How to Prepare for a Longer Journey or Sabbatical
by Greg Garcia
Occasionally in life we are presented with the opportunity to travel for more than the traditional two-week holiday that we Americans are accustomed to. A sabbatical, a job transition, or a mean case of wander-lust can have you adventuring for months on end. A little bit more pre-trip planning is necessary as well as a more flexible itinerary than would be required of the normal shorter holiday.
Part 1 – Plotting & Planning
Start with the big ideas: where do you want to go? What do you want to see or try or experience? Indulge in a map and some round-pins so that you can visualize your travels and think about how much time you might want to spend in each place. Then begin to see the logical paths your travels could follow.
With time on your side the options open up exponentially, so you want to think about what kind of an experience you want to have. Are you thinking of going around the world in 80 days or renting an apartment in the 1st Arrondissement in for 6 months? Or both? For many people the best is a mix of the two – some hard core travel time, mixed with stable down time to reflect and absorb experiences and get geared up for the next round.
Typically when you set out on your grand tour you should have a rough sketch of the places that you want to visit. This can be more daunting than it would appear. If you’re like me, you want to go everywhere, so choosing 6-12 destinations just doesn’t seem like enough. When I was planning our RTW Bicycle Tour, the destinations that I put at the top of the list where the places that fascinated me the most, the ones I had been pining to visit for years in my travel dream-time.
The reason being, that when traveling, stuff happens. Mostly (hopefully) good stuff happens, but occasionally bad stuff happens as well. While I was traveling I had this fear that half way into our journey some bad event might happen (illness, injury, incarceration, etc.), cutting short our travels, and that those dream of dreams places would still be on our to-do list. Definitely see those most alluring travel destinations first.
Keep an Eye on the Weather
When planning your itinerary don’t forget to take into account global seasonality. Remember when it’s summer here, it’s cold and rainy somewhere else. In tropical regions try to avoid hurricane, monsoon or typhoon season. These typically occur during summer months. With a little foresight, it really is possible to plan an endless summer.
Traveling for an extended period of time offers up a new facet to travel: a surplus of time.
The ultimate luxury! Give yourself time to really get to know a place or two. Perhaps you just discovered a cool coastal hideaway in the Andaman Sea, where you were just planning to overnight. With an open itinerary, you have the freedom to stay for an extended time. This leads to deeper and more meaningful encounters with the locals, and after all, isn’t that what travel is all about. Learning more about the inhabitants of this planet is much more important than crossing off destinations on your ‘been there, done that’ list.
Research Your Destination(s)
Planning for all of the destinations that you are likely to visit can seem a little daunting especially if traveling for 6-months to a year. Don’t fret! You don’t need to know every thing about all of the intended destinations the moment you check in on your first flight. Research the primary and perhaps secondary destinations, paying particular attention to climate and seasonality, health concerns, upcoming events, carnivals, or fiestas, etc. You will have plenty of time at your initial destination to research the next and upcoming legs of your journey.
On the Home Front
If you own your own home consider renting it out, which provides some welcome cash while you’re on the road. A trusted property management service can assist with bill paying for mortgage, property taxes, etc. And guess what, you can use that rent to pay for these services. You really want to make sure that your house (figuratively) and your financial house is in order before you depart.
Probably one of the single greatest travel bargains are the prices offered for what are called Round-the-World Tickets. These tickets usually feature 6-12 destinations, require that you travel in one general direction, east or west, and are typically good for one entire years worth of travel. Ummmm! Just think of the possibilities! Prices when this article was posted ranged from $1100-$2400.
Check Visa Requirements
For some countries you can get your visa on entry, but for others you need to get your visa before you enter the country. Make sure you check the visa requirements of the countries you are visiting and allow plenty of time to get them as some countries require 1-2 weeks for processing.
Check the Health Requirements of the Countries You are Visiting
Many countries, especially in the developing world, require specific vaccinations for things like cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, etc. Check with both those specific countries that you are visiting and with the CDC (Center for Disease Control) www.cdc.gov/travel/ as to what those specific requirements are and the CDC recommendations.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel Insurance is a good deal especially for the long term traveler. Trip insurance provides you with emergency assistance; recovery of lost or stolen travel documents, passport, trip cancellation due to illness or injury, lost baggage protection and even some medical benefits. It also provides great peace of mind.
Examine your options for health insurance for the period you will be gone. There are options to holding onto your insurance while abroad while lowering some of the cost. In actuality the cost is much less for health care in other countries and in some cases the treatment far superior to the states. One time I had a root canal in Greece from a relocated Dutch dentist for $50, a pittance to what the same procedure would have cost me at home.
Keep the Cash Coming While On the Road
Due to a big push in the middle of last century American Express gained penetration into many foreign markets. It’s accepted all over as are traveler’s checks. ATM’s are hard to find in other countries and the amounts your bank allows you to pull per day are sometimes less than what is practical.
Carry an Emergency Stash of US Cash
In some destinations ATMs are not available nor are banks or merchants that will accept travelers’ checks. A stash of some cleverly concealed US greenbacks can assist “sometimes” in these situations. I say “sometimes” because there is a commonly held misconception that US greenbacks are accepted virtually everywhere. I too used to believe this, until one day caught rupee-less in Northern India and the banks would not accept foreign currency. The only person who would cash my $100 US note was a local jeweler, who dinged me a 20% exchange rate (which I was happy to pay to get the needed currency). I have found that in Indonesia they will exchange US notes, no problem, as long as the bills are series 2001 or newer (evidently there was a rash of counterfeit notes with the earlier dates).
Keep Your Travels Fresh
Have you ever noticed that just a week at a new destination feels like you’ve packed a whole month of experiences into just seven days, and when you return home that same 7-day time span just breezes by causing barely a blip on the radar screen. That is because when you travel, your are like a sponge, soaking up new and interesting experiences, seemingly with every breath you take.
Can you imagine how full that sponge of new travel experiences will be when you have been on the road for 6 months or even a year? Well, as I have found, there is a limit to how full that travel sponge of experience can get. After about 6-months on the road I found I that had difficulty assimilating and appreciating the new experiences I was having. We would visit yet another fabulous beach, another amazing mountain vista, another strange culture; I was becoming in a word…jaded. In hindsight I could have avoided that jaded feeling by taking a little more time (there’s that word again!) By taking more and longer breaks during the journey to keep myself “travel fresh”.
Packing for Longer Travels
Deciding what to bring for an extended journey can be a challenge. Make sure to allow yourself some time to carefully access yur options, and pack as smart as possible.
As far as clothing goes, this is a bit of a challenge, as this requires planning a wardrobe that will perform in both cold and tropical climes.
Packable Layering System
Probably the best approach to get the most versatility from your wardrobe is to use what we call the “packable layering system”, which takes advantage of light weight, packable layers to give you the maximum amount of versatility for changes in weather, with the least amount of weight and bulk. The heart of the packable layering system is the base layer. This is the layer next to your skin, and we recommend some of the new technical fabrics like Coolmax, which wicks moisture from your body. I like to think of this as the “thermos bottle” of fabrics, as it will keep you cooler in a hot climate, and warmer in a cool climate as well. Fleece fabrics work well as a mid-layer, as it has the same warmth to weight ratio as wool, but will keep you warm even if wet, plus it’s itch free. Your outer layer should be something to protect you from the elements, such as a waterproof parka.
Pack Light: Reversibles
Choose items that reverse from a print to a solid, or from one color to black, to get double duty, and more variety out of your clothing.
Pack Light II: Convertibles – For multi-climate versatility items that convert from long pants to shorts, or jacket to vest, will have you prepared for whatever the weather brings.
My Absolutely Essential Extended Tour Gear Packing List
Luggage – For extended travels I forgo the attempt to pack for multiple climes into a carryon.
I recommend our duffels, varying amounts of packing space – durable, and good for the long haul.
Packing cubes – I never travel anywhere without these. Great for bulky items, and for sequestering dirty laundry as well.
Hats – Good sun protection is a must. Also will keep the rain out of your eyes.
Security Bags, Belts & Wallets – A convenient and secure way to carry your cash and travel documents, passport, tickets. Also good for carrying some US dollars for use in emergencies.
Umbrella – Small, packable, windproof – yet excellent rain/sun protection. Gotta have it!
Water Purifiers – access to clean drinking water can be problematic in some locales. Never go without with a convenient, easy-to-use purifier, and no need to purchase bottled water.
Toiletry Kits – Well designed and ready to travel.
Travel Blankets – Great item for those out of the way destinations, where bedding can be questionable. Have sweet dreams not, bedbug nightmares.
and finally my little travel emergency kit…
- a spool of duct tape wrapped around a pencil can perform a myriad of repairs on the road
- a few zip-lock bags in assorted sizes for organization
- a 50’ length of nylon cord for hanging a hammock, laundry line, etc.
- an assortment of postcards from home to pass out to folks you meet on the way.
The locals are as interested in where you are from, as you are about them.
- about 10 extra passport size photos, which you will need to get those visas for those
unplanned countries you are going to visit as you learn more about them while on the road.