“How exactly do you prepare to leave the country and travel full time?”
As our departure day grows near, this is the recurring question. People are interested, surprised, envious, confused but most of all curious.
So over the past couple of weeks I have been pulling together some details (list below). A lot of details. In fact, I would answer the above question with a simple sentence. “It’s in the details.”
For us it has been a long process. A younger person, like my son, can prepare more quickly, in a matter of months. But for Fab Fifty rock stars like me and my husband, it takes more time.
For us about three years.
When the idea first sprouted, I knew immediately we would do it. Without a question I knew it was right for us. All while knowing it isn’t something for everyone.
In fact, making a major life change like this should take some serious soul searching – are you cut out for a life of travel? What is your tolerance level? Consider everything from beds to cultural customs when considering your personal tolerance for living outside of the United States.
Once you know your tolerance level that in-turn will help you determine your budget. Because if you are only willing to stay in upscale American style hotels, then your budget will need to look very different from ours. Our travels will have us staying in primarily Airbnb’s that average about $70.
We have set a daily budget of $200 all inclusive (transportation, lodging, food and misc). This will be plenty for most places and not enough for a few places, but we hope to be frugal and have it all even out. Because the reality is if we can’t stay within our designated budget then the Grand Adventure will be over the first year.
Speaking of timeline – we don’t have one. This of course would not work for everyone, but for us it fits. We will continue the vagabond life as long as we are having fun. As soon as it becomes anything other than fun, we are done. That may be in six months or it may be in six years. Of course our plans might also change down the road if things change for our family back home or our sons wherever they are. Staying flexible is part of the plan.
So listed below are some “details”. Most of these things we have had to learn on our own – so if this list can alleviate any work for someone else considering traveling abroad in retirement, use it well.
PURGE – we started our purge process more than two years ago as we let go of nearly every bit of fluff we owned, including house, cars, trailer, furniture and more. We have a 10×12 storage unit now that is holding what remains of our stationary lifestyle and life’s memories.
DOCUMENTS – we updated our passports even though they were not expired, so we would not have any issues with needing to do that from abroad. We also updated our Washington State Drivers License. We will carry a copy of our marriage certificate with us but not our birth certificates because the passport is sufficient. We have researched every possible country we think we might visit to learn the entry/visa requirements. We are carrying extra passport photos because some countries require obtaining a visa on entry with photo.
SPREADSHEET – we created a spread sheet, which is evolving constantly and we can access via Google Drive, to track all of our travel including air and ground transportation and lodging. This spreadsheet includes notes regarding entry rules for countries.
MAIL – we are using a PO Box that belongs to my Mother-in-law, but we are trying hard not to receive any mail. We have notified our friends and family not to snail mail us, we have contacted magazines and catalogs to eliminate junk (not very successful however) and we have changed all of our banking, retirement and property related mail to online only. I canceled my 35 year subscription to Bon Apetit.
TECHNOLOGY – we have new smart phones, an iPad and my MacBook Air that will travel with us. In addition we will bring our old flip phone. For our smartphones (we each have an iPhone) we will purchase a sim card in each country we are in to enable our phones to have a local phone number and data. We will then also use our iPhones with wifi for things like blogging, Facebook and Instagram. The flip phone will be programmed with our old verizon phone number from the states. Although we don’t plan to use that number often, it keeps it active for emergency.
We also have, in addition to our Bose headphones a Bose SoundLink Mini speaker that measures about 6 in x 3 in. We carry this with us and it allows us to listen to music using Spotify and also listen to Audible or other books.
APPS – We have a few travel apps we like especially Airbnb, Expedia and Google Maps. We also have a Google translate which is really cool. You can point your phone at a sign or menu item in another language and it will show you what it says in English. Love it. I have recently downloaded WhatsApp, an app that allows you to make overseas calls via the internet. We also use Kindle, Yelp, Uber and Trip Advisor.
CORDS AND CHARGERS – I honestly don’t understand why there can’t be a universal cord for all electronics, but alas wishful thinking. So we have organized and sorted all our cords, charges and adaptors to travel along.
CREDIT CARDS – don’t you hate it when your credit card company announces suddenly that you are being mailed a new credit card because your card has been compromised? Well that would really screw us up if that happens. So we now have FOUR credit cards. One is our primary and three are backups. Three cards have no foreign transaction fees (which can be a killer). We also have multiple ATM cards. All credit and debit cards are chipped. VERY IMPORTANT is that we do not carry all these cards together in one place. That way, if our wallet or purse is lost or stolen, we will have back up cards available in a different location. We have contacted all of the card companies for both credit and debit and let them know we will be traveling abroad for an extended period. We have put a reminder on our calendar to do this again periodically.
PRESCRIPTIONS – I take three prescriptions regularly. It’s been a challenge to get enough of my meds stocked up. My insurance company will allow, with a special doctor’s note, 2 90 day vacation overrides. I have been stocking up in other ways too, but it’s not going to be enough. I will need to find access to these meds to fill the rest of the time, because we won’t be back in the US for a visit for 20 months. Shipping prescription abroad is illegal. I am confident I can find the meds or an equivalent. I will need to pay cash for those at the time. I have also 18 months worth of contact lenses and we each have our glasses plus a back up pair.
DOCTORS – during this three week period between Chapter Four and Chapter Five we have had a ton of appointments; family physician for preventive travel sickness meds, eye doctor for new contacts and glasses, dermatologist for annual check up, dentist for cleaning and some work, gynecologist for check up, and annual mammogram. We will see all these doctors again when we visit the US in 20 months.
MEDIVAC INSURANCE – considering our age, we felt there was value in purchasing evacuation insurance. This insurance covers expenses to transport us back to the US in case of a medical emergency that can’t be handled locally.
EXPEDIA AND AIRBNB – we love how these two online websites allow you to keep files of all your bookings. This eliminates the paper trail and gives us easy access to our bookings. We use them both frequently.
DECIDING WHERE TO GO – this is a big one. We learned early in our planning about something called the Schengen group of countries, which we had never heard of. It significantly impacted our itinerary for the first year. Schengen group rules allow you to only spend 90 days in any 180 day period in Schengen countries. Most countries in the European Union are Schengen, but not all. I don’t really understand the reason for the rule, other than perhaps they are fearful of immigrants, but because we plan to spend 5-6 weeks hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain next Fall, we had to really carefully plan our itinerary. During our second year abroad we will have more freedom within the Schengen countries. Learn more about the Schengen rules here.
So our itinerary puts us in non-Schengen countries for the first eight months; Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, New Zealand, Seychelles Islands, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Croatia. Then the Schengen clock begins ticking as we travel to Slovenia, Portugal, and Spain before we move out of the Schengen again to finish our first year in Morocco, South Africa and Namibia.
That said we are only booking flights and lodging six months in advance, except when we know we might have high season competition. This way we can keep some freedom to change our minds.
GIRL STUFF – I’ve spent a year growing my hair out so I can not be bothered with hair cuts and just put a scrunchy in and be done. It’s not pretty but it’s easy. I’ve also, reluctantly, given up the gel manicures and now am doing regular manicures to make my nail care easier and do-it-yourself. I’ve stocked up on a few beauty products that I love and simplified my makeup routine and products. I’ve chosen a half dozen pair of earrings and three necklaces. I’ve cleaned and polished them all and packed them in a hard eyeglass case that I will carry in my handbag.
Speaking of handbag I have an over the shoulder secure handbag. It’s not pretty but it is very functional. I have a smaller handbag that I can use for day use, but the travel bag is a must when on the go. Safety first.
PACKING – this topic is by far the one most people ask about, and indeed one of the hardest. How to decide what to bring? Last year before our trip to Burkina Faso we purchased two large rolling suitcases from REI. And a few months ago before leaving on our month in Hawaii we purchased new small backpacks from REI. This is all we have for packing. One roller bag and one backpack. It helps that we are traveling, for the most part, to warm climates or to areas during their warm season. We may see rain in New Zealand and on the Camino de Santiago but mostly we are only bringing spring/summer clothing. Honestly the clothing choice has been easier than the shoes. And the bulkiest items are not clothes or shoes its toiletries and medicines.
Without a doubt I am bringing twice the clothes
(maybe more) than my husband is bringing, but I have actually edited it down really well. It has helped ALOT to have had these practice trips (Chapter 1-4) over the past several months. I have learned a lot about what I own that is easiest, most comfortable, most versatile and packs well.
So here is the list for two years:
- 4 short sleeve cotton t-shirts and two short sleeve blouses
- 2 cardigans (one long one short)
- 5 long sleeve t-shirts and blouses
- 4 tanks and two sleeveless blouses
- 1 skirt
- 2 nice dresses, 4 sundresses/coverups
- 6 long pants (2 linen drawstring, one black slacks, black leggings, white cropped pants and army green touring pants)
- 4 shorts
- Hiking clothes (2 shirts, one long pant one short pant)
- Running clothes (1 tank, one shirt, one shorts one long pants)
- Coats (raincoat, down scrunch coat, poncho)
- Warm things just in case (hat, gloves, scarf, long underwear top, yoga pants, lightweight sweatshirt)
- 2 swimsuits
- 1 pajamas
- 4 hats (sunhat, hiking hat, running hat and one I just like)
- 2 long scarfs
- 6 shoes (black low heel, Keens sandle, flip-flops, hiking shoe, running shoe and green Chuck’s)
- undies (quick dry)
- 4 pants (jeans, 2 zip off hiking pants, dockers)
- 2 shorts
- 2 long sleeve shirts
- 5 nice short sleeve shirts
- 4 wicking short sleeve shirts
- Running gear (shorts and long pants, 1 tank and 1 T shirt)
- Warm things just in case (lightweight sweatshirt, rain shell, poncho, down vest, hat, gloves, scarf)
- 2 swimsuits
- 2 hats (hiking and running)
- 4 shoes (Keens sandles, flip flops, hiking shoes, running shoes)
- undies (quick dry)
In addition we have our electronics and documents and toiletries, first aid and meds, a small travel towel and a couple of books. We have torn chapters out of our travel guide books and are only carrying the chapters we need. I am also bringing two knives because we have been told knives for cooking abroad, especially in SE Asia, are terrible. I have a new cross stitch project I am bringing and we will bring our scrabble game and some playing cards. I’ve thrown in some pens and pencils, cloths pens, plastic bags (multiple sizes) our headlamps and some extra batteries. Of course I don’t leave home without my WSU flag, my Seahawks flag and THE MUG.
Two of my friends have gifted me good luck talismans – a wooden cross and a silver sand dollar. I have them tucked in my wallet. Of course I also have my charm bracelet with its growing collection of charms.
So there you have it. The details. I’ve probably forgotten something. Feel free to ask me questions if you have them. It’s been a labor of love and I am ready to board that plane and get on with it.
Ready to launch! T minus 14 days