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Planning Extended Travel Abroad

How to Prepare to Leave Home for Six to Twelve Months or More

You’re off to travel the world for six months, a year, or maybe more. Perhaps you are on voluntary sabbatical, the victim of a recent job layoff, enjoying a gap year, working or volunteering overseas, retired, or simply following a dream. To get started all you need to do is conduct a bit of destination research, look at some guidebooks, phone a travel agent, book a flight, and buy some bug spray and some wash-and-wear clothes, and you’re off.

Unfortunately it’s not that simple. Deciding to travel is the easy part. Preparing for an extended absence requires a surprising amount of planning. For instance, have you thought about healthcare or travel insurance? Will you rent or sublet your house or apartment, or will you place all of your belongings in storage while you are away? What about managing your finances and paying bills? And how will you keep in touch with others from afar? Here are a few basic guidelines:

Housing, Automobile, Storage

1. Renting or Subletting Your Home. Depending on your financial situation and the length of your journey, it may be wise to rent or sublet your home or apartment while you’re away. Many local property management companies handle rentals—finding tenants, managing miscellaneous repairs, and collecting rental fees—giving you peace of mind at a small price. Alternatively, you can rent your home yourself using local classifieds or community-based websites like Craigslist. Depending on the rental market in your region, you will want to begin this process three to six months prior to your departure date.

2. Household Storage Options. Storage options include monthly storage lockers (fairly inexpensive, you do the hauling), your dad’s garage (dirt cheap, but comes with an entirely different type of price tag), and door-to-door storage companies, such as Shurgard Storage (www.shurgard.com). The latter is most expensive but quite convenient when packing up a multi-room apartment or home. SUV-sized storage crates are delivered to directly to your driveway, you pack them up and attach your own personal locks, then they are whisked away to safe storage as soon as you’ve finished. (Be sure to ask about access to your storage crates, insurance, and how to handle monthly payments while traveling)

3. Automobile Storage and Insurance. If you plan to leave your automobile at home while traveling,you will obviously need to find suitable parking or storage. Check with your city’s police and your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for rules, regulations, registration information, and possible fees. Even if your car will not be driven (“non-operational,” in DMV parlance), you may need to renew your current vehicle registration. Click www.onlinedmv.com for a directory of all DMV websites. Also, be sure to cancel your automobile insurance as appropriate, or obtain information on how to add a new driver to your insurance policy and vehicle registration if someone else will be driving your car while you are away.

Financial Matters

1. Banking. Most financial institutions now offer online banking, often at no cost to account holders, whereby you can access your account via the Internet from any location in the world. Services generally include electronic transfer of funds, online bill payment, credit card linkages, and more. Contact your bank for details.

Additionally, it is often useful to leave a number of blank, signed checks and/or deposit slips in the hands of a trusted family member or friend for any unforeseen financial matters that may arise in your absence.

2. Bill Payment. As noted above, most banks allow you to manage your outgoing payments (for storage, rent, medical insurance, etc.) from the Web. Additionally, many utilities and service providers now support “ebills” so that incoming bills are handled exclusively online.

3. Taxes. Regardless of your current employment status or geographic location, Uncle Sam expects to hear from you every April 15. While you may be able to file for an extension and complete your taxes when you return home, be sure to plan for tax time in advance—preferably before leaving for your trip. Using a financial planner or tax professional is perhaps the easiest and most foolproof route; however, you can also file your taxes online using H&R Block Online, TurboTax, or any number of other online resources (you’ll just need to have someone send you the appropriate W-2 forms and other necessary paperwork, or relay the information to you via mail).

Healthcare

1. Pre-trip Immunizations and Prescriptions. Traveling to and within many foreign countries requires attention to healthcare issues you may not normally consider at home. For example, is malaria endemic to any of your destinations? Typhoid? And, don’t forget about the dreaded traveler’s trots. At least six to eight weeks before your departure schedule a visit to your physician or your local travel clinic (often housed within your local Department of Health) to discuss what immunizations and medications you may need. Bring a list of possible or planned destinations and discuss any current healthcare issues or medications with your doctor. You can also read up on overseas healthcare issues on the U. S. Government's Traveler's Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website.

You may also want to consider how you will refill any prescriptions you are now taking on an ongoing basis while you are traveling. You may be able to refill some prescriptions overseas, but others may be more complicated and require some advanced planning. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, consider bringing along multiple pairs (and a copy of your prescription and your eye doctor’s contact information) as well as leaving extras with a friend who can send them if you need them.

2. Medical Insurance. Many different “travel insurance” plans cover loss of luggage, trip cancellation, and some minor healthcare issues. But if you are traveling for six months or more, most standard U.S. health insurance policies will not cover you, and you would be best served by some form of extended or expatriate medical coverage. The level and type of coverage will vary with your age, current health, travel style, destinations, as well as other factors. Just be sure to find a plan that provides for a significant policy maximum (at least $500,000), medical evacuation, and emergency reunion if you plan to be far from home, and your family. Several websites offer policy “calculators” and comparison charts including Lonely Planet, Travel Guard, and Global Travel Insurance.

Personal Information

1. Passport. It’s always a wise idea to bring multiple copies of your passport with you (stashed in several different locations), and be sure to keep your passport on your person at all times. For an added measure of safety and availability, consider scanning your passport electronically and sending a copy to yourself in a web-based email program (such as Google Mail or Yahoo). This will ensure you have access to the document in any town that has an Internet café or business center.

2. Credit Card Numbers and Bank Information. Make photocopies of all credit cards you will be taking with you and create an electronic or written record of all credit card numbers, expiration dates, name on the card, and customer service or loss report phone numbers. Leave them with someone at home, such as your travel agent, friend, spouse or other family member. If one gets lost or stolen you are immediately able to report the loss and begin the process of obtaining replacements.

Staying in Touch while Abroad

1. Internet Access. Perhaps the easiest and most cost-effective means for staying in touch with friends and loved ones back home is via email (editor's note: Skype offers telephone conversations via the Internet for free from computer-to-computer, and is cheap from computer to landline, and details can be found here, is another excellent recent alternative worth investigating). Depending on your travel destinations, you may find an Internet café on every corner or go several days or weeks without seeing one. Using a travel community website such as Frommer's, IgoUgo, Lonely Planet, or Rough Guides, you can often query other travelers for information on Internet access in a specific locale, or check out a local city or country guide for your destination. (Rates can vary widely from under $1 per hour in Guatemala or Argentina, to $8 per hour in Greece, and $12 per hour in Belize).

If you do not already have access to Web email (either via a freeware product such as Google Mail or Yahoo, or from Earthlink, AOL, or a local Internet service provider) you will want to set this up prior to your departure to ensure you can access all of your email remotely from any Web-connected computer (Be sure to send your address to your friends and family so they can stay in touch.).

2. Email Newsletters. To make staying in touch effortless you can easily set up an email newsletter using services from YahooGroups. Using these free services you simply load up all of your friends’ email addresses (or send an email inviting them to join the list) into the web group, then each time you write an email you can send it to everyone on your list with one or two quick clicks. Often you can upload pictures and other files such as your itinerary, hotel phone numbers and addresses as well.

3. Telephone Access and Phone Cards. Telephone access to and from many countries can be easy or difficult. For information on phone service and calling prices at your destinations check your guidebook, the local phone company, or a travel community website. Many of the larger international phone providers (AT&T, Sprint, British Telecom, etc.) offer prepaid phone cards or calling cards you can use from overseas. Rates and access points can vary wildly. As a result, you are not likely to find one single card or service that you can use from anywhere in the world. It is often best to scout out a local calling card or phone service once you arrive at your latest destination.

“Internet phone calling” (using a Web connection, rather than a phone line, and speaking into a computer’s microphone to communicate) has become quite popular in many places and is significantly cheaper than “land lines,” but the quality and speed of the Internet connection can be quite dismal.

So get going! Each traveler’s personal pre-trip checklist will depend on the duration and destination of the planned trip and a variety of other personal and family factors. Consider this one to be the helpful reminder you need to get started and get traveling!

DIANA REID is currently enrolled in an intensive technology detox program. After 12 years in the high technology industry she has decided there's more to life than bits and bytes and has embarked on a year-long adventure through Central and South America. During her travels, Reid will do her best to survive without daily email, her cell phone, and pager.