostelworld/hostelbookers are other great hotel/flight booking sites/apps to use on the go. It was also very helpful to have electronic travel guides, such as Lonely Planet, Rough Guide and Frommers.
- There will be many a long bus/plane/train/mini-van rides, delays at airports, etc. in which you are going to be bored without some entertainment. Unless you splurge, you will not have internet data and most wifi will not be fast enough to stream music/movies. So be sure to put downloaded music, movies and books on your phone before you leave. I also highly recommend free podcasts. Podcast Republic is a nice app for downloading podcasts. Lastly, if you are road tripping in the U.S., satellite radio is a must. You will be in a lot of rural places with no radio service and it is worth the cheap fee for the month or so you will be on the road.
- A lot of credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee on every purchase (usually 3%) and ATM cards usually result in foreign fees as well. There are a few that don't however, which will save big bucks. For credit cards, I would recommend the Capital One Venture Card (there is a free version and one with an annual fee which gives 2X points on all purchases) or the United Explorer Card (which racks up Star Alliance miles and often has a mega promotion for as much as 50K free miles for signing up). For no foreign ATM fees, the only account I know that works is Charles Schwab. You have to sign up for a brokerage account too, but it is free and has no minimums. This is a great card to have and worked in almost every ATM. However, sometimes Schwab did not recognize the ATM fee and did not reimburse us (particularly in Asia), though they told me we could let them know which ones and they would have reimbursed us.
- When you are relaxing on a beach in Thailand, the last thing you want to be thinking about is making your credit card payment. So if you don't already have your bills set to auto-pay, now is the time to do so. You also don't want to be signing into your sensitive financial accounts all the time (see the VPN section above). Also make sure to cancel anything you won't need anymore, like utilities, memberships, etc.
- In order to avoid the annoyance of having multiple bank accounts to deal with (and sign in to abroad), we consolidated so that we only had one account to monitor while we traveled: all our cash and auto-payments during the travel year came out of the same account. I also set up auto transfers to that account from my other accounts so that money flowed into that account bi-weekly automatically, so I always had enough money to pay for things and didn't have to worry about either manually transferring money into it or having a large amount of cash in one bank account which we were using abroad.
- If you can, file before you go. If you are going to need to file while you are abroad, make sure you (or your accountant) has all the documents you need.
- If you are spending a lot of time in the U.S. on a road trip, make sure to get AAA. It can be a huge lifesaver and is relatively cheap.
- Hopefully, and most likely, everything will be FINE. We returned with hardly a scratch on us. But, stuff can happen. It is a bit morbid to think about, but you should prepare for the worst, just in case. That means signing of authority and/or power of attorney to a relative or friend in case they need to have control over your medical or financial decisions and you should probably draw up a will. Have some "sticky situation" plans with your travel partner and/or family back home.
- Hopefully you don't need to put this on your to do list, but after reading through all this long to-do list, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. Don't, it will take time but is totally doable. The most important thing is to remember it is all worth it and get super excited for the trip you are about to embark on. Please feel free to shoot us any questions about traveling. and HAVE FUN!