Long-term travel is an opportunity to see different parts of the world more like a resident rather than a tourist. It is certainly not for everyone. Those who are in the know about long-term travel are fully aware that it requires quite a bit of careful planning and extreme amounts of inner flexibility. Still, travellers who figure out how to make it work can experience some exciting trips that others only dream of.
The key to long-term travel is careful planning. Heading out for a year of wandering without any plans in place is risky even under the best of circumstances; it can be fatal to the traveller who finds him/herself in an extreme situation. So if you are planning any long-term travel – by which we mean more than four or six weeks away – be sure to plan ahead of time. Leave no stone unturned.
Why and Where
The first step in planning long-term travel is to determine where you are going and why. Experts say travellers should start thinking about this approximately one year in advance. Starting with the why question, ask yourself what your goals are. What is your purpose for travelling? What do you hope to accomplish? How do you hope to accomplish it?
Once you have some goals, you can choose a list of destinations that will make it possible to achieve those goals. For example, let us assume your primary purpose for travelling is to broaden your knowledge of Asian art and culture. You can choose a variety of destinations that will expose you to as much of the history and tradition of ancient art and culture as possible, combined with other destinations that speak of the present and future.
By the same token, planning a trip to experience African wildlife would dictate favouring certain locales over others. It's all about finding the opportunities that make the most sense for your goals.
Establish a Travel Budget
When it comes to making long-term travel possible, this is where most people go wrong. Either they do not establish a budget or they estimate woefully low. The danger of not realistically budgeting ahead of time is the very real possibility of running out of money and having to return home early. There is no better way to ruin what should have been a wonderful trip by not having the finances to complete it.
Assuming that you are establishing your budget 10 to 12 months out (this would be the bare minimum), you must consider the possibility that prices are likely to rise before you actually depart. So do some research to figure out how much it would cost to take your trip if you were to leave today. Then add 5% to 8% to account for price increases, then add another 10% on top of that for incidental expenses that go above and beyond flights, accommodations, and food.
With a budget in hand, you will be able to more accurately plan where you are going to go and how much it will cost. Be careful not to exceed this budget on paper. If you cannot make the numbers work in theory, they will not work when you actually hit the ground.
Research Legal Requirements
Travelling overseas almost always involves at least a short list of legal requirements. Are you going to need a visa? Will you be in any one country long enough to require some sort of legally recognised visitor status? You need to consider everything from travel documentation to immunisations.
You should start getting your legal documents in order 8 to 10 months before departure. Remember, the wheels of government move slowly. You may be anticipating your new passport and visa within six weeks only to find out that someone along the government chain of red tape misplaced your application or set it aside and forgot about it. You need as much lead time as possible to ensure that everything gets done before you leave. As far as immunisations are concerned. They will have to be scheduled according to where you are going and how long each one is good for.
Book Flights and Accommodations
About six months out is a good time to start thinking about flights and accommodations. If you try to get your bookings further out, you may run into problems where prices are subject to change. You should not have that problem within the six-month window. In fact, 5 to 6 months out is the best time to get the best deals in most cases.
Plan Your Itinerary
Side-by-side with booking flights and accommodations is planning your itinerary. You don't have to plan it down to the very hour – or even to the day for that matter – but you do need to know approximately when you are going to be moving from one place to the next. Planning your itinerary ahead of time gives you a roadmap you can follow as you travel. You can still make adjustments as needed, on-the-go.
Tie up Loose Ends
Lastly, planning ahead of time includes tying up all the loose ends in the last few months before departure. For example, you have to think about redirecting your mail, cancelling your utilities, getting storage space for those possessions you intend to leave behind, and even sitting down with family members and friends to let them know of your plans.
One of the most important parts of tying up loose ends is making sure you purchase travel insurance. Not only is travel insurance helpful, but it is also pretty much essential for any long-term trip. A good insurance policy will protect you from severe financial loss in the event of an injury, illness, lost or stolen luggage, missed flights, and the like. Don’t buy your policy through your holiday operator, research has shown this can be three times more expensive!
The better job you do planning your trip, the more likely your excursion will be a pleasurable experience rather than a nightmare to be endured. It takes about 12 months to do it right, but proper planning is worth every minute you put into it. Any seasoned traveller will tell you that.
This is a contribution from one of our contributing writers.
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