We all have our rituals of how to prepare for our holidays. But sometimes we’re taking the step into the unknown and decide to go walkabouts for a longer period of time such as six months or a year. Here is a checklist to help you prepare your adventure and make it memorable without major hiccups:
Pick your goal
No need to say it, but doing your research is a given. Learning about the countries you’ll be visiting is well-invested time. It’s also important to have a rough itinerary and a goal. Once you’re on the road and found your routine, you can probably go on forever. Your personal goal will help you make decisions.
For example when moving to Australia on a work & travel visa my goal was to work with horses for a year or when moving to Barcelona my aim was working in digital marketing. Goals can change over time but it definitely helps during the first few months of orientation.
Make smart flight arrangements
Do your research and don’t fall for expensive travel packages. Read personal experiences in blogs and forums. Especially for popular destinations like Australia there are many overpriced offers: for example for 2000 EUR that include flights from Europe, a first week in a hostel and assistance in opening a bank account or registering on a job portal. Honestly you can do that for half the price on your own and have the freedom to choose where you want to arrive.
I usually research and book my flights myself using tools like Skyscanner. However for long-term travel with uncertain return dates or round-the-world deals, consider talking to a travel agent to be sure to be able to change travel dates more than once. Travel agencies may even match your researched price and help you keep an eye on things like luggage restrictions.
Finding the best agency may take as much time as finding a good flight deal but it can save you the hassle afterwards. I used Trailfinders to book flights for my 1-year trip to Australia and was very happy with their service.
However I had a very bad experience booking through E-Dreams: I paid an extra fee in order to be able to change dates later, although the booking confirmation stated flights were unchangeable. Their customer service was very unhelpful and I lost the money I had paid for the extra fee and had to stick to set dates – what a rip-off! I believe it’s better to let a travel agent deal with unprofessional travel companies.
Back up your documents
- Check visa and work permits and get your paperwork ready.
- Make sure to have your bank details and your usual medical prescriptions handy at all times.
- Research if the expat country allows you to use local medical services and take all documents needed: For example the Australian Medicare covers UK NHS members to a certain extent, for which you’ll need to show your NHS card.
- Store scanned documents online such as a copy of your passport, travel insurance, tax file number, birth certificate and what you’ll need for last year’s tax declaration (believe me, that’ll save you expensive phone calls!). Email or Google drive will do.
- I also like to store my links on Protopage.com in case my computer gets stolen. I can access everything quickly on any computer without having to research. Needless to say don’t post sensitive info or passwords on these pages.
- Will you study or work? What paperwork would you need to present?
- Store important documents back home where close friends or family can access and scan missing ones for you like degree certificates, references, statement of services or recent jobs, resume, resources, police checks, etc – basically all references and statement of services from your current job in your home country. This is also very handy for when returning after a year and needing to register back in your home country system.
- Don’t forget to change address or forward important snail mail, so they get sent to friends and family.
Stay safe and healthy
Choose travel insurance cover that includes medical and evacuation cover. I used World Nomads because it covers you for up to 2 or 3 years without returning to your resident country and offers customized cover for extreme sports and activities at risk.
Do a proper health check for teeth, eyes and gynaecology beforehand and arrange for six months cover for medical prescriptions if needed.
Check for necessary vaccinations six months in advance – immunisation will depend on the country you plan to visit, so do your research and ask your healthcare provider.
Watch your money
Get international-friendly cards without ATM charges worldwide and make sure you’re set up for online banking from abroad. Let your local bank know you’ll be travelling abroad and ask for a personal contact. This may be advisable if you later transfer larger amounts to your new bank account abroad. Some banks may block larger money transfers to unknown accounts and you may not be able to ring them back at their office hours. Consider PayPal for international money transfers – this may be cheaper than via your bank.
It’s always wise to have reserve money. Use several accounts for example saving accounts from which you transfer smaller amounts to your current account. If your card gets stolen they won’t be able to access all of your cash.
Set yourself a realistic daily travel budget. To give you an idea, research prices for accommodation (from renting a bunk bed in a hostel to renting a room in a shared house or an apartment) and train or bus tickets in advance. Consider other options to cover accommodation costs such as volunteering with HelpX or Workaway (Woofing did not convince me!)
When closing a foreign bank account, make sure you get documentation to prove that it has been closed properly. In some countries, banks may try to ask for account fees later and you need paper work to prove closure.
Needless to say you’ll need to keep track of any on-going bills back home.
I avoid currency exchanges and prefer to use credit or debit cards until I open a local bank account where possible. When moving to Australia I could even apply online for a bank account from abroad.
Decide what to pack versus purchase
Chances are you’ll probably pack too much. When backpacking you should be able to carry what you need. I ended up just carrying clothing for 2 weeks to make space for all my gear. When stopping for a longer period of time to pick up work I’d buy more work outfits in second hand shops, which I’d later donate on my way out. That way I had a bit of variation and of course I kept the nice stuff 😉
The same applies when moving as an expat: Ikea furniture is quickly sold second hand and can easily be purchased again in other countries.
Think of personal practicalities
Make sure to unblock your phone to be able to use it with local SIM cards abroad.
Stay in hostels to meet and learn from fellow travellers – especially in the beginning it’s a valuable source for travel tips and advice. It’s better information than any guidebook. Still I’d always take a good Lonely Planet or Rough guides guidebook with me – don’t save weight on the wrong end.
Think about how to back up your travel photos. Most people carry an extra hard drive or use storage space online. I met people who had their computer stolen and all their amazing travel pictures had gone with it…
Portable safes can be handy when staying in hostels. I sometimes used them to lock small stuff like my ipod to the bunk bed when no lockers were available. Once in a while there is always the odd hostel where stuff goes missing… and a portable safe gives you a bit more tranquillity for example when taking a shower.
Tell us about your rituals when preparing for your holidays!