The Ultimate To-Do List Before Leaving on a Round-the-World Trip

In keeping with the theme of my last post, in which I broke down exactly what you need to bring on your round-the-world trip, I now bring you our complete list of everything (okay, almost everything) you need to do in order to get ready to go. Lists like these do seem to abound on the Internet, but I figured including our own list would help to round out our site a bit. As with the packing list, this is pretty specific to our own circumstances (i.e., no kids, pets, houseplants, or anything else that needs to be kept alive; mid-range travel; quitting rather than taking a leave from our jobs). So for all of you couples out there with few responsibilities and a decent budget, this one’s for you!

Six Months Before

  • Put together a budget. Hopefully Pierre can write a post at some point telling us how he did this, because it was really all him. And he was really good at it.
  • Figure out what to do about your housing. If you own, will you sell or rent? If you rent, will you put your stuff in storage, sublease, or just keep your place exactly as you left it, with no one living there? We rent, and when another long-term traveler recommended that we keep our apartment and not sublet to anyone, we laughed in his face, thinking “what a ridiculous waste of money!” But after we stopped to think about it for a few minutes, we realized he was actually right. We could afford to keep the place and not rent it out for a year, so why not avoid the hassle and stress of packing our things and putting them in storage, and keep a home base available in case we needed to come back at some point? As it turned out, we did come home twice during the year, and were thrilled to have our old familiar space waiting for us. We also didn’t have to change our mailing address, and since I have the best Mom ever — who saved our butts multiple times while we were traveling by checking our mail and notifying us of important things like jury summonses and letters from the DMV — our mail was kept on the dining room table in enormous piles until we got home. Keeping the apartment also gave us somewhere sheltered and secure to park our beloved Mini Cooper, Moopy. Which brings me to my next item…
That's Moopy, the day I brought him home from the dealer.

That's Moopy, the day I brought him--er, it--home from the dealer.

  • Figure out what to do about your vehicle(s). Keep it? Sell it? Store it? If you’re going to keep it in the garage, call your insurance company and tell them your travel plans. They should be able to put the car on a storage policy that will save you hundreds of dollars while you’re on the road. I also have the best Dad ever, who came over twice a month to take the Moopster out for a spin so the car’s battery wouldn’t die. Every time he did this, he called my insurance company to notify them so they could insure the car to be driven just for that one day. It worked out quite well, I think.
  • Get/renew your passport and research visa requirements. They say that issuing or renewing a passport can take months. In my experience, it’s always been much faster than that, but it’s worth getting a jump on the process if you can. And visas really can take a long time, so if you suspect you may end up in India, China, Burma, or anywhere else that requires a visa ahead of time, take care of it now (just be sure you don’t get the visa so early that it expires before you arrive!). One more thing: if you have a passport that will be valid for a while, but are running low on pages, visit this site to find out how to get more pages added. You’ll be surprised how many countries issue visas or stamps that take up an entire page in your passport, using up precious space all too quickly.
Myanmar (Burma) visa, obtained in Bangkok because we had no idea we'd be going there until right before we went.

Myanmar (Burma) visa, obtained in Bangkok because we had no idea we'd be going there until right before we went.

Two to Three Months Before

  • Decide what you’re doing about your job, and start to discreetly wrap up loose ends. As I mentioned above, Pierre and I both quit our jobs before taking this trip. I was fortunate enough that most of my cases were in a really good place when I left, so I didn’t feel like I had lots of unfinished business or like I was leaving people in a lurch. Pierre’s last job before we took off was a seasonal one, so he also didn’t have to worry about leaving prematurely. There is never really a perfect time to go, but once you have a departure date in mind, hopefully you can start to take the necessary steps to make your exit as smooth as possible. If you are lucky enough to work for a company that allows for a leave of absence or sabbatical and you want to ask for one, you probably will want to raise the issue a few months before you head out, since paperwork takes time.
  • Visit your doctor(s). Particularly if you’re going to be quitting your job and thus losing your health insurance, this is the time to get your last appointments in. Get your teeth cleaned. Get your eyes checked. Ladies, visit your ob-gyn (and if you use birth control pills, stock up while you’re there). Most important, go to your hospital’s travel clinic and tell them where you’re going (or thinking of going). They’ll get you all the necessary shots, give you a yellow fever certificate (which you’ll need for certain countries, e.g., Tanzania), and give you all the anti-malarials and altitude sickness meds you’ll need for the next year.
Proof we got our yellow fever shot.

Proof we got our yellow fever shot.

  • Figure out what to do about health insurance on the road. Just because you don’t have your coverage from work anymore, doesn’t mean you should leave home without any coverage at all. That would be dumb. Pierre and I got terrific emergency coverage plans from American Express. The plan cost a mere $13 each per month, and when my filling cracked and I had to go to a crazy-expensive dentist in Geneva to have it fixed, AmEx refunded all of my out-of-pocket expenses. The downside? The plan is only good for the first 45 days you’re away from home, so after our time ran out, we switched to another emergency plan called World Nomads. Luckily we never had to use it, so we don’t know if it was any good.
  • Get your CLE requirements done. Okay, this one is obviously just for lawyers, but it’s important! Before you leave your job and the country, make sure you’ve gotten as many CLE credits done as possible. If you get audited by the Bar, I’m not sure they’ll have sympathy when you tell them you couldn’t meet your requirements because you were busy traveling the world.
  • Apply for a Capital One card. I can’t say enough about the benefits of having this card with you when you travel. (Have you noticed?)  There may be another good option, too: When we got home, Pierre received an ad for a Chase Hyatt card with a built in smart chip, no foreign transaction fees, and two free nights at any Hyatt hotel.
  • Decide where you’ll go first. You don’t need to have the entire trip planned out, but having a rough idea of where you’ll be starting out is probably a good thing. If nothing else, at least it enables you to buy a plane ticket so you know you’re really doing this thing.

One Month Before

  • Tell your bank and credit card companies where you’re going. Since it might look a little suspicious to the banks if you’re suddenly racking up charges in Timbuktu or Mongolia, you should just make a quick call and let them know where you’ll be and how long you’ll be gone. The last thing you want is to have your card denied because the company thinks it’s been stolen.
  • Take care of your snail mail. We had my fabulous Mom to pick up our mail; most people won’t be so lucky. Cancel as many catalogs and junk mailings as you can; put subscriptions on hold (if possible); cancel NetFlix. If you’re moving out of your current place, change your address to a friend’s or relative’s, and ask them to notify you if anything important arrives.
  • Go shopping. Stock up on the gear you’re going to need for the next year, including obvious essentials like a backpack if you don’t already have one. I guarantee it: when it comes to preparing for long-term travel, REI will be your new BFF.
  • Get travel and language guides. We bought a few hard copy Lonely Planets along the way, but we also used their PDF guides on the iPad pretty frequently. You can buy chapters or download the entire book, saving lots of paper and weight in your bag. The bummer is that this means you have to carry the iPad with you wherever you go, not to mention that you’re supporting the use of e-books as opposed to real books… and you know how I feel about that.

Two to Three Weeks Before

  • Cancel your gym membership.
  • Plan a farewell party. We had a gathering at a local bar the night before we left. Some people may wish to do something a little more formal. Either way, it’s a nice chance to see everyone one last time before you head out.
  • Give notice at work, and update your résumé. Updating the ol’ CV right away means you won’t forget what you did while you were working. It’s amazing how quickly all of that stuff will exit your brain once you’re on the road and not thinking about work.
  • Set up a blog. Clearly the most important item on this list!

One Week to One Day Before

  • Pack. The first of many, many times that you will pack your bags.
  • Make sure at least one person has a set of keys to your place, unless you’re moving.
  • Download podcasts and movies for the flight.
  • Get excited! You’re going!!

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