This is what you need to do to leave the sedentary life behind.
So you want to travel the world? While this ambition is more easily attainable than ever, there are still some things that you need to do in advance in order to turn this dream into a reality. Even if your date of departure seems far off, there is no better time to start getting ready than right now, and the following steps are what you need to do to prepare for long-term world travel:
Pick your destinations wisely
To put it bluntly, it’s dumb to visit Nur-Sultan in the winter, when the place looks akin to the Arctic tundra and temperatures can drop to thirty below. Likewise, it is almost equally unwise to visit popular destinations at the peak of their tourist seasons, when they are packed full of other visitors, good rooms are hard to come by, and prices can be more than double their low-season rates.
To really get the most out of your travels, be sure to visit places during the optimal times of the year. A good rule of thumb is to aim to visit somewhere the month before or the month after the tourist peak season, when the weather is decent-enough and the crowds kept to a minimum. For example, I recently stayed for a month on the Greek island of Rhodes for a month in March, and paid a mere $600 to rent an entire house and basically had all the tourist sites to myself.
Flight costs can also be a good indicator of when certain places can be visited at a discount. Just do an open date search on a site like Skyscanner to find out what destinations can be accessed cheaply … and then check out the current weather, of course.
Also pay attention to currency devaluations, where entire nations can essentially go on sale. I’ve traveled through Argentina, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan at the height of economic turmoil when their respective currencies were plunging, and essentially received the quintessential travel experience that these countries offered at a fraction of the price. Don’t worry about seeming exploitative here, as during such economic downturns your tourist dollars are appreciated more than ever.
Save money or make money on the road
This goes without saying: you need money to travel. There are two ways to do this, you can either save money before you go or you can work on the road.
Saving money first consists of living cheap and cutting out all unnecessary expenses: move back in with your mom to save rent, don’t eat out, stop going to the bar, etc. Remember the old adage of the vagabond: it is easier to save a dollar than it is to make a dollar. The saving habits that you can cultivate while collecting the cash needed to travel will also come in handy when you’re on the road, as the less money you spend the longer you can travel.
The other option is to find a job or start a business that will enable you to make money and travel at the same time, theoretically providing you with the financial sustenance to travel the world indefinitely. Types of work that can make this happen vary from being an itinerant writer / filmmaker to playing music in the streets to teaching.
However, most travel jobs require a large amount of preparation and advanced skill to pull off successfully. They are usually not strategies that you can decide to do one day and start making money from the next. Most travelers who are just starting out will generally save up a good amount of money first to provide themselves the time and space necessary to properly develop the skills and experience necessary for an independent travel business or job.
Get financial strategy in order
So now that you have the money or have put together a way to make it on the road, how are you going to access it while traveling abroad?
Traveler checks are dead, so don’t bother with them.
Carrying too much cash has never been a very good idea.
Most travelers rely on a mix of Visa / Mastercard backed debit cards and credit cards. Debit cards allow you to access your cash almost everywhere, and you often don’t even need to use ATMs anymore, as you can just swipe your card at shops, restaurants, and bars to pay for whatever you want. It is generally a good idea to travel with two or three different debit cards, as it’s easy to lose them / break them / have them get stolen. Like in the days of cash, never have all your financial resources in one place. I travel with one Visa debit card issued by my bank and a separate Paypal Mastercard debit card, which allows me to withdraw straight from Paypal. The Paypal card also pays 1% cash back, which doesn’t sound like much but it buys me a good meal at a restaurant or a night out each month.
This takes me to credit cards. While credit score is generally the conceit of the sedentary classes, having a credit card is becoming a travel necessity. You can’t, for example, rent a car in the USA without a credit card, and having one will make many other payments easier while at the same time serving as a backup option to your debit cards. Many credit cards also pay 1% to 2% cash back or provide airline miles, and if you pay off the balance each month you don’t even have to worry about paying interest. So set up autopay and use credit cards for the ease of use and the rewards. (Using credit cards also allow you to build credit, which will come in handy if you ever feel inclined to go home and rejoin the real world).
Get the right travel gear
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Actually getting your travel gear is one of the final steps to actually being out there. Decide right off what kind of travels you’re going to be most inclined to do — are you going to cities, traveling in Europe, or going into the depths of the Amazon?
In 2019, backpacking is just another form of mainstream tourism — and you no longer need a backpack to do it. A small suitcase with wheels, in many instances, will work just as well or even better. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen travelers struggling under the weight of an overstuffed backpack under a hot tropical sun while walking down paved city streets — for no other reason, presumably, than the right to call themselves “backpackers.” However, if you plan to do an excessive amount of hiking a backpack is probably a good idea.
Just keep in mind the one law of luggage: you’re going to fill whatever size bag you travel with. So select luggage not on how much gear you have but how much you’re going to want to carry it when it’s stuffed full. Go as small as possible — way smaller than you think you need. You will adapt … and probably thank me later.
Also, don’t worry too much about clothes. I don’t know of many countries where the people run around naked, so they’re available everywhere — and often for cheap prices. Keep in mind that you’re probably going to be substituting old outfits for new ones as you travel between different climates and varying realms of fashion. There are all kinds of companies selling adventure travel clothes for inflated prices. Don’t fall for it. All these clothes say is, “I’m a tourist idiot, please rob me.” And their touted benefits are rarely worth it. Just pack whatever you already have in your closet, and if you find that you want something different just buy it on the road.
Many travelers won’t even consider leaving home without specialized travel insurance that can cover them in the event of illness, injury, or travel-related mishaps. They say that the peace of mind is worth the cost, let alone the financial security in an event that they need to use it.
When searching for a travel health insurance plan, be sure to find one that offers coverage for both routine and emergency medical service, such as hospitalization, urgent and intensive care, ambulance, as well as more continuous care, such as physical therapy. Be sure to check to make sure that there’s coverage for emergency medical evacuation and the loss of limbs — remember Will Travel?
Basically, you want a plan that looks something similar to your normal domestic health care policy, not one of those trendy travel insurance scams that only cover for “emergencies” — which the company reserve the right to define for themselves.
The other side of travel insurance policies is more travel related loses. Be sure your plan covers things like trip interruption, travel delays, lost luggage, natural disasters, and, yes, political evacuations.
Be aware that most travel insurance won’t cover you in your home country, so if you plan to visit home ever again you should probably go for a travel insurance plan like those offered by SafetyWing, which covers for all of the above as well as short trips home.
Preparing for world travel can seem arduous at times, if not overtly un-glamorous. But once you can check off the above boxes you’re ready to go … and keep going.