Have you ever thought of dropping everything, quitting your job and traveling to faraway countries with an old backpack and your head full of dreams? Maybe have you already lived away from your hometown for a long period of time, working as an expat or backpacking in Australia, South America, Indonesia or South East Asia? Well, getting up one morning and walking out the door isn’t the hardest part of the trip. This significant move requires careful planning, thoughtful organization and maturing your decision before you take the plunge. Your journey starts at home with an inextricable mess of administrative paperwork, health controls, vaccines, police clearances and other practical, logistical and personal choices to make. Here is my own personal to-do list before moving abroad.
Find your next destination, be inspired, do lots of research
Are you moving abroad because you have found your dream job or in order to find it? Are you doing a sabbatical around the world with your best friend? And if you could pick one country to visit first, where would that be and why? Especially why. Before you make up your mind, you need to do lots of research. Interview other people who have done it, research jobs, take into account the many variables, such as the language, the costs of living, the salary, the pension, relationship restrictions, the cultural aspects, the health system, the weather and the political regime, to name but a few. Read blogs, vlogs, contact expats, take your time considering your new potential home country. Weigh up the good and the bad of each country. Find out when to move abroad. You wouldn’t want to arrive in Thailand during the monsoon, in Cuba during hurricane season or in Iceland when all the roads are closed due to a snowstorm. And don’t forget to start dreaming.
Buy your plane ticket in advance
Some things take time to prepare, like packing boxes and getting your house ready for rent. Other things take time to process, such as administrative paperwork and very often there is nothing you can do to speed them up. And finally, some things can only be done on-site, when you get to your new country, like opening a bank account. But one thing takes very little time and needs to be done early: get your plane ticket. As a general rule, buying a plane ticket one to four months before the trip is considered the best booking window. You will get the cheapest airfare and it will give you a sense of action. Did you know that plane tickets can be issued up to 10 months in advance? This should give you plenty of time to get those boxes and paperwork ready. Also, buying your plane ticket means that things are getting real and it will set the foundations of your journey. Having a departure date will make it easier for you to start planning and to find a job abroad. Many websites are available to compare cheap airfares and you can set an alert to be notified when the best deals are out. Remember: leaving on a Tuesday, or Wednesday will always be cheaper. And don’t forget to buy a cancellation insurance … You never know what could happen in a few months.
Be organized, plan ahead and give yourself time
Traveling is all about planning. I can’t stress enough the importance of a good organisation, whether you deal with administrative chores in your home country or when you try to get all your papers in order while you get to your destination. Planning ahead, allowing yourself enough time, being organised and careful research will allow you to get out of sticky situations like computer issues – it’s never a good experience when your job interview on Skype can’t happen because your computer just died on you – or administrative issues – wait, I need my original diploma? Where the hell is it? – or any other issue before you leave like renting or subletting your apartment, notifying your health insurance company that you’re leaving and finding out if they can still cover you abroad. And what about your bank fees when using your cards abroad? Did you know that some banks have a sort of protection that you need to lift in order to withdraw money in poor countries? Well, I didn’t and I learned the hard way in India and Nepal. Planning will make your relocation as easy and smooth as possible.
Don’t forget to…
Create folders with the important documents, diplomas, insurance papers that you are going to bring with you and scan them. Email them to you many time, and to someone reliable and store them on a cloud. Have the most important ones certified and translated into English if necessary. Make sure your passport is up-to-date and you have enough pages left for the next year or so. Find out what kind of international driver’s license is needed where you are going. Book doctors’ appointments in advance and ask for a copy of your records. Buy an extra pair of contacts or glasses; you don’t want to miss any of the beautiful landscapes you’ll encounter because you can’t see properly. Renew everything that has an expiration date such as your driver’s license, your passport, or your medicine. Get a travel insurance and health insurance that will cover you throughout your entire trip. Start booking accommodations for the first few days/weeks of your travel, with cancellation policy if possible.
Money, money, money
Money is a big cloud over the pretty picture of your future travels and is one of the main reasons most people hesitate to take the plunge. True, traveling costs a pretty penny, from the plane ticket(s) to the accommodation(s), and the visas/passport/vaccines. And that’s just the beginning. But there are sooooo many cheap ways of discovering the world without drowning in debts, for traveling is first and foremost about passion, freedom and not getting tied down.
First of all, where are you going to travel? North America, the Middle East, Oceania, Japan and Europe are expensive areas, whereas South-East Asia, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe are more affordable. Then, what kind of activities are you interested in? Hop-on hop-off buses, day tours and other organized tours are usually more expensive than getting lost in the city, meeting up with locals and discovering the surroundings on your own. As a general rule, I always try to stray off the beaten path and to do things on my own. Couchsurfing and WWOOFing are, of course, two famous ways of traveling on a budget and a myriad of blogs, vlogs, books, magazines, podcasts and conferences are available to help you estimate your budget, figure out how to make money on-the-go, help you find a job abroad and guide you through the many activities and steps that will require more than a fiver. Finding an accommodation in Delhi, buying a motorbike in Vietnam, sightseeing around the Australian bush, scuba diving in Belize or partying on a rooftop in Kuala Lumpur, anything is possible and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg – you need those to keep traveling.
Also, if you are contemplating moving abroad for a long period of time, managing your finances in your home country and in your country of adoption should be at the top of your list. What kind of credit card would best fit your needs? What do you need to open a bank account in your new country? What about taxes and where should you pay them? What about your pension? Let your bank know that you are moving abroad and ask if you can set up an Internet banking account and a Paypal account.
Gear and technology
At this point, you’re almost done, but you still need a few things. What backpack are you taking with you and what will you bring along? Depending on the kind of trip you’ll be doing – backpacking or moving abroad – you’ll need to pack light or heavy. Many websites will help you find the perfect backpack, adapted to your morphology and your needs. A good camera is also an important choice to make: DSLR, compact camera or GoPro? Here’s a non-exhaustive list of 10 modern devices that will change your life:
- a solar battery with a capacity of 4 battery charges or a power bank. These could really save your butt when you can’t find a plug (25$). Some solar batteries also have a flashlight, which can come in handy quite often.
- a smartphone with all sorts of useful apps (currency, translator, booking, notes, TripCase, Airbnb, Snapseed, CityMaps2Go, TripIt, LiveTrekker etc)
- extra memory cards or a Mobi EyeFi SD Card to transfer all your precious pictures in wireless from your camera to an external hard drive or a cloud (25$) – and some extra storage on your personal cloud.
- a waterproof case for your most precious device – smartphone, tablet, camera etc?
- padlocks or keyless Bluetooth padlock to travel light. No key, no code to remember, open your padlock with your smartphone (42$). As an extra-protection, get a Trakdot Luggage Tracker (50$) to find your lost backpack. A notebook lock with a cable that instantly coil and locks your notebook to a table or a chair (Kensington Notebook Lock 20$)
- a universal power adaptor, a car charger, extra batteries for all your devices, and extra usb cables
- portable Bluetooth speakers and headphones (20$)
- wide angle fisheye + macro lens attach to your smartphone such as the Olloclip 4-in-1 Lens or a cheaper version on Amazon (5$)
- a wireless mini pocket router (30$) and/or a local sim card or an international data sim such as the Keepgo Global Data Sim (4$/day)
- snap links, ropes and elastic strings. You never know, these cost nothing, take no room at all in your backpack, and are always useful.
NOTE: Don’t forget to protect them from sand and humidity by using zipper bags
Getting ready psychologically: the last step
Realizing that you won’t see your friends and family for a long time, and that you’re about to take the plunge is the final step. Traveling is exciting and after careful preparation, the excitement usually hits a peak a few days before departure. However, preparing yourself and realising that you’re hours or days away from leaving behind you everything you know to embrace a world of differences is crucial. Very few travellers will tell you that everything went according to plan while moving abroad or backpacking around the world. Accepting that you may become homesick – or just plain sick – or that your new country’s culture, habits, religion and traditions may not live up to your expectations is how you know that you are ready to leave. And while you psychologically prepare yourself to such a big change, understand that you are the one leaving. You will miss out on important events in your home country, you will be hard to reach and some people that you called friends will become distant memories. Life goes on without you. It’s a choice you made; embracing it is the healthiest way to enjoy your journey. And those you loose will soon be replaced by more wonderful and open-minded citizens of the world you will meet on the road. Traveling is a cycle; you will be missed, you will explore coveted locations but you will come back, sooner or later. Understand this, and you are ready. You can now go forth and enjoy the ride.