GoNOMAD MINI GUIDE: Preparing for Extended Travel
Going Nomad for longer than two months? Leaving your job and home for adventure in the great unknown? The leap from stable home and routine employment to full time explorer is jarring.
It cannot be made seamlessly. Extended trips require months of planning to minimize catastrophe and inconvenience, both abroad and at home. Plan to begin four to six months ahead of your departure.
BE YOUR OWN ADVANCE RESEARCH TEAM
Safety, Budget and Responsible Travel
When planning your route, consider climate, jetlag and accessibility. Read about hot spots, war zones and closed borders on the US State Department Consular Information website. Never assume that two neighboring countries have good relations. Learn where your dollar goes farthest and weigh it against your tolerance for the inconveniences of the region. Educate yourself about tourism boycotts, and make a personal decision on which countries to visit.
Spend a few days in the travel section of your local mega-bookstore. Study guidebooks carefully, looking for one that agrees with your style of travel. Check the copyright date of the book you choose. Is it the most recent edition? A guide that is two years out of date may still be accurate for Western Europe or Australia, but two years is an eternity in rapidly changing areas with unstable currency. Check the publisher’s website before making a purchase. A newer edition may be in the works.
Read up on the travel options in the region. Employ a good travel agent to check on airfares. Some countries have reliable transportation, with buses, trains, and planes that adhere to rigid schedules. Other areas have nebulous schedules, with instructions such as “go to the corner, buses leave when full.”
If vague information and independent travel makes you nervous, consider going with a small group. Longer overland trips are good alternative. If touring doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps you’d prefer alternative travel. Search GoNOMAD’s ALTERNATIVES LISTINGS for information on educational travel and volunteering abroad.
Research and more research
The Internet is a massive library of information on your destination. Block out time to wade through sites, reading about culture, books, accommodation, and local transport. Consider the date the information was posted, and the credibility of the source. Don’t get discouraged if you turn up nothing. Keep digging. Not everything is listed in search engines.
COVER YOUR BASES
Consult with a physician for prescriptions and vaccinations. Some vaccinations require multiple visits to a travel clinic, so leave plenty of time. Also visit your dentist. Women should get a gynecological exam. Inform your doctors that you are taking an extended trip, and take contact info, including e-mail and fax numbers, for all of them. Get a World Health Organization International Certificate of Vaccination from your doctor — some countries require evidence of a Yellow Fever vaccine.
Health insurance sometimes covers individuals outside of their home country, and sometimes does not. Regardless, insurance companies toll-free 800 numbers may not work where you’re going, so call your insurer and get an alternative phone number. Consider getting medical evacuation, cancellation and baggage insurance, and read GoNOMAD’s Travel Desk information on yearly insurance coverage. It may be cheaper to get a comprehensive travel policy that covers health, medical evacuation, and life than to stick with your existing policy.
Passports, Visas and Other Documents
Apply for or renew your passport, if it is going to expire within a year. Many countries won’t allow you in if your passport is not valid for six months past your date of entry. Also consider other memberships and identification: you may want an ISIC student or teacher card, a youth hostel card, or an international driver’s license. Carry several extra passport photos with you — you’ll need them for visas en route. You can get your new passport at this link.
Many countries require visas for entry. Read the specific requirements and application procedures on the Embassy’s home page, accessed fromembassy.org. Start early, but not so early that the visa expires before you leave the U.S. Some visas can be acquired at port of entry. It may be easiest to use a visa service.
Don’t take multiple credit cards — they’re hard to keep track of. There are still some places that accept only Visa, not Mastercard. Many regions are dependent solely on cash, others accept credit and ATM cards. You should have several ways to access your money, but try to stick to a budget to minimize financial strain.
•Take U.S. dollars and travelers’ checks of various denominations. Always keep an emergency supply of cash. Carry new bills if possible.
•Take a high-limit Visa card, American Express card (if you have one), ATM card, and some blank checks.
•Get a four-digit PIN for ATM and Visa cards (some ATM’s only accept four digits).
•Use your ATM card to get cash when you can, or cash a check with American Express (cardmembers only). Both are free or nearly free.
•In a pinch, use your Visa card to get a cash advance from a bank or ATM. Minimize fees by paying off immediately using online banking, or pay a positive balance on your Visa account before leaving home.
Organize Your Papers
Organize all your medical info, insurance contacts, passport, I.D. cards, address book, credit card numbers and stolen card phone numbers, travelers’ check numbers with emergency phone numbers, itinerary information, and contact information. Scan them in and e-mail it to yourself, carry paper copies, and leave copies with trusted friends. Have the good sense to consider the security of your e-mail account and always sign out of public computers after use. Learn how to clear the cache and quit the browser.
Mail and Communications
Using the Internet, read up on the safety of mail in the regions you’re visiting. Send and receive mail only in countries with reliable service. Use Poste Restante, your hotel, or American Express offices (cardmembers only) to receive mail, and ask for help when sending parcels. Many countries have complex forms that must accompany packages.
Choose your gear carefully, and find real world samples of heavy gear you intend to mail order. Your luggage is your most important purchase. Extended travel is best served by a convertible travel pack or backpack. Weigh your bag empty before purchasing it, and consult with a specialist on fitting.
Pack light (you can always purchase things as you go). Allow yourself a few small luxuries when gearing up. But remember, chocolate melts and books are heavy. Carry your pack full, along with a water bottle, guidebook, and your heaviest clothes before choosing your luxuries. Make a checklist of gear, and assemble a first aid kit.
Cameras and Digital Equipment
Cameras and videocameras come with specific dilemmas. 35mm film is available in most of the world. Special formats are not. Digital cameras require storage disks, or downloading onto parent computers. Most cybercafes will not allow travelers to install their own software for downloading. The Sony Mavica digital camera uses regular floppy disks which don’t require additional software, but some computers no longer have floppy drives.
PDA’s and laptop computers present portability issues. Laptops are usually able to withstand multiple voltages, but PDA’s need converters to adapt to higher electrical voltages outside of the Americas. Both require a selection of adapter plugs and phone jacks. Make sure your PDA can run on disposable batteries to avoid carrying a converter.
Additionally, most Internet service providers that claim to be global are exaggerating. Laptops are heavy, and cybercafes are plentiful. Leave the laptop at home if you will be on the move a lot. PDA’s are useful as address books and notepads, but they must synch with parent computers for more complex functions like downloading. Again, this requires software installation in cybercafes; usually a no-no. My take on it: unless you’re going to major capital cities, North America, Europe, Japan, Hong Kong or Israel, that fancy high-tech equipment can be classified as one thing only…DEAD WEIGHT. Not to mention bait for border officials wanting bribes or confiscation. I’ve chucked my electronic devices and returned to a 35mm camera and a paper travel diary. Read more of my views on this subject here.
Expensive cameras, videocameras, and computers are sometimes confiscated at borders, and held hostage for additional “fees.” Additionally, they are a security risk and can be ruined by sand, dirt and water. If you must carry expensive electronics, plan to carry insurance. Reimbursement claims often require proof in the form of a local police report.
Get a money belt. Try wearing it for a few days before committing to it. If you don’t feel comfortable with your money and passport bulging out at your waistline, or fear losing your valuables in a squat toilet, sew zippered pockets inside your travel clothes. Try repositioning your money belt so that it sits below your waist. Beltoutlet.com has a wide selection of affordable money belts, bra stashes and other good traveling gear.
BACK ON THE FARM
Taking care of your home
Back home, your affairs will need to be self-sustaining, or operable by remote control. If you have property, sell or rent it. Renting means being an absentee landlord, so set up a means to solve problems. Hire a property manager or friend, and leave them with a list of emergency contacts and instructions. Confirm your property insurance covers renting, and clean out your refrigerator in consideration of your tenants. Force plants onto a friend who needs cheering up. If you have a car, sell it or store it. Pre-pay your insurance on your car, home, and possessions.
Whether you sell, rent, or leave your lease, remember to cut off your utilities and phone. Stop magazine subscriptions and file a forwarding address to a friend’s house.
Store your stuff. Prices vary depending on location, so get a few estimates before committing to a storage company. Movers charge a hefty fee, so get several estimates on that too, and have your stuff well packed in boxes before they arrive to save money.
If you are storing a computer, back up the hard drive on a separate CD or disk before putting it in metaphorical mothballs. Upload your browser’s bookmarks or favorites to server space if you know how, so that you can access them from any public computer.
Taxes and Other Important Things
You’ll need to develop superhuman organizing skills, or get assistance from professionals. Make a will, give a friend power of attorney, and plan for tax season. Add up your deductions and get estimates to your accountant before you go, and then arrange for official documents to be forwarded. File for an extension if you need to.
Your money, if you have enough to worry about, needs special consideration. Remember that you won’t be around when CD’s roll over, and you may miss deadlines for adding to your IRA. Plan ahead, and give yourself some leeway, so that a change in your schedule won’t damage your long-term financial planning. If you have a lot of money in stocks or in a retirement fund, hire a manager, and make sure you’ll have access to your funds via the Internet.
Sign up for online banking and try it out before you leave. It isn’t always possible to reach a computer when you need one, so schedule automatic payments if you can. A free payment service such as Paypal paypal.com might prove useful.
KEEP IN TOUCH
Stay in touch by getting a free browser-based e-mail account, such as Hotmail or Yahoo. You can configure it to check home accounts, as long as they are POP-based. AOL users can access their e-mail from AOL’s own browser-based service aol.com.
For friends who don’t have e-mail, there are businesses such as J2 – j2.com – and EFax – efax.com – that specialize in free dedicated fax numbers that send faxes to your e-mail. Yahoo – yahoo.com – will give you a free voicemail account that forwards voice messages to your Yahoo e-mail account. You may never need to call home again.
Planning an extended trip is like planning a wedding. If you can negotiate the planning process, the problems you encounter in the “marriage,” the actual trip, should be a piece of cake. If you have sold your home, stored your stuff, and convinced your friends to be responsible for your life, missing buses and using strange toilets won’t be traumatic — because they’ll be your only problems in the world.
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