There is no doubt, you are about to start a journey – one that may change the way you live and think forever. It is important to do travel preparation at home so that you can confidently step into the unknown and enjoy every second of it.
The following section will help you through doing small things at home, pre-packing, and organizing so you do not have to worry while you are gone.
Preparing for travel
You will want to be as self-sufficient as possible while you are gone. This includes taking care of your own emergencies if needed.
Travel preparation on the computer
Grab a free web-based email account like Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail for your trip. If you do not have an account, grab a free one for use while you travel. An account such as Yahoo that offers a free online notepad feature comes in handy for recording information that you might need while on the road.
Plan to change your password frequently, as you might be using dodgey internet cafes that have software to grab passwords. If you keep personal information in the account, edit account numbers or credit card numbers with your own security theme, such as adding +1 to every digit or adding a bogus string of numbers at the end. If your account is compromised, the account numbers will only make sense to you.
You may find yourself paying by the minute for internet access in cafes with slow computers. Build up email lists of people to send travel updates to, rather than sending many emails. Also hide inside your account (either using the notepad or by sending yourself an email) the phone numbers of friends and family. This is a good idea even if you are carrying a mobile phone, in case it doesn’t survive the trip!
Get a travel Blog
A great alternative to sending mass emails is to keep a travel blog. A blog is an online journal of your experiences that others can read. They are free, and you will love going back and reading it yourself one day.
Build a Homepage
If you have the know-how, consider building a homepage about your travels. You can host your own blog, pictures, and whatever else you want without anyone else’s ads. Have a look at my vagabonding blog as an example. GoDaddy.com is great for cheap domain names but HostGator will give you more personalize support and hosting.
Domain names are like real estate, once a name is taken, it is gone. Even if you do not have plans to build a website now, you might want to consider registering your name just to hold for later – it is worth the $7
Travel Preparation Paperwork
Create a folder or binder for your parents, roommate, or whoever you trust to look after your business while you are gone. Inside, put important documents like your flight itinerary, travel insurance policy, account numbers, blank checks, etc. This will enable them to have everything in one place in case you have a request or emergency. At least include a tentative list of countries you will be visiting and embassy contact info for each.
Things to put inside your travel binder
- Your flight itinerary
- Numbers for embassies for all the countries you might be visiting (you can find them easy on this website)
- Copies of your credit cards that you are carrying, front and back
- Serial numbers for any traveler’s checks that you are carrying
- A couple signed, blank checks for unexpected bills that come while you are away
- Your travel insurance policy and information
- A copy of your passport ID page
- Your vaccinations records
- Phone number for your usual vet if you have any pets
- Any misc instructions to handle affairs while you are gone
Leave the binder at home with a VERY trustworthy person that you can contact during an emergency.
Travel Preparation for Yourself
- Make copies of your travel insurance contact information, passport, and credit cards (front and back). Use a photocopier that can reduce things down to half size so that you will have miniatures to put in your money belt. (You also may be able to take pictures of them and re-print them smaller)
- Put a copy of your passport somewhere (in your backpack, etc) in case your actual passport gets lost or stolen. On the back of the copy, write the embassy phone numbers for all your destinations. Record the numbers and customer support number of any traveler’s checks that you decide to carry as well.
- Make several copies of your passport and carry them with you to give out whenever someone wants to keep your real passport for whatever reason. (ie…guesthouses, motorbike rentals, etc)
- Put in a forwarding order or hold order for your mail at the post office if necessary. It may take a few days to go through but is good for up to 1 year.
Travel Preparation: Setting up finances
- Visa and Mastercard are more widely accepted than the other cards. Don’t plan on making this your main source of cash because many vendors will charge you a hefty markup for using plastic (if they even have the ability to accept charge cards).
- Contact the customer support for any credit cards that you intend to carry and tell them to put on record that you will be traveling abroad. This will keep them from suspending the card because they see suspicious charges popping up on the other side of the planet! Ask if there are any additional exchange fees for using them abroad.
- Ask them for international contact numbers (you may not be able to dial 1-800 numbers while overseas). If the card gets lost or stolen, you will need these to cancel it as soon as possible.
- Set up online bill paying for your cards so that you can manage your accounts online while you are gone.
- If possible, set up automatic billing for any regular monthly bills you receive. Have them billed directly to a credit card that you can manage and pay online. Not only will you accumulate points for freebies later, it eliminates the need for someone to write checks for you.
ATM cards are the best way to get local currency in almost every country. You will get the current exchange rate usually with a very small currency exchange fee (such as 1%) added on. Try to take an ATM card that is not also a “check card” which allows use without a PIN number. There are less security measures with these types of cards. If you choose to take one, you may be safer opening a new bank account specifically for travel that is not tied to your other accounts (opt out of overdraft protection).
Traveler’s checks are a good option if you need to carry a large amount of backup cash, don’t have a credit card, or just want to diversify your finances a little. I found myself on an island with no cash because the network link to all the ATM machines was down for three days! Traveler’s checks came to the rescue. If you decide to take them, buy larger denominations ($50) because you are charged a fee for every check that you cash. Record the serial numbers and keep them in your email account in case they are lost or stolen.
Making phone calls
It is a given that you will want to call home at some point to check up on things. If not just for the sound of a familiar and friendly voice, then to make sure your goldfish is still alive.
If done incorrectly, making international calls can get expensive. Here are some suggestions for doing it right.
- Skype – Available in internet cafes everywhere, Skype allows you to make calls across the internet for pennies a minute. You just sign for a free account, which enables you to call other Skype enabled computers. If you want to call land lines or mobile phones, you have to fund your account with a minimum of US$10 – which will last a surprisingly long time. Get a free Skype account here.
- Calling Cards are also available in many places, such as 7-11, however, this is usually a more expensive option than using the internet.
- Local Mobile Phones are another option if you are going to be in an area for quite a while. Most phone plans outside of the US are pre-paid and you can add minutes either on the internet or at kiosks. With a GSM enabled phone, you can purchase SIM cards which usually include minutes for each country that you enter. There is a lot of good information on unlocking GSM phones and using them internationally here.
- Do your family a favor and use calling collect as an absolutely last option (it is expensive!)
Other Travel Preparations
- Make arrangements to park your car long term while you are gone. If you will be gone during hot weather, it may be worth buying a sun visor to put in the window to lower the temperature inside. It is best to park the vehicle with a full tank of gas and to add fuel stabilizer (available at any auto store) to the tank if you will be gone over a month.
- Contact your auto insurance and give them a date to put your policy into “park” mode. This will greatly reduce your premiums on a vehicle that is not being driven. In some states you need to contact the local government to tell them that you will be suspending insurance on a vehicle, otherwise they may think that you are driving it without coverage.
- Contact your mobile phone carrier to see if they can put your plan into a suspended mode. If you keep the phone, be smart and don’t change your voice mail bragging that you will be “out of the country for months”…not good if you are leaving valuables behind.
- If someone is looking after your pets, start making visits to get the animals comfortable with the new person, and the new person familiar with what makes the animals happy.
If you are American and happen to be traveling to a place with political unrest, a history of violence (past or recent), or just want to play it safe – go register your trip with the State Dept. It only takes a few minutes and lets them have a general idea of who they would need to evacuate if something unexpected did go down in one of the countries you were visiting.
Record the numbers of the embassies in different places that you are going. Keep them someplace safe or in a free email account online.