How to Prepare for Traveling Around the World

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Everyone prepares for major trips differently, but our case was a unique one: We had just a month to tie up loose ends after our eight-week road trip and family cruise combo, we were moving clean across country before we left and we’d be traveling primarily by ship (meaning we didn’t have to worry about cramming everything we wanted to take into a single backpack). Sounds easy, right? Ha. It was quite challenging for many reasons, but at the end of the day, we managed to get it all done by a lot of teamwork and very little sleep.

Still, in case you’re embarking on a similar adventure, here are some things not to forget:

1. Get all necessary visas in advance. Many countries offer visas-upon-entry, but three we’d be visiting didn’t so we had to make sure all visas were in place before setting sail. (Always check this via the state department’s website well before your trip. Some visas can take a month or two to process; others as little as a day.) Even though we had less than a month, we opted to do this on our own rather than go through one of the agencies that will apply for all your visas for you at triple the cost in double the time.

Because we were still in San Francisco, I filled out all the paperwork and physically walked our passports into the Chinese embassy and picked them up four days later (average processing time for a China visa, though you can pay to expedite). All India visas in the United States now are processed by Travisa Outsourcing and are available for same day pick-up (no additional charge) if dropped off by 10:45am. Ghana had to be mailed off, but even without expediting it, we received our passports back in Tennessee with our visas in place exactly one week after taking them to FedEx in San Francisco.

Our total cost? $316 ($140 for China, $76 for India, $100 for Ghana). The total cost the third-party agency wanted to charge us? In the neighborhood of $1,050 per person, and we’d have to surrender our passport for 60 days (which wasn’t possible as we were going to Canada smack in the middle of that period). There’s something to be said for doing everything your self (and letting your passport out of your sight for as little time as necessary)!

2. Suspend your phone plan, car insurance and any other applicable services. Going for four months without a phone is a new thing for me (*cue panic attack*). It’s also a bit liberating not to be (so) attached to technology at all hours of the day. When Verizon canceled its unlimited international plan earlier this year, which I’ve had for four years now, and bumped up the rates to something absolutely ridiculous, my mind was made up for me: I’d be going without a phone this fall rather than spending all my wages on data usage on my Droid within countries. (And yes, the ship does have both cell reception and Wi-Fi on board, FYI.)

Verizon (and many of the other phone companies I’m sure) have deals where you can put your service on hold for several months at a time. Since SVV left his car in California, he had already suspended his AAA, and because we’re currently between residences, we didn’t have any bills back home to worry about, but if you’re going on the road and keeping your place, it’s always cost efficient to cancel or suspend your cable, Internet and land line (if you have one) before you leave.

At the same time, we might look at buying temporary car insurance for while we travel should we decide to rent a car while in Mauritius, South Africa or Malaysia (options we’re toying with in all three countries).

3. Make sure your passport has been renewed through the duration of your trip. While you’re at it, mentally tally up the number of places you’ll be visiting (and any extras visas-upon-entry required, bearing in mind each takes up a page or two) and confirm you don’t need additional passport pages. I am low on pages (after just getting a new passport two years ago!) and am just going to make it. But the first thing on my to-do list for when I’m back on U.S. soil in January is to send my passport into the state department to get some pages added back for future trips.

4. Find an obliging soul to take care of your mail. All of my mail is being sent to my parents’ house, while SVV’s is being forwarded to his parents in California. While Semester at Sea will be doing direct deposit for my paychecks, I have quite a few others trickling in from assignments I’ve taken over the summer. To make things as easy as possible for my mom (and to make sure this actually gets done!), I addressed and stamped several envelopes to Bank of America, with attached deposit slips, so she can just pop them in my mailbox and be done with it.

5. Purchase travel and/or medical insurance. Semester at Sea covers insurance for employees, but I’ve been burned before, long ago, by booking a trip through a European tour operator, having the operator issue me a plane ticket that didn’t actually exist and then winding up stranded in Greece without a way to get home (and out several hundred dollars, too). Moral of that much-condensed story: Don’t be negligent like me; safe guard against any potential mishaps by purchasing insurance!

6. Confirm that your vaccinations are up to date; get prescriptions from any necessary meds from your doctor. Luckily, I had all (nine!) vacs I needed for this trip last year before going to Rwanda so I didn’t require any added trips to the doc. But SVV was in for a rude awakening when he found out his yellow fever shot from the Navy had expired and he had to run down to Kaiser on one of our last days in town so he could get an update! (Yellow fever is the most painful one, y’all. Not fun.)

Also, we’ll need malaria pills for Ghana, India and Malaysia. I was on doxycycline for much of last year what with five weeks in Africa, four weeks back at home during which I was required to stay on the pills (you keep taking them for 28 days after leaving a malaria zone), three weeks in Borneo for our honeymoon and then another 28 days after that, so I know that my body handles doxy OK. SVV is trying malarone (which is pricier but requires less pills after leaving a malarial area) this time, and mefloquine is another oft-used option. I also had my doctor call me in scrips for seasick patches, Ambien and Cipro—just in case. Plus, we stocked up on about every over-the-counter medication you can get—from Pepto to Dayquil to Zyrtec—so I feel adequately prepared for any health issue that comes our way!

COMMENTS
  • August 24, 2011

    We have no plan for long term travel YET. But this is a really great advice and steps to follow. Yup, the passport expiration date is crucial.. I almost made that mistake when we went to Vancouver for my kid’s passport. Luckily we cross by land and he doesn’t need a passport. Whew! 🙂

    • August 24, 2011
      Kristin

      YET being the operative word 😉

  • August 24, 2011

    Good advice! Just thought I’d add a few other things that we learned while traveling RTW by land/plane.

    One critical thing is that you don’t actually cancel any car insurance you have, because it can then be very difficult to get insurance when you get back because the insurance companies consider it a lapse in coverage. You can suspend it or, if that’s not possible, take it down to the lowest amount of coverage possible so that you’re not paying much of anything but it’s still covered.

    If you’re traveling by land, it’s also often easier to get required visas in a nearby country, especially since for some countries the visa has to be used within a certain period of time. We got our Mozambique visas in South Africa, our India visas in Malaysia, (and previously, our Russian visas in Sweden), etc. You have to plan a bit in advance since not every country has every embassy, but we found it pretty easy to get our visas this way.

    Because we had some larger financial issues that would have to be dealt with while we were gone as well (ie, taxes), we went ahead and did a power of attorney form as well, allowing our parents to act on our behalf.

    I can’t wait to read more about this adventure. Bon voyage!

    • August 24, 2011
      Kristin

      Oooh I didn’t even think of (or know about) the power of attorney bit. I did, however, have to get my dad to do my taxes right before we left…for 2010! (Yes, I file just before the extension deadline every single year!)

  • August 24, 2011

    Have you heard of taking charcoal for stomach upset? Apparently it quickly wards off any food poisoning – as told by my world (Germany, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, and many other places I’m sure she didn’t mention) traveling midwife.

    You look like you’re SO prepared. It amazes me (and overwhelms me thinking about doing it all myself)! Good luck and have FUN!

    • August 24, 2011
      Kristin

      I haven’t, no! But Scott and I actually did a cleanse years back where we drank this charcoal concoction, so I would think it would have the opposite effect!

      • August 24, 2011

        Its absorbs all the toxins (or the food poisoning) and takes it out of your system, so it makes sense it’d be part of a cleanse.

  • August 24, 2011

    I actually just wrote a post about getting your teeth ready for travel and what to do when you have a dental emergency while abroad. I get people in my office all the time with some bad tooth issue, and then they tell me that they are about to go out of town. I mean it sucks to have tooth issues when you’re out of town in the states, but if you’re overseas, holy crap!! Here’s a link to the post if anyone is interested… http://www.making-it-up-as-i-go.com/?p=393

    word.

    • August 24, 2011
      Kristin

      I’m totally afraid every day of my life that I’m going to break a veneer (given that it’s happened before–while traveling!) so I can relate to that.

  • August 24, 2011

    Oh my god, four months without your phone? I don’t know if I could do it – and my BFF definitely couldn’t. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her go four *hours* without it. Good luck with that!! I’m sure the travel and experience will be well worth it, though.

    Sara

    • August 24, 2011
      Kristin

      Luckily, I still have Internet! I won’t in the countries, however, which is going to be super challenging seeing as I am so lazy I tend not to do a lot of research and do a lot of Googling/Yelping/mapping as I go!

  • August 24, 2011

    This is a great checklist. On the passport front, most places require you to have 6 months of passport expiry from your date of entry. I’ve been burned by that before. Also, be sure to suspend your Netflix account! (unless you plan to watch streaming via VPN, which is a great way to stay connected to your favorite programs).

    • August 24, 2011
      Kristin

      Ha, funny, I totally did that last week (suspending my Netflix)! Great minds think alike =)

  • August 24, 2011

    You guys are serious pros! It’s all the little details like these that I inevitably forget. Either that I or remember all the important things but forget to pack underpants.

  • August 24, 2011

    This is super useful. There are just so many details with a trip like this! I did a lot of similar things before my four months in Brazil. I need to write all that stuff up too. Although I opted not to cancel my car insurance because I wasn’t sure the savings would make it worth any headaches due to lapse in coverage (and I was just lazy). I also suspended my cell plan, and unlocked my old iPhone to use in Brazil with a local sim.

  • August 24, 2011

    The yellow fever vaccination almost made me pass out! Definitely the worst one.

    Have fun =)

    • August 25, 2011
      Kristin

      I had all nine of my vacs done at once pre-Africa! Talk about painful…and it took me days to feel better/for my arm not to be sore, too!

  • August 24, 2011

    i have no idea how you keep all of this straight. reading that makes me nervous! your to-do lists and just general lists must be MILES long! all necessary, but wow!

    • August 25, 2011
      Kristin

      You have no idea! My entire desktop on my computer is Word doc list after Excel spreadsheet list. I make lists about the lists I need to make! Luckily, my new job is one with a lot of details and a very in-depth database, so I’ll put those skills to use =)

  • August 24, 2011

    Very informative! I really appreciated the bit about travel/health insurance. Def something to do research on before embarking on long-term travel, hopefully in my future! Thanks

    • August 25, 2011
      Kristin

      I hope it’s in yours and Dustin’s future, too! =)

  • August 25, 2011

    Love this post!

  • August 25, 2011

    Great list of advice! So excited for you!

  • August 25, 2011

    You are SO organized. I love it! And do it too.

    • August 29, 2011
      Kristin

      Organization is key in the role I’m fulfilling on the ship, so I really hope to keep all my ducks in a row =)

  • August 25, 2011

    SVV and I already had a quick Malarone chat on Twitter, but just to add once again as long as you take it on a full stomach (they recommend halfway through your meal which I stuck to religiously) there are absolutely no side effects from Malarone. I took it for my trip to Ghana and didn’t have any problem with it whatsoever and D has taken it numerous times for work trips too and never had a problem.

    Very impressed with all your hard work and organization, now go and have some fun in your new floating home! 🙂

    • August 25, 2011
      Kristin

      I only got doxy because you can get 100 for $12! I think Malarone was about 30 times that (no exaggeration)!

  • August 25, 2011

    #4 is brilliant. Hopefully #5 doesn’t become an issue 🙂

  • August 25, 2011

    Great list- and I’d like to add some advice on credit cards and bank accounts that has saved me lots of money:

    1. Get a checking account that offers ATM fee rebates.
    I use charles schwab but I think many e-banking accounts or credit unions offer this because it’s cheaper than maintaining a network of machines. Each month I get a refund from all ATM fees which are especially expensive abroad.

    2. Use a credit card with lots of miles rewards and insurance coverage.
    I’m sure you’re already on this but I love my capital one rewards card. I get 1.5 miles for every dollar I spend that can be redeemed on nearly any airline and I use it for everything (just try to pay off the balance every month). plus it has a fair exchange rate and they have never charged me extra fees. If I am renting a car or making a larger purchase I will use an american express or the onepass plus card because they both have really extensive insurance coverage. I think it even covers trip cancellation or other issues like the one you experienced.

    3. Have a secret stash of cash somewhere just in case you get jacked or lose your wallet. bring two credit cards and keep them in different places.

    I use worldnomads for travel insurance, which I like a lot, but I’ve never had to file a claim. I loved doxycycline because it cleared up my skin and I’m convinced it helped prevent tummy/sickness issues (and it’s cheap).

    Have fun at sea!

    • August 29, 2011
      Kristin

      I actually can’t get any of these cards as I’m self-employed! =( It’s so ironic: In college when I had no job, I was approved for EVERY card and now (with zero debt, no student loans, etc. to my name), I can’t get one to save my life! Whenever–if ever–the economy improves, I totally have my eye on the AmEx Starwood card!

      Also, in regards to the secret stash, I would tell anyone NOT to put the stash in your suitcase. I did this while in Cuba (where you can’t take out cash) and I divvied it up among my purse, a money belt under my shirt and my (checked) bag, and lo and behold, I arrived in Havana to find that all the cash in my checked bag had been stolen!

      Lastly, THANK YOU for the talk of credit cards because you just reminded me that one thing I never did do was call CapitalOne and Citicards to let them know all the countries I’m visiting–they’re both notorious for shutting down cards the second you try to use them abroad, so I just hastily emailed my mom asking her to do that for me!

  • August 26, 2011

    Figuring out multiple visas in a short timeframe sounds stressful – I’m glad it worked out so well! And my condolences to SVV on the yellow fever shot. I don’t remember that one being particularly painful, but I did definitely come down with the cold-like symptoms they warn you about a few days later.

    • August 29, 2011
      Kristin

      I sincerely hope that after Africa I am vaccinated for life, because I’ve rarely gone through anything as painful as getting all nine shots at once! I was sore, ache-y and cold-like for a week afterward.

  • August 29, 2011

    Solid advice, I have two more things

    1) scan your passport and other documents and email them to yourself. I was once robbed but because I had a copy of my passport I got a temporary one immediately.

    2) Depending on where you are going it may be cheaper to get meds and vaccinations on the road. This is especially true in Latin America where all the big pharmaceutical companies still sell the same brand name drugs but a fraction of the price.

    • August 29, 2011
      Kristin

      Yes! I totally have copies of my passport and vaccination records in both my email account and on my laptops. Good point!

  • August 29, 2011

    Excellent tips and advice! Love the specificity – it will be so helpful to people getting ready for extended and far flung travels!

  • August 30, 2011

    These are great tips — both in the article and comments below. It seems everything’s been covered. 🙂 I can’t imagine hiring a company to handle all of the visas … that’s a ton of $.

  • August 30, 2011

    Great list. This almost made me curl up into a ball on the floor though because it reminded me of how stressed out I was weeks before I left for my current trip 🙂

    You guys probably found this out after talking to your car insurance company, but it is best to “suspend” and not cancel your insurance policy. You’ll pay about $60 or so a year, but it is worth it. If you completely cancel and then try to get insurance again, they treat you as if you’ve never had car insurance before, and your rates will be much higher.

    • September 8, 2011
      Kristin

      We canceled one (Scott’s) and left mine open just because there’s a chance my parents might drive it while gone. Scott is trying to sell his Jeep so it didn’t make sense to hold onto it!

  • September 1, 2011

    We just cancelled our phone service with AT&T since we were thinking about leaving them and they couldn’t get past the fact we didn’t need a phone for a year.

    • September 8, 2011
      Kristin

      I suspended my Verizon service for the first time ever, and it’s been so liberating. I never thought this would be the case, but I LOVE never having to carry my phone and check it every five minutes.

  • September 8, 2011

    And get your shots far in advance. Not all 5 in one day, ouchies!

    • September 8, 2011
      Kristin

      Haha, well last year I was given less than 10 days notice between finding out I was being sent to Rwanda and actually leaving for five weeks in Africa, so as Type A a planner I am, sometimes those things are unavoidable (particularly when you’re a travel writer and never know where you’ll be sent next!).

  • September 8, 2011

    5 shots in a day is simply too much. There are pills for some of the shots available here too.

    • September 8, 2011
      Kristin

      Agreed, but when you’re given less than two weeks’ notice that you’re going to Africa for work, there’s little you can do to avoid that! They give pills out in lieu of some of the shots like typhoid, but I have an auto-immune disease that prohibits me taking them. Luckily, I shouldn’t have to get any vacs for years after that!

  • November 15, 2011
    Haidang

    its been quite a while since ive last checked in and so glad to see you are doing well KL! so so happy and excited that you are having a blast on SAS!!!! And the Kept Man is so lucky : ) cheers

  • November 30, 2011

    I think for preparing the traveling around the world first of all we should prepare about estimate of money and vacation time then consult the travel packages travel agencies………and then go on trip yap pi.

  • December 11, 2011

    Wow great travel tips! The one about making sure you have adequate pages in your passport is so important. I always just make sure I didn’t expire abroad. When I traveled through Central America I actually came pretty close to running out of room. Thanks for the tips!

  • January 7, 2012

    Yikes, I’m still in the process of getting my first US passport so I can travel to Europe. You are indeed brave souls (and very organized) to get so much done in preparation for a trip like this!

    Daisy

  • July 4, 2012

    Hey, really wanted to thank you for the reading
    on How to Prepare for a Round-the-World Trip — Camels & Chocolate: Tales from a Travel Addict. My partner and I realize this is
    not your most recent writing, then again this seemed the perfect
    place to leave a comment. 😛

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