I am basically a spontaneous person. I like to book trips on short notice and typically do not pack until travel day. However, if you plan to go on your first solo trip, there are many things to consider that you can’t just take care of the day before. This includes getting vaccinated or obtaining necessary documents such as a passport or international driving permit. Furthermore, most of us don’t just have sufficient funds lying around somewhere and need time to save up. So, what are the essentials you need to consider? I’ll tell you!
Save before starting out
You can increase your travel funds by saving in various ways. Think about what you can easily do without. Most of us use luxury goods that we don’t really need. These include newspaper or magazine subscriptions, gym memberships, or even cars. Sell things that you know you won’t use anymore or clothes that you no longer wear. Ask yourself what you really need, and be honest. Keeping your goal in mind will make the process easier and make it feel like less of a sacrifice. You’ll gradually become accustomed to a more minimalist lifestyle. Minimalism is a fundamental principle of almost all long-term travelers, including digital nomads. Personally, I could not have imagined that I would someday prefer to live out of my backpack on a small island in the Gulf of Thailand instead of a closet full of clothes and shoes in a sleepy town near Frankfurt, Germany. You learn to appreciate what you have and to be content with little.
If you follow my blog or have read My Trip Around the World – A Dream Come True, you already know that I paid for my Round the World Ticket with bonus miles. Over five years, I and my whole family collected miles with Miles&More and points with Payback, which can be converted into miles one-to-one. The trick is to consistently use a credit card rather than a debit card. It might cost you an annual fee (the cheapest card available to me cost about S6o per year), but if you use it cleverly, it pays off.
For example, I used a Gold Card with a $110 annual fee. Therefore, over five years, I paid $550 for my credit card. The price for my Round the World Ticket was still around $1,000 due to additional airport fees, fuel surcharges, and taxes, which you still have to pay when using miles. So, my ticket cost me around $1,550 altogether. While I don’t know exactly what I would have paid if I had bought it outright, I think it would have been around double.
Of course, you don’t necessarily need a Round the World Ticket. It may be enough for your miles or points pay for one or two flights, or some equipment (the Lufthansa World Shop offers luggage as well as premiums in the form or electronics and media).
Other airlines or airline networks certainly have similar rewards programs. However, I have only personally tested the Star Alliance program.
Most contracts and subscriptions in my country have cancellation periods of three months, so, annoyingly, you need to deal with these as soon as possible to make those costs disappear. If you really want to save money, you should quickly identify which contracts and subscriptions you really need and which you can possibly do without.
The gym is a good example. Think about how often you go there and whether this expense really pays off. Could you exercise at home or outside instead? There are many apps that can help you make the switch. For example, I use a free app called Seven for daily exercise. With this app, you can set your own workouts and specify the length and repeats for each set. The app is convenient and motivates you to keep a daily exercise routine. The longer you stick with it, the more exercises you unlock. I have also heard good things about the paid app Gymondo.
I’m not saying that you should cut out important things like exercise from your life. On the contrary, I advise you to get creative and approach your goals in a disciplined manner. Don’t forget that you set your own objectives and that you’re the only person who can achieve them.
Attention: There are contracts with longer terms, for example, internet connections, landlines, or cell phones. If you are a member of a club, you might need to cancel at the end of the calendar year, regardless of when your contract expires. If it is not possible for you to cancel a contract, ask if you can let your contract go dormant.
If you have not visited far-away countries before, you should definitely talk to your doctor or a travel medicine specialist about getting vaccinated. Some vaccinations require several boosters before the protection becomes active. This can take several weeks. So, seek a consultation early, at least three months before departure.
To give you a rough idea of what to expect, I have compiled some information. However, this can in no way replace a doctor visit and consultation. Normally, it is recommended to update your standard vaccinations (such as tetanus and diphtheria) and also add vaccinations against hepatitis A+B. typhoid, and possibly rabies. For South America, depending on how close you get to the Amazon region, yellow fever is also added to this list. For example, you may not be allowed to enter Bolivia overland without a yellow fever vaccination record. When I entered Bolivia, they did not check my vaccination records, but I was coming from Chile, a country that normally doesn’t have yellow fever. However, if you want to enter from Brazil, things might be different. It’s better to be safe than sorry. For Asia, you should consider vaccinating against Japanese encephalitis. Unlike the name suggests, this disease is found throughoutAsia and not only in Japan.
Prices for vaccines vary drastically. In particular, hepatitis A+B is quite expensive, because it requires three injections, so you have to buy three doses. However, this protection normally lasts for at least ten years. The rabies vaccine also requires three injections for base immunization, after which you should get boosters every few years. The same is true for typhoid, but the base immunization only requires one injection.
I have gotten vaccinated against everything I have listed above. Including a booster for rabies and typhoid after five years, which has cost me around S8oo in total. Unfortunately, my health insurance covered none of these. A timely switch to an insurance that would cover everything could make a lot of financial sense. But, watch out, as they may also bind you to specific contract terms.
Tip: Web pages such as https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ contain lots of information on illnesses (including maps for affected regions), treatments, and relevant vaccinations.
Applying for documents
Most people remember their passport, but would you have considered applying for an international driving permit? Getting it typically requires only need two passport photos and a few days before it arrives. And what about a suitable credit card? I’ll provide a few tips on that in the next section. But don’t forget to apply if you don’t have a card already, or check the expiration date if you already have one. For example, I had not realized that my VISA credit card expired two months before the end of my world trip. I only realized a week before it expired, when my parents told me that a new card had arrived for me in the mail. Fortunately, I had two other credit cards as well, so I still had access to money.
Another word on the passport: Many countries require it to be valid for at least six months after you enter the country (and sometimes even after you exit). Therefore, it’s better to check too doublecheck when yours will expire, as it can take up to six weeks to get a new passport.
Check the travel visa requirements for each country you’re visiting. Many countries now grant a Visa on Arrival for a small fee. Normally, you do not need to do anything in advance for these. But it’s best to find out in relevant web forums or Facebook groups whether you need cash in the local currency at the time of arrival or whether you can pay with credit card. For example, in Sri Lanka, you can apply for a visa in advance ($30) or pay for a Visa on Arrival ($35). This five-dollar difference might seem insignificant. But if you need to save money, you should try to avoid pointless extra expenditures like these. You’d be much better to use this five dollars to spoil yourself with a massage in Thailand if you still have them left over.
There are ways to get around without credit card, but I’ve personally never traveled without one, and do not leave my house without my two credit cards. On a long journey, it is advisable to carry at least two cards. It’s always possible that one gets stolen, or lost, or stuck in an ATM, or that the magnetic strip breaks, and so on. Ideally, you’ll also carry cards from different providers. I have a VISA and a MasterCard, which is a good combination for me because they have different advantages that I can use accordingly.
The advantages of my VISA card is that I can make cash withdrawals at any ATM worldwide for free. Sometimes, the local bank from which you withdraw charges a processing fee. I can then simply write to my bank when I get home, remind them of their free withdrawal terms, and ask for a reimbursement of these charges. I typically get this money credited within a few days.
Advantages of the MasterCard: With MasterCard, I can pay all over Europe without a fee. In the rest of the world, it may cost a foreign transaction fee, but it may be lower than that of other providers, such as my VISA. So, if all else fails and I can neither pay cash nor quickly withdraw money, I’ll pay with this card. My consolation is that, as I mentioned above, I receive a reward mile for every Euro that I spend on this card.
Travel Health Insurance
For travel health insurance, you have different options. You can get an additional policy to your regular health insurance. If you are traveling for up to one year, this might cost between $20 and S60 a month, depending on where you’re going. Look around for insurance used by digital nomads and long-term travelers. For example, some automobile clubs offer low tariffs for long-term travel, even to non-members.
If you decide to take that route, you need to consider what to do with your health insurance in your home country. There are three options:
- 1: Ask whether your contract can become dormant while you’re abroad. For this, you typically need to show your airline tickets as evidence of your departure and return. This option only makes sense if you’ll be traveling for more than six months.
- 2: Keep your contract active and continue paying. This makes sense if you will are taking short trips of only a few weeks.
- 3: Pay for “insurance that your insurance will give you a contract upon return,” which is an option in my home country. This typically costs around $50 per month, but some insurance companies may not provide this option unless you stay out of the country for a minimum period (six months).
- 4: Cancel your contract at home and avoid the costs altogether. Here again, you will deal with the problem of cancellation periods. Sometimes you may have to cancel three months in advance, but most insurance companies offer bonus programs where you get money back at the end of the year. This often creates a contract period of two years, but there is a loophole, which I will describe below.
If all this contract stuff with applications and cancellations appears too complicated and stressful, I may have another solution for you. You can look for insurance that is designed to provide coverage for large regions or even worldwide, such as European Insurance. As these are private insurance policies, they are relatively cheap when you are young, but get more expensive as you get older. In some countries, it can be a significant step to switch from government-sponsored to private insurance. Often, it is not easy to go back. However, for frequent travelers, it is worth considering both financially, and in terms of time. I have taken this step and now pay considerably less than for government insurance and do not have to deal with their bureaucracy when I leave the country or return home briefly.