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Note – at the request of one of my friends, I have updated this blog, originally posted in November 2016, with fresh new information. Enjoy it again.
“How exactly do you prepare to leave the country and travel full-time?”
As our departure day to leave the USA again grows near, this is the recurring question. People we meet often show, interest, surprise, envy, jealousy, horror and confusion. But most of all they are curious. How exactly do you prepare to leave the country and travel full-time?
So over the past couple of weeks I have been pulling together some details to share again. A lot of details. In fact, I would answer the above question with a simple sentence. “It’s in the details.”
Before we embarked on the first phase of the Grand Adventure we spent several years preparing. 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 took 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 right 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. 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, a life of full-time travel isn’t for sissies or intolerant people. You gotta be open, willing and fairly fearless while being smart, observant and adventurous.
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 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 300 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 travel – getting out of your comfort zone and expanding your world view.
We have a daily budget of $200 all-inclusive (transportation, lodging, food and misc). This is plenty for most places and not enough for a few places, but we are frugal and hope it all evens out. Because the
reality is if we can’t stay within our designated budget then the Grand Adventure will be over, sooner rather than later.
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 will wrap it up. But so far, 99% fun.
So listed below are some “details” on how to prepare to leave the country and travel full-time. 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 in retirement, use it well.
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 have a 10×12 storage unit now that is holding what remains of our stationary lifestyle and life’s memories. During this same period we worked to purge my Dad’s house, remodel his place and get it on the market as well as move him to a smaller place. It was a big goal to get him out of his large house before we left. It was a huge job but it needed to be done.
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. We also carry International Drivers License, even though we have NEVER been asked for one.
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. It’s also a fun tool for tracking so many things from miles traveled to beds slept in. The data we have is incredible.
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 Brand new light weight Mac Book that will travel with us. In addition we will bring our old flip phone. 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. The flip phone is 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 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 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. 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 and Trip Advisor.
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 adaptors to travel along. We research ahead to make sure we know what adaptors we need in each country. We have one packing cube we use for all of these items.
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 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. 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. We carry several hundred US dollar in cash for emergencies.
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. 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 until next summer. Shipping prescriptions abroad is illegal. We have some people coming to visit us, so I may have them bring me my pills. But 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 12 months worth of contact lenses and we each have our glasses plus a back up pair.
DOCTORS – during the three months we have been in 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. I had my updated yellow fever, and DPT shot and did a round of typhoid and got a two month supply of malaria meds.
MEDIVAC INSURANCE – considering our age, we felt there was value in purchasing evacuation insurance. This insurance covers expenses to transport us back to the USA in case of a medical emergency that can’t be handled locally.
EXPEDIA AND AIRBNB – we love how these two
online websites allow us to keep files of all your bookings. This eliminates the need for printing and gives us easy access to our bookings. We use them both frequently.
DECIDING WHERE TO GO – After two years of non-stop 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 new places, but have a few favorites we return to. We take turns planing the itinerary, often taking a country each.
Although we aren’t completely booked yet, we have a plan for August 2018 through June 2019 that includes; Denmark (visiting Arne’s cousins), Belgium, Germany, Poland, Romania, Greece, Egypt &Jordan (the only countries currently where we are doing a tour), Portugal & Spain (where we will walk our second Camino de Santiago), Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru & Chile (these five countries on a cruise with Arne’s Mom), Brazil, Costa Rica (joined by our friends from Washington), El Salvador, Belize (joined by our two sons), Guatemala, Honduras, Dominican Republic and Cuba.
GIRL STUFF – I’ve learned some things about myself over the past two years. Despite how easy it is to have long hair and wear it in a pony tail everyday, I just hate the look on me. So the budget will need to include more haircuts. Mostly I do my own nails and wear hardly no makeup, but I still like to have my eyebrows waxed from time to time. I have just a handful of earrings and necklaces I wear and of course the charm bracelet. I’ve just purchased a jewelry case that’s I hope will help my jewelry not take such a travel beating.
PACKING – this topic is by far the 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. But this time my backpack will stay home and I just purchased a new rolling carry on. And packing cubes have changed my life. Organized and categorized I love using packing cubes.
It helps that we are traveling, for the most part, to warm climates or to areas during their warm season. We may see cool and rainy in Portugal and Spain in the late fall. Honestly the clothing choice has been easier than the shoes. And the bulkiest items are not clothes or shoes it’s toiletries and
medicines. I just purchased a flat style toilette bag to replace the larger boxier cube style one we have been carrying. I’m hoping this will free up some space in the suitcase.
Without a doubt I am bringing twice the clothes as my husband, but I have learned so much this past two years for what works for me and what is comfortable and easy to maintain.
I threw out almost all the clothes I used the past two years and have replaced them with fresh, new and comfortable. Watch for a blog soon all about my new travel wardrobe. I think you’re gonna love it.
In addition we have our electronics and documents and toiletries, first aid and meds. We have our Scrabble game, our hiking poles, a selfie stick, an REI titanium French press, a can opener,a small knife, collapsible small cooler and colander. I have a new “butt cushion” to hopefully alleviate sciatic pain on long flights. I’ve thrown in some pens and pencils, scotch tape and packing tape, a bungee cord, cloths pens, plastic bags (multiple sizes) our headlamps and some extra batteries. Of course I don’t leave home without my Washington State University flag, my Seattle Seahawks flag and THE MUG.
So there you have it. The details. I’ve probably forgotten something. We feel more prepared and less anxious than when we left two years ago. We are looking forward to this next phase.
Ready to launch year three of the Grand Adventure! T minus 33 days.
I welcome your questions.