I get asked a lot of questions regarding our travel life. The most often question is what is our favorite country? Answer – I don’t have a fav…but I do have a top ten (Bulgaria, New Zealand, Myanmar, Guatemala, Vietnam, Namibia, French Polynesia, Cyprus, Malta, France). The second most often asked question is about getting started. Many people just can’t figure out the steps needed and need a little nudge to help. People we meet often show interest, surprise, envy, jealousy, horror and confusion over our long term travel life. But most of all they are curious. And the curiosity is about becoming a traveler. How to make the leap?
Getting Started In Travel
There are as many kinds of travel as there are travelers. Our long term travel (longest 18 months, shortest two months) fits our comfort level, tolerance and budget. But it’s not for everyone. Other people are more suited to solo travel, short-term travel, organized tour travel, female group travel, or niche travel such as yoga or bird-watching or food travel.
So before I can help you in getting started in travel, you need to do some personal soul searching to narrow down what kind of traveler you think you are. What is your tolerance level? Consider everything from beds to cultural customs when considering your personal tolerance for traveling outside of the United States. Do you have phobias? Afraid of bugs? Snakes? Rodents or people not like you? Are you afraid of cultures where everyone isn’t white? Are you willing to eat new foods, communicate in languages other than English and squat to go to the bathroom? Give it a think because, even if you aren’t traveling full-time, you still gotta be open, willing and fairly fearless while being smart, observant and adventurous.
What Kind of Traveler are You?
When the idea first sprouted to become full-time travelers, I knew immediately we would do it. Without a question I knew it was right for us. All while knowing it isn’t right for everyone. That’s why you need to find your comfort zone. Only you can do that. And realize you may start out as one kind of traveler and morph into another as you broaden your horizons. That’s a good thing.
Before we embarked on the first phase of the Grand Adventure in 2016 we spent several years preparing. We had to sell our house, get organized, and figure out what we wanted out of this new lifestyle. It took some soul searching, and frankly it continues to evolve each and every year. But in the beginning our choices had a lot to do with budget.
Once you know your tolerance level and have some idea of your comfort zone, that in turn will help you determine your budget. If you are only willing to stay in upscale American style hotels, then your budget will need to look very different from ours. To sustain our travels we travel very frugally. We don’t need fancy hotels with room service. But if you do, put it in your budget.
Who Do You Want to Be?
Our travels have us staying in primarily Airbnb’s that average about $70. And honestly if you are only willing to stay in American brand hotels with 700 thread count sheets and someone to cater to your every whim – well, you should just stay in the USA. Because you will miss the most rewarding part of international travel – getting out of your comfort zone and expanding your world view. However, if USA travel is your desire…go for it. There is a lot to see in the United States. One good way to do that is to become an RV Traveler. So before we tackle budget let’s talk about some of the different kinds of travelers;
Like myself and my husband, many retired folks go all in on travel…either long term or short. If you are new to travel and retired you might consider starting out with a group tour or a cruise to “get your feet wet” before launching out more broadly. My friend Linda and her husband are retired travelers from Canada and I recommend Linda’s blog and social sites to learn how they make it work. Follow Linda and reach out to her at Retired and Traveling.
Solo Female Traveler
As a blogger I have had the opportunity to become friends with other bloggers and there are many solo female travelers out there. As a solo female it can feel a bit daunting to get started, feel safe and not get lonely. I recommend getting to know my friend Sue. Sue has a wonderful backstory as to how she became a solo female traveler when she lost her husband. I recommend for anyone considering adventure travel, solo or not, to engage with Sue on her website and socials. Learn more at Sue Where Why What.
Packing for travel is one of the questions I get so often! It can seem overwhelming trying to figure out what to pack for either short term or extended travel. So meet my friend Katherine. She is a Kiwi (New Zealand) solo traveling light and she blogs about it and has a book coming out next month called Dare to Travel Solo! Learn how she pulls it together here at The 5kilo Traveller
Full Time Traveler
Full time travel is not everyone’s goal, however once you get comfortable with travel you might find the concept appealing. Becoming a nomad, especially in this day and age where you can work remotely from nearly anywhere, a life of full-time travel is more accessible than ever. My friend Heather left the corporate world to become a full-time traveler and she never looked back. In addition to her blog and socials, she now teaches others how to make it work as a full time traveler. She has a very active Facebook Group called Full Time Travelers and Nomads and a Ted Talk. Find out more about Heather at Heather Begins
How to Budget.
We have a daily budget of $220 all-inclusive for two people (transportation, lodging, food, entertainment and misc). At first glance that might seem like a lot, but flights alone over the years have averaged $40 per day (amortized). This budget is enough for most places (Asia, Africa, Latin America) and not enough for a few places (parts of Europe and the USA), but we are frugal and hope it all evens out. To stay on budget we plan ahead, look for discounts and deals, fly in economy and often don’t rent a car. We cook most meals, eating out about once a week. And the remarkable thing is, we live significantly less expensively while traveling than we did in the USA before we embarked on this new life.
Now in year seven of our Grand Adventure (despite putting everything on hold for an entire year during Covid) we have learned a lot about how to long-term travel efficiently. Some of this knowledge can be applied to any kind of travel, not just long-term. So listed below are some “details” on getting started in travel. 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 full-time or traveling solo or just taking a trip then our work here is done.
PURGE – we started our purge process more than two years before we put our house on the market, as we let go of nearly every bit of fluff we owned, including house, cars, boats, trailer, furniture and more. We put our remaining possessions in a 10×12 storage unit for three years. After three years we purchased a small condo to have a place to come home to in the summer. That was a blessing when Covid hit. When we leave our condo we sometimes have a house sitter but not always. We forward our mail to our son.
All the Documents
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 carry a copy of our marriage certificate with us but not our birth certificates because the passport is sufficient. We research every possible country we think we might visit to learn the entry/visa requirements. We carry copies of our passport, extra passport photos because some countries require obtaining a visa on entry with photo. We also carry International Drivers License, even though we have NEVER been asked for one. We sign up with the US State Department Smart Travel Program and list every country we plan to be in and when.
Create a Spreadsheet
SPREADSHEET – we created a spread sheet (using Google Sheets), 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. It’s also a fun tool for tracking so many things from miles traveled to beds slept in. The data we have is incredible after six and half years.
What About the Mail?
MAIL – we have worked really hard to NOT have any paper mail and do 95% of everything online. But we forward to our son’s house in case mail does show up.
Thank Goodness for Technology
TECHNOLOGY – we have new smart phones, an iPad, a Kindle and a light weight Mac Book Air For our smartphones (we each have an iPhone) we buy a sim card in each country for one of our phones to enable the phone to have a local phone number and data. We then also use our iPhones with wifi for things like blogging, Facebook and Instagram. We keep our Verizon number active so when we return to the USA that number still belongs to us. I definitely recommend getting a SIM card in each country and not paying the daily international fee your provider will offer you. SIM is simple and inexpensive.
We also have our Bose noise-canceling headphones and our 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 listen to Audible or other books.
APPS – We have a few travel apps we like especially Airbnb, Expedia, Booking and Google Maps. We also use Google Translate which is really cool. We use WhatsApp, an app that allows you to make overseas calls via the internet, this is primarily the way we communicate with our kids. To call our parents, who aren’t on WiFi, we use an app called TextNow which allows free phone calls from anywhere to the USA. We also use Kindle, Yelp, Uber, Get Your Guide, Viator and Trip Advisor. We do our banking online with an app and our taxes online. We use a weather app, a plant identifier app called PictureThis and a bird watching app called Merlin. I follow news on the NPR app and the BBC app.
CORDS AND CHARGERS – I honestly don’t understand why there isn’t a universal cord for all electronics, but alas wishful thinking. So we have organized and sorted all our cords, charges and adapters to travel along. We research ahead to make sure we know what adapters we need in each country. We have a really cool little case that keeps all of our electronics organized and in one place. I usually carry some packing tape, post it notes and paper clips in there too.
Money Money Money
CREDIT CARDS AND CASH – 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 have FOUR credit cards. One is our primary and three are backups. Three cards have no foreign transaction fees (which is 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. For most credit credit companies it is no longer necessary to let them know when you are traveling abroad. But check with yours to be sure. We carry several hundred US dollar in cash for emergencies. We never “exchange” US Dollars for local money. Instead to keep from paying the exchange rate fee we take money from a local ATM when we arrive at the airport.
PRESCRIPTIONS – I take two 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, two 90 day vacation overrides. Check with your insurance company to see what their policy is. We carry a first aid kit and a few Covid tests.
DOCTORS – each time we return to the USA we have had a ton of appointments; family physician for full physicals, new prescriptions and precautionary antibiotics; 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 have our Covid shot and boosters and we keep track of all our other vaccinations and update as needed.
STAYING FIT – we eat very healthy everywhere we go. We used to drink a lot more alcohol than we do now…I only have a drink about once a week. In nearly every country we create a running route, do yoga everyday and hike once a week. And we walk and walk and walk.
A Little Pampering
GIRL STUFF – I get a haircut about every three months, and have my nails done about every two months. In between I take care of my nails myself. Depending on the country, I sometimes allow myself a massage or facial. In many countries these things are incredibly inexpensive and very nice. I do not carry a hair dryer but I do carry my skin care products and a very small amount of makeup which I hardly ever use. Because many countries have a lot of minerals in the water that is very hard on hair, I bring really good hair care products from the USA. I have a flat jewelry case with a few earrings and a couple of necklaces.
DECIDING WHERE TO GO – After six years of long-term travel we feel much more comfortable with our movement around the planet. It feels natural. We usually agree on where we want to go and make our decisions based on budget, weather, safety and interest. We love to go to new places, but have a few favorites we return to. We take turns planning the itinerary, often taking a country each. We have been to 123 countries so far! By the way I use a little app called BEEN to keep track of all the countries we have been to.
PACKING – this topic is one most people ask about, and indeed one of the hardest. We will continue to use two large REI rolling bags. Arne will continue to use his backpack as a carry on. I have a small roller bag carry on and a large bag that slides under the seat. And packing cubes have changed my life. Organized and categorized, I love using packing cubes. All that said, I still habitually over pack. But I am better than I used to be and have created a travel wardrobe that works for me. Once you are on the road for awhile you will get a feel for what you actually need and what you can do without.
AND OTHER USEFUL STUFF – We carry a Scrabble game and I carry my fold up hiking poles. We have a hammock that folds up very small. We have a collapsible hot pot for heating water and I love it! We carry some refreeze ice packs, a tiny fold-up cooler, a fold up beach bag and a fold up yoga mat. I carry a few spices and olive oil, some can koozies and reusable water bottles. I also pack flat laundry sheets (such a great invention) a cord and a few clothes pins. My husband has an all-purpose utility knife. Freezer bags and packing cubes – both so useful.
Getting Started in Travel
So there you have it. The details. This is what we have learned when getting started in travel. Start slow or take a leap of faith….but get out there. Alone or with friends or make new friends on a tour…getting started in travel just takes a little faith. Take a few trips, get a feel for it, and then your confidence will soar! Ask me questions! I want to help.
There is plenty of information out there to help in getting started in travel! Fabulous!
Check out a few of my other blog posts about travel life; Making Sense of it All, The Surprising Things You Learn From Full-Time Travel, Our Favorite Destinations No One Goes To and Travel Wardrobe for Multiple Climates
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