July 7th, 2011

How to Prepare For Long Term Travel and Living Abroad

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How to Prepare for Long Term Travel and Living Abroad
For me, my native country is the country I love, meaning the one that makes me dream, that makes me feel well. I am as much Chinese as I am French . . .  the idea of a native country – that is to say, the imperative to live on one bit of ground marked red and blue on the map and to hate the others’ bits in green and black – has always seemed to me narrow-minded, blinkered and profoundly stupid.”
– Gustave Flaubert quote in Alaine de Bottom’s The Art of Travel

Why Travel Abroad?

Traveling gives you the freedom to leave the familiar behind. You are no longer immersed in your home country’s language, culture and way of life. You are instead immersed in something completely new, providing significant opportunities for learning and personal growth.

There was an Indian tribe that would move its village every 25 to thirty years as a new challenge. When life became predictable and their was no challenge in their life, they moved to bring new meaning to their lives. Traveling or living abroad accomplishes something similar.

After visiting Japan and Thailand (for two weeks each), I had a glimpse of this. In each country, I felt like a five year old re-learning how to speak and do the most basic activities. I knew I needed to get out of my home country and explore the world for more than two-week increments.

Common Misconceptions / Excuses Not To Travel Abroad

  • This may work if you’re young and single, but I have a family and responsibilities Look into Location Independence. It is possible to work and travel simultaneously. There are many families with children out there living a life of location independence. Check out the Location Independent blog, scroll down to the “Location Independent with Babies and Children” section for guidance.
  • I don’t have anyone to travel with and don’t want to go alone Traveling alone is far, far better than traveling not at all. Check out Independent Travel’s info on traveling solo. You will end up meeting a lot more locals and travelers when traveling alone. Also, technology makes it easy to share your experiences with those back home.
  • It’s too dangerous Traveling can be very foreign and different without being dangerous. Often times, you will be safer than you would’ve been in your home country. You just need to research where you are going beforehand. Check out Wikipedia’s list of countries by intentional homicide rate. This list may not be completely accurate, but it is something worthwhile to check out. You will probably see that there are lots of countries safer than your home country on that list. Also check out the U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings and UK FCO Travel Advice for a breakdown of country-specific travel warnings.
  • It’s too expensive It can be cheaper to live or travel abroad if you choose the right destinations (less than $500 a month). If you travel slowly, it can be very cheap (ex. one month rent in NYC is one year’s rent in Thailand). If you are from a first world country, traveling overseas allows you to get a lot more experiences for your money than your home country can offer.
  • I’ll miss my friends and family This depends on how long you choose to be abroad. Also, technology like e-mail, Facebook, Google Voice and Skype make it incredible easy and cheap to stay in communication over phone and video (see details further down).
  • I’ll get sick of doing touristy things Just because you are traveling and living abroad does not mean you have to be a perpetual tourist. You can stay in one place for as long as you like, study the language and culture, volunteer, try a new sport and get to know the locals and other travelers.

My Favorite Books on Traveling / Vagabonding / Backpacking / Expat Life

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel: This is the go-to book if you are considering long-term cheap travel. Travel writer Rolf Potts gives tons of useful tips for would-be long-term travelers and backpackers here.

The Art of Travel: An intelligent, philosophical take on the motivations behind travel. Not as much of a page turner as the other books I’m recommending, but still a required reading. It leaves you with a much deeper perspective on travel.

Planet Backpacker: Across Europe on a Mountain Bike & Backpacking on Through Egypt, India & Southeast Asia – Around the World: A funny, very interesting book by an American documenting his around-the-world backpacking trip. Each chapter covers his experiences in a particular country. He only ends up meeting 1-2 Americans on his entire trip around the world, most in Western Europe!

Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer: This hilarious book tells travel stories that you won’t hear of in other publications. These are the travel and expat stories of a travel writer and editor who was fed-up with his stories being censored by the travel publication industry. This is his way of getting back at them. Very interesting read.

Expatriate Insights – Dissertations on International Living and Deep Comparative Culture Analyses: A very thorough analysis on living abroad, and how to get the best out of each country you live in.

How to Fund Your Trip (Savings / Online Business / Work / Volunteer)

Most people rely on savings or working abroad (ex. Teaching English, Organic Farming) to fund their travels. Others get an international experience by volunteering. Transitions Abroad is a good resource if you are planning on working or volunteering abroad.

I combine savings, eBook income, work and volunteering. I’m also using frequent flyer / hotel points that I accumulated in my consulting career and various offers (ex. credit cards ) to pay for some of my flights and gear. Check out the Art of Non-Conformity Frequent Flyer Master eBook for a how-to on getting free frequent flyer miles to use on long-term travel.

Where to Go

Check out Where to Go at Travel Independent. You will want to start with a list of places you have always wanted to go. Then determine what places you can afford. I decided on a $30 / day budget, and narrowed down my options to Central America, South America, China, India and Southeast Asia. Check out Travel Budgets For Around The World to determine where you can afford to go on your budget.

What to Do

This really depends on where you will be traveling to and how long you are staying in each area. Some people prefer to travel slowly, as it is more affordable and you get a deeper experience in each country. Others opt for moving around often, sometimes doing an around-the-world trip to see as many countries as they can in a shorter period of time. The fast travel option will be a more-touristy, less-deep experience, but if you are time-constrained or get bored easily, that is the way to go.

I prefer traveling slowly. I like to study the language and culture of the country I’m visiting. Right now I’m in South America. I started in Argentina and am making my way north. I don’t plan very much out ahead, as I don’t have a time constraint, so my travel schedule is very flexible.

Before You Leave

Check out Before You Go at Travel Independent.

Get your immunizations: Don’t wait too long, as some of these require a series of shots over a period of 1-6 months. If you are in a hurry, some can be accelerated to 21 days, such as Hep. A / Hep. B, if needed. Here are the ones I got before leaving. These are all recommended for most parts of the world on the Center for Disease Control website:

  • Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) vaccine
  • Diphtheria/Pertussis/Tetanus (DPT) vaccine
  • Poliovirus vaccine
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Typhoid
  • Yellow Fever

These shots were not very painful. My arms were just a little sore for a few days. Typhoid can even be taken in pill form now. Yellow Fever is the only vaccine that some countries require. I opted out of Rabies vaccine as it is $600 and is only recommended if you are a veterinarian or going to be in bat caves a lot. I also opted out of Japanese Encephalitis, as it is expensive as well and very rare (mostly in Southeast Asia, only 1 reported case of it by a U.S. citizen abroad last year). Additionally, I opted out of Malaria medication, as it has some pretty bad side effects, and I am going to be traveling for such a long time. I will be relying on bug spray instead. I might also pick up some Malaria medication if I decide to go to a region where it is more common, such as the Amazon.

Forward your snail mail to a friend or family member: Most services now offer to send your bills electronically, but for everything else, have them sent to a trusted friend or family member.

Backup Important Documents: E-mail yourself or use a service like LastPass to store important documents and copies of your passport, credit cards (make sure to get the back copied too with the international lost & stolen number), and immunization records. LastPass is more secure than e-mail and you can store all your online login/passwords as well.

Figure out your banking strategy abroad: I recommend you keep most of your money in separate “safe” bank account or an investment account, and don’t take the safe account debit card with you abroad. Make online transfers from that account to a separate bank account as needed. This way, if your debit card is stolen, there is no way you will be completely wiped out.

Get an international-friendly debit card and credit card: Check out Which credit and debit cards are best overseas article for details. I went with a Capital One no hassle cash rewards credit card. There is no international surcharge with this credit card, and you get cash back with every purchase. I chose a Schwab Bank Account debit card. This debit card has not ATM fee for any bank in the world (they will even refund any ATM fees charged), and has great exchange rates. Plus, their bank accounts have no low balance fee.

Dentist / eye doctor: You may want to go to the dentist before leaving if you haven’t had a recent cleaning. Also, if you wear contacts, make sure you bring enough to last you through the trip. Bring your eye glasses/contact prescriptions just in case.

Staying in touch while you’re abroad: E-mail and Facebook will let you send messages and share pictures. Google Voice and Skype make it easier than ever to stay in touch with friends and family. Check out Staying Connected Overseas with Google Voice and Skype for more details. You can even port your current cell phone number to Google Voice, and use that number for free calls and text messages in the U.S. and Canada. Or have your Google Voice number forwarded to your Skype number (Skype works with Wifi, so you can use an Ipod Touch to make calls). If you get a cell phone in the country you are visiting, you can even have your Skype number forward to your number in that country (Google Voice -> Skype -> International Cell Phone).

Travel Insurance: At the very minimum, you should have some kind of medical and evacuation insurance. This is pretty cheap. I went with World Nomads, which is recommended a lot of places including Lonely Planet guidebooks.

After You Leave

Making friends with travelers: The best way to make friends with other travelers is to stay in hostels or join a language school. In both cases, you will instantly have a new group of friends from all over the world. You may even end up traveling with them for a week weeks or longer.

Making friends with locals: The best way to make friends with locals is to find a homestay with a family. Do a Google search for “homestay” to see websites which can help you arrange this. If you join a language school, most will offer a homestay option to you. Also, sometimes you can ask the people that work at your hostel about this. For example, when I was in Salta, Argentina, I stayed at the aunt of my hostel manager’s house for one month.

Getting Burnt Out: It happens to all long-term travelers. The remedy is to change your routine. Join a volunteer program. Travel slower or faster than you normally do. If you normally stay in a hostel dorm room, try a private room for a few days.

Getting Homesick: If you are homesick, realize that it is only temporary. Adopt the mantra “this too shall pass”, and accept your feelings for what they are. Give your family a call or e-mail to let them know you miss them. Then try to keep a busier schedule for a few days so you don’t have time to dwell on your homesickness.

Disclosure: I only recommend products/services that I personally have tried and found useful. I make a small commission on some of the links above. The commission helps support this blog, so if you are interested in any of these products / services, and supporting the blog, please use the links in this blog post.

Creative Commons License photo credit:byJoeLodge

Part of the South of the Border Series

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