As someone who has taken many long-term trips, I’m often asked how I go about planning and saving for such an adventure. While I’m the type of traveler who typically enjoys planning a trip without planning, there are some facets of the trip that should always be planned out.
Decide Where You Want To Go
In this first step, I want you to write down your dream vacation. Don’t think about money or time, just make a note of all the places you wish to go. This allows you to open up your imagination and get excited about your trip in a very organic way. Remember, you can tweak the list later.
Adapt This To Fit With How Long You Have And Your Budget
When doing this step, keep in minding hopping from place to place every other day is exhausting and doesn’t give you much of a chance to experience any one city. I’d recommend trying to stay in most places for at least three nights, more if possible. You can always move through your route quicker if a certain city ends up not being your scene, and use the extra days somewhere else. For example, if you’re traveling Peru and planned to spend three nights in Lima and three in Mancora but you end up not enjoying Lima, leave Lima early and spend more time in Mancora or another city along the way.
Something else to keep in mind is your route doesn’t have to completely make sense. If there is somewhere you really want to go that isn’t exactly on the way and you can make time for it then do so. I’ve done this numerous times, hopping on a quick flight to a destination not along the way that I really wanted to see and then flying back to continue on the original path or continuing on from there. While it may make a dent in your budget, it can be worth it if it’s a true bucket list item for you.
And finally, keep in mind there are many ways to save money before and during the trip that can help you expand your budget which are discussed below. At the bottom of this post, I will also provide some additional reading you may find helpful in regards to budgeting.
Look Up Visa Requirements And Vaccinations
This is possibly the most important step of all. In fact, failing to get the proper visas and vaccinations could lead to you not being allowed to enter your destination. One semi-sneaky trick I will recommend is calling up a travel doctor, telling them where you’re going and asking what vaccinations you need. From there, call your regular doctor or an infectious disease specialist to see if they can give you the vaccinations (they can’t always), as many travel doctors don’t accept insurance. For example, when I was going to South America and needed malaria medication I called my local travel doctor, who said I had to pay a $75 appointment fee — not covered by insurance — to get the prescription for the malaria pills. This seemed a little ridiculous, so I called my regular doctor and told him my situation. He wrote the prescription for me and I only have to pay me usual $20 co-pay for doctor visits.
Enroll In The U.S. Travel Smarter Program
The U.S. government has a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) you can enroll in before leaving to let them know your trip details in case of an emergency. It’s free to enroll and takes less than five minutes. While its unlikely you’ll need it, it’s better safe than sorry.
Notify Banks & Credit Cards
Remember to let your bank and credit card companies know of any travel details, as you don’t want to arrive in a foreign country and have your card blocked or frozen when you try to use it. Moreover, when you call these card companies to let them know of your travel plans they’ll let you know of any special perks and travel benefits you automatically have with the card.
Order Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is usually extremely affordable and can cover you in potentially outrageously expensive emergencies. Especially if you’re planning a truly epic adventure, it’s important to be covered as your chances of injury increase as your travel gets more daring.
Look Up Safety Information
The best way to do this is to read blogs and reach out to the authors of the posts with any questions. Blogs are great for research — especially for safety topics — as these people have actually been to these places and can give genuine advice. Moreover, bloggers are real people who are accessible and you can interact with.
One thing I would also like to mention when it comes to researching safety is not to believe everything you hear. If you read something that concerns you make sure to contact the author for full details. Just because one person gets pick-pocketed or mugged in a city doesn’t mean you will. For example, on my way to Quito I met a couple who had both been robbed at knifepoint. This didn’t stop me from visiting the city, and I stayed for a week without any issues. That being said, I was very careful to use my head, wearing hidden-pocket underwear, taking taxis at night and keeping valuables locked up.
Start planning on how you will save money for and during the trip as far out in advance as you can. Some tactics I’ve used to save money before trips include:
- Picking up extra shifts at work or getting an extra part time job solely for travel money
- Limiting the amount of discretionary income I spend
- On holidays and birthdays ask for travel money/tours/hotel stays instead of traditional gifts
- Resist buying clothes for the trip unless it’s a necessity like SmartWool or pickpocket-proof gear. The truth is long-term travelers usually bring a few simple outfits on their trip, and re-wear when they realize nobody cares how fashionable they are.
- Hand in your loose change. The last time I did I ended up having around $500, which made a nice dent in my travel fund.
- If you have a travel blog, try to see if you can set up some partnerships beforehand. For example, during my three months in South America Hostelbookers sponsored all my accommodation in exchange for honest hostel reviews.
Plan Money-Saving Strategies For During Your Trip
There are always ways to save money while you’re traveling, for example:
- Skip fancy hotels and opt for less traditional forms of accommodation like hostels, home swaps, CouchSurfing, and home stays.
- Eat street food and at local restaurants. Not only is the food tastier and fresher than at most tourist restaurants, it’s much cheaper
- Opt for free walking tours. Many cities have them now, even expensive cities like New York, Paris and Buenos Aires. Google “free walking tours in x” and see what comes up.
- Skip the bus tours. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but if there is a walking or biking alternative to a tour it’s most likely going to a lot cheaper and you’ll see and experience more. If the activity or attraction is something you don’t feel you need a guide for, opt to simply do it yourself and skip the tour all together.
- Add complimentary activities to your itinerary. Many times experiences like library classes, museums, gallery hopping, hiking, parks, live music at local venues, dancing at clubs and do-it-yourself adventures are free or very cheap.
Start A Blog
If you don’t already have a travel blog, now is an excellent time to start one. Not only is still a great way to update family and friends of your whereabouts, it also gives you a an interactive journal of your trip to have for the rest of your life. You may even decide you really love blogging and want to do it as a career, allowing you to travel cheaply and often for free depending on how much of a following it gains.
Get Into An Adventurous Mind Set
You’re giving yourself an opportunity to do more than just escape your normal routine, but to also try new things and have internal growth. Erase fear from your mind and learn to say yes to all the opportunities that come your way. Go sky diving, learn to salsa, take up hiking, interact with locals and do anything else that has the potential to enrich your travel experience.
- Traveler’s Guide To Saving Money On Flight Bookings
- The Traveler’s Guide To Credit Cards
- 17 Safety Tips For Solo Travelers
- How To Travel Like A VIP On A Budget
- 10 Locals To Befriend On Your Next Trip
- 10 Pieces Of Travel Advice To Ignore
Do you have any long-term travel planning tips to add?
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