Knowing how to prepare for long-term travel is not for the faint of heart. Tales you hear of someone jumping on a plane with nothing more than the clothes on their back and $20 in their pocket are not only unrealistic, they’re often untrue.
Even if you stay in each country for three months at a time, the constant upheavals, packing, re-packing, Visa applications and timezone adjustments can really a take a toll on a person.
If I can be honest, it’s the one thing that pretty much terrifies me about my pending travels. Sure, I have taken short trips both in a group, and by myself. Travel itself doesn’t worry me.
But right now I am in the process of a house sale, which will afford me long-term travel for at least two years. Should I earn an income whilst I am out there, I will be able to travel for even longer.
Yes, you read that right. I am intentionally making myself homeless in order to live my dream of traveling indefinitely around the world.
This guide will help you get ready
This guide is specifically designed to help you understand what you need to prepare and potentially research.
I will be writing more detailed guides on individual things (such as Visas for specific countries), but this article is for those who simply don’t know where to start, or have some idea, but are coming up short.
I must be bonkers to think that travelling indefinitely is a sensible idea, right?
Honestly, I have my moments of believing this, but I’ve been doing research for eight solid months while preparing for this adventure and I am going to share what I have learned with all of you.
There’s no cut and dry right and wrong answer to this problem, but there are many things that can ease the transition, that’s for sure.
I’m going to save you all that worry and legwork and give you a simple step-by-step plan to preparing yourself for your never-ending vacation.
Make your list of things to prepare
It sounds obvious, but take one thing at a time. There is so much to think about if you’ve never traveled long-term, and trying to tackle it all at once is going to make your brain melt.
Make a simple list of everything you need to think about later on. Each header in this article contains the vague thing to consider, and there is a more detailed description below.
Your list may vary depending on your needs and destination, but these tips should cover the general scope of everyone’s needs.
This list is in no particular order, you can decide for yourself which ones you want to do first. I’m going to couple some of these in together in the guide below. If you want to skip to something, use the table of contents above to get there faster.
Also if you think you may need a hat, I have a guide for that, no matter the weather.
When you’re traveling for a long time, it’s super important to factor in the chance that you might lose your luggage if you choose to check it in.
According to statistics, you face a meager 1% chance of losing your luggage when you fly (approximately 3 in every 1,000 passengers). However, as we all know, no matter how small the odds, it could happen to anyone who puts themselves in that situation.
Decide whether it’s worth the risk; will you be able to go home and get more luggage if it is irretrievably lost? Will you be able to replace the items easily? Will you be in a sticky situation for several days (or weeks) while you wait for things to be resolved?
This is honestly my biggest fear about traveling, especially since I won’t have a home to go back to immediately, and so I decided that a single carry-on with a ‘personal item’ (my laptop bag) was the best choice for me.
This great video on packing light for travel shows how much you can expect to fit in a 7KG, which is the standard weight limit for carry-on luggage (usually a 35L backpack). Remember the 7KG includes the weight of the bag itself!
Most of us are aware of the ‘six month rule’ regarding any air travel.However, if you’re going to be travelling for six months or more, this is going to work against you at some point.
You can renew your passport at any time, for any reason, so try to make sure you have way more than you need. It’s going to be a miserable time if your trip gets extended, and you unexpectedly run out of passport time.
My passport expired in 2012, and so the one I will be travelling on will be completely fresh with the full 10 years remaining.
Medication and Medical Documents
If you take a prescription medication, make sure you have a copy of it when you travel, in case something happens and you need an emergency supply.
If you’re travelling from the UK into Europe, make sure your EHIC form (formerly called the E1-11) is all prepared, too. This can take a few weeks to arrive, so ready it in advance! This is needed whether you take medication or not, in the case of medical emergency or needing a doctor.
I got super lucky on this one, because the Ventolin inhaler I sometimes need due to asthma is available to buy in Thailand over the counter.
However, some more serious drugs (and even some simple over-the-counter drugs) have restrictions or outright bans on them depending on where you go.
Even simple drugs like Sudafed and Vick’s are banned in Japan due to one of their shared active ingredients, so make sure you do your research thoroughly.
A banned drug means you can be fined, or even sent to prison if you’re found with it in your bag. Your prescription does not bypass these laws, so please check carefully before you travel.
The main thing to consider with your technology is how much it weighs. Even if you decide to take a huge suitcase on your travels, I wouldn’t recommend leaving expensive items in there, because it could easily get broken (trust me airports are not kind to your suitcase):
The plus side is that most airlines allow a “personal item”, such as a camera bag, or laptop bag, that you can slide under the seat in front of you, which takes the weight out of your backpack, leaving more room for everything else.
Take only what you need, double-up where you can (such as using your phone as your Kindle and camera combined) and decided if you truly need to even bring it.
Clothing (and other accessories)
This is simple: if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
You’re backpacking, not on a world tour with your entourage (unless you are, in which case… why are you reading this and can I come for a ride on your tour bus?).
Leave the hairdryer, GHDs, tongs and eyelash curlers at home. Leave the mountain of make-up at home. Leave the beard oil and huge pile of trimmer extensions at home. Leave the 14 different kinds of skin product at home. Or, buy it once you’re out there.
Make a list of all the clothing you want to take, and prepare to remove most of it. How much you can stuff in your backpack entirely depends on what size, and even whether it’s top or front loading (front is way better).
What you take, again, is up to you. I couldn’t possibly make that list for you without knowing where you’re going, for how long, and how much your average climate will change on your travels.
But remember: ultralight and durable is your friend. Wherever possible, buy things that compact, and items that don’t need washing often (like Merino Wool). Wear your heavy things on the plane, you can always the heavy outer layers off once you’re in the air.
Some continents, like Africa and Asia, are prone to various illnesses that are commonly spread to travelers when they visit. If you want to make sure that your backpacking trip isn’t going to be cut short by a nasty illness, you’ll want to get vaccinated.
Be sure to give yourself 6-8 weeks before you travel to let the vaccine do its thing, and to get over any mild symptoms you may be displaying in the process. The last thing you want is to be in bed for the first two weeks of your trip.
For those who are concerned about vaccines: No, they do not cause autism, nor do they give you the virus or disease you’re vaccinating against. These are common misconceptions and have been debunked numerous times..
A fever, for example, is your body heating itself up above optimal temperatures in order to kill the bacteria. It’s a clever little nuking system, it just happens to make us feel pretty terrible in the process. Since vaccines stimulate the immunity response in the body, this is perfectly normal.
For a list of common vaccinations, the WHO website has you covered. If you’re going to a more obscure place, or you have a serious illness already, consult your doctor to see what works best for you.
Bear in mind that even if you’re in a country with free healthcare, vaccines for travel are generally not free, and can cost up to £100 each (so plan your budget accordingly!).
Destinations and Visas
It is always a good idea to check a few things when you decide to travel to a place you have never been before, such as:
- Seasonal weather (look out for monsoon, tornado and earthquake seasons)
- Level of political turmoil
- Financial crises (in severe recessions, many places you go may be closed down, and crime levels may increase, so check ahead to be sure)
- Exchange rates and prices
- Level of LGBT acceptance (e.g. will you be in legal trouble if you were to hold hands or kiss your same-sex partner in public?)
- Pet laws (are you traveling with your dog? Make sure it isn’t banned from the country)
- Do you need a Visa? If so, which one, how much will it cost, and how long will it take to acquire?
I will be writing detailed travel guides for specific destinations at a later time, but for now it is always best to check with an official embassy and not purely rely on a blog for information (blogs usually give you a better written version, but ensure the facts match up!).
Savings and Earnings
A few people may have a pool of savings to swim around in, with the intention of returning home once it runs dry. If you’re anything like me, however, you’ll want to subsidize that money with some income, in order to keep on going once the main bulk of savings runs out.
If the worry about what you’re going to do for money is holding you back from taking a long trip, fear not. There has never been a better time to earn money – sometimes very decent money – without dodgy manual labor, or a soul-crushing 9 to 5.
Freelancing is perhaps the easiest way to earn money from your laptop. Whether you choose to be a virtual assistant, do audio transcription (this is my choice of work), proofreading or whatever, there is an almost endless stream of possibilities and work availability.
Physical labor is another realistic option. Working in a bar, gardening, personal deliveries, building, etc. Be sure to carefully check what work permits are needed; most countries tolerate digital nomads because they bring in more money to locals than they remove.
However if you’re literally filling a job spot that a local could be in, you’ll be in trouble if you don’t have the right paperwork.
Worst case scenario, you could wind up in prison or with a huge fine.
Teaching is great if you speak the local language and want to teach people English (or whatever language you’re fluent in).
Blogging, vlogging & other ‘creative’ outlets are the dream, aren’t they? I know I’d be outright lying if I said that I wasn’t hoping that one day this humble blog right here will take off to the point I can earn a passive income through ad revenue and affiliate link purchases.
However, as possible as this is (if you’re willing to give it a year or two and put in a lot of hecking work), it’s not really viable for the short-term, or sometimes at all.
Essentially, look at blog earning like this: once it works, it really bloody works. However, until it works, dream big but be sensible. Get yourself a reliable income until you achieve the results you want from your other ventures.
What kind of insurance you’ll need is wholly dependent on how long you’re traveling for, and what kind of items you’re taking with you.
So, a six month hostel-hopping trip where you only take your phone is going to be very different compared to someone planning to free solo a mountain, or someone with $5,000 worth of camera gear.
Things to bear in mind when picking your insurance company:
- How long you’re planning to travel
- Where you’re traveling to (some insurance companies have location-specific policies)
- How much gear you’re taking along and how much cover you’d like in the event of theft or loss
- Your age, current health and past health problems
That last point is quite important.
If you’ve got anything in your medical history that you haven’t declared, your insurance will simply refuse to pay out if something happens to you. Always approach insurance documents with full transparency.
It’s also worth noting that most insurance needs to be renewed annually, so mark it on your calendar if your trip’s going to be several years long.
You don’t have to have travel insurance, but take it from someone who had to spend over $400 on a single bag of saline and a 60 minute doctor’s appointment (only to get my severe sun-cream allergy misdiagnosed as ‘dehydration’, I might add) due to this oversight – you need insurance.
You really never know what’s going to happen.
And there you have it!
I will be writing individual, detailed articles on many elements mentoioned within this article so that you don’t have to go scouring elsewhere on the web.
Right now, however, this blog is a baby, and this is only my second post (all together now: awwww), so I ask you to bear with a poor soul while she gets some more great content together for you!
Was this guide helpful to get you started? Let me know in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter!
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