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So, you’re usually the person who goes on vacation for no more than a few weeks at a time. You’ve always loved to travel, but you’ve never had the time to fully dive in and immerse yourself for more than a month. Then, one day, you decide that it’s time to see the world. You know it’s going to be a whole other ball game.
Planning for a trip that’s longer than a few weeks is different from that of a short trip, and there is a longer list of things you’ll need to do to ensure that you’re happy and safe on the road. If you’re going on a long trip, having a sense of humor and being flexible will take you far, but no matter how much you plan, you might not account for everything. Being prepared can help make the little bumps in the road turn into happy accidents, rather than disasters.
If you’re traveling internationally and planning to visit many different countries, here’s my “better safe than sorry” checklist for things to do before you leave:
Make Sure Your Passport Is Ready for Long Term Travel
Most countries require that you have at least six months left on your passport in order to travel. If you’re close to that window and planning to travel for several months, renew your passport early to make sure it won’t expire while you’re out of the country.
Make sure the passport is in good condition. If it’s torn or damaged in any way, replace it. It probably won’t happen unless you encounter a really grouchy customs officer, but they are technically allowed to reject your passport’s validity if it’s damaged.
Make sure that you have one blank page for every country that you plan on visiting. As of 2016, you can no longer order extra pages for a US passport. If you don’t think you’ll have enough, renew the passport early.
Make at least two copies of your passport photo page, with the passport number and your name. If you happen to lose your passport while traveling abroad, you at least have some basic information to take to the nearest Consulate or Embassy.
If you’re a US resident, take the phone number for the US Department of State (1-888-407-4747) with you and give it to a friend/family member before you leave. If you lose your passport while traveling abroad, you or your family member can call to locate the nearest Consulate or Embassy.
Bring a plastic zipper bag for your passport. If you end up doing any water-related activities or just get stuck in the rain, a simple plastic bag can save the day.
Check Your Travel Visa Needs
Make sure you have the appropriate travel visas, if required, for each country to which you plan to travel. The US Dept of State can give you visa information on each country you plan to visit, as well as any travel warnings.
Make Sure You Have a Valid Photo ID for Travel
If you’re a US citizen, make sure your current driver’s license/state ID complies with the Federal REAL ID law. If it doesn’t, you can’t use it to board airplanes. Most states let you check online to see if you’re compliant.
Follow these Tips for Dealing with Money as a Digital Nomad
Don’t rely on cash. Foreign currency can be a challenge to anyone. In general, I try to travel with as little cash as possible. It’s something that can easily get stolen or lost, with no way to get it back. And any kind of currency you carry will be valid only in select places. If you carry around mostly credit cards, you can cancel them at any time in case they are separated from you. Before you leave home, make sure you have a credit card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee. If you’re going to be in the same place for an extended period, you might consider ordering currency from your bank before you leave. Whatever you do, avoid using a currency exchange service at an airport, as the rates tend to be less favorable. Also consider putting some of your currency into Traveler’s Checks.
Split up your money. However you choose to carry your money, don’t put it all in one place. I like figuring out how much cash I’ll need for the first activity of the day, and I put that in an easily accessible pocket, and I might stash a bit in another pocket or a different bag. I sometimes put the rest in an anti-theft money belt that I wear under my clothes. I don’t always wear a money belt; it depends on how safe I feel in the location, how isolated it is, how familiar I am with the place, and whether I’m traveling with other people. Be aware that if you wear a money belt and need to access the money in that belt, you’ll likely also need to access a bathroom, because you may have to partially disrobe in order to remove it.
Consider Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is medical insurance to cover you against illness, injury, trip cancellation, or lost items/bags while traveling abroad. Generally speaking, you should purchase travel insurance prior to your trip. While this is not required, there are different types of travel insurance based on need, number of people, and when/where you’re going, so it’s worth considering to make your trip less vulnerable to unknown factors. You could get sick or injured, have a flight canceled and end up stranded somewhere, have your laptop or credit cards stolen and need to be bailed out, etc. Personally, I’d rather not worry about things like that, and the possibility of incident goes up the longer you plan to travel. I’ve had a few pretty major incidents (a couple thefts, a motorbike accident, and a few missed flights) that have been taken care of by traveler’s insurance.
Think about How You’ll Communicate with Locals
It’s always good to learn a few helpful phrases in the native language of the countries you plan to visit. If you don’t trust your memory, I find it helpful to print useful phrases and your hotel address on a card in the native language of the appropriate country. Google Translate can help you with most basic communication. If you’re someone who butchers foreign languages, you can show the card to a taxi driver, concierge, or helpful local, pointing to the appropriate area. Keep questions simple and able to be answered via a head nod or a point of the finger. Things like “where is the police station, the hospital, the metro, the bathroom?” are helpful phrases.
Think about what you want to do and what you may need to ask. For example, I learned the hard way (2 hours of struggle in Rome), that it’s a good idea to know how to say “day pass.” I wanted a day-pass for the Metro system, and no amount of sign language or charades was working. How can you avoid a situation like this? Think about the activities you plan to do for the day, and then jot down translations for vocabulary you’re likely to need for that day.
Learn what “left” and “right” are, as well as “yes/no.” I know you’re thinking that there’s an app for that, and you’re right: there are several. I don’t want to be at the mercy of a dodgy mobile battery or Wi-Fi/network connection, so I always take hard copies of whatever I can, but installing a good translate app on your phone or tablet as a backup is never a bad idea.
Think about How You’ll Communicate with Friends and Family
Depending on how long you plan on being away, you have a few options. You can always go the old-fashioned postcard route. And let’s face it, who doesn’t love getting a postcard from a foreign land? How charming. But, if you really want to keep your family and friends abreast of your travels, you can share your story with them via a daily diary/travel blog. Just set up the site/URL before you leave and make sure everyone you want to update has it. Then they can periodically check in and see what you’re up to, and it’s a great way to document your memories for yourself. If you have the data or WI-FI connection to do it, you can also share via social media like Facebook or Instagram. Before I started this site to document my travels (and all of the useful tips I’ve learned while traveling), I had a humble little Wordpress site that I only shared with my close family and friends.
If talking to your loved ones (i.e. hearing their voices) is what you want, and you don’t want to spring for an international calling plan, you can use a free service like Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime whenever you have access to WiFi.
Be mindful of how much technology you bring. With all the options these days, most people can get by with one or two items. Consider if you need a mobile phone and a tablet or can you get by with just one? Tablets are a great option for traveling. They’re light, they hold a charge for a long time, and they can double as a phone or e-reader. Remember that whatever tech you bring, you also need to bring all the chargers, which takes up room and adds weight. Whatever you choose, make sure that everything you will need abroad is installed, updated, and working before you leave. We all know the horrors of having to try to surf the web or download something on a slow connection. It’s painful on a good day, and tech should not bring your trip down; it should make it easier! With that in mind, if you can bring a phone and just one other device to satisfy all of your other tech needs, here are some laptops for travel that you should consider.
Put your chargers in a plastic zipper bag. Do the same for your technology if possible. It will protect against accidental spills or a small downpour.
Keep Records of Your Itinerary
If you are booking anything ahead of time, such as a car, hotel, or a tour, take multiple hard copies of your reservations with you. As with anything else, it’s also a good idea to make sure a friend/family member has the same itinerary, flights, etc. If you’re booking things as you go, and you’re able to print your confirmations, do it. I know we all get email receipts, but you don’t want a dead mobile phone battery bringing everything to a screeching halt.
Research How to Get Around
Do a little bit of research on some guide books. If you’re staying in one country, you may need more than one guide book depending on your interests. If you plan on flitting around to multiple places, look for a guide book that covers a region. These books can be huge, so you need to keep them to a minimum, but never go without one. They usually have a few maps, helpful phrases, places to eat, attractions, etc. If you do buy a guide book, peruse it before your trip and familiarize yourself with it. You don’t want to spend your European vacation looking up things in an index. You want to navigate that book like a pro and see the world!
If you’re going to a large city, consider purchasing a laminated mapif you don’t want to pull your phone out in an unfamiliar place. They’re waterproof and no bigger than a regular map; they will have the popular sites, and it’s easier than trying to navigate a conversation with a helpful stranger if you don’t speak the language.
There’s so much to research, plan, and do before a long trip… before you ever leave home! It’s ideal to start on this checklist at least a couple months before your long round the world trip, so that you’re not scrambling to get things in order right before you go. Hopefully you can put these things into place early, so that you can spend the last remaining time before your trip saying goodbye to loved ones and home, and getting amped up for your big trip!
Who Wrote This?
I’m Renee Hyde and I’ve been a digital nomad freelance writer since 2012. So far I’ve visited 60+ countries and counting! On this blog I share tips about dreamy travel destinations, travel hacks, ways to work remotely and travel, and advice for living your best nomadic life!