This adventure could be the most magical time of your life.
So why does it feel so damn stressful!?
Because there’s so much to do, that’s why!
When we were planning our first block of long-term travel I realised there was no single resource that listed everything that needed (or might need) doing.
So I created it.
Below you will find 35 key things you will need to sort out before you head off. I’ve grouped them by weeks to make it easier, but you can easily change the order to get ahead or match your own plans.
(P.S. this post assumes you’ve already decided on your destination and itinerary, so it picks up from the point you start to plan)
So without further ado, here we go….
Things To Do Before Travelling Abroad: Week -12
Book your initial flights. This will probably be the biggest one-off expense attached to your sabbatical, so book early and spread the cost over a longer period of time. I generally use use Skyscanner or Kiwi alongside Google Flights (though I’ve also recently had success with Aviasales) to make sure I’ve got the best price.
Book ‘throwaway’ flights. A sabbatical might well by the first time in your life you’ve booked one-way flights, but be careful! Many countries require a proof of exit or they won’t grant a visa. One way around this is to book a ‘throwaway’ flight. Find the cheapest possible flight out of the country close to the time you think you’ll leave, and book it. You may use it, you may not, but if you get it cheap it doesn’t really matter. An alternative is to leave booking this flight until very close to your arrival, and then cancel it shortly after for a refund. For more information on ‘throwaway’ flights click here.
Check your passport. Make sure it:
- Is in date with at least six months additional validity from the point you enter your last country
- Has enough space in it for visas.
Not only will you need your passport to be in date, but some countries also require it to be in date for six months after so be cautious.If you are going to be travelling through multiple countries with complicated visa processes you might need to upgrade to a passport with more pages to ensure you don’t run out.
Decide what to do with your house. If you rent, then this will be as simple as giving notice on your lease, but you will also now need to start deciding what to do with your stuff as you travel (storage can be very expensive). If you are a homeowner then you will need to start looking into options for your house. It might seem simple to leave it empty, but this can invalidate your home insurance, so double check with your insurer. It you have pets it becomes even more important, as one option might be to leave them at your house.
Here are a few options:
- Speak to neighbours or relatives to see if anyone can move in whilst you are away.
- Sign up with housesitting companies (I prefer HouseCarers.com) to find a short term housesitter.
- If you are away for a long period of time, it might be worth renting out your property, so speak to estate agents in town
- You can leave the property empty, but check with your insurance company (as most have exclusions if the property is vacant for 30 days or more), and organise someone to pop round regularly to ensure there are no problems.
Decide what to do with pets. This can be one of the toughest decisions to make, so I have an entire post dedicated to it. If you have someone moving in it to your property it might be an easy transition but if not, now is the time to start looking for local kennels or catteries. If you plan to leave them with a friend or relative, it might be worth doing a test run for a weekend to see how your pets adapt to their new environment. This is especially important if you are introducing them to a home with other animals or children.
Start making a list of the new gear you will need. This is another area where you can spread the cost. Whilst I wouldn’t encourage buying a huge amount of new gear, there are some essentials if you don’t have them already. A decent rucksack, packing cubes, a new camera – you can see the full list of gear that we took to Southeast Asia here. If you start planning early, you can add some of these items to Christmas or Birthday lists, and pick them up when sales come around. The sooner you work out what you’re going to need, the more money you’re likely to save.
Buy Travel Insurance. Don’t leave yourself vulnerable here. If you’re travelling for a long period of time there are so many variables! After a $450 charge for reversing a Toyota Hilux into a tree in Laos, we were thankful for getting the money back, and the total travel insurance cost less than that. There are many options out there, but we chose World Nomads. Simple to use, and great customer service when we were processing the claim.
De-Junk. A sabbatical is a great time to start streamlining your life. When you’ve spent a few months living out of a rucksack coming back to a house full of stuff can feel like an overload. Tackle your house cupboard by cupboard and separate out things to sell or donate. You can make good money on eBay or Gumtree which will help to fund your sabbatical. You don’t have to do it all, but tackling a few keys rooms or cubby holes before you leave can be liberating, and the additional income is very useful.
Check your credit/debit cards. It’s worth checking your current cards aren’t going to expire when you’re away, and if they are apply for new ones now. We also applied for a low cost travel credit card when we travelled. It gave us additional protection on purchases, and also had no fees for cash withdrawals abroad. Do some research now to ensure it arrives in time.
Brush up on some language basics. If you’re travelling to a location where there is one widely spoken language, then now might be the time to start picking up the basics. Use an app like Duolingo and to pick up some simple tips quickly. Tim Ferriss also has some incredible resources on his site for learning languages quickly.
Check which vaccinations you need for your destination countries. Get them booked in with your doctor or health clinic. Here is a useful list to get you going.
Register for proxy voting. If there are key elections that take place whilst you are on sabbatical, then you can get someone else to vote on your behalf if you register in advance.
Research visas. Some countries require you to have a visa organised in advance with your date of entry and exit. This will need careful planning, and there can be a lot of paperwork involved. This is something not best left until the last minute, so make sure you have done your homework. I have put together an article that will help you find out what you need to book in advance.
Research the best way to withdraw money whilst abroad to minimise charges. There are many travel credit cards available that offer low withdrawal rates so do some research and order one. It will save you a huge amount as you travel.
Get your phone unlocked. It can save a lot of money to buy cheap ‘pay as you go’ SIM cards whilst you travel (see a great option for virtual SIM cards here) but this is only possible if your phone is unlocked. Most phone providers have details of how to do this on their website.
Set up mail forwarding. If someone is going to be moving into your home whilst you’re away or the property will be left empty, then it might be a good idea to get your mail forwarded to someone you trust, or use a company who will scan and email copies of your post.
Book accommodation for the first few nights. Whilst most long term travel is based on a broad sense of direction rather than a specific night-by-night schedule, it is comforting to know exactly where you’re going to stay when you get to your first country. Book in your first few nights to get your bearings before the more spontaneous adventures begin.
- Try Hostelworld for the best cheap accommodation deals
- Booking.com has the best variety of properties and is generally our go-to for accommodation while we’re on the move
Order additional repeat prescriptions. If you have medication on repeat prescription such as asthma inhalers, it makes sense to order additional now as some have monthly quotas. Trying to get a replacements in a non-English speaking local pharmacy can be a bit of a lottery!
Get additional passport photos. These are often needed on entry to countries where you can apply for a visa at the border. Have one for every country you are planning to visit as a minimum.
Apply for an International Driver’s Permit. This is not needed for all countries, but for some your insurance is invalidated if you haven’t got one. They are easy to apply for from a Post Office. Here is a list of all countries that require one.
If you have someone looking after your house, get them round to chat through the plan. Depending on what you decided in week -11, you may have found someone to look after your house whilst you are away. For us it was our neighbour’s daughter, so we got her round for a coffee to discuss a few ground rules. We also made her a list of things she might need to know about the house whilst we are away. For example:
- Where key documents are kept
- What to do with post
- Where stopcocks are trip switches are located
- Whether they are allowed food etc
- Put together list of passwords if you are giving them access to wifi, cable etc
Book airport transfer. With a sabbatical it’s unlikely you’ll be leaving your car at the airport, so don’t forget you’ll need a different way to get there.
Make copies of all key documents. Keep a paper copy with you, and use an app. like Scannable to upload them to a cloud folder such as Dropbox. It is then useful to share this link or the copies with trusted people in case they need access to them in an emergency.
Here are a few examples of documents you should copy:
- Travel insurance
- Health insurance card
- Driving License
It can also be worth taking a colour photocopy of your passport and laminating it, so you always have identification on you, without the risk of losing or damaging the original. We often left ours in a safe and just took the laminated copy in case we needed it.
It can also be a good idea to print out the address and map of the place you’re staying for the first few nights to show to the taxi driver in case you can’t get on a network or your phone runs out of charge.
Deal with last minute finances.
- Cancel any direct debits that don’t need to be kept going whilst you are away
- Call banks to tell them you are going to be away and stop them blocking cards
- Go into all online bank accounts and turn on ‘fraud alerts’ by email and text message. This will then notify you quickly if there’s a problem with your card.
Download a VPN to your computer for use abroad. A Virtual Private Network has the dual benefit of protecting you whilst on public WiFi networks, and allowing you to tap into services in your home country. Ensure you have one that works on both your computer and phone. My preference is Nord VPN, which costs $11.95 a month, but is incredibly reliable.
Download key travel apps to your phone. You will use your phone very differently when you travel, so download the key ones you need and put them on your homescreen so they are quick to access. Here is a list of apps we used most whilst in Southeast Asia. As a starting here are a list of useful categories and my preference:
- Translation (Google Translate)
- VPN – these work for mobile phones too (read my post ‘The Best VPN for International Travel‘ to learn more)
- The local taxi app (Grab in Asia, Uber most places, 13cabs in Australia)
- An offline map that won’t use your data (Maps.me)
- Fast Currency Conversion (Globe Convert)
Lay out the clothes you want to pack. If you have anything you’re missing you’ve still got time for some last minute shopping. Get everything you’re going to take washed and ready for packing.
Check batteries in fire alarms and replace if needed. Alot of fire alarms are wired in to the mains now, but if not it’s best to change the batteries to ensure they work while you are away. This is especially important if you have someone moving in.
Notify your security company that you are going to be away. If you have a security company who look after your property it’s important they know you won’t be home. They may also want another contact in emergencies as you will be harder to get hold of while travelling.
Make sure people know where you are. Set up an auto-responder on your work and personal email accounts and have a voicemail on your phone. For work, direct people to someone who can help them in your absence, for your personal account let people know you’ll be a bit slow getting back to them whilst travelling.
Charge all your devices. The first few days of travelling can be hectic, so get ahead by charging all your devices before you leave.
Finish packing and check you don’t go over the weight limit.
Send an e-mail to key people with an idea of your itinerary, the key documents link and contact details so they can all get hold of one another in case of an emergency.
Clean out the fridge. Donate or dispose of any perishable food and turn the refrigerator off to save money if no-one will be staying.
Unplug all electronics at your house. If you have no-one staying you don’t want to waste money on your electricity bill by paying for electronics to be on standby.
Time to Travel Abroad!
Head off and enjoy yourself!
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