You've decided you're going to do it -- you're going to jump right in and take that world trip you've always dreamed of! But, wait -- my God, how will you plan this major excursion? What will you do with all your stuff? What about your job? Will people think you've gone raving mad? Maybe this is a really bad, immature idea and you should just forget about it...
Hold the presses! If you really want to see the world, quit worrying and just go for it! Once we got over the initial jitters of realizing our entire, comfortable, cozy little California life was about to go ass-over-teakettle, things started to move along pretty well from a planning perspective. The key was breaking up the pre-departure tasks into manageable units.
Basically, we had to deal with these major issues:
Which places we wanted to go to
What to do with all our stuff
Seeing a travel doctor
How to handle our bills while away
What to do about travel insurance
Setting up accounts for trip finances
Packing up and heading out!
Where should we go...?
Deciding which places we would visit was both a fun and frustrating experience for us. Despite the fact that we were planning on being gone for the better part of a year, the truth is, the world's just too big to try and see everything in one brief year. So, we had to prioritize and decide which places we really wanted to see this time around. For Jennifer, the must-sees were Turkey, the Greek Isles, and Switzerland. I personally always wanted to visit Southern Africa, Turkey and Spain. We both wanted to see more of Southeast Asia after having spent some time there previously. From this core list of countries and regions, we fleshed out our general path and then shopped around for a good deal on air tickets for the itinerary. We filled in some of the longer legs with connections in other places we've always been interested in visiting, like Prague and Morocco. Finally, we just bought our tickets, figuring we could change plans later on if we decided to linger in some places longer than others.
What About all that Stuff?
One of the not-so-fun parts of planning this trip was figuring out what to do with all of our stuff. We had a three-bedroom house full of furniture and all the things that two people accumulate over the years. The first step was to do some serious house cleaning. We went through our stuff and got rid of anything that had been hanging around which we hadn't used in a while and didn't have any sentimental value. Lots of trips to Goodwill and giveaways. That lightened the load a bit.
Left with our good furniture, key household goods and enough clothes to get us back into the rat race upon our return (it's hard to even think of that right now), we needed to find a place to store it all. Lucky for us, we were only renting, so we didn't need to deal with selling or renting out our own property. We ended up renting a storage unit at a self-storage place near Jen's parents house, where they could check in on things every once in a while. That problem solved, our final storage issue was where to put Mike's car (his parents graciously offered their garage as a safe storage place).
Seeing the Good Doctor
Several months before departure, we consulted a travel doctor and set up a schedule to get the inoculations we would need. Visit our health page to learn more.
What About the Bills?
One of the things we were adamant about when deciding we would take the Trip was that we would not do it on borrowed money. We were also lucky enough to be able to leave home debt-free. For the minor credit card bills we will inevitably acquire on the road (rental cars, etc.), we've set up automatic bill pay through our credit card companies so all payments will be made on time electronically, without us having to so much as lift a pen or make a phone call. Post-Trip Update: Our plans to pay bills online worked out perfectly! Most internet cafes had up-to-date browsers that worked with our financial institutions' systems. Occasionally, we would run into a browser without 128-bit encryption (a security standard which hasn't spread much outside the U.S. yet), but we could always go somewhere else when that happened. And no, we were never victims of Internet fraud as a result. The encryption stuff really works.
Jen's parents are minding our postal mail while we're away so they can notify us of any "surprise" bills that might pop up over the course of the year...not that we expect any!
There was no way we were going to quit our jobs and go walkabout on a world tour without having emergency medical insurance. The last thing we need to happen is an unexpected medical emergency to drain our pocketbooks and send us home broke and possibly even in debt with outrageous medical and evacuation bills. So, we looked around a lot for travel insurance. After seeing the ridiculous range of prices on the market, we settled with Liaison International's comprehensive travel insurance. It was almost half the price of much of the competition, with better coverage.
Getting our Trip Financial Plan Together
Modern technology has really made the realm of financial management for the long-term traveler a much easier proposition than it was even a few short years ago. Internet Cafes are now ubiquitous -- wherever there are travelers, there are web and email terminals! Most financial institutions are now "wired" to the Internet, allowing customers to access and manage their accounts over the web. This should make on-the-road financial management reasonably simple for us...we think.
We found the following modern-day services to be quite useful for dealing with our finances while abroad:
* American Express Card - Not used to pay for expenses, but for the great services it provides to its members. With an Amex card, we can go to any Amex office in the world and write a personal check to get traveler's checks at no charge. They also offer emergency travel assistance and card replacement. Don't leave home without it! Post-Trip Update: Our Amex card came in handy a few times over the course of the year. We highly recommend traveling with one.
* NetBank online checking account - Like a regular checking account (comes with an ATM card and everything), but with easy online access through any web browser, and (best of all) a nice interest rate paid on your money. Our trip funds are split between this account and one at Charles Schwab. Post-Trip Update: ATM machines are the best! You get a near-wholesale exchange rate on your money (something that's impossible when changing dollars or traveler's checks), and ATMs are literally everywhere. We never had any problems using our ATM cards at banks that were members of standard international networks like Star and Cirrus.
* Charles Schwab "Schwab One" brokerage account - provides us with check writing and VISA debit card capabilities against our trip's investment account. Plus, full online access to our account via any web browser.
* Traveler's checks - the best way to carry large amounts of money around safely. We carry about $2,000 in traveler's checks at a time, stopping by local American Express offices to replenish our supply as needed. They can be replaced at no charge if lost or stolen.
* Cash - A necessity, of course. We carry enough local currency to last several days on the road, changing traveler's checks as needed. We've also stashed a couple hundred US$ in strategic places (hidden in our clothing and baggage) in case the absolute worst happens and we need enough money to make it through a couple of days. Post-Trip Update: There is no substitute for good old U.S. greenbacks in most of the world. In places like Vietnam and Cambodia, the U.S. dollar is accepted on the street almost as often as the local currency. We brought several hundred dollars in U.S. notes with us to Vietnam because it was easier to use than traveler's checks, and ATM machines weren't very common yet. Everywhere else, ATMs were frequent and easy to use.
* eFax and eKno online accounts - These wonderful online services provide us with international fax and email capability, for FREE. eFax is an internet-based fax service which allows us to receive incoming faxes from our own personal US fax number via email. Lonely Planet's eKno service provides us with free web-based email so we can stay in touch with our friends and families. Put the two together, and we can deal with our international correspondence from the comfort of an Internet Cafe anywhere in the world!
Packing Up and Heading Out - the fun part!
Well, packing was kind of a bummer (when isn't it?). Otherwise, this was the time when we were within a month of our departure, so we were pretty excited even with all the last-minute preparation stuff slowly sucking up our time.
We left our jobs exactly one month before we left the country. We figured this would give us ample time to wrap up any final matters at home without having to juggle time at work as well. Actually, our first two weeks in the ranks of the officially unemployed was spent packing up the stuff in our rental house and moving it. That left us with two weeks free of any real responsibilities at home (or rather at somebody else's home -- as homeless and unemployed people, we stayed with our parents and friends the last two weeks).
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