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!