Besides one day wakening up and deciding that if you want to do this RTW year, it is now or never, as in a couple of years you risk to be tied down even more than now – how does one actually go ahead and leave for a year of travel?
Well, dreaming about it for more than 10 years definitely help ;)
Seriously, it actually does as you get somewhat mentally prepared, you have time to make a plan of the places you really want to visit (and remake it, and remake it), and if you are lucky, as I was, talking about this dream for so many years might also help you financially.
I am lucky enough to have a very generous mother who both for my 25th and my 30th birthdays gave me big chunks of money for the trip. And who is also very smart, and therefore did not actually transfer these amounts until now when I am actually taking the leap. I am also lucky enough to have generous friends, boyfriend and other family members, meaning that over the last years, especially the last year, I have received a lot of travel related gifts (trekking shoes, silk liner, washing line for travel, rainproof super-light jacket, backpack, camera, extra memory cards for camera, ipod, travel towels, money for some great experiences, paid hotel nights...).
But it does not help, at least not for a procrastinator like me, with all the mundane things that needs to be taken care of before leaving for a year. So here are some tips for anyone who wants to leave for a longer period of time, no matter if you just got the idea or have spent years dreaming about it:
5$ to travel the world? - Start saving money TODAY. The earlier you start, even with small sums, the earlier you will be able to leave on the trip. And don't worry if it seems in the beginning like your savings account is hardly growing. Once you realise you have already saved a few percent of your trip without doing any real effort, the motivation for starting to make real cuts in your daily spending will come and soon your account will be growing, and you will wonder whatever you did with all that money beforehand when the end of the month meant the end of the money. Well, this is if you are anything like me.
Sort out the living arrangements – are you leaving your current accommodation, subletting, changing for something smaller? Whatever you chose to do, remember that making arrangements for what do to with your flat/room/house including all the furniture and personal belongings takes quite some time. Most probably longer than you imagine, especially if you want to try to sell off some things.
Feel like just walking out of your job? Don't! – Talk to you boss. Perhaps you can get an unpaid leave of absence (I could not, but depending on your employer this seems to be a fairly frequent occurrence). You might not come back to the exact same position but will keep a job, and hence security for afterwards. Or perhaps you can go digital and bring your work with you on the road. This has the advantage of meaning that you will not need to save up that much money before leaving as you will continue getting paid while travelling. It has the disadvantage of, well, bringing your job with you. Hence, although you can probably work more intensely and at other hours than the normal 9-5, you will still spend a big part of each day in-front of your computer rather than experiencing the place you are currently visiting/living in. You will not be free in the same sense.
Very probably you do not have either of these opportunities, and will have to make a choice between leaving your current employment, travel, and then see what happens or stay at your work place and dream. If you chose the former, remember to check the notice period in your contract. I chose to tell my boss 3.5 months in advance although the notice period was only for 2 months as I felt fairly confident that they would want me to stay as long as possible and hence not ask me to leave directly. However, your choice should depend on your situation.
Check your health, accident and travel insurances – are they valid for a year of travel? In the countries you are going to? What are the conditions? Often you will have to make a special request before leaving if you are staying abroad for more than 45 days in a row. You might also need a special attestation from your insurances for some countries, such as Cuba, for them to let you into the country without forcing you to buy a local insurance for your stay.
Make sure the tax authorities will not be chasing you around the world :) – check what you can do before leaving, perhaps you can sort it all out beforehand. If not, set up a trustworthy person who will take over this task for you during the year abroad, including doing your tax declaration. Just don't forget to bring back a nice gift for him/her ;)
Money matters – make sure not only that you have money for the trip, but also that you can access your savings while abroad and possibly pay bills and transfer money. The recommendation I got from my bank person was to bring 2 different credit cards (preferably visa and mastercard), plus a debit card (often cheaper withdrawals fees than credit cards), and to set-up e-banking with safe access (watch out for those 'contaminated' internet cafés) as well as direct payment of your credit cards – and any other regular bills – as you do not want to come back to a big pile of unpaid bills where the credit fees are going sky high.
You're coming back – right? – you might not want to think about it, but the year will most probably come to an end, if you do not choose to stay on for longer or find a job/love/life in a new place, and you might want to look into assuring as much as possible your return before taking off. Perhaps you will have the right to unemployment benefits when you come back but on certain conditions as is the case for me – I have to be back within 12 months from the end of my contract. So I have adjusted my plans to only stay away for 11.5 months to make sure I get back in time for this security net. It is therefore useful to check this out before leaving (I know of a case where the person left for 12 months and one day and therefore lost out on the unemployment benefits. Luckily for him, he managed to get a job directly although it was right in the middle of the financial crisis.)
For sure, you will be looking at jobs again at some point. If not in the city you left then somewhere in the world. For this a good recommendation letter, an updated CV, and the right to use your ex-boss or colleagues as references are all good to assure before leaving (albeit I have still to fix 2 of these although I have already left...)
Realise that you will never be able to do everything before you leave. Sit down, take a deep breath and relax – the world is now fairly well-connected so you should be able to take care of stuff after leaving your safe harbour!
This might have been the most difficult part for me. Only late in the evening before taking the first flight, did I finally decide that some things would just have to wait to later. Some things have to be taken care of before leaving if possible (such as health insurance), some are easier and cheaper if taken care of earlier (such as finding someone to rent your apartment), but others can be left to do on a boring day of the trip. Or why not, during the first long flight. Things such as, for example, writing down what all the different pills the doctors convinced me to bring along are actually for and how they are used. Perfect, albeit boring, occupation when waiting for take-off during a two hours delay. Or writing some 'fun' blog entries. These were mostly planned to be done weeks before leaving, but luckily I did not stress myself to write anything then as I was just too stressed and had more important tasks at hand. Or even, prepare the bullet-points for my boss in preparation for my recommendation letter – now that I have time to actually try to write something good.
As for the mental preparedness, I think this is impossible, and that's somehow part of the thrill.
Does anyone have any tips to add?