Welcome to the Nomadic Notes long term travel page. I’ve been a long-term traveller since 2003 and during this time I have refined what steps to take for preparing for a big trip.
This page features travel tips and links to useful sites for those embarking on long term trips.
For links on location independent working, please refer to the Digital Nomad resource page.
Before You Go
Storage/Selling Your Stuff
Preparing for a long term trip is a good way to take stock of what stuff you have in your life. While you don’t need to get rid of everything you own, the less things you have to place in storage the better.
From my own experience I was living in a house in Melbourne for many years before I began to travel full time with no fixed address. When I decided to move out I had six weeks to pack up my stuff. In that time I had to sort through boxes of personal items and decide what to keep and what to sell/give away/throw out. It took longer than I thought, so give yourself enough time.
Going on a long term trip and having no fixed address meant that I had to sort out my mail. It’s amazing how much mail comes to your house when you have been living there for years. I unsubscribed from mailing lists as they came in and moved all of my banking and investment mail to online statements. Any important mail that still needs to be sent to an address I changed to my parents home or my PO Box that I have for my business.
As the old saying goes, “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. I personally know of a few travellers who have been in accidents without insurance and were left with a hefty bill, so for me there is no question of this purchase.
Insurance coverage will vary according to your nation of citizenship so there is no blanket answer for all nationalities. For myself, I buy travel insurance annually from World Nomads. With World Nomads you can renew or buy new coverage while you are away from your home country, which many insurance plans won’t allow. I use them because they happen to be the cheapest travel insurance for long term travel, though quotes will vary according to age and nationality so shop around for your best options.
The insurance I have only covers personal health and liability and doesn’t include coverage of gear. I have about $2000USD worth of computer and electronic gear so if I lose that is how much I will be out of pocket.
One thing that insurance can’t cover is the loss of data. Whether you electronics are insured or not, make sure you back up your data.
Those with a US/CAN/UK/Aussie/Kiwi passport have the luxury of being able to travel freely to many countries around the world, but you should always check the visa situation before you go. Visa Mapper is a good place to get an overview of where you need a visa.
When you are on the road you should make a habit of backing up your data on an external hard drive and and also to a cloud backup service that mirrors your laptop. Getting this set up is another good job to do before you leave.
External Hard Drives
I have two WD Portable External Hard Drives, one of which I leave with my family, and one I carry with me. Make a regular back up of your files while on the road, and never carry your external hard drive in the same bag as your laptop because if your bag gets stolen then that defeats the purpose of having an external hard drive.
In addition to storing on a hard drive is the option of cloud storage. This is definitely a job you want to do before you go as trying to upload your whole life worth of data on a slow internet will make you crazy.
As a digital nomad I need to travel with a laptop and smartphone, but not everyone needs to take a laptop with them. I do recommend that you at least have either a laptop, tablet, or smartphone with you. In the last few years I have noticed a trend that with the rise of mobile devices the number of internet cafes are declining, so having a device that you are comfortable making online bookings with is essential.
I bought my first laptop in 2002 and I have been travelling with a laptop ever since. I remember the first day of ownership of my new laptop I treated it like a delicate flower and put it back in the original bubble wrap and then in my laptop bag. Eventually I got less precious with it and got to the point where I was confident enough to have my bag been thrown around without worrying too much.
I went through four PC laptops over ten years (Australian businesses can depreciate a laptop over a 3 year period). In 2012 I switched to Apple and got a Macbook Air.
If you don’t want to carry a laptop then a tablet is a good option.
My most used device in my travels is a smartphone. I’m currently using an unlocked iPhone 5 which also doubles as a pocket camera.
If you are going to travel with only a smart phone, test run to see if you are comfortable making online bookings and doing emails with only your phone.
I was an e-reader holdout for years but once I switched over to using an e-reader I would have to say there is no going back. While I always made sure I had a book with me when I was on the road, there would always be those times when you are in a non-english speaking country and the only books available are some trashy fiction in the guesthouse common area. With an e-reader you have access to books as long as you have access to internet.
I’m currently travelling with a Kindle Paperwhite, which I like for its backlit lighting that is easy on the eyes. If you have an iPad/tablet you can turn that into a Kindle using the Kindle App, but you won’t get the same battery life as with a Kindle.
Backpacks and day bags
Another divide in the long term travel world is the carry-on only debate. Again, this is down to personal choice. I have a two-bag travel system; A daybag which carries my electronics, and a 65L wheelie bag which I check in.
For my main bag I have the REI Stratocruiser Wheeled Convertible Luggage. Basically it’s a backpack with wheels. I know many long term travellers are against wheelie bags but for me I have had back problems in the past so I don’t carry heavy on my back. This bag has backpacks straps for those times when I need to lug my bag over non paved roads. I also like that it has a detachable day bag on the front.
For my day pack I’m using an Afar Backpack by Eagle Creek.
The longer your trip the more likely your plans are going to change, so the less advance bookings you make the better.
I have done many long term travel over the years and I have found the less planning with flights the better. I would recommend making return bookings if you know you have to be back home on a certain date (family wedding, start of school year etc).
For flight bookings I use Skyscanner which searches a combination of airfare sites and airlines directly and sorts fares into the best deal.
For round-the-world flights the best booking site I have seen is indie.bootsnall.com which specialises in around the world and multi-stop airfares. I don’t use RTW tickets personally, but I have tried this site out with some dummy bookings choosing some standard and complicated routes, and it consistently produces good offers.
If you prefer to get someone else to find a flight for you Flightfox offers crowdsourced competitions where people can find you the cheapest deal for a competition fee. This site is good for flights that have complicated segments for for flights from airports where airfares are expensive.
Booking accommodation will depend on how long I will be in a place and what part of the world I am going to. If I am arriving in a new destination I will always book something in advance. For accommodation booking I use Agoda, which searches for hotels, hostels, and guesthouses.
If I am going somewhere for a month or longer I usually book a room for my first two nights and then start looking for accommodation when I am there. It is usually easier to find a cheaper place to live on the ground rather than going through a booking site. For apartment style accommodation Airbnb is a good place to start.
[Special offer: If you are new to Airbnb you can get $20 Airbnb credit by signing up with this link.]
Long Term Travel Planning: Save, Book, Go! by twoscotsabroad.com has a run down of their long term travel itinerary, daily average budget, and other long term travel tips.
How I travelled for 18 months without bankrupting myself – Barry from toolsoftravel.com on how he travelled long-term.