Quite a bit of research has gone into planning for our big adventure. There were several websites we found extremely helpful. We’ve also learned some tips that we’d like to share with fellow travelers.
Visit www.CDC.org to see which Immunizations are required for the locations you plan to visit. Start your shots early because several of the required shots are in series and require months in between (Hep A, for example, requires 6 months between dosages). Call your local clinics to see which carry travel Immunizations. We went to Patient First in Virginia Beach (the Holland Drive location carries travel immunizations). We were fortunate that our health insurance covered the Immunizations and all we had to pay for were our co-pays for each visit.
One of the most asked questions to us has been, “What did you do with all of your stuff?” You don’t realize how much stuff you can collect in 10 years until you need to do something with it all. Obviously we had to unload the house. We were fortunate enough to have no problem selling. As for personal possessions, we sold many of our belongings on Craig’s List or gave them to family members. The rest of our belongings we stored with Bryan’s family; and his sister is taking care of our two dogs (Thanks Kelly!). We decided to keep one of our cars so we’re not completely stranded when we return to the U.S. after the trip.
It’s all fine and dandy to have money stored up in your U.S. account, but how do you get it out? Obviously we won’t be carrying big wads of cash around with us, and traveler’s checks are a thing of the past. ATM’s are the way to go these days. It’s the cheapest way to get your money out and is based off of the current wholesale exchange rate. Credit Cards will charge you pretty hefty fees to withdraw cash; Money Exchange counters rip you off on the exchange rate (almost 16%!!!); and many remote destinations don’t accept credit cards (which also have a 3% fee). We’ve found it best to use cash everywhere and if you’re going to be making numerous ATM withdrawals from different countries over an extended period of time (like we are), you obviously want an ATM card that charges the least amount of fees. Typical international fees for ATM cards are around 2-3%, plus whatever your local branch charges for using another branch’s ATM (typically $1-$5), and in some cases another fee from the foreign ATM. These fees add up quick!!! Even if you currently have an ATM card that doesn’t charge “foreign” ATM withdrawal fees, most likely they will charge when you use the card internationally. After searching long and hard for a bank that has minimal international fees, we opened a CHARLES SCHWAB High Yield Investor Checking account. It’s the only establishment that we could find that reimburses ALL International Foreign ATM withdrawal fees. We still have the VISA international exchange fee of 1%, but that’s it! We also have our other U.S. debit cards as backups (and all accounts linked), in case something happens to our SCHWAB debit card. In addition to our ATM cards, we have Capital One credit cards (which is the only Credit Card company that has NO FEES on international charges) to use where accepted. Just make sure you notify all of your banks and credit card companies prior to leaving for your trip to ensure that they don’t freeze your account. And one final tip: Steer clear of “commercial” ATMs that aren’t run by banks. Travelex is an example. They like to put these machines in international airports next to the bank ATMs hoping you won’t notice the difference. These machines charge outrageous fees.
Another question that we often get is, “How are you paying for the trip? Did you hit the lottery or something?” No, we wish! Actually, we didn’t win the lottery, nor do we come from wealthy families. We worked hard for our money and have continually saved for the past 10 years. Bryan actually clocked an additional 4,293 overtime hours at his work over the past 10 years. So he literally put in almost 12 years of work in a 10 year period. He also bought a house in 2001, and sold it for double the value in 2007. Yeah, we took a loss on our most recent home sale with the troubling economy, but it wasn’t too bad. Granted, 10 years ago we didn’t know that we’d spend all of our savings on this trip, but this is how we got where we are today. We should also mention that we will be doing this trip on the cheap. No Marriott’s or Hilton’s here; and why would we stay in those places? We don’t expect to be in the room much anyways. Sure, we’ll be able to splurge every once in a while, but the majority of our lodging will be in hostels (see THE TRUTH about HOSTELS). For most of our destinations we’ll be able to have a bed to sleep in for around $10/night. Throw in food, entertainment, tours, and transportation ….. and we’re budgeting for under $50/person per day.
With neither of us holding a job anymore, we no longer have health insurance through our employers. Instead, we plan to buy a policy through WORLD NOMADS. For about $500 every 6 months, both of us are covered for any emergency medical expenses that we might endure. This doesn’t cover doctor visits for minor illnesses; only life threatening ones. You have to remember though, we won’t be in the U.S. anymore. From what we’ve seen in the rest of the world, health care is not near as expensive as it is in the U.S. and in many countries it’s actually free. Pharmacists will actually fork over the good drugs without any type of prescriptions; just tell them what your symptoms are. And let’s face it, if we get hurt in a remote are of Africa, they’re not going to take our BlueCross BlueShield card anyways! A World Nomad policy also covers trip cancellation, trip interruption, and baggage loss.
For the South America part of our trip, we didn’t take anything with us other than our netbook and I-pad. So, we relied solely on email and Skype to communicate with people. And of course, we didn’t carry our computers around with us everywhere. There were many times when we were out in the town and wanted to look up Tripadvisor recommendations, consult a map, etc. We found that internet was available almost everywhere, but we couldn’t make use of it when our computers were at the hostel. For Leg #2 we brought an iPhone (smartphone) with us. It’s come in very handy! And even better, we signed up for Google Voice before leaving the United States, and we were assigned a FREE U.S. phone number. With the Talkatone APP installed on the iPhone, anytime we’re in a WIFI area we essentially have a phone. We can text, call, and receive calls from the U.S. for FREE….from anywhere in the world. And now when we reserve bus, ferry, train, or plane tickets we can actually give the company a phone number. It’s saved us once when our ferry in Helsinki was cancelled and we received a text stating that we were moved to an earlier departure! Do yourself a favor and bring a smartphone with you and sign up for Google Voice before you leave the States.
In pretty much all of South America, it was not safe to drink the tap water directly from the faucet. So we had to buy bottled water several times daily! We probably spent close to $1000 on just water! Yeah, that’s right (180+ days at $2-3/day per person). I highly recommend buying a water purifier if you’re going to a place where the water is undrinkable. We met several travelers that had Steripens, and they all raived about them. No one that we had met had ever experienced problems from drinking the tap water once they used the Steripen. So we bought one for Leg #2 of our trip. And think of how many plastic bottles you are saving! Because in many parts of the world recycling does not exist.
After reading various blogs debating the pros and cons of various size backpacks, we both opted to carry a smaller backpack (not much larger than a typical school backpack, but sturdier and with several pockets). This meant that we would have to make due with much less clothing and other belongings, but the convenience of carrying around a smaller pack seemed worth it. We both decided we did not want to drag those huge hiking packs on trains, planes, taxis, rickshaws, elephants, or whatever other transportation we would be using. However, we will see how Kristin gets by with only a few articles of clothing for several months! (Update after Leg #1): So far, our packs have worked out Great! We could probably stand to leave a few more things at home.
The number one rule we followed while purchasing our clothes for the trip was NO COTTON! Cotton takes a long time to dry and holds moisture and odors. As scary as the concept is to Kristin, she will not be able to do laundry on a regular basis. We will most likely be washing our clothes by hand and letting them hang to dry. We selected items that would dry quickly and were made of nylon, polyester, spandex, etc. This also applies to socks, bras, and underwear! The majority of our pants convert to shorts. Kristin’s pants are 3-in-1 – they are long pants, capris, and shorts! We searched REI, the Patagonia Outlet, and Sporting Goods stores for all of our travel clothes. Remember, it’s not like other people around the world don’t wear clothes. It’s not a big deal if we forget a thing or two, or need to adapt to changing weather conditions. We can always get what we’re missing on the road, and actually “fit in” a little more with the locals. (Update after Leg #1): No cotton rule worked great for us, with one exception! Socks!!! We had nice synthetic Under Armour socks for our South America leg. Worst decision ever! They retained odors like we’ve never experienced before. Within a couple weeks we ditched them and went back to regular old cotton. They don’t dry as quick as we’d like, but no more stinky feet 🙂
We both invested in high quality pairs of hiking boots that we will wear the majority of the time. They needed to be sturdy, comfortable, and waterproof. We gave them a trial run with some long mountain hikes to make sure they were the right choice before our trip. We also packed durable flip flops for beach locations.
In this day in age, you most likely will want to bring a computer. Many hostels have free Wi-Fi and there are also internet or cyber cafes in many places. We are setting our family up on Skype before we leave since calling will be costly. Bryan is bringing a small netbook and Kristin is bringing an iPad. Of course you will also want at least one good camera to capture those once in a lifetime memories. Bryan is the photographer with the fancy equipment, but Kristin will also sport a pocket-size digital camera. For those long plane, train, or bus rides, we packed MP3 players for entertainment.
Keep the originals with you as you travel and make extra copies of all important documents you take, as well as a few copies to keep at home for safekeeping with family members. Some countries, such as Brazil and Bolivia, require Visas for entry into the country, even for short periods of time. Be sure to take plenty of extra passport-size photos with you for those border visa applications.