Your ‘Traveling the World for a Year’ Checklist, According to Someone Who’s Doing It
I’ve lived in New York City for the better part of a decade. Somewhere along the way, it started to feel like home. Yes, it’s hectic and crowded. OK, the subways are constantly delayed, but everything is accessible (heck, you can get food delivered anytime of the day or night), and there’s always tons to do. Affection for the Big Apple aside, I’m packing my bags and embarking on a year-long travel adventure with my soon-to-be husband. We’re getting married in April and commencing our world tour a month later.
This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. We’ve actually been toying around with the idea for some time. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of planning that goes into this type of voyage. Sure, renewing your passport and getting a bunch of vaccines isn’t the least bit glamorous, however you can't journey abroad without doing the behind-the-scenes stuff.
Over the past few months, my fiancé and I have dedicated countless hours in pursuit of prepping to make this dream a reality. Is it going to be worth it? Abso-freakin-lutely. Would we have liked a little guidance on the logistical side of things? Certainly. That said, all this effort laid the groundwork for our trip—and this article.
Create a Travel Wish List
This might be the most fun and intimidating part of the process. The world is your oyster (quite literally)...where will you wander? Personally, I’ve kept a running document with dream destinations for years. So, much of our geographical wish list came as an extension of that. Mike had opinions, too. Luckily, we were almost entirely on the same page—which is ideal.
Truth be told, prioritizing locales was tricky because we wanted to go everywhere. Mike found that a white board was a great tool. I suggested breaking it up by continent (Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, South America) and then we jotted down countries—“yes” in black and “maybe” in blue. After erasing a few of the latter, things began to come together. Reading articles, referring to trusted sources (such as Travel.State.Gov) and talking to friends along with experts was also a big help in whittling down our initial list.
Put Together a Rough Itinerary
If you enjoy Excel, this next part is going to be pretty darn thrilling. We created a grid with the countries, anticipated days spent, cities and logistics (for example, we’re driving through Belgium, so what that might entail). We also compiled what I like to call “itinerary thought starters,” places conveniently linked by train and long-haul flights. I learned you can fly direct from Frankfurt to Cape Town on Condor. It’s 12 hours and costs somewhere in the ballpark of $500, depending on when you book.
Figure Out Visas
I’ll be honest, Mike did most of the legwork for this. It was a matter of going through the chart and determining whether or not the respective countries require a visa. If yes, what are the details (e.g., costs and timeframe for applying)? Of course, he put all of the information into our trusty spreadsheet. FYI many travel companies will handle this part for a fee. But we—or, shall I say, he—decided to handle it.
Perhaps, the least riveting and most necessary aspect of planning? Budgeting. For us, that meant taking a look at what we pay in rent (did I mention we’re getting rid of our NYC apartment?) and seeing how we can put that money toward travel. Also, I’ll still be working—oh, the perks of being a freelance writer!—although Mike is hanging up his computer monitors, at least for the foreseeable future. So, our case may be slightly different than others.
Whatever way you slice it, a lot factors go into the budget (accommodations, daily living expenses, food, entertainment, transportation, insurance, etc.). Keep in mind, some destinations like Bangkok and Lisbon are notoriously affordable, while others such as Paris are quite pricey. With that said, what each person or couple needs to put aside in order to make this work will vary. So, again, a spreadsheet is gold.
Renew Your Passport
This may sound easy, but there a few things you’d be foolish to overlook. First off, renewing your passport by mail isn’t fast—on average, it takes eight weeks—unless you plan to expedite, and that costs $60 for expedited application processing and $16.48 for delivery service. Something else to note is that you will need a ton of blank visa pages if you’re going to travel for a long span of time and visiting many countries. The solution? Request the larger passport book instead of the regular version. *The more you know.*
Get Immunizations and Medicine
No one wants to think about getting sick while traveling, but the reality is it happens. And you need to be prepared. Also, worth mentioning, your regular doctor might not be able to help with everything. Insert Passport Health, a company dedicated to travel medicine and immunization services with 270-plus clinics across North America.
We scheduled a consultation at the Midtown location. Upon arriving, we signed a few waivers and then were escorted back to an office, where our doctor pulled out a massive folio filled with information about the destinations we planned to visit. (Mike uploaded this information into the online portal when he made the appointment.) Not only did our MD walk us through the entire 40-page packet and answer every question we threw her way, she also administered vaccinations (yellow fever, hepatitis A and typhoid, in case you were curious) and gave us advice about medicine. Basically, we need to take anti-malaria pills for specific places. She suggested tailoring our itinerary to optimize prevention.
Set Up a Checking Account
This may seem weird. After all, you already having a checking/debit account at home, right? It turns out that doesn't really suffice. For starters, you could be looking at sky-high foreign transaction fees and ATM surcharges—neither of which are an issue with Charles Schwab. So, I just revealed where my money is stashed. Oops.
Obtain an International Driving Permit
Again, Mike did this. The question you might be asking is “do I really need an international driving permit (IDP)?” The answer is yes, if you plan on operating a vehicle outside of America. This baby lets you cruise legally in 174 countries. You’ll also need to carry a valid U.S. driver's license. Where do you get such a thing? Either the Automobile Association of America (AAA) or American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). The fee is $20, and it’s good for a full year.
Choose the Right Phone Plan
Now for what may be the biggest change of them all...I’m giving up my iPhone. No disrespect to Apple (I just ordered a new 13” MacBook Air for the trip, so clearly I’m still a fan), but Google does it way better internationally when it comes to phones. If you care about Instagram-worthy pics, Pixel 3 is the move. It has a stellar camera and something called wide-angle selfie mode. Beyond that, it charges in just 15 minutes! The biggest selling point? That clever slogan you've probably heard, "roam for the same price as home." It’s true! The international phone/data package options, which are a steal in comparison to competitors. (Mike and I did exhaustive research.) Project Fi starts at $20/month for unlimited calls and texts, so I can stay in touch with everyone back home. While we’ve done plenty of planning, I can’t even fathom what my data usage might be. So I’m stoked that it’s flexible, just $10/GB.
Purchase Travel Insurance
No matter how impressive your planning skills, unforeseen stuff can happen. Which is why travel insurance is a non-negotiable, if you ask me (and savvy wanderlusters everywhere). After much deliberation, we decided to go with World Nomads. What sold us was the scope of coverage, from overseas medical and dental treatment to replacing stolen credit cards and reimbursement for lost baggage. And 24-hour assistance is an added benefit. Because emergencies always seem to happen at the most inconvenient times.
Copy Important Documents
Before departing, be sure to make copies of your passport and all important documents. Keep originals with you at all times. Then stash one copy in a secure place, whether that’s a locked suitcase or in the hotel safe. It’s also smart to have a digital record saved on your desktop and email or Google drive. We went a step further and sent a copy of everything to my parents as extra backup.
Clearly, you need a passport to travel, however certain countries also require visitors to show proof of yellow fever vaccination—in the form of an International Certificate of Prophylaxis (ICVP)—before granting entry.
What happens if these precious documents are stolen or go missing, along with ID and credits cards? Well, you’ll be grateful copies exist. And it will definitely go a long way if you have to go to the embassy.
Make a Packing Checklist
Obviously, you’ll need to bring more than just clothes and shoes. Think: international adapters, a camera to capture incredible memories, medicine, toiletries (if you assumed I’m flying without sheet masks, well, that’s not happening), cash, traveler's checks. Now you’re starting to see why a packing checklist is key.
Buy the Right Gear
Once you have a pretty solid packing list, it’s time to purchase the right gear. Figuring a suitcase with wheels wasn’t the most practical for many of the places on our world tour, we went to REI and tried on all sorts of backpacks. Ultimately, the decision was made to buy something smaller and carry-on friendly—thus avoiding the fees and inconvenience associated with checking a bag. We settled on the Tortuga 45L Setout Backpack, a magical hybrid that has both function and carry ability, and, because there are odds and ends we absolutely can’t live without, the Outbreaker Duffle (which, BTW, is on sale for $45) to haul personal items and in-flight essentials.