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Travel Prep Part 2: Research & Planning

Hi again! I am back to tell you more about how I am preparing for long-term travel, this time focusing on research and planning. As I said in my first post, it can be a daunting task. I am still in the thick of it, but hopefully this post will help make a little more sense of it all!

I have spent countless hours researching travel tips and destinations, and planning my trip. I have read so much information I’m sure it is all going to spill out of my brain any minute and I’ll be left with no travel knowledge. Of course I know this won’t happen, but sometimes the amount of information out there is overwhelming! Don’t let that discourage you, though. The time and effort it takes to truly prepare and do your research will be well worth it in the long run.

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I have learned a lot about budget travel and travel hacking since I started planning my trip ten months ago. Travel blogs, travel books, and Pinterest are all great resources. I have also gotten connected with other travelers and travel bloggers through social media, which I will discuss further in my next post.

There is a TON of information out there about backpacking and long-term travel. It’s amazing how many people there are who have done exactly what I’m trying to do. I’ve learned a lot and have been inspired from reading several travel blogs. It’s a daily reminder that people just like me have sold all their belongings and quit their jobs to travel the world, and that I can do it too. These are my favorites so far:

Nomadic Matt
The Blonde Abroad
Thrifty Nomads
Heart My Backpack
Adventurous Kate

I have read a few travel books – not any boring guide books though! The best one by far is How to Travel the World on $50 a Day by Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt. I highly recommend getting this book – I hoarded a copy from my local library for five months (sorry not sorry) and referred to it often through my planning process. The book is divided up into chapters with generalized budget travel tips, and then the second section goes into destination-specific detail for regions all over the world.

And of course there’s Pinterest – I have multiple travel-related boards on my Kansas Girl Travels World Pinterest account.  I mostly find travel tips here, but I also make a new board for each destination and pin activities and accommodations I am interested in, as well as budget travel tips for that specific location.

Above just reading things online or in books, I ask! There are countless well-versed travelers out there who are willing to help you out. Send them an email, tweet them, or comment on their blog. I have found that the travel community in general is very welcoming and open to answering questions from newbies.

Visas

One thing I have done a fair amount of research on is visa requirements in the various countries I plan on visiting. I am not an expert by any means, but I will share with you what I have learned so far for the destinations I plan to visit.

Note that the information below is for US citizens with an American passport. We have an unfair advantage; entry into other countries is typically inexpensive and easy. Citizens of many other countries traveling, especially to the US, are not so lucky. When I first started researching this topic I was shocked to learn how drastically different entry fees and requirements are depending on where you are from.

I have recently booked trips to Colombia and New Zealand. In both countries a visa is not required for stays of 90 days or less.

In Australia you can get a tourist visa or a work visa for up to one year. I got a tourist visa which will allow me to stay up to three months, as well as leave and re-enter the country. I applied online, paid $135 USD, and it was approved within a few days. I also looked at the work and holiday visa, which is $440. I decided against this since I am not planning on staying in Australia for an extended period of time.

I have not visited or applied for any visas in Southeast Asia, so I have no first-hand experience with this. From what I have read online, in most (but not all) countries in this region you can get a 30-90 day visa on site upon arrival, and they range in price from free to $70 USD. Check out this comprehensive post about visas in SE Asia from Goats On The Road for more information.

In Europe, 26 countries are members of the Schengen Area. Basically what that means is that you can travel freely throughout those borders without stamping your passport – similar to traveling between states in the US – and you do not have to enter and exit in the same country. Within a 180-day period you may travel the Schengen Area for a total of 90 days. Note: your time does not start over if you exit and re-enter! US citizens do not have to purchase a tourist visa to travel within the Schengen Area.

There are some European Union (EU) countries that are not part of Schengen, as well as some non-EU countries that are part of Schengen. Check out the map I made of the Schengen Area below. Whatever you do, double check the visa requirements for any country you plan to visit well ahead of time! I have not developed a plan yet, but I will be bouncing in and out of Schengen Area countries to maximize my time in and around Europe.

Schengen Map

It is also worth taking note that most countries require you to have a minimum number of blank pages in your passport, and that your passport is valid for a certain period of time (i.e. at least six months after entry. Some countries even require you to provide passport-size ID photos! Visit the US Department of State’s page on Americans traveling abroad for more information or to look up requirements for your destination.

Vaccinations

If you are able to, start your vaccinations six months before you travel, in case there are any shots that need two rounds six months apart. The one vaccination I got that needs to be six months apart is Hepatitis A – I started five months pre-departure, but fortunately the second dose can be given at a later date, and I am still covered with only one round, just for a shorter period of time. So, if you are not able to get vaccinated that far in advance, do not worry! Most shots only need one round, just make sure you give it a few weeks before traveling to take full effect.

I have found that most travel vaccinations can be received at your local health department. I chose the health department over my doctor’s office because they are set up to do travel vaccinations, whereas a doctor’s office may not be.

The only vaccine I was not able to get locally was Japanese Encephalitis (JE), which I am getting since I will be spending an extended period of time in Southeast Asia. I went to a travel clinic in Kansas City, which is less than an hour from where I live, but was shocked to find out this two-round vaccine costs $740 in total.

I left the clinic, against the nurse’s recommendation, and did more research. I found that I can get the JE vaccine in Australia for about $200-300 USD, in Bali for $120 USD, or in Thailand for under $20 USD – what a difference! It is also worth noting that in these countries they have a newer vaccine that only requires one shot.

The vaccine takes two weeks to take full effect, but the CDC only recommends it for “travelers who plan to spend at least 1 month in endemic areas during […] transmission season” or “Short-term […] travelers to endemic areas during the transmission season, if they plan to travel outside an urban area and their activities will increase the risk of exposure.” I am not yet sure which route I will take, but I am leaning towards Bali or Thailand and staying in urban areas for those first two weeks.

Whatever you do, speak with your healthcare provider about where you are going and what vaccinations are right for you! I am not a medical professional and you should not base your vaccination decisions solely on my or others’ advice online!

Travelers’ Insurance

Also coinciding with your health is travelers’ insurance. No matter what you do or how long (or short) your trip is, if you are traveling overseas, get travel insurance! The general consensus I see online is that World Nomads is a great choice. Experienced travel bloggers I trust, such as Nomadic Matt, use World Nomads and have for years. There are other companies, but I have not looked into them much.

World Nomads allows you to customize your plan based on how long you plan to travel for. Over the last several months I have searched for prices from one to twelve months a few times, to determine the cheapest per-month option. Each time I have come to the same conclusion: buying travel insurance for six months at a time will give you the lowest cost per month. See the graph below for a breakdown of price-per-month costs.

Pic 3 (Insurance Graph)

I recently purchased the six-month Explorer Plan for $483 USD. That’s $80.50 per month, not too bad! Since I plan on traveling for one year, I will simply renew my plan at the end of the first six months.

Buying Gear

Another part of long-term travel prep is making sure you have the right gear. I am not going out and buying all new clothes, but there are some key things I did not already have. Here is what I have purchased for my travels:

I already have an iPhone 5 that still works well, so I am not investing in a new phone at this time. I also figure that if the flip flops, sunglasses, or clothes I’ve been wearing here at home give out on me, I can buy some new ones wherever I am!

Planning – Destinations and Activities

I have not yet done a lot of research on specific activities I want to do in certain areas, but the resources mentioned above are a great place to start for this type of planning as well. Most travel blogs have destination-specific sections, and there are a slew of destination-specific travel books available.

Whenever I see a post on Facebook or Twitter about a place I plan on visiting, I always like to check it out for tips and information on things to do. There are certain activities I definitely want to do; at the top that list is snorkeling. I have never been and can’t wait to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and other tropical destinations!

Like I mentioned previously, experienced travelers and travel bloggers are a great resource. Another surefire way to get information and advice is to ask locals! I like to follow people (travelers or not) on social media who are from where I am going. I also follow tourist accounts for those specific locations. Don’t hesitate to engage with others online: tweet them, message them, email them, etc. The worst thing that can happen is someone doesn’t respond. Then, if you do build a relationship with someone online, you may just be lucky enough to have a friend to meet up with on your travels!

I have started to research transportation options in various locations online, but have not dug deep into this yet. In general, I like to do a simple Google search to find local websites pertaining to public and national transport systems in various locations. Again, travel blogs are also a good resource for information on transportation.

I have always been a spontaneous person, especially while traveling, so I will not be planning itineraries and booking flights or other modes of transportation months in advance. Even though I have a rough idea of where I want to go and when, plans change and I am always open to new adventures!