Planning for long term travel can be the most overwhelming part of the entire trip but here’s a few things that you may want to do before you leave so that once you arrive in your destination you can sit back and relax or go full speed into your next adventure without worries.
I’d originally planned to write about what I needed to do to plan for backpacking around the world travel before I left but, well.. I got a bit overwhelmed! I’m glad I left it until now though since I’ve learned a few new tips from my mistakes.
I’ll probably update this as I learn more and think of other things I wish I’d taken care of before I left. If you see anything else that you’d add to this list, please share in the comments.
Check what vaccinations are required and / or suggested
Depending on the scope of your trip and your list of countries you plan to visit this list can be pretty big. I won’t give any advice which you should get and which you can safely skip, but make sure to go to your local travel clinic at least 2 months before you leave as some vaccinations require a few boosters to be effective.
Make sure your passport is up to date and has plenty of time left before it expires
Not only do you not want to have to go through the hassle of updating your passport while you’re on vacation, but some countries may not let you in if you have less than 6 months left before your passport becomes invalid.
Learn at least a few basic phrases in the language spoken at your destination
I didn’t do this and spent the first few weeks desperately scrambling to try to understand words and phrases like “how much?”, numbers, how to ask for directions and understand the answer. A few basics like those as well as greetings, ‘thank you’, ‘please’ etc will help immensely!
You may also want to get a translation dictionary, one with phrases is even better. Again, learn from my mistake, get this before you leave! Trying to buy a dictionary without knowing what it’s called, how to ask for it… or even being able to ask where a bookstore is makes the process rather difficult. ;) (Seriously, close your eyes and picture trying to mime those questions out, then imagine trying to decipher the answers… it took me a few days, and getting lost twice, to find it.)
Make a list of what you intend to pack
Try to do this early on since your list will probably change many times as you learn more about where you’re going and rethink how much you can carry. The thing that helped me a lot was to read lists of what other people packed and adjust it to my needs. Some things like a headlamp, universal drain stopper and a bandanna wouldn’t have been things I’d have thought of but all 3 have proved to be indispensable!
Buy any gear you need
Try doing this a bit ahead of time, but after you have a good idea what you’ll need. I ended up buying things that I left behind and scrambled at the last minute for other stuff I wanted to pack. Again, I’d recommend reading lists of what others took (especially if you’re going on a long trip) and then decide what will be important to you.
Test packing your gear
This step took me over 20 tries before I settled on my packing list. Most people (myself included) want to take anything that “might” be needed and tend to pack way too many clothes. One of the best pieces of advice I heard (but sadly ignored) is to take half the clothes you think you’ll need and twice the money. People wear clothing everywhere and the locals will know better than you how to dress for the weather / culture in their own country.
Make sure you can carry it all comfortably, and if you’re backpacking buy a sturdy, well fitted pack. Trust me, this makes all the difference in the world. I’m still looking for my perfect backpack.
Take care of mail, bills etc.
Depending on how long you intend to travel you might have to redirect mail to a friends place or get someone to collect it for you. Letting it pile up lets everyone know you aren’t home… which is probably now what you want to announce to potential thieves.
If you’ll be receiving utility bills while you’re gone, find a way to pay them. Either go paperless (if you’ll have access to the Internet) or see if you can set up a pre-payment option. If you’re leaving and selling everything, make sure that they’re all cancelled and that you have a way to pay those final bills which may arrive after your departure date.
Make copies of all important travel documents
Keep a copy with a trusted friend or family member, put a secured file on a usb drive and carry it in your money belt and / or send a copy to an online email account that is only used for this one purpose etc. You may even want to store photocopies somewhere in your bag (separate from the originals) . Trust me on this one, I know from experience on a trip a long time ago how hard it can be to prove you are who you say you are with no documents to back it up.
Get travellers insurance!
I’ve never been a big fan of the concept of insurance, but this is one that is important. If you get sick or injured or even have stuff stolen you’ll appreciate the peace of mind knowing that you will be taken care of. Look at a few different travel insurance packages and choose the one that works best for you. I went with World Nomads because the offer good coverage and seem to understand the backpacker mentality better than some of the other companies I looked at and I’d heard positive things about them from other travellers.
Set up a Skype account
This may not be needed for short trips, but for long journeys Skype is the best way I’ve found to keep in contact with friends and family at home. The video calls make it feel much more personal than telephone and it can really help with those homesick moments to actually see your friends smiles encouraging you to keep following your dream!
Set up Twitter and or a blog
Depending on your travel style and length of trip these can also be great ways to stay in touch and share your experiences.
Become a member at Couchsurfing
This is way easier to do from home and is the only way (that I saw) to become a verified Couchsurfer member. The benefits? Well a free place to stay with locals that can show you things that you may otherwise miss!
Do you have any other pre-trip tips for soon-to-be travellers? Are there things you wish you’d done before hand? Help us out and share your wisdom in the comments.