Author: Jo Fitzsimons

From Dreaming To Doing In 4 Weeks

You’ve decided to take a long-term trip, and the next task is to transform that germ of an idea into action, but the list of things you need to sort out can seem like a marathon task. From insurance to visas to immunizations, getting your kit together and arranging goodbyes, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. If you’re not careful, the planning process can blossom into a mission that lasts longer than your trip, leaving you burnt out before you’ve even left home.

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I spent months tinkering with the practicalities of my first round the world trip, lingering over each decision. On the brink of a second spate of long-term travel, I have given myself as little as four weeks to pull my trip together. With the right mix of momentum and focus on the important matters at the correct time, it’s possible to shift from dreaming to doing sooner than you think.

If you’re not sure where to start your trip planning and want to add a spark of speed to your plans, here’s how to organize a long-term trip in only four weeks.

A word of warning: some things will inevitably need more time, for example some immunizations and visas can take longer (a bit more on this below), and if your job requires more than four week’s notice, you’ll have to factor that in too.

4 weeks to go

This is going to be a busy week, and most of these tasks will need to be conquered as a priority. Use your initial wave of excitement to spur you on.

Book your ticket: You’ve been staring at maps, pouring over pictures, or listening to your friends’ travel tales with envy. You have a pretty good idea where you want to go and you’ve got a budget in mind, now’s the time to make a commitment. Check flight prices online, but for a complicated ticket there’s no substitute for speaking to a specialist travel agent who can offer a wealth of advice and access to deals. Compare costs and routes, work out living expenses in each country, and make sure these match up to your funds. Don’t forget to factor in weather you want to miss (think hurricane seasons and monsoons) and festivals you want to hit. Then, get booking!

Register for a BootsnAll Membership to price and book your flights on Indie. You can do everything completely online, but if you need assistance with your route, we have experts at the ready to help.

Get vaccinated: Once you know where you’re going, you can work out what vaccinations you need. As a priority, make an appointment with your doctor. Go prepared with details of your route and broad timings. Although your itinerary will probably be quite loose, give more detail than just country names. Six weeks in Brazil’s Amazon is going have different health implications than being in Rio.  Timing is important, too, as wet and dry seasons can require different protection. Also use this appointment to discuss malaria risks, and don’t forget to build vaccination and medication costs into your budget.

Hepatitis A and B jabs require an initial shot and a booster after six months. If your trip runs for longer, check if there is a country on your route where you can safely get the booster, otherwise you will need longer to plan your trip.

Give notice: Ah, the first steps of liberation. Give immediate notice to quit your job, apartment, and any other contracts that you’re committed to, including your mobile phone, utilities like gas, electricity, and cable, and any gym subscription. Sadly, if your employment contract or rental agreement requires more notice, you may not be flying as soon as you’d like (do check your notice periods before you book your flight). You can ask your employer or landlord if you can leave sooner, but don’t rely on it.

Check passport validity: Your passport must have at least six month’s validity. This means six months after you get home, not from when you depart. Also check that you have sufficient blank pages for all those lovely visas and stamps you’ll collect.  Don’t underestimate how quickly your passport can fill up, particularly in Asia where visas can take a whole page.  Keep in mind that you can get new pages added to your passport rather than getting a new one, but you’ll have to be in a major city to do it, and you may have to part ways with your passport for a few days.

Apply for visa(s): It is usually easier to get visas from your home country, but working to a 4-week plan can be challenging – China, India, and Russia visas in particular can involve lengthy procedures.  In some cases you can apply for fast processing, though a larger fee will apply.  An alternative is to get your visas on the road (apart from your first stop), and for longer trips, this will often be necessary as visas generally run from date of issue and may expire by the time you eventually arrive in the country in question. At the very minimum, make sure you have a visa arranged for your first stop.

Let friends and family know your departure date: Your friends and family will no doubt already know that you’re taking a trip, but once you have your firm departure date, let them know so that they can pencil-in time for fond farewells (and hopefully even throw you a going away party!).

Check out the following articles and resources to help you get through this stage of planning:

3 weeks to go

With most of the hefty tasks in hand, it’s time to think about being on the road and what you’ll need.

Shop for your kit: In principle you could dash out the day before you travel and scoop up an armful of travel-friendly items, but last minute kit purchases tend to be expensive and not so well thought out (I bought a laptop sleeve at the airport for four times the price I’d have paid elsewhere). Make a list of what you have and what you need. For the most important items, like your backpack, check out reviews from other travelers then start to compare prices. Shopping online can often provide savings compared to retail stores, though for your backpack it’s sensible to get this properly fitted in a store. Early purchases online give you time to receive the item, try, test, and if necessary, return and replace before you go.

Check out the BootsnAll Recommended Gear page for ideas on what you’ll need.

Contact your bank: Make an appointment with your bank to let them know your travel plans. Otherwise, they may mistake your travels for fraudulent activity, which can lead to card blocking and inaccessible funds. Also speak to your bank about the best way to obtain money while you’re away, including any ATM or credit card fees that will apply. It’s advisable to arrange an extra card for emergencies to be stored somewhere other than your wallet.  While you’re there, get a small amount of local currency for your first stop (assuming the bank’s exchange rate is competitive). Also consider taking some extra US dollars, which can be readily exchanged in most countries and provides a further back up. If you do carry a collection of US dollars, it is a good idea to get new, crisp ones. There are plenty of countries who won’t accept any bills that are torn or have the slightest worn look to them.

Read All Things Money: What Banks and Credit Cards are Best for Travel

Get road fit: It’s a good idea to have a dental check up before you go and get any niggling fillings or other issues resolved. I has an existing tooth problem flare up in Nicaragua and was offered nothing more than an extraction with rusty pliers, which I politely declined, but had to wait two more countries before I could get it fixed. A visit to the optician is equally advised. Make sure you have enough contact lens supplies if you have an unusual prescription or plan where you can stock up on the road.

Boost funds: By now your travel budget will have depleted quite a bit between booking your ticket, visas, immunizations, and kit costs. As you start to whittle through your belongings, consider if there are any remaining items you can sell to boost your funds. As you travel, you’re likely to become more detached from material possessions, so if you are able to turn those extra DVDs and CDs into cash you can spend on experiencing the world, now’s the time to do it. Also apply for a tax rebate if relevant.

Find out which credit cards offer the best travel rewards

Arrange your goodbyes: Having penciled in your leaving date, plan any family dinners, leaving parties, and work goodbyes. Your last week is the best time to do this, but don’t arrange any big, alcohol laden nights on the eve of your departure. You won’t thank yourself for a hangover and lack of sleep. Plus, your last night is likely to include last minute planning activities.

Test and wear any new items: Test all new electrical purchases from cameras to travel adaptors. If they don’t work, there’s still time to get a replacement. If you’re going hiking and have purchased new boots, it’s a good idea to start the wearing-in process, when you can spend some down time swapping between your worn in shoes and the blister inducing boots.

Check out the following articles and resources to help you get through this stage of planning:

2 weeks to go

This is going to be another busy week. Stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with a comparably relaxed final week, allowing more time with friends and family.

Book insurance: research the various types of coverage and compare prices. Consider the value of the items you’re taking and investigate separate gadget coverage if you’re packing an expensive kit. Also, think about what activities you might want to try and whether they’re covered.  Insurance can be complicated, so work out what you need and shop around. If it all seems too difficult, prepare one email and send it to a bunch of companies that look good and get the insurance company to do the hard work for you.

Time for a trial pack: It may seem a little early, but pulling together your items now is a good idea for a number of reasons. It can help you identify if there is anything missing – you may have all of your toiletries, but did you forget a wash bag? It also let’s you see what you can and can’t fit into your pack. Only when your bag is bulging and you feel the reality of its potential weight can you truly focus on what you do and don’t need to take. If you’ve invested in one too many fleece tops that wont squeeze in, now’s the time to take them back for a refund. Try to leave at least 1/5th of your bag free. You will inevitably pick things up as you travel.

Wash your clothes: Yes, a very practical point, but get washing now to allow time for items to dry before you leave and to avoid starting out with a bag full of dirty laundry.

Get your mail redirected: You may not care so much about the junk mail, but bank statements and other personal mail should be redirected to friends or family before you go.

Set up contact details: Get your contact arrangements sorted before you head off, whether it’s a new email account, setting up Skype, putting together a blog, or buying an international SIM (do check first if a local SIM in-county is a better deal). Circulate your details to family and friends and help them get set up if they’re not already. Explaining Skype to my parents via email proved more difficult than if I’d have helped them get accounts before I’d left.

Make a list of emergency numbers: Hopefully you will create this list and never need to look at it again, but put together a document with important contact numbers including your bank, insurance company, friends, and family. Don’t keep it solely in your phone or on a laptop in case you become separated from them. Keep a paper copy and also email it to yourself so that you can access it from an internet café as a last resort.

Get your travel documents in order: Pull together your travel documents –passport and visa(s), flight details, insurance policy, birth certificate, driving license, immunization card, yellow fever certificate, optician, and medical prescriptions. Take a copy of each then scan and email them to yourself. Leave the copy with someone at home in case of emergency. Make a couple of extra copies of your passport to keep on you as you travel and get extra passport photos for visas on the road.

Book your first night’s accommodation: Having at least one night’s accommodation booked is recommended. You’ll be processing so many new things during the first 24 hours, and having a definite place to call home for a night or two can make for smooth sailing, as well as giving your friends and family peace of mind.

Read about Accommodation Options for Long-Term Travelers

Make plans for getting to/from the airport: Make arrangements for getting to the airport with enough time to breathe and enjoy the experience (advice I need to take more often). Also look into transport at the other end. Rather than springing for a taxi, look into public transport routes if you’re not arriving in the middle of the night.   Start as you mean to go on!

1 week to go

It’s time to transition from planning to doing…this is an exciting, nerve wracking, and exhilarating week.

Pack up your old life: If you haven’t done so already, this week might see you moving out of your accommodation and finishing work. In the midst of everything else, do leave your work and rented apartment in good shape – you may well want to contact your former employer and landlord when you get back. Place all items that you won’t be taking with you into storage.

Enjoy your farewells: Those farewell drinks and dinners that you arranged a few weeks ago can now be enjoyed. Don’t forget to make sure everyone has your contact details, and if it’s all starting to feel a bit real and emotional, pencil in a date for your welcome back drinks. Remember, it’s less of a goodbye, more of a see you later.

Pack your new life: Will it all go in? Hopefully. Start the final pack the day before you leave, rather than the morning that you go, in case you can’t squeeze everything in and need to re-think. Don’t forget to be airport savvy – no liquids over 100ml (3 oz.) or sharp items in your hand luggage.

Charge all gadgets: Take advantage of knowing where your power sockets are, and get everything fully charged before you go. You’ll be prepared if you want to take your first pictures before you depart and will have any entertainment devices fully charged for your journey.

Check in online: Most airlines now let you check in and book your seat within 24 hours of departure. Some of the low-cost carriers require it to avoid hefty fees at the airport. Either way, checking in online can save time and reduce travel stress.

Double check:

Go traveling: Four weeks of planning has finally paid off. Get set for the experience of your life.

Check out the following articles and resources to help you get through this stage of planning:

Every week, on “Round the World Wednesday” we share tips for planning, budgeting and selecting a route, plus advice on where to go and what to see and do all around the world.

Photo credits:  Dvortygirl, heartcaves, Harold Groven