To all those courageous and adventurous corporate clerks. The answers to your control-freaking minds.
Just a month before quitting my banking job, we went to see the “Wonderful life of Walter Mitty” movie, where he runs away to travel the World without a toothbrush or a suitcase he could put it into. Then I thought: “Hideous. Totally unbelievable. That’s one of the reasons I never liked Ben Stiller”.
In fact, if you are planning to travel the World — after living in the cubicle for several years with the spreadsheets, presentations and Outlook or IOS Calendar full of meetings, knowing the closest and the most time-efficient office-home route, having a wonderful coffees in the mornings, and knowing exactly where you are going to be in 3 months time — you do need to plan before “running away with the circus”. At least to dedicate your time to planning. Otherwise your internal security system will be simply too alarmed of making this leap. Why do you need a double stress? The first stress is indeed about quitting the regularly paid job indeed.
Now, after having traveled more than half of the World, and still traveling, I would like to share my very practical and very subjective tips on “how to” prepare, including mentally, for “going out of the comfort zone” to what we call — the World.
These “tips” are not for the “most budget” or the “most economical” but rather a good mix of adventure with purpose. “If you don’t know where you are going — any road can get you there”. Let’s say traveling is the road, whereas purpose is the destination.
Let’s start by planning 5 months ahead.
Open the world map. Marvel at how big the world is. Pause. This is an exciting moment when you are about to fly. At least in your mind first. Just the very thought that the whole world awaits for you is exhilarating.
Define: why do you want to travel? Do you have an idea? Do you want to launch a start up after the leap year? Are you looking for an inspiration? What are you generally passionate about (food, culture, arts, adrenalin…)?
Select: 3 parameters which would interest you most in your travels out of the previous list. Why? Because the world is so big that you might need some compassing. Let’s say you are passionate about: entrepreneurship, food, and landscapes.
Now make: the list of places you always wanted to visit. Now, “compass” them against your 3 parameters. Make the list again.
Consider: buying “round-the-world” ticket, which is a very advantageously priced airfare offered by all airlines alliances (StarAlliance, Skyteam, OneWorld). Depending on the point of departure it might cost you as little as USD$3,000. Go to their websites — they all have fun-type online trip-constructors. Play with designing your trip. There are quite a few restrictions and rules. Major ones are: going one direction (no backtracking), limited by number of flight (by-land inclusive) segments, limited by maximum mileage. However, it is a very good deal for transcontinental trips. Changing of dates is free of charge.
Speaking of dates / time.
Weight out: how long do you want to spend on the road? A year? How does it correlate to the number of countries on your list? I would say that the comfortable speed is to have 3–5 weeks per country. Even if you don’t like it when you actually arrive, you can always move on, allowing yourself more days/weeks in the following destinations. So, make the blueprint. Indeed, you’ve heard those backpackers’ stories when you just decide on the spot and just be so very flexible… indeed, but, do you want to backpack? That brings is to the next point.
A budget or How do you want to travel?
How much money are you ready to invest into this adventure? And yes, it is an investment. Because you have answered the main question above: “why?” do you want to travel. Even if this is “just” to clear your mind, it is still an investment, because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the rest of your life. So how much?
To help yourself calculating the costs, put price tags on your ‘compass’ a.k.a. ‘interests’ parameters and matrix them against the countries you’ve selected costs of living. Simply put, on average, I would say, be ready to spend up to $1oo a day — ‘all inclusive’ — food, transport, lodging, extras.
The average DAILY costs would look like following:
AirBnB room ($50) + Cooking at home/Coffee outside ($10) + Transport (Bus/Metro/Taxi $15) + Sightseeing (National Park fees/Museum tickets/ $10) + Local SIM card (Pre-paid data plan $2) + Extras (Visas/Medical Assistance/Postcards/Clothes $13).
By having calculated that, I assume that every single item can be more and can be significantly less. But on average, if you are planning to cover a lot of territories, then the transport costs alone can make the most of “$100/day” budget, so then reduce your lodging and try not to run into extras.
Having planned a budget of $100/day, you would feel “safe”.
Thinking Lodging — Think: people.
The best experiences I personally have had was staying through either AirBnB or Couchsurfing in the homes of people — it is the fast-track into the local life and community, radiant hospitality and truly new friends.
AirBnB vs Couchsurfing?
Couchsurfers is a special breed of people. The “off-the-beaten track” breed, the travelers, the backpackers, the ones who are radically open to the World and what it has to offer.
Most of the times, couchsurfing hosts are the travelers, with the motivation to host as a “payback” to the hospitality they have had experienced during their wonderings around the corners of the world.
Because Couchsurfing is a “free couch” you often get jammed for dates: 3–4 nights is the usual maximum you are welcome to stay. As an old proverb says: “On the third day a fish and a guest start to smell”.
In the highly touristic destinations (big cities/resorts) due to demand it is very challenging to find a good host.
Comfort. You won’t get much on the couch, honestly. Privacy inclusive, especially if you are an “extraverted introvert” like I am who does need a time to be by your own.
Most of the AirBnb hosts have an extra motivation rather than “just” making money. They want to meet different people, different cultures. They travel vicariously through the travelers they host.
You have your room/property with knowing what to expect (area of the town/wifi/bathroom/amenities/etc) without relying just on the probable hospitality.
Most of the times, they are willing to provide you with loads of useful information on the area, where to go, how to go, willing to share dinners, small talks in the morning, deep conversations at nights. That’s what a family does usually. And you feel at home wherever you are.
In both cases, you can make true friends and have a totally different experience in a positive way. However, choosing the place to stay is quite a job by itself.
Here are some tips on how to choose a good AirBnB place:
Choose a “private room” in the house, rather than an “entire property”. You do want to stay with the family/owner for the reasons described above. Unless, you need a total privacy and just want to enjoy yourself for some time.
Choose the room / profile with at least 5–7 reviews and more.
Study those reviews. Look out for words describing the host (not the property) like: “felt at home, true, amazing, generous, kind, like family, best experience, wonderful”.
Be skeptical about profiles with short reviews and words like: “nice, very good, everything as described”. Too often people do not want to spoil their own profile reviews and leave conservative remarks even if they did not like something.
On extras and other things
Local SIM cards with Data
Here is the thing. Traveling today is easy. All you need is your smartphone hooked up to internet. Without depending too much on the sporradity of the free wifi, get a local SIM card with pre-paid and data plan. Depending on the countries the formalities required are more or less complicating, but if you are staying for more then 5 days it will be worth it. In countries like South Korea and Japan, you can even rent out the cell phone + portable modem set, fully charged, right at the airport upon arrival.
After-all, it will make your life way easier because to be connected to all wonderful traveler apps on the go. The ones you will need are:
GoogleMaps: for walking, driving, checking distances, locations.
WordLense: for translating visual signs (road names/labels) by directing your camera at it.
Translate: when you can’t even pronounce the words, just show the translation on screen.
Foursquare: this app makes a lot of sense only when you travel — then you fully appreciate the reviews of the cafes and the locations of the next “lavanderia” (spanish for ‘laundry’).
AirBnB: has a very convenient mobile interface and their messaging systems works perfectly.
Tripadvisor/Lonelyplanet: have them installed for some guidelines of the area.
You are quitting your job, and the insurance plan. Options are to either find a good travel insurance plan with your current company or try: World Nomads which seems to be a popular choice for globe trotters. With that you will still need to pay the first 100$ for every visit to a doctor. But covers bigger emergencies.
Unless all of your travel itinerary is covered by Round-The-World ticket, you will run into necessity of moving across borders or within countries. Whereas Central and South American countries have very comfortable bus services and no low-cost airlines, in Africa it might rather make more sense hiring a car, in Japan all you need is the train pass, and in Asia low cost airlines are the best deals. This way or another, deciding on your means of transportation envolves two parameters: time vs money. If you have time — take bus/train which is a great and cheap way to see the country. If you want to speed up — fly.
Ask your friends/hosts on the local websites you should use for booking your tickets.
Money /Credit/Debit Cards
Banking (ATMs) is pretty accessible almost everywhere, except for Cuba, let’s say. However, having several plastics from different banks is required. Open both Visa and Master cards, both credit and debit ones, always have some hard currency (US Dollars e.g.) cash on you to exchange if your card wouldn’t work for some reason. Unlock these cards for international use.
Open two accounts but link only one to your plastic card, keeping the money on one of them and transferring online some amounts from time to time to the other one, which is linked to your plastic card. This way you will keep it safe in case of misuse or loss.
Also, advisable to have your trusted person (sibling/parent) to have an affidavit to make some banking operations on your behalf. Just in case.
Visas and Vaccination
Do check visa regimes for your passport. Conveniently airline websites can be of help. Try organizing the maximum of the most ‘difficult’ visas during the 5-months preparation period.
As for vaccination: there are multiple precautions, but a Yellow Fever certificate is required most frequently. As for malaria — there is no vaccine, only pills to be taken while being in the “potentially dangerous” areas.
Luggage and Clothing
Keep 2. One small backpack and one big bag. The larger luggage is better be convertible “three-way”: hand-carry, roll, back-carry. Osprey and Gregory brands have the best selection to my taste.
As for clothing: doing glaciers and beaches? Get a set of 2–3 layers thermo clothing and good trekking shoes, and a 2 sets of everything for everything else: e.g. 2 t-shirts (1 wear/1 wash). For women: a nice evening outfit too, just in case.
While you will be traveling, buying some new clothes and trashing the old one you will get tired of is a good solution too.
Important: pack some medicine. Fast reliefs for allergies, bites, flu.
Buying some ‘souvenirs’ along the way
Hmm… I would rather set your mind towards not buying anything at all, because you simply cannot carry it for a year. But if you do like something to the extent you can’t resist — use regular postal service to ship it back home. Practice shows that even using the regular post might double the cost of your purchase.
So best souvenirs are the memories. For that: blog and take photos/videos. That brings us towards:
Depending if you are into photography or not, but having at least a small digital camera with video option absolutely a must. So the optimal list would be:
A camera (or GoPro) + Extra battery + 3 SD cards
A smartphone + Extra battery
A tablet or Macbook air, (if you want to blog) + external hard-drive
A universal plug adaptor
Now we start talking. Coming back to the 3 parameters of “why” to travel — “entrepreneurship, food, culture” (example). So the next question would be “who” can connect you to the best experiences along these parameters in the countries you are going to visit? Friends? Friends of the friends? Associations? Ex-class mates? Relatives? Who have ever been or might have connections in those places? The earlier you start figuring that out the best chances you get of having some very unique. People better relate to people introduced to them through good contacts and friends.
Another option are the open platforms like: couchsufing.org, meetup.com, travel forums perhaps. Try everything, a lead will lead you into another lead.
Get at least 3 proved contacts / leads from each country.
Talk to your close ones. A family. Friends. Make sure they understand why you are doing “this”, why “this” is important.
My parents through all 5 stages of acceptance from disbelief to refusal to finally when at the Sunday lunch my mom said: “I have thought about that a lot and understand that you should make this trip. Because only that way you will feel complete and happy. And we are here to support you”.
And I am here to support every one of you who wants to make a leap. The leap of faith. The leap out of comfort zone. The leap towards yourself.
Have I covered it all? Still got questions — just ask!