At this point you’ve saved money, parted ways with your job, and you’re getting seriously excited for weird street meat and 6’4” German men named Hanz (Just me? Ok then.). Now it’s time to do some up-front work that will allow you to enjoy your time on the road without worrying about what’s going on at home. There’s a lot of information here, so how you attack this post is up to you. Read it all, read only what’s in bold, scroll down and don’t read anything once you realize there aren’t any pretty pictures… Do your thing.
The first thing you need to do is identify your at-home contact. This person will be the holder of important documents, your emergency contact, the person who will open your mail, email you your W2 and inform you that you’ve won $1million from the Publisher’s Clearing House— the lifeline to things at home. Once you have identified this person (and convinced them that the hand-appliqued trinkets from Timbuktu will totally be worth the hassle), you can move on to this list.
Eliminate international credit/debit card fees. I learned the hard way that Chase cards are terrible for travel. Each time I used my credit card abroad, I incurred a fee of 3% of the total purchase price. Withdrawing from an ATM came with a $5 flat fee, plus 3% of the amount that I took out, PLUS whatever the ATM charged. I paid around $400 during my first two trips just to access my own money. So I made some changes.
Capital One’s Venture credit card offers 0% international fees, earns miles, and is free if you select the basic card option. Boom. But cash is king while travelling so I talked to Chuck and also opened a Schwab checking account that charges no international fee plus REIMBURSES you for any ATM fees worldwide. My head pretty much exploded.
Call your bank to let them know that you will be out of the country. List all countries that you may visit (even if it’s unlikely) so as to avoid having your card declined due to suspicious activity. “Yes ma’am, I am indeed in Turkey. Yes I did purchase $53 worth of bananas at 3:00AM from a market in Bodrum. Yes, it seemed like a good idea. No, I don’t know what I did with them all.” Write down the international contact number on the back of the card and stash it apart from your wallet.
Have your bank disconnect your debit card’s access to your savings account. Never have more than $1000 in your checking account at any given time, and do online transfers between your savings and checking accounts when needed. This way, if your card is stolen or you’re the victim of an ATM hold-up, the jerks will only have access to limited funds. Add your at-home contact to your bank account so they can deposit money and deal with the bank in an emergency.
This is very important; the number of travelers that I have met who have broken bones or become seriously ill while abroad is staggering. You do not want to be stuck with a huge bill just because you didn’t read the fine print of your insurance policy.
Call your insurance company and have them email you a detailed description of what (if any) international coverage they offer. My independent Blue Shield plan, for example, offers my regular coverage if I go to one of their designated hospitals around the world. If I end up at a different facility, I am still covered but I have to pay upfront and provide translated documentation in order to be reimbursed. I prefer to continue to pay for this plan while I’m abroad as I’m still covered when I go home.
Look into a secondary policy. If your current policy is insufficient, look into purchasing a supplemental plan through a company such as HTH Worldwide. I will warn you, however, that based on my research, you’re choosing the “best of the worst” here. “Adventure activities” coverage, for example, may include downhill skiing but not snowboarding and the company may tell you to pay all costs up-front and then claim that you are missing paperwork when you submit for reimbursement. Check, check, and triple-check before selecting your policies and between the two, you should be able to cover the majority of any costs that arise.
I sold my car a long time ago and never looked back. My recommendation is that if your trip will be less than four months, find a place to store the car. If you’ll be traveling for longer, sell the car and stash the money away to buy a new one upon your return. You will save on insurance payments and registration over the course of your trip, and may find that you can do without a vehicle when you get back.
I am very fortunate that my mom is watching my cat in my absence. If a family member can’t care for your pet(s) (or plants, whatever…) try to incentivize a friend. Tell them you’ll pay $50/month plus the cost of food to do so. Another option is to include the pet in the sublet/rental agreement for your place when you’re gone. You can lower the rent if they agree to care for your little fluff nuggets. I know I’d take that bait.
If you are a RENTER – If your return date is TBD or you’re not attached to your place, consider moving out and securing a storage space (or better yet, filling up your parents’ garage—thanks Dad!). If you’re like me and want to hold on to your apartment for as long as humanly possible, subletting is the way to go. Always (and I mean always) make sure to clear this with your landlord. Two of my coworkers worked out a temporary sublet agreement, but when the landlord found out, coworker #1 had to move out of coworker #2’s place within 24 hours. Definitely not something that you want to deal with while abroad. I’ve found great subletters by posting on Craigslist and having them reply to me via Facebook. That way, you can check them out a little bit and eliminate the ones that seem bat s*** crazy from the get-go. From there, I set up meetings with my other roommates and let them decide who they’d like to cohabitate with. I draw up a very basic agreement that states the start/end dates and outlines the security deposit, and hand over the keys. Is the contract legally binding? No, but if you choose the right person, this should be enough.
If you are a HOME OWNER – Renting out your furnished place can cut down on the stress of pre-trip packing, and you may even be able to partially fund your trip by charging more than your mortgage. You’ll want to work with a lawyer to draw up the appropriate paperwork, but the process should be relatively cut-and-dry. You should also consult your accountant regarding the tax ramifications of having renters. You may need to declare rent as income, and will want to pad the price to account for this. Have them call your at-home contact in case any repairs are needed.
BACKUP TRAVEL DOCUMENTS
You are going to be ever vigilant during your trip, but you should still plan for the worst: losing your passport, credit card, medications, and vaccination record. Scan and save a copy of all of the following as drafts in your email inbox with cryptic subject lines. Also leave physical copies with your at-home contact.
Passport – Take three color copies with you to use as you wait for a replacement. Copies are also helpful to have as some countries require one in order to obtain a visa.
Credit Cards – Some banks will allow you to have two debit or credit cards that access the same account (different numbers, of course). If possible, get a second card and leave it with your at-home contact. That way, it can be expedited to you if yours is lost and you don’t have to deal with waiting for the bank. I also recommend having a back-up card with a low limit that you stash somewhere deep in your backpack (separate from all other important items). Unless your bag is lost all-together, it could be your lifeline to cash.
Medications – You may lose your bottles or simply need a refill and you’ll want access to the exact prescription.
Vaccination Record – Some countries will check for specific vaccines (yellow fever in Bolivia and Tanzania) before granting entry. Make sure to have a copy in case you misplace your original, like I did.
Surely there are plenty of other “To-Dos” that need to be checked off your list before you hop on the plane (this is my ridiculous list from the morning that I left for SE Asia), but this information will hopefully get your thoughts moving in the right direction. Feel free to comment below or reach out with any questions or suggested additions.
Now, what to pack?!