Long-term vacations (or short-term living, as I like to call it) can be rewarding, exhilarating, illuminating, and a complete pain in the, well, you know. From arranging plane tickets to deciding where to stay; getting vaccinations to putting your home life on hold; and of course, packing, sometimes it seems like it’s not even worth it. Moving from country to country holds different challenges than relocating to just one destination for a short period of time and this article is designed to help you prepare wisely.
*Disclaimer: A few notes about my trip will help explain my actions and will help you better tailor things to fit your own particular needs. I am traveling abroad for nine months, in Southeast Asia and South Africa. I’ll live in Cambodia for two months, travel around SE Asia during August, live in South Africa for five months, and spend the last month traveling around Africa. I will also be working as a legal intern for the entire time, and am required to bring my notebook computer to my job in South Africa. Lip gloss is not optional.
Getting your plane tickets
There are plenty of options for purchasing international airfares, but you should go with who you feel comfortable with. I booked my ticket through Vayama because I love their format, the fact that they always had the lowest (reliable) prices, and their positive online reviews. I also love their travel and etiquette guides. Other people swear by Kayak.
To find who you’re most comfortable with, it’s best to start early, visit as many sites as you can, Farecast your options, and see how you feel. If one site is offering fares that are significantly less expensive than all the others, be wary. Check out their online reviews before you buy. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck in a remote location with an unresponsive travel agent. Oh yeah, and buy the travel insurance.
Chris Guillebeau and the Traveller’s Lounge both have good guides to buying tickets.
Vaccinations and medications
Make sure you prepare in advance for vaccinations, as many need to be given at least four weeks before you leave. Find your vaccination records and head to the hospital or medical center early — preferably six to eight weeks before you’re due to depart. Vaccinations can be pricey, even with insurance, but really, the disease would cost more.
Make sure you pack a good supply of any medication that is essential to your health, and it may also be a good idea to pack some Cipro or Z-packs in case of diarrhea and some Pepto Bismol. Most countries will have a full range of medications for any ailment you can imagine, but your favourite med might not be available. Some countries don’t have a great reputation for supplying quality medication — so do some research before you go, you may have to plan ahead. I always keep Motrin and Ny/Dayquil with me but I’m looking forward to learning about local remedies and adding to my medicine cabinet!
This is something you want to have. If anything happens to you in a remote location chances are you’ll need to be airlifted somewhere and this is not free. I was lucky to get a good deal on travel insurance through my university — if you have any affiliations you can use, there’s probably a discount available for you. I recommend worldnomads.com or hthstudents.com.
Some travel insurance policies cover property and some don’t. Those that do usually have a value limit, and objects over that value are either not covered, or need to be itemized individually — and there’s usually an extra charge for that. My travel insurance doesn’t cover property, so I made sure that my renter’s insurance covers everything. If you are bringing anything you will want to have replaced if it’s lost or stolen, check your policies and make sure you’re covered. Keep a Google Docs list of all of your property and serial numbers/etc. so you can retrieve it anywhere if you need to, and it’s also a good idea to take a photo of the item with its receipt.
Documents and records
You’re going to need copies of your birth certificate, driver’s license, and passport, at the very least. Be sure to make copies of these things and keep multiple copies with you (in different places) and to leave copies with someone you trust at home. Also, scan the copies and email them to yourself so you always have them available.
There are many quality resources to help you decide what to pack, but the overall message is to pack light. For nine months I have one 50lb suitcase, a laptop case, and a messenger bag. If you’re not packing business clothes and don’t need a laptop your load will be significantly lighter. Two things that seriously lightened my load? Travel towel and travel sheets. For good packing tips, visit OneBag, or there are several articles to choose from here.
Guidebooks and websites
Again, there is a wealth of information out there, and you need to find something that works for you. Some people swear on guidebooks, others operate completely online. As for me, I’m traveling with the Lonely Planet Southeast Asia On a Shoestringbut I also frequently check Travelfish.org and create my own mini-guide of all of the advice and recommendations that I’ve been given from friends. I made a point to interview everyone I knew who had been to SE Asia and I got incredible advice about places that aren’t in any travel guide. Nomadic Matt has a lot of useful advice too.
Short-term living is definitely my favorite way to travel. I love spending a few months in each new place rather than skipping through for a couple of days. The rewards produced by this method of travel by far outweigh the challenges and I highly recommend, at least once, living somewhere completely different for a while. Hopefully, these tips will help you get started!