10 Steps to Take Before Committing to Extensive Travel
Preparations Precautions and Priorities
Have you ever felt like life is too short not to pursue your dreams? Have you ever wanted to quit your job and travel the world for an extended period of time rather than watch life pass you by? It's something that can be attained through budgeting, commitment, preparation and precautionary measures. In this post I detail the 10 steps that are important for one to take to pursue their dream of backpacking the world. Enjoy.
Making the decision to quit your job and travel extensively isn’t an easy one, but it's one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It takes confidence, courage and cojones.
In order to do this, you have to have all of your ducks in a row.
To start, you need to save up a decent sum of money. You have to prepare yourself mentally for a journey of such magnitude, as well as obtain the tools that make life easier during the expedition.
Based off of my experiences, these are the practical and necessary steps you need to take in order to make this goal a reality.
1. Get a Mileage or Rewards Card
This is extremely important because it can save you a ton of money!
Less money spent on flights means more funds available for traveling and experiences, which is the ultimate goal right?
Get a mileage card as far in advance as possible; preferably as soon as you decide you plan to travel or even before. Start paying for everything you can on your credit card.
Every purchase and expense that will accept a Visa credit card as a form of payment (rent, food, gas, bills, etc) is paid with my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card.
The more miles you have, the less you have to spend on airline tickets, which are typically one’s largest expenses when traveling internationally.
There are a number of different mileage cards available and you can look over the terms of those offered to see which one might benefit you most.
Look at mileage cards that don't charge you a fee when doing international transactions, assuming you’ll be traveling internationally. Both the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card and the BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card offer this service.
Using a mileage/reward card for all expenses requires financial responsibility and self-control. Think of it as your bank account and a debit card.
Leave your money in a checking account throughout the month and make purchases on your mileage card but be conscious of the balance. Don't exceed the amount of money that you have available in your checking account.
Knowing how much money you have in your account and how much you’ve spent on your credit card at all times with the ability to pay it off each month is the key to success.
You only are allocated the miles when the balance is paid, so if you’re not paying it off each month you’re not realizing those miles.
2. Eliminate Debt and Reduce Expenses
This is optional and somewhat subjective depending on one’s personal situation, but it holds true for most people.
Unless you've recently won the lottery, are a trust fund baby or have recently inherited a bunch of money, you’ll probably need to be conscious of how much money you’ll be spending while you’re away.
Before traveling I paid off all of my debt; car payments, student loans, housing expenses etc. I made sure that I owned my cell phone outright and was no longer making payments on it (the actual phone, not the cell service).
This gives you the ability to have an unlocked phone, which is extremely important. I’ll cover the reasoning behind this later on in this blog post.
By whittling down my expenses and debts I was able to travel abroad while having only minimal expenses to pay back home during my travels; health and life insurances and cell phone service.
3. Research Destinations of Interest
Before preparing for your journey you’ll need to know what clothes and gear to bring. Research the climate of the area(s) you plan to travel to and familiarize yourself with the weather you’re likely to experience during that time of year.
Look at maps of the cities you’ll visit to find centralized and convenient areas to get around.
Research some of the destinations and attractions that you may want to visit and search for adequate lodging near those places, or lodging that is conveniently located to mass transportation like bus and metro systems.
It makes getting around affordable and easy and will cause you much less stress once you arrive to your destination.
Take a look at other traveler’s reviews of places that you plan to visit to see how safe the area is.
This offers tips of which areas to avoid, what customs you should be aware of that may differ from your own, what type of clothing to wear so that you fit in as best you can, and how to carry yourself while visiting this destination.
It’s always best to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb and making yourself an easy target.
One thing I always tell people is to walk around in foreign countries with purpose, confidence and a sense of direction.
If you look like an obvious tourist who has no idea where they’re going, constantly pulling out a map to figure out which street to take next or someone who is walking around in Lala Land you are much more likely to experience trouble.
Another extremely important aspect to keep in mind is the language of the country that you plan to visit.
It’s not necessary to be able to fluently speak the language, but getting familiar with a few key words can make your visit much more pleasant. Knowing common customary phrases like Hello, Goodbye, Please and Thank You goes a long way.
The locals will appreciate you knowing at least a few words of their language and you should use these words when greeting someone or saying farewell rather than using your native tongue.
Other words and phrases that can be easily memorized and come in handy when trying to get around a foreign country are: Where, When, How Much, Here, There, Left, Right, Close, Far, North, South, East and West.
If you learn these words you can ask someone for directions and know which direction they are telling you to go. They are invaluable to a foreign traveler.
4. Download Apps
Having the right applications installed on your phone prior to arriving to another country makes your experience much easier by allowing you to communicate with others, find your way around town, and provide entertainment during your travels.
If you’re planning travel to another continent and don’t want to pay an astronomically high amount for an international travel plan, these will come in extremely handy.
In most places you’ll not have internet service on your cell phone and the only way you can connect to the internet will be when Wifi is available (hotels, some bars/restaurants etc).
In this communication age we take for granted how connected we are to our mobile devices. When unable to access the internet it can leave you feeling completely lost and out of touch. The plus side of this is that with a smart phone or tablet everything you need can be installed and accessed on one device.
It’s a good idea to have two devices with you and to install all of the apps on each, as well as to back them up to the cloud frequently. This way, if one gets lost, stolen or broken you still have a second device to stay connected to the world.
I learned this the hard way when my phone was stolen in Argentina and I suffered greatly.
The apps and services indicated below can be accessed through the app store or by simply clicking on the icons provided. I recommend downloading those that are applicable to ease your journey abroad.
WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Skype allow for you to communicate via internet.
WhatsApp - A web based communication app that allows for messages to be sent via internet rather than via SMS. It's the go-to app in most other countries for texting, whereas in the US we tend to send SMS messages.
Facebook Messenger - Allows you to send web based messages to people you meet along the way or those back home.
Skype - Convenient for having video chats with friends and loved ones back home when connected to Wifi.
Offline Map Apps
Install an offline map of the area or city you plan to travel to for access on the go.
Maps.me and Google Maps - Allow for one to download a map of the city/area they are traveling to so that they can look up directions, destinations etc without having to use the internet. Once an area is downloaded it stays on your phone until you decide to delete it.
Citymapper - Allows you to plan transportation through mass transit in your destinations.
Install a dictionary or translator app of the language(s) spoken in the countries you plan to visit.
SpanishDict - A great resource for traveling in Spanish speaking countries, especially with the differences in regional dialects and words that may be unfamiliar to you.
Google Translate - An offline translator applicagtion for Android mobile devices.
iTranslate - An offline translator application for Apple mobile devices.
Lodging and Travel Guide Apps
Know the best places to stay and what there is to do in the places that you visit.
Hostelworld - The premier website for finding affordable lodging. Each hostel has photos, prices, a list of amenities and services, a map, and reviews of the locations you're researching. Plus, staying at hostels while backpacking is what it's all about and how you meet interesting new people!
Airbnb - Perhaps you're a little worn out on hostels and are wanting a break from the crowds? Or, maybe you've met a great group of people with whom you'd like to travel to a certain destination and want for everyone to share the costs of lodging? Airbnb is everywhere. Download the app onto your phone and look for bookings in your area.
Lonely Planet - Also available in a book but heavier to carry. The Lonely Planet is a destination guide for virtually everywhere in the world. It gives recommendations on restaurants, nightlife, hotels and hostels, entertainment, expeditions and much more.
Set up your offline entertainment to listen to music, watch movies, play games or read while abroad.
iTunes - So you can listen to music offline and download games in the app store while traveling using your Apple mobile device.
Google Play - Music and games are available for download to your Android device that can be used offline.
Kindle - It's much less bulky to carry a tablet than a bunch of books in your luggage. For those that enjoy reading on the road Kindle is the way to go.
5. Unlock Your Cell Phone
This will make life much easier when in a country that does not offer cell service with your current cell phone provider. Having an unlocked phone means you're free to use a SIM card from any wireless service provider, regardless of where you are.
This means you get data and internet usage!
Once you arrive to a foreign country you can purchase a SIM card from one of their wireless providers and insert it into your phone. The SIM cards are fairly affordable, depending on how much data usage you’d like.
Once you’ve got a SIM card with data you can browse the internet on your cell phone even while not connected to Wifi, which can be invaluable in many situations. Wifi is not as commonly offered as it is in North America, and you often have to connect to an insecure connection and need to be conscious of what type of activity you’re doing.
If you don't have an unlocked phone it may require you to spend some money upfront. For those traveling on a budget without spare cash to burn it may not be an option that makes sense as it will require a financial investment.
However, even if your phone is locked with a provider and you're slowly paying it off over time there is a way out.
Go to your cell phone provider and ask them how much is owed on the phone itself. If you can comfortably cover that amount, do it. Then tell them you’d like to unlock your phone.
Once you’ve unlocked the phone you can use a SIM card from any country's cell providers and you'll never have to be without internet access.
Here is an informative link on how to unlock your phone from North American cell phone providers.
6. Gear Up: Travel Lightly and Loosely
Now that you know where you plan to go and you’ve got all of your bases covered with electronics and communication devices it’s time to pack your travel gear.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to travel lightly and comfortably. The less you have to lug around with you the easier it is to move yourself.
For extended travel I suggest two backpacks; one large backpack to pack your clothing and toiletries and another small backpack to carry electronics, cameras, entertainment etc.
While taking flights, busses, trains and any other means of transportation, keep that small backpack with your most valuable items next to you at all times.
If your larger backpack with your clothing were to get lost or stolen, you can inexpensively replace those items as you go. If your backpack containing your laptop, tablet, camera, credit cards or travel documents were to go missing it would ruin your day, if not your entire trip.
Minimize the amount of clothes that you bring.
Once you think you’re probably not bringing enough, look over your stuff again and remove anything you’re not certain you’ll need.
For my 6 month journey through South America and Europe I brought the following clothing items:
2 pairs of denim jeans
3 pairs of shorts
2 sweatshirts/heavier shirts
5 pairs of underwear
5 pairs of socks
1 pair of flip flops
1 pair of comfortable walking shoes
1 light jacket
1 rain jacket
1 stocking cap
1 ball cap
Notice, there are no dress up clothes. You’re not going to need them, so don’t even think about it.
I never wore the second pair of jeans and I think I only wore the first pair for a few nights when I was in Cusco, Peru, high up in the mountains. I feel I could have gotten away with less.
One travels the world to satisfy a quest for knowledge and adventure, not to impress anyone. If the people you meet along the way aren’t impressed by your independent, adventurous spirit then you’re meeting the wrong people.
If they don’t have a laundry service where you’re staying there are laundry mats near every street corner that are inexpensive (usually less expensive than at a hostel or hotel) and quick to get your clothes washed, dried and folded.
If you're hanging out with fellow backpackers everyone is on the same page and you’ll not be judged if they see you wearing the same shirt twice in a week (or two days in a row for that matter). It’s part of the journey.
I encourage good hygiene and cleanliness (and your fellow travels will appreciate it as well) but it’s easy to keep your clothing clean and if there’s anything you feel you need that you didn’t bring you can buy it along the way.
Plus, you’ll probably see so many cool clothes and souvenirs that you could never find back home and you’ll want to leave some extra space in your bag to bring them home.
It’s not uncommon to see travelers throwing clothing away that they brought from home in order to make space for the more exotic clothing that is available on their journey.
Depending on the reason for your travel, you may want to bring certain electronic items with you so that you can document your journey.
These are the items that I brought during my journey:
- MacBook Pro Laptop - Lightweight and portable. Easy use on the go.
- iPhone 6s - Perfect for sending iMessages and FaceTime, staying in contact with fellow travelers using What'sApp, listening to music, playing games, taking pictures, and accessing offline map applications etc.
- iPad mini - Perfect for playing games, using Kindle app, FaceTime etc.
- Canon G5X Digital Camera - Takes high quality digital photos for an amateur photographer. Point and shoot. Easy to carry and lightweight with little bulk.
- WD My Passport for Mac Portable External Hard Drive - To store your photos and videos and back them up in case something happens to your laptop. Also allows you to free up space on your laptop by storing media on external hard drive.
- Insignia Universal Travel Adapter - Works no matter where you are, on every continent, with all types of sockets.
- Black Diamond Head Lamp - Perfect for camping or staying in rural areas where there is little light, with multiple brightness settings and red light capability.
There are a few security items that I strongly recommend for you to bring. They give you some peace of mind knowing that it’s that much harder to have your things stolen.
You may be traveling to a place where the local population sees your belongings as a means to earning a week’s income, or even more.
It’s also smart to be weary of fellow travelers. Most backpackers are good-natured and trustworthy but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
The following are the items that worked well for me to keep my belongings safe and give me peace of mind that they were safe.
- Lewis N Clark RFID Hidden Travel Wallet - Easily concealed by tucking inside your pants and attaching to your belt loop and is a deterrent from getting pick pocketed.
- Lewis N Clark Combination Padlock - To use on lockers so you easily access your belongings.
- Keyed Padlock - I secure my most valuable possessions by placing them inside my backpack and then put a second lock on the zippers so that one cannot get inside the backpack, unless they were to cut it open with a knife or sharp object.
- An extra wallet - Carry a second wallet other than your hidden travel wallet, in case something bad happens. Carry a minimal amount of cash in this second wallet, possibly an old expired ID (not your passport), and not much else. If you get mugged you give them this wallet and lose nothing other than a small amount of cash and a useless ID card.
This gear worked very well for me. I used almost everything that I brought save for a few pieces of clothing and I was able to travel fairly lightly, comfortably, and maneuver around without too much effort.
7. Stay Healthy, Stay Happy
Prior to embarking on an extended international trip there are a few preparations to take to ensure you stay healthy during your travels. Nothing will kill your buzz and shorten your trip like an unforeseen health issue, and you want to make sure that you return home in good health as well.
Vaccinations - It’s important to look at what vaccines are recommended for the areas that you plan to visit, especially if you plan to visit a developing country. The CDC website can show you what vaccinations you should look into. CLICK HERE to see what vaccinations you should get prior to reaching your destination.
Antibiotics - Depending on where you are planning to travel you may want to consult your physician to see if he/she recommends that you carry some antibiotics with you. While traveling through developing countries there is always a slight risk of contracting Traveler’s Diarrhea, otherwise known as Montezuma’s Revenge or Delhi Belly.
I know from experience how excruciating this can be. It leaves one completely disabled from being able to do anything, usually for a few days. I had a very specific plan to visit a certain place near Cusco and had made the reservations for the expedition, but contracted Traveler’s Diarrhea the day before and was confined to a private room with a toilet for the next 48 hours.
It makes you weak, exhausted and deflated. If you can obtain a prescription from your doctor that will address any potential bout with traveler’s diarrhea prior to your departure I would highly recommend doing so. It may save you from missing out on something that you are completely stoked about doing.
Travel Insurance - Travel insurance can come in very handy in the event that you get injured, sick or have to cancel a trip for some unseen reason. There are a number of companies that offer traveler’s insurance, and you can compare quotes and coverages by doing a quick google search of traveler’s insurance.
I never used it but came across a few people during my travels that had it and ended up having to use it. Things worked out well for them, and if they’d not have had it they would have had to return home.
I slipped off of a balcony one wet night while out in the Amazon Jungle and landed very awkwardly. My left knee and lower back were in substantial pain for the next week. Thankfully I healed and it wasn’t an emergency that required medical care. If it had been, a traveler’s insurance policy would have been vital.
OTC Medicines - Most over the counter medicines that you can get in your home country will be available internationally, but I always prefer to bring the necessities with me from home just in case trouble arises.
Some type of OTC pain killer (Tylenol, Aspiring, Advil, Ibuprofen), Pepto Bismol or another type of anti-diarrhetic, Tums, vitamins, or generally anything that can be easily carried that may come in handy. Once again, it’s better to be with than without should any unforeseen issues arise.
8. Notify Family & Friends of Plans
Make sure that someone you know and trust knows of your travel plans; both destinations and general dates that you plan to be in those places.
If you know the name of the hotels/hostels that you plan to stay, you can inform them as well.
Take a good picture of your passport and send it to them so that they have it on file in the event yours gets lost.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry and you want people to have an idea of where you should be when traveling internationally.
9. Long Hair, Don't Care: Let Your Hair Down
The phrase “Long Hair, Don’t Care” originated in the late 60s and 70s.
Hippies started to wear their hair longer to make a statement against “the man” and the older generations who tended to conform to old traditions and maintain a close-minded view of the world. It was a sign of rebellion for this new, more open-minded generation who advocated thinking for one’s self, uniqueness and individuality.
I’m not suggesting that all who plan to backpack and travel the world go without hair cuts, but I definitely suggest living your life by that motto.
Be confident in yourself and don't worry about what others think of you.
Maintain an open mind and step outside your comfort zone.
Be open to new experiences and viewpoints that you’ve never heard before.
It’s a great way to learn about other cultures and above all, to make new friends. Nobody wants to befriend a person who thinks that their way is the best or only way, and it will make for a lonely and boring time.
While I traveled internationally I learned almost equally about the customs and cultures of my fellow international travelers as I did about the area which I was visiting.
I made friends who will surely be lifelong friends of mine, and I now have the opportunity to visit them back in their home countries.
There is nothing more valuable than knowledge, and by opening your mind and approaching the world as if you were a sponge you’ll learn more about the planet and about yourself than you ever imagined possible.
Let that hair down!
10. Bring Your “A” Game
Keeping a positive attitude while traveling internationally is of utmost importance.
Some people are natural-born social butterflies, others have some tendencies to be socially awkward at times, myself included.
When you’re on the road and running into new people all of the time you need to bring your A Game and let those tendencies go.
Many of the people you meet you may only be around for a couple of days, though if you are traveling for a long extent of time its quite possible that you’ll run into them at a later time in a different city or even a different country.
Being able to say “F it!” and mingle will make you feel much less isolated.
Get out there and talk to people. Most of the time people will want to meet you, learn about where you’re from and what you’ve done, and become friends.
Approach each situation with confidence and curiosity.
If someone doesn't mesh with you and you don’t enjoy one another’s company, who cares?
There are billions of people on this planet and not all of us will get along. But we can all respect one another and if you approach every situation with an open heart, a sense of confidence and curiosity, you’ll be amazed at how much love there is on this beautiful spinning orb which we inhabit.
Bring that A Game and put yourself out there!
It's the best thing you can do for yourself.