Once you’ve taken the step of deciding to travel long-term, it can be pretty easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all. If you’re anything like me though, it won’t be long before it hits you how much stuff you actually need to organise before you go. If this sounds like you then look no further… fortunately I’ve got you covered with the guide below!
6 months – 1 Year Before
Decide what kind of trip you’ll be taking:
Where do you want to go? How long will you be travelling for? Will you be visiting many countries or just a few? Will you be travelling alone or with a friend? Will you be doing it in luxury style or on a budget? Does your trip have a particular purpose? E.g. to volunteer, find work, or even just eat! The opportunities are endless and only you can answer these questions. However, once you work out what it is you want you will find it a lot easier to plan the rest of your trip.
The next step is to research the destinations you want to go to and, if it suits you, put together a rough itinerary. Think about things such as the climate in your destinations and when the best time of the year is to visit. Researching is the fun part – reading travel guides, and visiting websites, blogs and forums, as well as Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest – to form a list of all the things you might want to see and do. For inspiration, check out my Travel Bucket List.
Figure out your employment options:
For me the choice was simple – after going to New York for my internship at the UN I no longer had a job to come back to in Australia, so I decided to pick up short-term contract work before going on my world trip. For others, however, a whole range of options available are available. If you want to keep your current job then check with your employer to see if you can take a leave of absence. Alternatively, your work may even let you work freelance while you’re on the road. If you do decide to quit then try to have a plan in place, either for returning to work after your trip or for making money while you travel. See this post for ideas on how to make some money on the road.
This is probably the least fun part of preparing for your trip, but ultimately one of the most important. First, work out the rough total cost of your trip (it never hurts to overestimate!) and then create a monthly budget based on how much you need to save. See my post on How to Save for Long-term Travel for tips on how to reach your savings target even faster.
Figure out your living situation:
If you’re travelling long-term you will need to make arrangements for your current accommodation. Tom and I were renting our apartment and have no immediate plans to return to Melbourne, so it made sense for us to simply end our lease agreement. If you own a property you may want to look into renting it out while you’re gone or finding a house sitter to look after it. Consider renting out your accommodation furnished as this will save you the hassle of storing and moving your belongings.
Learn the language:
Are you travelling to a particular region or country that speaks a different language? If you are, you may want to take some language classes or at least start practicing the basics of the language online. When I initially started planning my trip I was only going to be visiting South and Central America, so I took Spanish classes for a year. A number of useful online tools and mobile apps are also available, such as Duolingo, which actually even make learning a new language fun.
3 – 6 Months Before
Get your passport(s) sorted:
Get a passport if you don’t already have one and, if you do, then check that it’s valid for the duration of your trip. Also keep in mind that many countries do not let people in whose passports have less than 6 months remaining. If you have dual citizenship like I do and you think you’ll be using a secondary passport then make sure this is in order as well.
Book your flights:
Once you have an idea of your rough ravel dates then keep an eye out for a cheap deals on flights. According to conventional wisdom (and multiple studies) the best time to get a good deal on cheap flights is 11-12 weeks beforehand for international flights and 6 weeks beforehand for domestic flights. Check out my guide to finding cheap flights.
Finalise a rough travel itinerary:
If you are travelling long-term, you probably don’t want to plan every last detail of your trip ahead of time. However, by now you should probably have a good idea of where you will be going. Write out a rough itinerary of the places and things you want to do first, how long you intend to stay in each location, and how you will get to your next destination. For Tom and I, this step was vital because we had to plan out the first three months in order for our visas to be granted.
Purchase travel insurance:
Now that you have a rough travel itinerary you should book your travel insurance. This way, you will be covered right from the start if a problem arises, e.g. if a family member becomes ill and you need to cancel or postpone your trip, or a volcano erupts at your destination, requiring you to change your plans. See my post for advice on choosing the right insurance for your trip.
Start selling your stuff:
If you have decided to give up your accommodation like Tom and I did then it pays (literally) to start selling off your belongings earlier rather than later. If you’re anything like us then you will have a lot of stuff lying around that you don’t use or forgot that you even owned! Sell these items off first as they won’t be missed. The earlier you start to advertise them on sites like Gumtree, Craig’s List and eBay, the more likely you are to get a good price because you won’t be forced to sell your items out of desperation. Listing items early meant that Tom and I were able to get twice as much for some items as we would have received otherwise. Together, we ultimately made $8720 from selling more than 100 items (both big and small). Think of all the places that money could take you!!!
Start researching what to take with you:
It may seem a little premature to start thinking about what stuff to take travelling with you, but if you start early then you can pick up these items when they’re on sale and progressively replace your old items with new, more travel appropriate things. I gradually replaced items that I knew I couldn’t take with me overseas, such as my big wool coat, which I traded in for a squishable puffer / down jacket. Just don’t go overboard and buy too many travel accessories, because I guarantee you it will not all fit in your bag! Instead, learn from my mistakes and visit my post on what to pack.
3 Months Before
Organise your visas:
This step will vary in difficulty depending on where you are from and where you are planning to go. Tom and I are both fortunate enough to have dual citizenship in countries with some of the best ranked passports in the world, meaning that often we don’t even need to apply for visas or will be granted them without too much hassle. However, some of the first countries on our list were China, Mongolia and Russia, which has a notoriously cumbersome visa registration process. It also goes without explanation that the more visas you need the earlier you should start applying. We started applying for ours 3 months ahead of our trip and only just got them back in time (blame Russia)! Read this blog post for my cheat’s guide to organising a Russian visa.
Buy your backpack / luggage:
Now is a great time to buy your backpack or luggage for your trip. Consider various factors, such as how big or small you want it to be and whether you want a backpack, rolling luggage, or some kind of hybrid. If you’re buying a backpack then look for features like an internal support frame, lightweight design, lumbar back support, padded hip belt and shoulder straps, lockable zippers, water resistant material, multiple compartments. You also ideally want a pack that can open from the front to give you easy access to your belongings. Many backpacks also come with an attachable day pack, which is a nice little addition.
When choosing a backpack make sure you try it on in store with weight in it first to get a good feel. Also get the shop assistant to fit it to your body. When you get home put your stuff in the pack and have a walk around. Keep your receipt so that if it doesn’t feel right you can still return it.
Consider what electronic gear you want to take:
There are many options available when it comes to choosing what electronics to take with you. Everyone is different – some people want to work while on the road, while others may choose to do away with these devices completely! Many will probably deem the combination of electronics that I’m taking with me excessive… I have a small (but light!) laptop (1kg) so that I can write this blog, a Kindle PaperWhite (213 grams) for reading, a Samsung 8 inch note tablet (336 grams) for reading guidebooks because I find these difficult to read these on a Kindle, my iPhone 5 (112 grams), and an 8GB 6th gen iPod nano (21 grams). Although this may be a lot of stuff, it all serves a different purpose and the combined weight is less than 2kg. Also, just try taking any one of these items away from me. Go on… I dare you!
Sort out your overseas money matters:
Before you go overseas it’s important to get all your money matters in order. In particular, you want to sort out what credit, debit, and/or travel money cards you want to take with you. You also want to look into overseas ATM fees and how you can get these as low as possible. I researched the best option for Australian residents and ended up going with a credit / debit card combo. My credit card is a 28 Degrees MasterCard that does not charge for foreign transactions. Although this card is great for buying goods and services outright, if I use it to withdraw cash from an ATM I am charged a 3% fee. Over time this adds up, which is why I use my Citibank Plus debit card for overseas cash withdrawals. With this card I don’t pay any fees, except maybe the $1-$2 that banks you’re not a customer of will charge you for using their ATM. Ultimately, choosing the right money cards can save you hundreds (more?) in bank fees over the course of your trip.
Find out if you need an international driver’s license:
Do you plan to do any driving while you’re away? If so then look into the legal requirements for where you’re going and apply for an international driver’s license. It certainly can’t hurt to get one, right? Check with the Embassy of the country you plan to visit or reside in to find specific information about driver’s license requirements.
Apply for discount cards:
If you are eligible then get your hands on discount cards, such as student, youth, or senior cards. These could help you save a lot of money on your travels.
2 Months Before
Get all your health checkups:
If you’re going away for a long time it is important to make sure that you’re in top shape. For this reason, about 2 months out from your trip you should book appointments with your doctor, dentist, optometrist, or any other relevant professional. I personally learnt this lesson the hard way by leaving it until too late to contact my dentist. About 6 weeks before my trip was due to start I found out I needed a root canal. In addition to being very costly, this procedure also takes time and although I got the root canal, there wasn’t enough time to get it restored properly with a crown.
Get your travel vaccinations:
Since you’re going to the doctor anyway then now is also the perfect time to consult with him or her regarding what vaccinations to get for your trip. It is important to allow a couple of months for this as some vaccinations take time to take effect (e.g. typhoid) and others require a course of injections (e.g. rabies). Common travel vaccinations include Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Diptheria, Polio and Yellow Fever. While you’re at it, ask your doctor if you need any other vaccinations, such as for the flu, meningitis, measles, tetanus, or whooping cough. Visit the CDC website for further information.
Hand in your notice to your landlord if you rent:
The amount of notice actually required will vary from person to person, but make sure you don’t miss any deadlines or you could be stuck paying an extra month in rent!
Set cancellation dates for your contracts:
With the last day of your tenancy in mind, contact all of your utility providers (electricity, gas, landline, mobile, internet, etc.) to set a cancellation date for your contracts. The earlier you can give them a cancellation date the better so that you don’t get stung with additional fees. Depending on the type of contracts you may have to pay some exit fees.
Write a packing list:
Put together a packing list in order to plan what you will need to take with you. Plenty of these can be found online to give you an idea of what to include. Check out my packing list here.
Shop for appropriate travel gear:
After writing up your packing list you should now have a good idea what you still need to buy before you go. If you do this now then you still have time to find some great deals online.
Start eating all the food in your house:
Again, this may seem early, but you’ll be surprised how long it takes you to eat everything in your pantry, fridge and freezer. In the last couple of months before our trip Tom and I spent minimal money on shopping (about $25 a week each), only buying food to supplement what we already had. It was quite fun eating everything we had and cooking up all sorts of food combinations. We made some yummy things we wouldn’t have made otherwise, such as lemon and chia seed pancakes and quinoa breakfast bars. If you don’t have all the ingredients for a recipe, try subbing what you can with items that are already in your pantry.
1 Month Before
Give notice to your employer if you are leaving your job:
Depending on your job you may not need to provide a month’s notice to tell your employer that you are leaving. Even still, it is common courtesy to let your them know sooner rather than later that you will be leaving to give them time to find a suitable replacement.
Set up a forwarding address for your mail:
Contact the Post Office to organise for your mail to be forwarded to a friend or family member or a P.O. Box in your name.
Close any unnecessary accounts:
Cancel or suspend any bank accounts, credit cards, subscriptions, etc. that you don’t plan to use while travelling. You don’t want to be liable accounts that you are no longer need.
Sign up for online banking:
If you don’t already have online accounts set up for your banking then do this now. Also opt to get your bank statements sent to you via email instead of post if this is an option.
Confirm your accommodation:
Try to lock down your hotels or hostels for the first couple of weeks of your trip. If you will be Couchsurfing then start contacting hosts now to allow enough time to find somewhere suitable to stay.
Get your cellphone sorted:
Research what options are available for you to keep in touch with friends and family while on the road. Will you use call cards, buy a new sim card in each country, use global roaming (be warned that this option is usually VERY expensive), or simply hook up to free WiFi whenever you can? Also look into getting your phone unlocked if it’s not already.
Order your Eurail ticket if needed:
If you’re planning on getting a Eurail ticket then you must get this sent to your country of residence so book it now to ensure it gets to you in time. Tom and I booked our tickets as late as possible since it will be a while before we get to Europe and the passes must be validated within 6 months of purchase.
Break in your hiking boots:
If you’re taking hiking (or any other) boots with you then start to break them in now. I bought a great pair of Timbalands that took a couple of weeks to break in. They are great now but initially my poor little footsies were covered in painful blisters.
2 Weeks Before
Notify your banks of your travel plans:
Contact your bank to let them know that you will be travelling. Tell them what countries you expect to visit and roughly how long you expect to be away. If you don’t do this your bank will probably mark any overseas spending as suspicious and put a hold on your card. Not being able to access any of your money is the last thing you want when you’re in a foreign country!
Scan any important documents:
Scan any important documents you have, such as your passport, driver’s license, and any visas, before you go. You can either email these to yourself or store them in the cloud so that you can access them from wherever. For easy scanning on the go I use a great mobile app called ScanBot, which allows me to take photos of documents, receipts, etc. on my phone, reformat them if I want, and then upload them to my DropBox or other cloud storage as soon as I get access to WiFi.
Set up cloud storage accounts:
Set up cloud storage accounts to upload photos and anything else that might be useful on your trip, e.g. itineraries, lists of things you want to see and do, etc. I also keep other documents in cloud storage that might come in handy, such as my CV, draft cover letters, and scans of my qualifications. You never know when you might need these! For storing documents I recommend either DropBox or Google Drive. For storing photos I recommend Google Photos, which provides unlimited photo storage for free (albeit at a reduced image size) and Flickr, which provides you with 1TB of free storage. If you use these sites then check the privacy settings are as you want them and that your photos aren’t all publicly available.
Sell your remaining belongings / put your stuff into storage:
Either live minimally until you leave or move in with a friend or relative for the remaining time. Pretend you’re camping and just have fun with it!
If you take any medication then make sure you have enough to take with you. Visit your doctor for a new prescription if you think you might run out.
Organise your media:
To reduce the hassle organise your media files now, e.g. music, movies and TV shows to watch, apps on your phone. See also my list of the most useful apps for travel.
Write down a list of any important information:
For example, important addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and reference / confirmation numbers for flights, accommodation, and train ickets.
1 Week Before
Lay out what you’ll be taking and take a photo of all your items together for insurance purposes. If you’re backpacking, load everything into your pack and start walking around with it each day to get used to the weight. If it’s too heavy (i.e. 25% or more of your bodyweight) you may have to consider leaving some of your items behind. If you are taking a suitcase or other kind of bag, then make sure you can lift it easily and that it has rollers for easy transporting.
Back up your electronic devices:
Back up your laptop, tablet, phone, etc. to an external hard drive so that this information will not be lost if these items get lost or stolen.
Say goodbye (or so long) to all your friends / throw a farewell party:
Catch up with anyone you want to see before you go. You never know when you might see them again!
The Day You Leave
Check you have everything with you:
Passport, ticket, wallet, keys… Don’t leave anything behind!
Get to the airport early:
Get to the airport nice and early to avoid rushing through check-in, immigration and security in a whirlwind of panic. Check beforehand what time your airline requires you to be at the airport (typically 2-3 hours for international flights).
Sit back, relax and enjoy!
Stop stressing and focus on all the excitement and adventures ahead of you!