When this whole adventure started out we were just two kids and a dream. Actually, we were two kids with a mortgage, a bunch of furniture, two cars, a mailing address, jobs, and no clue how to go about leaving our lives behind for good. We’ve barely left home and I already have a litany of suggestions for anyone interested in doing the same thing, so I thought I’d do someone else the favor I wish were done for me. Expect this list to keep growing.
Know before you go:
1) How to get rid of your stuff. First of all, we decided to sell our home. Not so much to finance our trip as to not have to worry about our rather sizable investment that we left behind overseas. So the first round of getting rid of stuff came when it was time to show the home. We got rid of everything that would not be useful to us within the next month. Forget your holiday decorations and those stacks of books that you’ve owned for over a year and never read. Old ratty pieces of furniture that match exactly nothing in your home – gone. Take as much stuff to Goodwill as you can tolerate and if it happens to take a year to sell your home, consider it a lesson in minimalism. Start selling off more expensive items on Craigslist and eBay. Once you sell your home, have a massive tag sale and solicit all friends and neighbors to come and to invite friends. Then have a second tag sale that you post on Craigslist or in your newspaper. Any leftovers should be well-documented and then given to Goodwill or your local charity second-hand store. Then you can enjoy the benefits of a healthy tax write-off the following year.
2) Where to send your mail. We got a mailbox with Earthclass Mail and forwarded all important items there (i.e. bank statements, credit card statements, insurance info, IRS spam, etc.). Earthclass will scan your mail envelopes and you then have the option to ask them to shred, recycle, open & scan, or forward a piece of mail to a specific address. Perfect for those people who are rarely home (or don’t have a home). We then asked Gage’s mom if we could have the post office forward mail to her, in the event that we missed anything and also so as not to leave our home’s new resident with a mailbox full of our stuff.
3) What to do with your money. We had an account with Wachovia and two American Express cards. A whole bunch of research later (and much too late), we come to find out that both companies charge a 2% surcharge on all international transactions. So that means that Wachovia would charge me an ATM fee and 2% on the money I took out on top of the fee from the owner of the ATM. Since this could be around $6-$10 per transaction and that would buy a lovely meal for two in some countries, we decided to search around. It turns out that Capital One is the only company that does not charge international surcharges on it’s credit cards and has no ATM fees. Their Direct Banking system is also setup to be completely online which means that all of it’s webpages are secure and they make it easy for you to never set foot in a bank. Something I wish I had read before we sold the condo.
4) What to pack. We chose to go with backpacks simply because we don’t know where we’re going and at times we may have to haul around our stuff all day long. This means we must pack light. As of right now I own a pair of flip flops, a pair of shoes, 2 pair of shorts, a pair of pants, a tank top, two t-shirts, a long sleeve shirt, a fleece, a rain jacket, 3 pair of socks, and three pair of underwear. All of these clothes are quick drying and wrinkle resistant. It may seem extreme, but I look at it like having a uniform; I don’t have to think about what I’m going to wear each morning, I just look at the weather and wear the outfit that would be best.
5) Start shopping now. When it comes time to leave, chances are you won’t be able to find anything on sale and technical clothing is really pricey. We waited until our house was under contract to start shopping around. At that point we had about 3 weeks to get rid of everything, get our lives organized, and shop for everything that we needed. We ended up just buying what we needed regardless of price. If I could do it all over again, I’d be scoping out the local outdoor stores every weekend for deals and sales. If you have a local REI, EMS or other outdoor specialty store get on their mailing list and buy what you need on sale. Keyword here – NEED.
6) Baking soda is your new best friend. This is an amazing product. Need to clean your dishes? Remove stains from clothes? Make your skin softer? Brush your teeth? Need an antacid? A paste of baking soda and water can do this and so much more. Check it out.
7) Love the earth, hate Styrofoam. It only took two days at hotels with free breakfasts for us to grasp exactly how many plastic forks and Styrofoam containers the hotel went through during breakfast time. We quickly went to an outdoor store and picked up some silicone cups and bowls (ours are from Guyotdesigns) and sturdy plastic utensils. Silicone is freezer, microwave and dishwasher safe, not to mention you can squish it into tiny places. These little babies have come in handy more often than we ever thought. When you can’t find any cheap food around, a bowl of salsa with a bag of chips is sometimes all you need to fill your stomach. Get some food to go and forget to grab some utensils? All good you have your own. Just make sure you get some good ones that won’t break under pressure.
8) Know hostel etiquette. There are two kinds of people in the world, those who know that they are light sleepers and equip themselves with ear plugs and an eye mask, and those who know they are light sleepers and expect people to be silent and then scream at them if they are not. Be the former.
9) How to phone home. Get a GSM tri-band phone before you leave home. Preferrably a Nokia or other notably tough model that can take a beating (in the bottom of your pack). Prepaid SIM cards can be picked up virtually anywhere and having a phone makes coordinating meeting new friends and getting lost a little less traumatic.
10) Internet is everywhere. We didn’t bring a laptop on our trip, but wish that we had. Wi-fo hotspots are more common than Starbucks and the computers at hostels often require waiting in line. We thought that a laptop may get stolen too easily, but it’s pretty easy to keep things safe as long as you’re smart and use the lockers or safes provided in your hostel. Plus there are all sorts of travel models available nowadays that could easily fit in your purse. Check out Asus’ line of EeePC’s.
11) Being charitable. Hopefully you know by now that giving to beggars is bad. It encourages begging and teaches beggars that white-skinned travelers = money. Giving to beggar kids is worse. If the parents see that the cuteness of their kid brings in more dollars, they’ll take the kid out of school and have it beg full time. So what to do? Find out what the poor lack in the communities you plan to visit and stock up. Pencils and notebooks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap bars, and even seeds for planting if you go to rural areas. Big Brother Mouse, in Laos, publishes books to help local kids and adults learn to read. If you’d rather give cash, donate to NGO’s, which you can find everywhere.
12) Animal lovers beware. If you plan to travel to a country where they view all four-legged creatures as cuisine, you are bound to find endless amounts of stray, malnourished animals. These countries rarely have a concept of pet food, so if you know that seeing a starving kitten or puppy is going to drive you insane, bring some dry pet food with you. Just make sure you leave immediately after putting it on the ground or your may end up with an animal on your heals all day.
13) Finding a place to sleep. If you are the type who doesn’t like to take risks with things like the cleanliness of your sheets or the moldiness of your bathroom, you’ll want to research your digs ahead of time. For Europe, the ratings given on HostelWorld.com and Hostelbookers.com are a safe bet, though booking through the actual hostel or guesthouse can often save you money. For Southeast Asia, you can find reliable reviews on Travelfish.org, a site that you could easily use to plan your entire trip.
14) When the hotel doesn’t have laundry. Rarely have we come across at hostel or guesthouse that doesn’t offer a cheap laundry service, but it does happen. In those instances we string up some bungy laundry cord (found at outdoor stores like REI) and put some washing powder in the sink or tub. Right now we’re using Forever New, which my friend Kathleen recommended because it’s all-natural and comes in a powder so I can take it on an airline. I love this stuff. It gets out tons of dirt and often gets out stains that my hotel laundry can’t. When I get back to the States, this is all I will buy.
15) Wear smelly clothes on travel days. Because even a two hour bus ride can leave you stinky, just wear something that already smells so that you don’t have extra laundry.
16) Everyone really is out to get you. Or at least they’re out to get your stuff. Endless tales have been told to us about travellers having items stolen from seat mates on trains, guesthouse proprietors, and fellow travelers. Don’t confuse friendliness with trustfulness. Always ask if the hostel has lockers for your stuff. If they only have small lockers, lock up your most precious small items like passports, extra money, laptops, phones, etc. If you are in a guesthouse, clean up well. Out of sight is out of klepto-mind. If you want to take this seriously, get yourself a Targus Security Lock. We each had one and we used them to lock our bags to furniture. The motion detector alarm did an amazing job of detering any problems. One year of travel, two bags, and not one item stolen.