Trips & Planning

You ask, I answer: How I prepared for my long-term trip!

It took a while for friends & family to recognize that my 6 month trip wasn’t just a dream, it was reality. Once this reality sunk in (and after I survived tons of fear-mongering), their curiosity about the trip piqued. Mostly, they were interested in how I prepared & planned for an unpaid leave from the cubicle-dwelling life.

I’ll gladly share the detailed ins & outs of how to prep yourself (it may come in handy in the case you’re aching to plan a trip yourself!)

“Traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a Storyteller.”
“Traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a Storyteller.”

How I chose what to do for the trip… or better yet, how I planned nothing at all!

In short: I’m leaving the trip wide open. I prefer the vagabonding travel life…. Screw an itinerary!

Although I initially planned to commit myself as a volunteer on a self-sustainable farm project in Thailand for 5 months, I soon rejected the idea. I couldn’t fathom putting such restrictions on my trip, I’m a vagabond traveler.

I was inspired after reading “Vagabonding” by Rolf Potts. For me, vagabonding is about going with the flow and following where your heart guides you, rather than following the flocks of other Westerners. It’s about being open to immersing yourself into local cultures. It’s about slowing down and giving yourself the time to experience daily local life… you’ll always stumble upon out-of-the-ordinaries if you give it enough time.

Planning an itinerary where you hop from one tourist district to the next in order to hit all the spots on your organized list, isn’t attractive to me.

Therefore, I made a very slim itinerary for the Asia trip. Other than trekking in Nepal (weather-dependent activity) and registering for a 1-month Meditation Teacher Training Course in India, the remainder of the trip is open.

If you’re wondering how I find the cities I visit and activities I do once I’m in the midst of the trip, I have a simple answer:

I’m constantly conversing with other travelers/ locals, listening to their fascinating explorations and adventures, and jotting down the details on my phone. Then, when I’m considering which destination to head to next, I simply reference the list on my phone.

I have a cumulative list of all the potential destinations and activities that travelers shared with my throughout my previous adventures as well… in fact, that’s how I decided to plan the trek to Nepal!

Why now?

… Check out my initial blog post where I share the full story 😀

Meditating upon the peace and calmness of the oceans in Gao, India.
Meditating upon the peace and calmness of the oceans in Gao, India.

How I prepared for an unpaid leave from the cubicle-dwelling life

Embarking on a long-term backpacking trip requires a considerable amount of life planning. How did I set myself up for a 6 month trip? I’ll break it down into 2 parts: (1) saving money, and (2) everything non-financial.

I. Saving money

Financial planning was particularly critical for me, as I am taking an unpaid leave from work (i.e., not making any money).

For a 1 month vacation, it’s sensible to continue paying your living expenses since the costs (time to do all these admin tasks) outweigh the benefits (i.e., saving $$). However, for a 6 months trip, I couldn’t justify to continue to paying for my regular monthly overhead expenses (i.e., no income to cover these expenses).

Therefore, my goal was to reduce my overhead as close to zero as possible.

Fortunately, I’m a minimalist, so I’ve set myself up well to reach my goal of $0 monthly expenses. (The good news is: Even if you’re not a minimalist, you can do it too!)

Did I reach my goal? Close, but not quite. I got all on-going expenses to $0, except for my health insurance which remains at $400/ month. I’m pretty satisfied with the results!

Minimalism: I’m only leasing an ensuite bedroom in an apartment, my belongings are limited to my clothing, an external monitor, and my Dream Foam bedding mattress. I don’t really own anything of significant value. All other furnishings in the apartment, including my bedroom furniture, are owned by my wonderful roommates.

A victim of the Indian paparazzi. I guess that’s what happens when you go sleeveless with tattoos in India!
A victim of the Indian paparazzi. I guess that’s what happens when you go sleeveless with tattoos in India!

The details: How did I financially plan for my 6 month trip?

1) Apartment lease:

I subleased my bedroom to a sweet Chilean woman moving to LA. It took approximately 45 days, involving many emails and only 3 FaceTime apartment tours to find my sublessee using Craigslist. Watch out for the Craigslist crazies, particularly in LA! I definitely suggest having a phone call or a FaceTime tour with any potential sublessee before an in-person visit.

2) Storage:

Luckily, my sublessee was only bringing bags of clothes with her, so she kindly let me store all of my belongings in boxes beneath my bed and in the spare bedroom closet. With 3 large suitcases of clothes, and a few additional boxes, all managed to fit in the confined space. This resolved my packing and storage situation.

Other options are storing your belongings in a lockable closet in the apartment, at a family/ friend’s house, or in a small storage unit (less than $100 per month).

3) Car lease:

With 18 months remaining on my car lease, I transferred my car on Swapalease. The process from posting my listing to completing the transfer took approximately 90 days. The total transfer cost was $150 for the swapalease listing and a $100 transfer incentive to the buyer (since my buyer covered the full $695 lease transfer fee required by GM Financial). Leasetrader is another lease trading website, which is a bit more expensive than swapalease. Here’s a helpful resource if you’d like to learn more about how to transfer your car lease!

Unfortunately, this wasn’t my car... just a car I stumbled upon and admired long enough to give it a photo shoot.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t my car… just a car I stumbled upon and admired long enough to give it a photo shoot.
4) *TOP TIP!* Cell phone:

Many cell phone carriers charge a monthly fee to put your phone number on-hold (i.e., Verizon charges $25 per month for this service!). If I took this option, my phone number would not work while I’m away. Therefore, I ported my cell phone number to GoogleVoice for one-time fee of $20. This enabled me to eliminate my monthly Verizon plan. Using GoogleVoice, you can keep your phone number while you’re abroad, and continue to make and receive phone calls & text messages through WiFi (or data). This is particularly useful for the services that require text message verifications these days (i.e., banks). Just follow these simple instructions.

5) Gym membership:

Froze my membership with my gym for no charge through a simple phone call and email.

6) Health insurance:

Although I bought travel insurance, the health insurance that’s included in travel insurance only covers you while you’re abroad. If an emergency (i.e., cancer, tumor, etc.) occurs while you’re traveling, the travel insurance will only cover you until you safely reach your home country. Once you’re back home, you’re on your own. Therefore, I believe it’s important to have some level of health coverage in your home country as well.

My company does not subsidize health insurance when an employee takes an unpaid leave, so I would be required to cover the outrageously expensive costs for my private insurance while I’m away. I chose to stick with my company’s insurance plan since it provides comprehensive coverage, and health insurance is not an area I’m willing to skimp on.

However, I did spend some time looking into alternatives. Health plan options in the US are overpriced, even for the lower coverage options (typically over $120 per month for almost no coverage!). If you’re planning to be unemployed during your trip, you have the option to apply for free health coverage with your state of residence. The process of securing free health insurance when you’re employed is easier than you might imagine!

7) Saving:

I began increasing my monthly savings from each paycheck over the past few months, particularly by:

  1. Bringing lunch to work. Rather than spending $ on unhealthy lunches everyday, I bought lunch from home. I typically spent 40 mins on Sunday and Wednesday evenings to prep lunch for the following 2-3 days. Healthy, filling quinoa salads everyday yo. If you want the recipe, feel free to comment.
  2. Avoiding unnecessary purchases of clothing and other “material” things. As a minimalist, this was easy peasy. For the average shopper, it may require a bit more self-discipline.
  3. I quit drinking alcohol (more on this in a later post).
Views while kayaking in Alleppey, Kerala (India).... Who needs alcohol when you have energy from nature :)
Views while kayaking in Alleppey, Kerala (India)…. Who needs alcohol when you have energy from nature 🙂

II. Everything non-financial

1) Travel insurance:

I went with Travelex. Underwritten by Berkshire Hathaway, Travelex is a reputable provider. Key features to check when purchasing travel insurance:

  1. Are they a primary or secondary provider for medical coverage?
  2. Do they cover medical expenses (including medical evacuation) for all the types of activities you plan on doing while traveling (i.e., trekking at high elevation, scuba diving, rafting, bungee jumping, etc.).

Other options: Arch RoamRight, Blue Dog (for adventure travelers)

Side note: Luckily I read the fine print, which stated that if you don’t have a return flight booked prior to trip start date, then the travel insurance policy is not valid. Thank the lord I saw that. I only had a one-way ticket booked! So on the day I departed for my trip, I booked a return flight.

2) Vaccinations:

Visited a travel clinic to get the vaccinations and prescriptions (i.e., malaria pills, antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea) necessary based on my travel itinerary.

Vaccinations are expensive, so you should budget for this expense appropriately. I submitted a claim to my health insurance for my vaccinations and prescriptions, and over 50% of the bill was covered. Although travel vaccinations are typically considered as “luxury” vaccinations by insurance providers, there may be a few that will be covered. You’ve got nothing to lose by trying!

Give me my darn travel insurance, visas, and vaccinations, so I can go off and fly!!!
Give me my darn travel insurance, visas, and vaccinations, so I can go off and fly!!!
3) Visas:

Although most countries offer tourists visas on-arrival or 2-3 day e-visas, I checked the visa requirements for each country I planned to visit (US citizens can check here). There are certain countries that have a more extensive visa application process if you plan to visit for longer than 28 days. In these cases, you may need to obtain the visa prior to traveling. This can be done by filling out the application on your own at the nearest consulate, or you can pay a visa services provider to do it for you. Visa HQ is a reputable visa services provider, but they charge looked up the visa requirements for each country I planned to visit

4) Travel advisories:

I used the US travel advisories website to check for safety pre-cautions for countries on my itinerary. There are often instances of severe political unrest or natural disasters in certain [areas of the] countries you plan to visit. Better find out ahead of time!

5) Trip itinerary:

Fortunately, my passion is traveling through developing countries (i.e., much of Asia, South & Central America, etc.), which feature significantly lower costs of living than developed countries (i.e., US, Europe, etc.). I also spend a portion of my trip doing workaways, in which volunteers work (i.e., farming, teaching English, orphanages) in exchange for lodging and food provide by the host. Although you may not want to “work” while you’re traveling, volunteering through workaway can be a relaxed and enjoyable experience if you find a highly-rated host. It doesn’t need to be a “master-servant’ relationship. Many workaways host several volunteers at the same time, fostering more of a communal-vibe.

6) Accommodations choice:

I sleep in hostel dorm rooms with 4, 6, 8, or even 18 bed dorm rooms during my travels. It’s a huge money saver, and a great way to meet new people and learn about new travel ideas.

The views from hostels can be as good as the views from a hotel 😉

I’ve been traveling the world since 19 years old. Initially, I only wanted to travel with friends, but I’ve come to prefer adventuring solo! In the next post, I’ll share the wonders of solo travel with you!

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