Before preparing for long-term budget travel… make it REAL!
One of the biggest hurdles to going on a long trip is actually going for it. Extended travel is a scary concept if you haven’t done it before. There are lots of negative questions that loom. It’s easy to dream up your bucket list-ticking trip, but hard to actually do it! Well the best advice for this gridlock is to pick a date, wait until you’re around six weeks out (generally the cheapest time to buy a plane ticket) and buy your ticket! Don’t second guess yourself or you’ll put it off, prices will go up and you’ll settle on just visiting your aunt Doris in Illinois instead (no hate to Auntie D, I’m sure she’s very pleasant).
Once your plane ticket is bought, this shiz is real! Time to start preparing for long-term budget travel! You’re going to want to cruise google images for hours, finding the best places to bump up your Instagram cred and take your breath away. You’ll want to cram as much as you can into every day of every week of every month that you’re going to be rockin’ in the free world. So you’ll plan and plan and plan (naturally, you’re excited!). This might be my best unprofessional piece of advice for you- don’t do that! …Wait, so in an article titled “Preparing to go on a long trip”, you’re telling me not to make plans for my long trip?!… Well, kinda.
I totally get the urge to plan every day so that you can hit every awesome spot, but I think you will come to regret this. Having a set itinerary, or much of an itinerary at all, is going to make you miss out on what travel (in my once again unprofessional opinion) is all about. Going to picturesque places is amazing, don’t get me wrong. You should make a list a places that you definitely don’t want to miss, but maybe only choose 1-2 of these must see places per each week you’ve allotted to travel. Leave the rest of your days open to meeting amazing people and asking the locals what they recommend checking out. Chances are, they know of places just as cool and way more genuine as the ones on your list. If you’re lucky, they’ll even show you the way. Your experiences with the people you meet and the places you didn’t find online will be the ones you remember most fondly, I promise! You will miss out on so much of this if you pressure yourself to stick to an itinerary! The only downfall to not having an itinerary is that your mom will nag you about what you’re doing in ___________.
What you should research before going…
Here’s a list of things to definitely research while preparing for long-term budget travel:
- Government– This one is probably the most often overlooked when preparing for long-term budget travel. Know something about the governments of the countries you’re going to visit. This will help you to understand more about the lives of the people you interact with. For example, it’s good to know when you are in a country that treats tourists very well but violates the human rights of its own people.
- Seasons– Definitely find out which season it will be when you are there. You don’t want to show up in Thailand hauling your scuba gear along only to find out that it’s monsoon season and you don’t even have a rain jacket.
- Visa requirements– Even worse, don’t show up to a country and then realize that you need a visa to be there. An easy google search will save you a world of disappointment. Do this well in advance as many countries require quite a bit of bureaucracy before you can travel there. These requirements will also inform you of things like if you need proof of where you are staying your first night or to show an exit ticket before being allowed into the country.
- The money situation– Learn a little bit about the countries’ currencies, exchange rates, ATMs, etc. I’m headed to Cuba in a few weeks. Without researching this, I wouldn’t have known that Cuba has two currencies, one for foreign travelers and one for citizens of the communism. I also wouldn’t have known that US citizens cannot take money out in Cuban ATMs yet, meaning that I have to bring every penny that I plan to spend for the three weeks that I’ll be there. Nor would I have known that I will get a much more favorable exchange rate by changing my US dollars to Euros at home first, then changing my Euros to Cuban Convertible Pesos when I arrive. Retain or write down every detail you can find out about this, as it will save you money and stress.
- Budget– Be realistic about yourself and your spending, and then give yourself a big cushion for when you underestimate these things and emergencies. Come up with a good general daily number and be realistic with yourself about how much time you will be willing to spend searching for the best deals on each meal and every night’s bed. I am a semi-professional cheap ass. As such, my process is to search around on google until I can find the lowest daily budget for each country. I almost never even spend this much as this because I love to spend time searching out the best bargains on meals and beds and I love negotiating better prices, but most people don’t love that! Even so, I always give myself at least an extra third of this as a daily cushion you’ll appreciate it when you realize how addicted you are to Malaysian iced coffee, Peruvian plátano milkshakes or real-sugar coca-colas in Chile.
- Travel clinic– Read up on necessary vaccinations and potential natural disasters you may experience. If you need some shots or even just feel a little uneasy, head to your city’s travel clinic. They are often easier to get in than your doctor’s office, and almost always cheaper and more knowledgeable about the places you’re headed. They can also prescribe you medications to help prevent horrors like malaria and traveler’s sickness.
- Learn a bit of the language– You’ll never regret the tiny bit of extra effort you took to learn how to say hello, goodbye, please and thank you in the native language. The extra appreciation you’ll receive from locals makes it worth it a million times over. Learn as many phrases as you can and don’t be afraid to try them out! Once you’ve used them, they’ll be cemented into your brain and you can keep working towards learning more. Beyond these few phrases, if you’ve got the time and determination, I have yet to find anything nearly as rewarding as becoming bilingual and putting my second language to use. It is certainly the only ticket to true immersion, but it’s also really difficult!
- Consider getting travel and medical insurance– Being budget travelers, it is hard to spend money on things like this, and I usually do not. But it is worth researching and seeing if you can find a worthwhile deal. Otherwise, be smart and don’t take stupid risks. It’s also worth noting that some countries require this (Cuba will require me to pay a daily fee that will cover any and all health expenses while I am there).
- Buy some essentials– It’s really easy after you’ve booked your ticket to go way overboard on Amazon orders. Because of course you need the best travel-fabric shirt and pants and the surfboard mount for your GoPro (what if you surf and you DON’T have it?!). I am very guilty of this. It is silly and unnecessary. There are certainly things you’ll want to have, hence the word “essentials.” Stay tuned for an article on what the essentials to buy when preparing for long-term budget travel may be.
- Think about why you’re traveling– In case you have not yet realized, I am very much a believer in purpose-based traveling. Traveling helped me work through the loss of my father, it helped my self-confidence grow tenfold and I believe it can help you work through just about anything. Maybe you don’t have a deeper purpose in traveling, maybe you just want to see cool stuff and take nice photos. I commend you for going out and doing it, but I also challenge you to be open to the deeper, meditative benefits of travel. Don’t let yourself miss out on the truly authentic opportunities that will present these benefits to you. Since my last long-term trip, I upgraded my camera kit big time. I am ecstatic to spend these upcoming 7 weeks in Cuba and Mexico shooting amazing photos. But as I think and talk about it, I am having to constantly remind myself of all that I will miss out on if I do not keep the camera gear in my backpack most of the time. Photos and videos are amazing to have for helping to tell stories, and they are concrete evidence of the beauty that you see (although no photo or video can truly capture this). But don’t let the story that they tell be “I went to this place and spent a lot of time taking this perfect photo.” Let them aid you in telling about an exciting, genuine experience that you had in that place or with that person. Again, don’t marry yourself to an itinerary, too many must-have photos or must-do hikes or you’ll miss out on the true freedom of travel after which this blog site is named. It’s an incredible feeling that will not naturally come until you put down all of your technology and just interact with the people and live their culture.
Now GO! Take my advice or don’t. Just don’t forget to get on and off the plane and have some incredible and unforgettable adventures! Get out of your comfort zone, meet cool, ‘different-than-you’ people, and be free! Don’t forget to put down your technology and take the time to write and reflect!