Thinking of going away into that glorious sunset for an adventure or two? Well then, you better make sure you have everything in order so you can kick back and fully enjoy the experience, especially if you’re preparing for long-term travel.
We’ve pulled this guide together so you can fully prepare for your travels and not let such mundane (and yet, very important) matters distract you from your rambles.
- Trip Planning
Packing for your trip. You have to think ahead and try to foresee the challenges and difficulties you will be facing on the road. We never know what will happen when we travel and we have a finite amount of space and weight which we can tote around unfamiliar places without breaking our backs and wishing we were home. Planning what gear to bring (and how much of it) becomes crucial to the success of any trip. Having the correct gear at the right time can make or break a trip. Now, I’m certainly not saying that you have to bring every object in your closet, rather that a bit of smart thinking will allow you to bring more for less and be prepared for (most) challenges you’ll meet on the road.
For example, if you’re going on a dive trip near the tropics in the summer, then you’ll want to take more shorts and fewer pants. If you’re going somewhere cold, then be sure to take as many layers as you’ll need to be comfortably warm as you explore.
Ultimately, what type and how much of the clothing and gear you bring along for a trip will vary drastically depending on what your planned activities are. Exploring Paris during the winter months and doing some alpine hiking will require a very different set of gear as your needs will be different. Try to foresee the activities that you’ll be likely doing ahead of time so that the things you do take will be the ones you truly need.
Something that I need to point out is that, if you’re preparing to travel long-term and through places with a very different geography, your needs will inevitably change along with the weather conditions and geography. Imagine starting out in the summer in Italy, where the Mediterranean weather will be sweltering hot, and ending your trip in Finland during the winter months. The difference between one scenario and the other can come about in less than a few months. Therefore, it might be a good idea to leave some space in your backpack so you can load up on local clothes, which are normally better suited for the land conditions of the place you’re traveling through. Nobody would use a sarong for Himalayan mountain climbing, but it’s a very useful addition for a beach outing no more than a country or two away. Try to analyze the places and the times you’ll be passing through and foresee what your most common needs will be.
Planning your gear strategically. We’ve already mentioned that you have a limited amount of space and weight to lug around while traveling. It makes sense then to plan your gear strategically so that you bring more in less stuff. Think about multi-use objects or lighter versions of things you will inevitably need to bring along.
Convertible pants can turn into shorts for those hot days and can turn out to be extremely useful in places like Guatemala, for example, where the weather can turn from being cold during the early morning or evening hours, and hot and sunny during midday. Microfiber travel towels take up between one-third and a quarter of the space that a conventional towel does, as well as being much lighter than its conventional counterpart (I’ve also used them as an extra blanket or a pillow). Your lightweight sleeping bag can be used as an improvised seat (or a meditation cushion, if you’re into that). If you have a high-end phone such as a Samsung S8, a Google Pixel or an iPhone 7, you most probably won’t even need to take an extra camera (unless you’re going for more professional shots).
The sky is the limit to the uses you can give your gear, try to get creative and experiment a bit. We don’t need as many things to live well. A little minimalism goes a long way when you’re lugging all your belongings in a backpack.
How necessary being strategic with your gear will be will inevitably change depending on what are your plans are and how long you’ll be traveling. If you’re backpacking around Europe for a couple of weeks then it probably won’t be as important as there will be many ways to make up for gear you need (shopping, borrowing, etc.). However, if your plans include hitchhiking from England to Thailand in a journey that’ll likely take over a year, then the correct piece of gear can be the difference between having a pleasant trip or having a miserable night.
Other things to bear in mind:
- Electric plugs and voltages might be different than the ones you’re used to. Don’t be surprised to find that the plug on your American cell phone doesn’t work in Europe.
- Different latitudes will have different weather. Remember that seasons in the Northern Hemisphere are going to be the opposite of those in the Southern Hemisphere. If it’s summer in the US, then it’ll likely be winter in Argentina.
- People all over the world have more or less the same needs. People in China also eat, go to the bathroom and need oral hygiene. The way people all over the world cover their needs and the degree to which they do this will vary, but you’ll likely find everything you’ll need wherever you’re going. Nevertheless, do your research and don’t be caught off guard by how people do things in other parts of the world; try to keep an open mind to other people’s way of life.
- Paperwork and Legal Issues
He’s making a list. Checking it twice. Paperwork is always a headache while traveling. There are few things that compare to nervousness your feel when a US official checking through your Mexican passport and visa while you nervously pray to the Virgen de Guadalupe that you don’t miss your flight to Hong Kong. Having your papers in order is vital, and nobody wants to go through the hassle of filing paperwork or dealing with legal issues during a time when you should be enjoying the good life on the road.
Check your passport. Make sure your passport is up to date and will remain so for the entirety of your trip. Your passport is your identity document par excellence while you travel. You can be detained at any time in another country and be asked to produce your papers. Some countries might require that your passport remain valid for a certain period of time. Be sure to check each country separately, as different countries have different regulations.
It’s also a best practice to always carry print (and digital) copies of your passport, in case you lose it or it gets stolen. This could come in handy when identifying yourself at your embassy or before officials in case of an emergency.
Take different ID. Other than your passport, which is crucial while traveling, it’s always a good idea to travel with different forms of identification, whether for further proof of identity or for getting into the club in Barcelona.
Thinking of driving? Take your driver’s license. Have some student ID? Many countries will give discounts (in museums, bus rides, etc.) to people who can prove that they are enrolled in some sort of academic program.
Bring along copies of documents. Which other documents will you need while traveling? Will you need proof of onward travel? Will you need a Letter of Employment to prove that you have a job? Try to foresee which documents you will need.
I would also recommend that you use a cloud based storage account (such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive, among many other options) to store digital copies of all documents you might need while traveling. You never know if your passport will be stolen or whether an unexpected downpour will destroy the papers you need to enter into your next country. Having an online backup can be a lifesaver and is a good practice to have, especially if you’ll be traveling long-term as your documents will most likely be sitting in a drawer at the other side of the world.
Insurance. Remember to purchase travel insurance if your current insurance plan doesn’t cover your travels already. No one wants to bicker over a hospital bill in Vietnam (or anywhere else, for that matter). Also, remember to bring along a copy of your policy (you’ll likely need the policy number) as well as contact numbers and information.
Also, think ahead and make sure you don’t need any specialized insurance (for example, divers commonly purchase their own dive insurance). Make sure the activities you will be doing are covered by your plan. Maybe your plan doesn’t cover ice climbing or falling into a volcano (nothing really prepares you for that, either). Be sure to foresee the risks you’ll be taking.
World Nomads has some valuable information about travel safety here.
Check visa requirements. Different countries have different visa requirements for different nationalities. It can be confusing at times, but it’s one of the most important things that you need to check beforehand. You never know if your nationality is banned from entering a country or whether you need to apply months beforehand for a tourist visa.
Visa requirements are a reflection of the relationship that your country has with another country and are subject to unexpected changes. Be sure to research ALL the countries you will be visiting beforehand.
Leave a power-of-attorney. If you are leaving on an extended trip, you might want to consider leaving a power-of-attorney to someone in whom you have the utmost trust, such as your spouse (if he or she isn’t coming with you), your parents or your lawyer.
The reasoning behind this is that if you have to file any paperwork, sell property, make banking transactions that can’t be done electronically from abroad or contract in your name while abroad, you can instruct the recipient of the power-of-attorney to do it for you in your absence. This is obviously not legal advice, as different countries (or states) will have different laws and requirements, so be sure to check with your friendly neighborhood lawyer whether this is a good idea for you.
Register with your embassy. Registering with your embassy is a good precaution to take. Some of the benefits of registering with your embassy could be:
- Receiving important information from your embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, which could help you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
- It’ll help the embassy contact you in an emergency, whether it’s a natural disaster, war, civil unrest, or a family emergency. You can never really know what will happen, as I found out when I woke up to a 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Guatemala.
- It’ll make it easier for family and friends get in touch with you in case of an emergency.
No drugs. I know this probably doesn’t need to be said, but I feel I should say it anyway. Packing and bringing along drugs of any type on a trip is a terrible idea.
Not only can you get in a whole bunch of trouble over a dumb thing, but drugs kind of go against the purpose of enjoying mindful travel. You’ll want to remember your vacation as a series of beautiful, authentic moments, and not as brief flashes of consciousness between doses. I’ve heard plenty of stories from backpackers who smuggled their drug habit into other countries and got away with it, which I thought was highly disrespectful for the country you’re traveling to.
Moreover, many countries impose the death penalty for drug related offenses. Getting shot by a firing squad in a third world country is definitely not the kind of (fatal) adventure you want to have.
Travel and drugs don’t mix well. Leave your drug habit at home.
- Banking and money
Be sure to arrive with a decent amount of cash. It’s always a good idea to arrive at your destination with some cash while you settle into travel mode. It gives you a special margin of error while you get used to getting around as well as giving you a safety net in case of an emergency. Imagine arriving at the airport only to find out that the taxi drivers only accept cash.
There’s a reason as to why ‘Cash is king’ is a worldwide adage. US dollars are especially useful to bring along as it’s a currency that’s readily accepted by people and businesses all over the world.
Notify your bank that you’ll be traveling abroad. The last thing you want happening is for your bank’s fraud department to freeze up the only card you brought along for expenses at the far side of the world.
Be sure to call your bank and notify them that you will be traveling. Try and include the countries you might go to, especially if you’re traveling with loose plans ―or no plans at all― as you can never really tell where your travels will lead you.
Check if your bank has correspondent banks in the countries that you’ll be visiting. Banks regularly cooperate with each other to provide a vast amount of services to their traveling users. Correspondent banks are financial institutions that provide services on behalf of another. Think about them as your bank’s agents abroad.
They can facilitate money transfers, carry out business transactions, as well as accept deposits and gather documents on behalf your bank. While it’s pretty naïve to think that your small, local bank will have offices in Singapore, maybe they are in the same banking network as a local bank from which you might be able to withdraw money or carry out business transactions abroad.
Backup cards. Always bring along a backup card. Taking both a debit and a credit card is a good travel practice. If you have two or more credit cards from different banks, these will give you greater flexibility. Imagine trying to pay for an expensive dinner in Paris only to find out that your only card bounced for some reason. If you’re traveling as a couple, you might also consider bringing along two copies of the same credit card in case one of you loses it or has it stolen.
Be sure to pay your bills. Most services and banks allow you to schedule automatic payments either to a bank account or a credit card when payment for the service is due. You don’t want to stress out on a beach in Thailand because you forgot to pay your phone bill.
Even if you don’t have the option to automatically pay bills, try to get a family member or another person close to you to do it for you in case of an emergency.
If you’re traveling long-term, think about suspending or canceling the service, which might help you keep lower costs. Who needs to pay for TV subscriptions when you’re thousands of miles away from home?
Budget for unexpected expenses. Try to budget a bit more than your original estimation of what the trip might cost you. Travel has many unforeseeable, hidden costs that can quickly add up. Will the countries you charge entry/exit fees? How much do ATM’s charge for withdrawing money? Do certain countries charge special taxes or fees to foreigners? Are taxes factored into the cost of prices or do you have to add it to the advertised price?
A little foresight here can help you save a great deal of money and will allow you to make better budgeting and financial decisions while on the road.
Also, don’t stress out too much if you do end up paying unexpected things once in a while. Look at it as a “cost of doing business.” It happens to everyone and, to be honest, many of these hidden costs are inevitable. Don’t let them bring you down.
Have an emergency stash of money. You don’t want to be stuck on the far side of the world with nothing on you. Be sure to always have a few hundred dollars with you and stash them among your luggage so that in the case of an emergency you can at least get back to where your flight is leaving from.
Take your meds! If you have to take medications, be sure to bring along as many as you’ll need for the trip. It’s a good practice to also bring along a prescription slip from your doctor in case you run out and need to stock up, especially if you’re traveling long-term.
Also, remember to make sure that the country you will be visiting has the medicines you need readily available, especially if you have a serious or dangerous medical condition. Remember that other countries can be worlds of their own and who knows what sort of medications they may or may not sell (and at what prices, quality, and availability).
Get your shots done beforehand. Some countries have mandatory vaccination requirements. Even a trip to paradisiac beaches can quickly turn into a feverish nightmare if you don’t take the proper precautions. WebMD has a very informative article on this.
There are three types of vaccines:
- Routine vaccines, which everyone must have. Examples of these are measles vaccinations.
- Recommended vaccines, which protect you in places where there is a greater risk of contracting certain diseases. It’s much more probable that you’ll contract malaria in Honduras than in Finland, for example.
- Mandatory vaccines, which are vaccines that are required to enter a certain country.
Some of the most common diseases which you can prevent by vaccinating against them include:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Typhoid and paratyphoid fever
- Meningococcal disease
- Yellow Fever
- Japanese Encephalitis
Remember that the risk of contracting certain diseases can vary greatly depending on how you travel, the seasons and weather conditions of your trip, how long you’ll be away among other factors. Be sure to do your homework and visit a specialist; don’t just rely on the internet!
Check health information and recommendations for the places you’ll be visiting. Different countries and regions have differing sanitation and health conditions and regulations (if they have them at all). Normally, your embassy or other travel sites will give you health recommendations for traveling to a certain country. Be sure to take your precautions and remember that it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Water. Be sure to check what’s the situation with drinking water in the places you’ll be traveling through. We can live for weeks without eating, but we won’t last more than a few days without water (in some places of the world, not even a day). Countries have differing water infrastructure, which in many places of the world can be strained and overworked. That is, if it exists at all.
Also, it’s important to remember that water can carry many dangerous diseases. You don’t want to be rushing to the bathroom every few minutes for a week (or worse yet, the hospital) only because you drank a glass of contaminated water.
Be sure to always carry a liter or two of purified drinking water, and I highly recommend buying a travel filter as an added precaution. If you’re caught in an emergency situation where you don’t have access to bottled water, at least boil it to kill as many of the bacteria as you can and strain it. Here is more information on how to produce drinking water in emergency situations such as in the aftermath of natural disasters.
Read, read, read! Are the countries that you will be visiting stricken by poverty? Are they ravaged by war or crime? What are some of the problems people face there? What is the history of the places you’ll be rambling through? Reading up on the current situation will empower you to make better decisions while on the road.
On the other hand, researching a bit about the country allows you to better immerse yourself in your travels by going deeper into the experience of a new place or culture. You’ll be more likely to enjoy yourself at a museum if you know what you’re looking at.
Read up on the risk of natural disasters. Some regions of the world are prone to certain types of natural disasters. Hurricanes, volcano eruptions, earthquakes, tornados, floods, tsunamis, blizzards, wildfires among many others are common and can be deadly. Be sure to read up on what risks you are likely to face and how to react, protect yourself and survive in case of an emergency.
I went through my first earthquake in Guatemala and did everything wrong. I fumbled around for my stuff, panicked and took too long to react. Thankfully, I was lucky and survived the experience unscathed. Nothing really prepares you for an experience of that magnitude (no pun intended) but, after that first encounter with Mother Nature, I vowed I would never again be caught off guard and began researching on how to react in case I went through another earthquake.
It’s not about scaring yourself into not traveling, rather about being prepared for whatever challenges you might face. It never hurts to be prepared. Who knows? You might even end up helping or saving other people. It’s always worth it. Stay safe!
Check local customs. Culture shock can be either a good or a bad experience, but we would definitively recommend that you arrive prepared. Remember that you are stepping out of your reality and entering a (possibly completely) different world.
Although culture shock is inevitable and even the most seasoned of travelers fumbles around awkwardly from time to time, we should be mindful and respectful of local customs and beliefs as conscious travelers that we are. Be sure to research how one should treat other people in your destinations, local eating and drinking habits, dress codes, religious beliefs and other aspects for the countries you will be visiting beforehand.
For example, some Muslim countries have ongoing alcohol prohibitions. Drinking in these countries can range from being a misdemeanor, at best, or a punishable crime, at worst, so if you tend to belong to the party tribe (hello, brother!) be sure to be extra careful on where you let your wild side out.
On the other hand, abiding by local traditions and customs may help you immerse yourself deeper into your travels and will no doubt make for funny stories and pleasant memories.
Plan what you want to do beforehand. Some travelers like to arrive at their destinations and see where their travels take them. Others prefer to plan every minute and every detail of their trips. It’s perfectly acceptable to be either, although I’m sure most will fall somewhere in the middle. Nevertheless, in all cases, it pays to research what activities, trips or tours you can do while traveling so you don’t miss out.
Check local forums or social media, as these are widely used to publicize all sorts of events, from raging parties to sophisticated cultural outings. Is there going to be a festival of some kind while you’re there? Are the locals going to be celebrating a civic or a religious holiday? These outings can make for some of the most unique and memorable experiences, but the timing has to be just right. You can improve your chances by researching and planning out.
Remember you can always throw those plans out the window if you feel like it.
Apply and take advantage of discount cards and programs. Are there any special discounts that you might be eligible for? Students, elders, teachers and other groups of people might be eligible for discounts at museums, transportation services, lodging or other services. Be sure to do your research and make use of these programs to cheapen the cost of travel.
Going paperless. I highly recommend joining the e-book revolution and taking your favorite books on the road with you. It’s fun and you can find most of the classics on most e-book apps and websites for free. I can guarantee you’ll never run out of things to read. It also saves much-needed weight and space that you can use to your advantage and take other gear you’ll need.
Travel guides can also be found in digital format, which will save even more weight and space, as well as allow you to quickly bookmark or search for information. Language dictionaries and guides can be useful too.
I personally use Moon+ Reader Pro, which is available for Android phones and tablets, but there are a wide variety of apps and programs which you can use.
- Prepare your mind and spirit for the experience of travel
Preparing your spirit for travel. Independently of whatever religion you profess, I highly recommend getting into the spirit of travel through meditation. Nothing beats floating off to your destination after a relaxing meditation.
Mindfulness meditation can be a big help in grounding you and helping you to be more present and fully experience your travels.
While traveling long-term, meditation helps you stay happy and connected with yourself, and to not lose sight of why you’re traveling. Another advantage is that you don’t really need anything to meditate other than finding a tranquil space where you aren’t likely to be disturbed.
Give meaning to your travels. Even though travel doesn’t necessarily need to have a meaning, traveling with a purpose may act as a catalyst and enhance your experience and enjoyment of your rambles.
You can choose whichever purpose or meaning you want. Maybe you want to come out more knowledgeable or meet new friends. Maybe you want to reconnect with yourself or see what you’re capable of. Maybe you want to make a pilgrimage to honor someone you admire or for religious reasons.
Whatever your choice, I guarantee you will enjoy your travels more.
Other obvious points to consider:
- Share your plans with people close to you, and give them a way to contact you (or vice versa) in case of an emergency.
- Remember to carry your insurance policy number, medical information and emergency contacts at all times with you.
But most important of all… remember to relax and enjoy your travels!
Do any of you do something else differently while preparing for long-term travel? Have any other tips or tricks which might prove useful or want to see added to this post? Be sure to let us know in the comments!