Before you stuff a few changes of clothes into a small backpack and jettison responsibility to become a free (traveling) spirit, I implore to pump your brakes a little. Long term travel does involve a little (or as much as you want) preparation before setting off into the unknown. Personally, I'm an A-type personality and I planned my RTW for almost a year before getting on my first flight.
Here are some helpful suggestions on how to prepare for long-term travel in relation to lead up time.
If You Have A Month To Prepare
Make A Rough Plan Of Where You Want To Go
The world is a big place and with so many potential places to visit, it can be overwhelming to decide where you want to go. Instead of picking different countries, I strongly suggest going with general regions with large concentrations of countries, such as South East Asia, Europe or even South America. If you are not traversing through vast oceans to reach each country, your cost of transportation will drastically decrease and you'll be able to travel for longer. Once you have your countries nailed down, look to see if you need visas or vaccinations in order to be allowed to enter. As someone with a "lower power" passport, visas are the bane of my existence!
RELATED: A Helpful Guide To Getting Any Travel Visa
Decide How Long You Want To Be Away For & Decide A Budget
Money makes the world go around and will play a large role in deciding how long you can be away for. Without resorting to complicated equations and mind numbing variables, I went with Nomadic Matt's suggestion of budgeting US$50 a day. With that in mind, I knew I wanted to be away for a full year and that would come out to US$18,250. I like nice, round numbers and I settled on a US$20,000 budget for a year of travel.
Save, save, save!
You know where and how much you need but before taking off, make sure you have a significant portion of it in hand! I lowered my standard of living, worked 2 side jobs and sold a lot of unnecessary possessions (including my prized sneaker collection) to get this done. I found it somewhat easy to save and had my budget for the year saved up with lots of time to spare. There are also lots of opportunities to make money on the road, including a location independent job (use Remote | OK to look for tech jobs), freelance gigs on Fiverr or Upwork, or even on-site employment-for-lodging gigs on Workaway.
While money is important for travel, don't necessarily let it limit where you want to go and what you want to do!
Figure Out How To Access Your Money
Please don't carry your entire trip's budget with you in cold, hard cash! To be clear, plan to carry a small amount of it (no more than US$500) on you in case you don't have access to an ATM for long stretches of time or if (god forbid) you lose your ATM card. Along the same lines, be prudent and find out how much ATM fees are going to be for your current bank account and if it can be accessed in the countries you plan to visit. If the fees are too high, look to open another bank account that charges lower ATM fees or offers better protections when you are overseas. In general, it is a good idea to open a second bank account as a backup source of money.
Get Insurance & Vaccinations
Insurance is no longer an optional, "nice-to-have" item for long term travel and is actually a vital necessity. As much as I didn't like forking over more money to a big name insurance company, the peace of mind it provided my loved ones and I was worth it. You just never know what will happen out there! When shopping for insurance, look for local providers in your area first and compare plans. You will want insurance that provides about US$50,000 in medical coverage, medical evacuation, and 24-hour emergency assistance. As a Filipino national, I was able to get comprehensive travel insurance for 6-months from AIG for US$280. For the remaining 6 months of my year-long RTW, I will go with the pricey, but traveler trusted World Nomads.
In terms of vaccinations, I went and got a yellow fever vaccine from the Bureau of Quarantine in Manila in order to gain access to Kenya. Consult with your doctor if you think you need a MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) or typhoid vaccine. I chose to forego those, personally.
Get An Awesome Backpack
If you are traveling solo, you will spend the most amount of time with your backpack. It will become your savior and pain-in-the-ass at the same time. If are planning a journey of upwards of 6 months, it is especially important to have a backpack that is as durable as possible. With so many options out there, I highly suggest getting one that is side loading (as opposed to top loading), no more than 55L in volume, light with a sturdy frame and with compartments that can be locked. I ended up purchasing an Osprey Farpoint 55 for all the reasons I just stated and with the number of them I'm seeing out on the road, I know I made a good choice. Osprey's "All Mighty Guarantee" to repair all defects for the entire life of the backpack was an added bonus!
If You Have 3 Months To Prepare
In addition to all the points above, here are some more preparation tips if you have 3 months to prepare for long term travel.
Deciding what goes into your backpack for long term travel can drive any sane person mad (it did for me!) and will require Tetris-like precision to make everything fit. With limited space and too many things you could potentially carry, how do you even start? Here are some tips:
1) Go easy on the clothes and pack around 5 changes of clothes. You don't want to be stuck carrying so much clothing or even doing piles of laundry while you are traveling. Depending on the climate of your destination(s), you may be able to get away with a few shirts and 2 pairs of swim shorts if you plan to be at the beach a lot according to my friend Felipe.
2) Pack travel sized toiletries. Toiletries are so easy to buy when you are traveling that it is wise to carry very little with you. Unless you are in a dire need of a specific brand of toothpaste or shampoo because your life depended on it, stick to travel sized stuff.
3) Get adequate protection for expensive electronics. If you plan to bring expensive laptops or cameras, make sure it is stored securely in bags that are least bulky as possible. Look for bags that have a thin profile with adequate padding for protection.
RELATED: What Went In My Backpack
Now that you have everything you plan on bringing, try putting everything in your backpack and see if you can close it successfully!
Get In The Best Shape Of Your Life
After test packing, you'll probably realize how heavy the backpack is. My own backpack ended up weighing 20kg/41lbs and because of that, I went on an all out assault to get into really good shape. I began kettlebell training, running and eating healthier to prepare for the rigors of travel and to carry that heavy backpack for long periods of time.
Downsizing & Selling What You Don’t Need
Traveling long term means living with very little material possessions, the ones that truly matter. Use this opportunity to get rid of all your extra clothes, shoes, electronics, and sporting equipment that have been doing nothing but collecting dust for the past year. On the upside, you'll be recycling your things and even earning a little extra cash for your travels.
Figure Out How To Capture Your Story
Journals, photos, videos? With so many ways to capture memories on the road, it is very important to do so. Like my friend Alison said in her interview, everything becomes a "blur" after returning from extended travel and it is a really good idea to capture as many moments as possible while you are traveling to help you jog your memory many years later. If you are a wordsmith, I recommend getting one or two journals to jot down your thoughts, or if photos are more up your alley, then making sure you have a good camera (even a point-and-shoot will do) and enough memory to capture photos for the entirety of your trip will be key.
If You Have 6 Months To Prepare
In addition to all the points above, here are some more preparation tips if you have 6 months to prepare for long term travel.
Determine Your Bucket List Items & Create A Separate Fund For Them
A huge hat tip to Caz Makeapeace from YTravel for this awesome suggestion on the Zero To Travel podcast! There are some wonderful experiences in the world (such as trekking Kilimanjaro or seeing the Pyramids of Giza for example) that are must do but require a little more money than your daily budget allows. After you've established a good working budget for your trip, look to make or save a little extra for those big ticket items that you would like to do or see on your travels.
Learn New Skills & Languages
It goes without saying that learning the local language of where you are going will make your experience much more authentic. I spent some time learning Spanish for free with the mobile app Memrise in preparation for my 3-month stint in South America. In addition to learning a new language, take the time to learn some new skills that you've wanted to dabble into for a while. Extra points for you if you learn new skills that you can monetize while you are traveling! These skills can include photography, English language teaching certification, web design, scuba diving, and surfing.
Figure Out How You Want To Tell Your Story
One of the questions I got asked most before taking off was whether I was going to blog about my experience. Sure enough, this site was born as a result of it. While long term travel is a highly personal thing, you are in a unique position to be a source of inspiration and wisdom to those who are yearning to do the same. If you plan to start your very own blog, I recommend this guide by Zero To Travel as a jumping off point. It is a lengthy read but well worth it!
If a blog isn't for you, you can also tell your story on YouTube or the myriad of social media platforms that everyone can't seem to get enough of!
While this is more applicable to residents in the US, I recommend looking into the various travel reward programs in your country and if you can obtain large bonuses by opening a co-branded airline credit card. While I lived in the US before taking off for my year long trip, I did what I outlined in this guide to rack up over 1 million miles and points for free flights and hotel stays around the world to help lower my cost of travel!
Any other preparation tips that I missed? Please let me know in the comments below!
About The Author
Nico Atienza is a Philippines born, Sri Lankan raised traveler who sold everything, quit his job and escaped the rat race to travel the world in 2016. Apart from his love of travel, he is an award winning volunteer, miles + points aficionado and perpetually epicurious story teller. You can peer into his life by following him on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram or send him an Email.