You’re reading this because you’re considering (or already are doing) long term travel. There’s nothing more exciting and you’ve been working hard to get to this point, so congratulations!
Whether you have a one way ticket booked or have many months set aside for your trip as was the case for me, preparing for long term travel is of course vastly different to a regular holiday.
While you will never feel fully prepared as you board the plane there are some things that are especially helpful to take into account which I’ve reflected on after seven consecutive months travelling around Europe with no ‘home base’.
A necessity for most backpackers, a good cell or mobile phone will be a lifesaver. The main reason I used my phone was for the maps and an app called Ulmon or City Maps to Go which worked off line. Translation apps or money conversion ones are handy too to have on you when you get stuck and so that you’ll always know if you’re getting a good deal when changing currencies.
I actually didn’t have any roaming data the entire time I was away. I found that free wifi from hostels and cafés more than got me by. I did however, have an international SIM which enabled me to make calls for really cheap prices and this was very handy.
In regards to cameras I think this is a personal choice. There’s usually three types of cameras you’ll see backpackers with. The most easy going simply use their phones, the next (me) will have a decent digital camera that does the job and the third, is the hard core photography lovers who’ll be lugging around SLRs. The pictures they get are of course amazing but for me, I wasn’t willing to drag that much equipment with me. I do however, wish I had gotten my GoPro before this epic trip (so stupid not to!).
Finally, the last main tech consideration is to bring a laptop or not. I did think about this but since my old Macbook was so old and bulky I would’ve had to upgrade and couldn’t justify brining a brand new laptop around Europe where it would get possibly damaged or stolen. Instead, I brought an iPad mini with me which I used to back up photos and made it easier to book accommodation/flights on than a phone so I was happy with that decision.
Also – getting a universal power adapter will save you room in your bag and hassle! Having locks for your bags in also essential but consider getting ones that have an extension cord on them so you can lock your bag to a pole/chair etc when you’re at an airport or somewhere a bit sketchy.
2. Do your research
This applies for basically anything from learning a few phrases in the local language and their customs to hostel reviews.
For example, checking what area of town your hostel is in or if breakfast is included. Ensuring you have written instructions on how you’re getting to your next destination via public transport, don’t always just rely on technology, since it might fail you.
Hunt down blogs from other travellers who have been to where you’re going and find out about budget airlines you’ve never heard of, train passes etc.
Spending that little bit extra time in research can save not only money but effort when you come across better options or alternatives than you had previously perhaps thought of or discovered.
In saying all of this though, while I find it’s valuable to have an idea of where you want to go and what you want to see, sometimes the best moments are those spontaneous ones in places you hadn’t heard about until a day or two earlier when a fellow backpacker recommended it.
It is important to do your research but also not to forget to keep your schedule flexible!
3. The practicalities
Your suitcase or backpack choice is undoubtably one of the most important factors to consider before leaving home. I’ve dedicated an entire post about this here.
And in regards to what you’re going to happily lug around with you week after week?
Clothing of course needs to suit the environment in which you’re travelling but generally I found that you need to go heavier on the shirts, socks and underwear, easier on the bottoms (re-wearing the same pair of shorts for a week is not an issue, meanwhile the same shirt in 40 degree heat day in day out..not so much) and have one nice evening outfit and that’ll do you. A pair of sneakers, sandals and flip-flops is all you need too for footwear (unless of course you’re planning on doing lots of hiking etc).
My bag hovered around 14kg for most of my trip until the last few weeks of my trip when I decided to upgrade to a suitcase so I could buy a few things and fit in the thicker winter coats I had to get as the weather got colder. I definitely preferred my backpack to dragging a suitcase through underground trains and up tram steps.
It doesn’t hurt either to pack some staple medical supplies and antibiotics in case you’re not able to get to a pharmacist or hospital.
I’m not a fan of travel sized cosmetics (eg. shampoo) because it runs out too quickly and is often for expensive, so I make room for the full sized bottles in my luggage. Plus you can use it as a detergent to wash your clothes in between laundry visits. Limit your make up too, I came to find that in places where I knew no one and therefore cared not one bit about my appearance, I didn’t wear it often, if at all. A good foundation, lip gloss/lipstick, eyeliner and mascara will generally be enough.
Making travel possible, spending money overseas can at times be frustrating.
Trying to avoid those pesky ATM fees when you’re travelling for months is essential and I personally prefer to withdraw larger amounts infrequently and keep my cash in different compartments of my luggage or on my person at all times.
My main source of money was a travel money card, I got mine through Flight Centre. The annoying things is that it can take days for the money to transfer over however, there are no ATM fees.
I used a credit card that had no fees for overseas purchases and also brought my every day debit mastercard as a backup, but didn’t like using this one as the ATM fees were quite steep.
About two months into my trip the details of my credit card (which I predominately used to book hostels/anything online as I went) were stolen. Luckily, a couple months later I was meeting up with a friend from home who would be bringing my replacement card but I was so thankful I had two other options for spending and wouldn’t be caught out.
Having more than just one option of spending means you can separate these cards around your luggage and in the unfortunate event that something is stolen (either physically or online) you won’t be going into extreme panic mode.
5. Attitude and patience
Lastly, long term travel really is what you choose to make of it.
There will be times when you’re missing home, friends and family or the creature comforts.
Taking time to yourself, recharging and remembering that the pros always outweigh the cons when travelling on those tougher days will help to put things into perspective always.
After all, not everyone is fortunate and able to wander the world so be patient when things don’t work out (because something will always go wrong on the road) and never forget there are people who would give anything to be in the same position as you.