“What do you pack for a year?” Funny, this is the most common question I get when talking to people about getting ready for our trip. This, of course, is the easiest one of all to answer. You don’t. Pack for a year. You couldn’t and you don’t need to. For there are, surprise, surprise, laundry facilities everywhere around the world. Even if only in your sink. So a week’s worth of clothes is about all you need. Plus some other essentials, of course. But of the packing conundrum at another time with all the details you could possibly want to know.
There are a lot more pressing and complicated questions to answer and things to do.
1. Retire 😉
2. Your Home
Even if your home is paid off, you likely do not want it sitting empty for a year. For us it was a question of rent or Airbnb? We thought renting our home for a year to one family would have been easier and possibly more lucrative, but when it didn’t quite work out for us we decided to go the Airbnb. As long as it pays the mortgage! We have had a previous two month summer experience Airbnbing our house which was quite positive. Largely because we hired a managment company that took care of the booking, communication with guests, and most importantly cleaning. We are also lucky to have wonderful neighbors and friends that we can count on to step in in a time of chrisis. Having to prepare the house for guests was a wonderful if painful and drawn out impetus to get rid of a lot of our junk and fix up every thing on a long ignored list.
We were nervous about filling up the calendar, but within the last week before our departure we had 5 substantial advance bookings and the first guests arrived a few hours before we went to the airport.
3. Family Trust and Finances
I don’t have to preach about the importance of establishing a Family Trust. Going on a long trip and leaving the kids behind was a good inspiration to revisit and update our trust, and also to have another conversation about the important question of the Advanced Health Care Directive and in the circumstances also the fact that if we were to die in a foreign land we would not want to go through the trouble of being shipped back. It is never an easy conversation…
As is the question of budgets. We didn’t really think of a travel budget, we never did on our shorter travels, though of course we are budget concious and travel prety inexpensively using miles and points whenever possible. It was my mom who pushed the issue so we set an arbitrary number of $250 a day for a couple. We found an app developed by some young travellers and we will try to keep track of our expenses anddo a reality check once in a while. And hope the stock market doesn’t crash.
4. Auto Payments and Cards
With very few exceptions you can pay everything online and with automatic payments. We decided to pay the other bills ahead of time, too, including property taxes. We keep more than one bank account just in case there is an issue. We also have a few credit and ATM cards. Look for credit cards that have no foreign exchange fees and ATM cards that don’t charge for withdrawal abroad. It is surprising in how many places you still need cash and they are not necessarily Banana republics. We had an embarrassing moment when we invited a friend to dinner in Munich, Germany and the restaurant would not take a credit card.
Do call your cards before the departure and tell them when and where you will travel. Then make sure you take snapshots of your cards, boths sides, so you know what number to call if there is a problem, or which cards exactly did you have in the wallet you lost.
5. Cell Phone Calling Plan
Talking about calling, things are looking up for travellers in the cell phone department. With many ways of communication (Skype, Face Time, Whatsup) not that many phone calls need to be made. Still, the data charges can easily be ratcheted up. We switched from AT&T to T Mobile (they made it incredibly difficult so don’t try to do it at the last minute) and have been very happy with their free texting and data service everywhere around the world. Godsend when getting directions on Google maps. Even though the cell phones are now unlocked we don’t find the need to buy local SIM cards as we rarely need to make a phone call.
We donated our trusty old van and were ready to donate our even older Camry when our insurance guy told us we would loose our multiple insurance discount if we only insured our house. Turns out it is cheaper to deem your car non operational at DMV, park it in your driveway, and pay a minimum premium. Now I know why people keep so many old clunkers on their properties.
7. Travel Health Insurance and Evacuation
This is likely the most challenging thing to figure out, especially if you are a retired American. Your Medicare will cover emergency medical services only for 3 months of travel. Our solution for Mirek was buying additional MedJet Medical Evacuation for a year. Should anything happen he will be evacuated to the nearest “civilized” hospital and then back home. For Ksenija who does not yet qualify for Medicare insurance we cancelled her American Kaiser Insurance and bought her very reasonably priced medical care and evacuation insurance with the True Traveller insurance (valid for EU citizens only). US citizens should look at Global Nomads insurance. God forbid you are over 60 or have preexsisting conditions! Do realize in order to be able to sign up for health insurance without penalty upon your return you will have to prove that you had a qualifying life event (such as travelling out of the country for a year). You will also have to prove you had health insurance while away or you will pay penality on taxes. This is so far all theoretical knowledge for us gleaned from much research on line and talking to people.
Good luck getting a year’s supply. Start early, colude with your doctor, hoard the meds, and badger the insurance.
We did not want to saddle our kids or friends with checking our mail, so we signed up with Virtual Mail. (Thank you Kent for telling us about it). It is a service that you can forward your USPS mail too, they scan the envelopes for a monthly fee and through your online account you can tell them which envelope to open and scan for an additional fee. It all takes a while to get going, so start early.
There are some perpetual (young) nomads out there who manage to travel with only a small carry on backpack. We could not reduce our travelling possesion that far (I blame it on my prescription snorkling mask and Mirek’s meds.) Still we have quite a small rolling duffel each at an average of 13 kilos/30 lbs and a small personal backpack. We have two packing systems: Mirek prefers using good old Ziplock bags and I am trying out a new packing cube system. Still, to my dismay, I am finding that the old rules apply; no matter how neatly you organize and pack everything, the second day on the road you clothes magically expand and it is hard to zip all the pockets.
11. Business travel cards
Instead of scribbling our contact information on pieces of scrap paper we are now handing out our professional travellers business cards with our photo on the front. Our contact info, our blog and some websites of organzations I volunteer with are on the back. (Thank you, Naya for the idea.) I know I have plenty of names on papers and even in my iphone Contacts of people I have met, but have no idea any more of who they are. In pre travel exuberance I had 200 printed through online service MOO. They are so cute and people love them.
12. Passport and driving license
Make sure your passport is valid for the year and then some. Most countries want to see at least a 6 months validity and that is by the time you leave, not the time of entry or applyong for a visa. While my hisband was fine with plenty of extra virgin pages I found that my California driving licence will expire before the end of our travel year and that you can not review your license earlier than 3 months before expiration. I went and got a AAA international licence and hope I can fudge my way if needed. (Though I was told that it is not valid without your regular licence).
Since some of you asked about setting up the blog (you, Rob!) let me share with you that ours is through WorldPress.com. It is free but if you want your own .com domain name, you do have to pay for hosting. There are other platforms, too, but this one seems to be the most widely used. It took a few hours and help from my kids to get it ready to go. The first hour was spent debating the title!
14. Protest at the Women’s March
As a last act of civil discourse we enthusiastically participated in the anniversay Women’s March in San Francisco.
Please, please keep the home fires burning while we are away!