How to Prepare to Travel the World
Post from July 28, 2014 (↻ June 9, 2021), filed under Adventure.
The story of my 18 months of travel around the world, including this and other articles, is available as a big but humble e-book: Journey of J.
I’ve written about what I deem important in order to quit and travel the world. One of the points I called out was “Planning and Preparation,” and it’s what I like to explore a bit more here.
Figure: “Organization is not everything, but without organization, everything is nothing.”
Before we begin, in my view preparing for a long journey consists of two parts. One is concerned with wrapping everything up, like canceling contracts, putting things in storage, saying goodbye and such. The other is concerned with using the old familiar environment to set everything up for a smooth and undisturbed travel. In this post I cover the latter. Though I’m happy to share more about wrapping up if so desired, I believe it’s mostly evident and sort of handles itself. After all, if you don’t quit someone might simply fire you for your absence 😉
The most important asset we have is probably our health. Many another priority yields to health. To prepare for a trip around the world, two things to do health-wise are:
- Get your health checked.
- Get all relevant vaccinations.
What I did was have my primary care physician check me through, do some blood tests, and think over my plans, too; I then called a local travel clinic to discuss all the necessary vaccinations.
Talking to one’s doctor is as key as it’s straightforward, but vaccinations can be tricky. They can be tricky for two reasons: One, if you don’t know where you’re ending up traveling the quality of advice decreases (or you’re in need of far more vaccines). Two, uncertainty and price of vaccines mean more homework. What I found indispensable was what amounted to good information design, on a chart covering common travel diseases and probabilities (I was unsure about rights to embed the graphic, so please use that CDC link). That helped me make more informed decisions.
The next important piece concerns travel finances. I’m a bit torn as to what advice to give here as even now I’m unsure I found the best solution. But here’s what I would have told you to do before I took off:
- Get a bank account in another country, for backup and to save fees (a circumstance that put my own mind at ease, as I happened to have bank accounts in two countries already prior to traveling).
- Register with a money order service like Xoom, for emergency purposes (and yet the only time I needed them, upon entering Chile, this didn’t work for me).
- Note your card numbers and your banks emergency numbers (also see “Emergency”).
- Don’t worry about it.
That’s, um advice. Yet the last recommendation comes from experience of a year on the road. A household debit and credit card, common sense, and knowledge of some scammer tactics help a good deal. Perhaps I should expand on those:
- To keep fees at bay, use local ATMs and draw bigger amounts ($100 and more).
- When drawing money, always watch your surrounding, and cover the keypad.
- When strangers approach you near an ATM, never accept any “help,” and consider going somewhere else.
- If your card gets swallowed, immediately have it blocked.
Despite these considerations, I believe you can prepare better than I did here to save fees.
Another crucial thing to prepare for is communication. As it turns out, I was unnecessarily nervous about this point. What I suggest now is
- Have an internet-capable device with you (which I’m sure you do anyway).
- Get a prepaid card to use in emergencies.
That translates to using near-free email, Google Voice, and Hangouts (my preference) for most communication, and a fallback for emergencies (I stuck with a regular T-Mobile prepaid card—it’s outrageously expensive but works pretty much everywhere).
Then, if you need more connectivity, buy SIM cards locally (perhaps alongside a secondary “decoy” phone). In many places they’re easy to get and quite cheap.
Some countries require additional documentation to let you enter or do certain things (like driving), and in case of an emergency, auxiliary information can likewise be helpful.
- Request an international driving license (typically done with your automotive club, as with the AAA in the U.S.).
- Take your vaccination certificate with you (request one if needed, and, per “Health,” make sure you have the vaccinations your destinations could require from you).
- Make physical copies of these documents as well as, at least, your passport.
- Also create digital copies to store somewhere (I have these on one of my servers, but you could, say, just upload them on Drive).
- Identify a good hiding place for these documents in your luggage (you can do that while on the road, just make sure you don’t have them right with the originals, to avoid someone taking the whole heap).
A point not critical but beneficial to prepare for, how will you track and document your travels? I propose, for a basic setup:
- Set up an online planning spreadsheet in which you document when you’ll go where, where you have been, what other places (cities) you visited while you were there, and perhaps how much money you spent on transport and accommodation (nice for a later recap).
- Put some early thought into how you’d like to cover, if at all, your journey… will you do some crazy video, a travel blog, a photo series, else?
You don’t want to expect but should still prepare for emergency:
- Get a travel insurance that covers your bases (I’m glossing over a very important topic here, but it much depends on your situation and preferences; if it’s helpful, I use Cigna).
- Write down your friends’, banks’, insurances’, and maybe others’ data (telephone numbers, email, contract numbers).
- Share the planning spreadsheet I suggested under “Tracking” with one or two of your best friends (to pinpoint you if contact’s lost).
- Do what I suggested under “Documents.”
Now we’ve covered so many different things—for which, by the way, I recommend to work with an online spreadsheet, too—but we aren’t ready to leave! What’s missing is our gear:
- Be clear about your preferences: Do you plan to only visit cities, will you spend a lot of time outdoors and in the woods, or both? Buy your gear accordingly.
- Remember The Law of Travel: The longer you travel, the lighter you should pack. 😊
- Don’t save on the wrong end, invest in quality gear.
- Stay away from flashy stuff, and keep a low profile. Chances are you’ll already stand out, so no need to outright alienate other people. (I still don’t get these PJs-plus-giant-backpack travelers—but I also grew a lot more indifferent.)
❧ That’s not a complete list and probably doesn’t match what I did exactly as a, back then, compulsive project manager. But I believe it covers a good deal of what matters later on. For me, it has all worked well.
By the way: Over all my travels I grew into a big fan of Airbnb. Airbnb is my primary way of finding accommodations, and I’ve used them 30, 40, maybe 50 times by now. Check them out and save $25 on your first booking!
I’m Jens Oliver Meiert, and I’m an engineering manager and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to the W3C and the WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. Other than that, I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
If you have questions or suggestions about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message.
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Perhaps my most interesting book: 100 Things I Learned as an Everyday Adventurer (2013). During my time in the States I started trying everything. Everything. Then I noticed that wasn’t only fun, it was also useful. Available at Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play Books, and Leanpub.