When I attended the Meet, Plan, Go! National Conference in New York City in September, I heard more than one speaker reveal that they planned their “career break” – long-term trip – for a year or more. “Yikes!,” I thought. At that point I was about five weeks from my tentative departure, and I had done nothing (no, I didn’t even have a flight). Granted my trip was on the shorter side for a “breaker” – only about eight weeks – but logistically, it still seemed like I was trying to move a small army.
I felt a major sense of accomplishment once I knocked off the bigger items – mainly pulling the trigger on booking a flight and finding renters for my condo. However, that’s actually when the real planning began. I tracked every “to do” in an Excel document to keep myself relatively organized (and sane) during those few intense weeks prior to my jetting off. Here’s a handy checklist I developed to help you nail down some of the pesky logistics that kept me up at night:
1. Cancel memberships and subscriptions – You’ll get plenty of exercise carrying a 40-lb bag over cobblestones, so you won’t need your gym membership for a while. And, you won’t be able to access Hulu or Netflix abroad, so start freezing or canceling those services. (Also good ways to save some pennies for travel!). Also start cleaning up your email inbox by unsubscribing from listservs and other non-essential alerts, so you can be more efficient with your time online when you’re overseas, especially where wifi is limited.
2. Set up autopay for any recurring bills. – You may not have Internet access the day your credit card payment is due, and you’ll have a piece of mind knowing that bills will be paid on time.
3. Get your shots & meds. – You should make an appointment at a local travel clinic at least a month out from your departure (ideally). You’ll need to have a good idea of your itinerary at that point, so they can review the risk level in each region for various diseases, such as malaria. Fortunately I only needed tdap and typhoid vaccines for Southeast Asia, since I was up-to-date on Hepatitis A and B. And I also picked up a prescription for malaria pills and a wonder drug called Cipro for traveler’s diarrhea.
4. Make sure you can get where you want to go. – Be sure you check the visa requirements for your destination(s) as far in advance as possible. Many countries allow Americans to get a visa on-site at the airport or major boarding crossing, but some require you to apply for or even obtain a visa up to 30 days in advance.
5. Determine your technology needs. – Will you need the power of a laptop or will a tablet suffice? I own a rather old and heavy MacBook, so I decided to purchase a refurbished iPad to take with me, which would meet my two main requirements for a device – basic word processing and the ability to download my photos/upload to social media.
6. Figure out your finances. – How will you access cash and pay for purchases on the road without incurring fees? After a good deal of research, I decided to open a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, since my every-day card, the United MileagePlus Explorer card, lacks the “chip” feature that is necessary in many countries now (both cards have zero foreign transaction fees). I also opened a Charles Schwab checking account, which reimburses all ATM fees at any ATM worldwide. I did bring my current credit and debit cards as backup.
7. Insure your trip. – I admit, I never previously traveled with trip insurance. But now that I’m older and wiser, I thought it might be a good idea (OK, it was required by Intrepid for the tour I took the first two weeks). Using a very handy website called InsureMyTrip.com, I bought a policy to cover medical expenses while overseas and emergency evacuation back to the U.S. – all for about $50. My credit cards both provided trip cancellation/delay insurance, as well as lost baggage coverage, so I didn’t need to pay for a comprehensive policy.
8. Forward your mail. – Fortunately most of us don’t receive too much in the mail these days, but you still want to be sure it’s being handled by a trusted friend or relative. Even though I had renters in my condo for most of the time I was overseas, I forwarded my mail to my parents for the duration of my trip (and a neighbor also knows to bring inside any mail of mine he sees in my mailbox). Another woman from the Meet, Plan, Go! event had a friend pick up her mail from a PO box, and there are virtual mailbox services you can purchase that open/scan/email your mail.
9. Backup important documents. – I used a free scanning app on my iPhone to take photos of my passport and credit/debit cards, which were saved as images and also as a PDF in Dropbox to access on the road. I also shared the document with my dad in case of emergency. I brought a few hard copies of my passport with me for quicker access if needed, and I made a note on my iPhone with the various credit/debit international customer support numbers.
10. Make sure mom can get in touch with you. – The most challenging logistic for me was figuring out how to use my smart phone (or any smart phone) on the road, primarily to access the Internet without paying a fortune in roaming and data charges. Fortunately, Verizon was able to “unlock” my phone, which means I could still use it overseas while connected to wifi (giving me the ability to access email and the Internet, and text via What’sApp), as well as have the ability to insert a local SIM card to access data as well as make phone calls and text other local numbers. I also was able to suspend my regular Verizon voice and data service, saving me about $200 while on the road.
Now that my trip is underway, I am happy to report that – as far as I can tell at this point – I thought of everything. If not, I’ll let you know!