Welcome to the unsexy side of a travel career break. The part that most people don’t mention or post about on Instagram. These are the practical things you actually have to do before you leave. Not sure where to start? We’ve put together this ultimate long-term travel checklist to help you ace the vital tasks before your adventure begins.
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Getting on top of the pre-travel admin will make your life a lot easier when you set off and when you return home. But don’t worry if you haven’t managed to do everything, or if you forget something; there’s always a way to fix it later. At the very least, reading this will help you to get prepared as best you can, and stop feeling overwhelmed. We’ve been there and done it, and I promise you it will be ok!
If you are still in the stages of saving and planning for your travel career break, then you should bookmark this for later and instead read our article on six steps to make your career break travel a reality. But if you’ve saved the cash, booked the flights and already have a solid travel plan, then read on.
In this article:
What do I do with all my stuff?
The chances are, you’ve got some stuff. In fact, you’ve probably got a lot more than you realise. Have you ever packed to move house and wondered where most of it came from? When you thought you didn’t have a lot, but it took three vans to move it all? Yeah, that will happen when you prepare for long-term travel.
One of the questions that most perplexed me was what I was going to do with all my stuff for a whole year. I ended up getting rid of a lot of it, and storing the rest in a friend’s loft.
Try not to leave this one until the last minute. It will take more time than you think, and you need to secure a storage space before you start packing up. That space could be with friends or family, or in a paid storage facility. Here are some steps to get you started:
Step 1: reduce what you have
Before we left for our trip, we tried to get rid of as much stuff as we could. We sold things on eBay, held car boot sales and gave things to charity. Storage can be expensive, so it’s better not to keep the things that you really don’t need. Try to be ruthless with this.
Ask yourself these questions:
- If something holds no sentimental value, do you really need to keep it?
- If something does hold sentimental value, is it really that important and do you really need to keep it?
- How difficult and/or expensive would it be to replace the item when you get back?
You will probably try to cling on to as much as you can, especially if you’ve never been travelling before. Living out of a backpack will change your perspective on this. Honestly, when we got back from our career gap, we got rid of half of our stuff all over again. Clothes that we didn’t actually wear but kept because we liked them, books that we were never going to read again.
Step 2: pack up your stuff
When you put your things into storage, they need to be packed properly. None of this ‘half-arsed chucking stuff in boxes because you’re only moving down the road’.
Get some big boxes from the supermarket and start saving up on those free local newspapers. You will also need some packing tape and a marker pen.
Tip: number your boxes and list everything that goes into them. Save that list electronically so you can forget about it, and find what you need quickly when you get home. I didn’t do this. When I got back, I had no idea where things were. When you move back it’s going to take you a couple of weeks to get your life admin sorted, and during that time you will need some of your things. Help future you by creating an inventory of what’s in your boxes.
Step 3: find somewhere to store it (and put it there)
We were lucky enough to have a friend with an empty attic who didn’t mind us leaving our things there for the year. Ask around – you might be able to store bits and pieces with different friends and family. This will save you a huge amount of money. (And the more stuff you get rid of, the easier this will be!)
If you can’t find someone to look after your things while you’re away, you will need to find a temporary storage solution. In the UK, we have the Big Yellow storage company.
These companies can be a bit expensive, depending on what space you need and how long you need it for. You might want to think about renting out a garage or asking around in your local community for box rooms to rent instead.
What do I do with my money?
Online banking has meant that we can access our money no matter where we are in the world. While this is great news for travellers, there are still some things you need to do beforehand in order to prepare.
On long-term travel, you need to budget well and spend your money in increments. You don’t want to carry lots of cash in different currencies, because this leaves you open to theft and other problems.
That said, it’s not the best idea to use your regular bank card to withdraw cash abroad. Not unless you want to find yourself whacked with hefty fees.
This was something we spent quite a bit of time researching before we went. We knew it was important, because once you leave your home country there isn’t actually a lot you can do to access your cash, even when you have internet banking. Here are a few sensible steps you can follow:
Step 1: inform your bank of your plans
Before you set off on your career break, tell your bank where you will be going and when, even if it’s just a rough plan. This will make it less likely that your bank card will get rejected. Even if you’re using a prepaid travel money card (see below), you’ll need to top it up from your regular bank account.
I had an issue with this in Singapore. I needed to top up my Revolut card, but my bank was blocking transfers. In the end, I had to call the bank via the banking app (which cost me a hell of a lot of money!) to get everything sorted.
If you tell your bank where you are going to be in advance, they will make a note on your account so that it doesn’t get flagged as strange activity.
Step 2: change the address on your bank account
It might not seem that important – after all, you can access everything online. But what happens when you lose a bank card and you need a new one to be posted to you halfway across the world? This is only important if you are leaving your permanent address.
Tip: change the address on your accounts to a friend or family member who lives in your country of residence. I lost my Revolut card in a cash machine in Copacabana, Bolivia. There was no chance of getting that back. Luckily, I’d changed the address to my parents’ house so I was able to get a new card sent out via them.
Step 3: get an emergency credit card
Get two if you can, and hide them in different pockets of your rucksack or in your clothes somewhere. If anything happens, you will be eternally grateful for access to cash. Even if it is expensive to withdraw it.
We had one credit card each, plus our regular bank cards, plus our prepaid travel money cards. We were left with only one credit card after our bags were stolen in Argentina. Without that card, we would probably have had to fly home.
Tip: keep your cards in separate places in bags and different items of clothing. This means it’s less likely that you’ll end up without access to any cash if things get lost or stolen.
Step 4: get a prepaid travel card
One of the best ways to access and keep track of your money while travelling is to get a prepaid card like Monzo or Revolut. They have little to no charges on withdrawing money abroad, and they are managed through great apps that let you see how much you’re spending.
You can top them up easily with your bank or debit card, and you can even top them up with the currency you are using. We used Revolut while travelling, and we’ve recently opened a Monzo account to manage money while at home.
Step 5: cancel direct debits and phone contract
The last thing you want while travelling is an unexpected bill being taken from your bank account. Make sure you’ve got your direct debits in order and that you’ve cancelled any subscriptions that you won’t be using while away.
This includes things like Netflix and Spotify. Chances are you won’t use those a lot while travelling, and it’ll save you plenty of money each month. Also make sure that you cancel your phone contract, or arrange a suitable new one that you can use while travelling.
Tip: keep a small amount of money in an account you can’t access easily while travelling. You’ll need it when you get home. If you have any direct debits or bills that you don’t want to cancel, set the payments to be made from this bank account, and transfer enough money into it to cover the bills for the duration of your career gap. That way you won’t confuse your budgeting.
Saving the right amount of money for a travel career break can seem daunting. Check out our essential guide to saving money for some tips and inspiration.
What happens with my house or flat?
Unfortunately, leaving your home isn’t just about packing up and shipping out. There are a few more things you need to sort before handing over the keys and heading out on your travel career break.
Step 1: let your property or hand in your notice
The first thing you need to do is make sure you aren’t paying for rent or a mortgage while you’re travelling. If you live in a rental property, you’ll just need to hand in your notice to let the landlord or landlady know what date you will leave.
We were very lucky to have an understanding landlady, and we were very open about our plans as soon as our travel dates were set. This meant she could plan in advance, and we didn’t have to worry about it. While it can be tempting to leave this communication until the last moment, it’s better for everyone if you’re honest and upfront.
If you’re a homeowner, you have the option of selling or renting your property. Speak to an estate agent to find out your best way forward on this.
Tip: any extra money you make, like getting your rental deposit back or making extra earnings on renting out your own property, can be put into a savings account for when you get back home. That way, you know you have some money set aside if you need to pay a new deposit or renovate when you return.
Step 2: change the address on all of your accounts
Even if you’re letting out your own property, you’ll still need to change your address on all of your accounts to one of your friends and family in your country of residence in case you need to access it while you’re away. This includes loyalty card schemes, bank accounts, driving licenses and even subscription accounts.
We didn’t do this, and ended up having some major issues when it came to replacing things after we were robbed. We couldn’t change our address on some things while we were abroad unless we printed and signed a form, and then posted it back to the UK.
Tip: set up an electronic document (using Google Drive is the easiest way) and list all of the accounts for which you have changed address, so you don’t forget what you need to change again when you get back home.
Step 3: forward your mail
Even though you’ve changed all of the addresses on your accounts, it’s still a good idea to let the Post Office know your forwarding address. You might receive an unexpected birthday card, or there may be something else that has slipped through the net.
Step 4: settle up your utility bills
Call all of your utility providers and ask them to settle the bills for you. Making sure your accounts are frozen or closed from when you leave means that you won’t have any disputes or unexpected payments.
What do I need to do when I leave my job?
Leaving your job is fairly straightforward. You negotiate your leaving terms, clear out your desk and then leave in a flurry of wine and gin on your last day (well, that’s what I did anyway).
Ok, it’s not quite that simple. Much of this will depend on the kind of work you do and the attitude of your employer. And even if you’re able to agree a sabbatical contract, there are still some things you can do to make life a lot easier when you get back. Here are some steps to follow:
Step 1: speak to your employer about options
Don’t just assume that you have to leave your job. Your employer might be open to sabbatical options, even if they don’t have a policy in place.
Having an honest conversation with your manager is usually the best way to start. Be open about how long you intend to be away from work, and explain why you have decided to take a travel career break.
The worst they can do is say no, in which case you’re no worse off than if you hadn’t asked in the first place. This step can be daunting for a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to be.
If you do need to quit, stick to your goals and take a look at our article on how you can find a job after travelling.
Step 2: hand in your notice or sign your sabbatical contract
This part is a straightforward formality. Write up your notice letter or sign your sabbatical contract. Make sure you check any conditions for leaving in your employment contract as well; you may have to work out one or two months’ notice, so make sure you give yourself enough time.
You may also have unused annual leave that you can take or ask for payment instead. If you’ve taken too much holiday for the amount of days you have worked that particular year, then you may need to work an extra couple of days after your notice, or the amount might be taken out of your last paycheck.
Make sure you check all of this in advance with the HR department or finance team. You don’t want to receive less pay than expected because you need to pay back holidays. This is also a great opportunity to speak to your employers about any pension payments or outstanding loans.
Step 3: get your resume in order
Even if you have a sabbatical agreement with your employer, it’s a good idea to sort out your resume. Store examples of your best work electronically, update your employment section with your responsibilities and impact in your current role, and ask your employer for information such as training courses and sick days (if you haven’t kept track of that already).
It’s also a good idea to consider any personal development you want to undertake while travelling. We’ve put together an article on how travelling will make you better at your job, which may give you a few ideas to get started.
How do I protect myself while travelling?
You can almost guarantee that something unexpected will happen when you’re travelling for a long period of time. It could be as small as losing your mobile phone, or as big as having all of your belongings stolen or getting injured.
Don’t let this fact scare you or stop you from travelling. Just make sure you are prepared and have plans in case of any crisis.
Step 1: get travel insurance
The first thing you should do is purchase good quality travel insurance. Don’t just pick the cheapest. Make sure the insurance covers you for the duration of your trip, in all of the countries you intend to visit.
We recommend World Nomads for travel insurance, as it offers the most flexible and reliable options for backpackers:
Tip: check the repayment limits for individual items. A lot of travel insurance companies have limits of £500 per item, which might not cover cameras and laptops. If you do choose travel insurance with smaller limits, consider getting separate insurance for your gadgets.
Tip: don’t just look at what is covered in the policy, check the insurer’s process for claiming as well. Do you have to submit pictures and receipts? Can it be done over the internet, or do you need to phone? How long does it usually take for a claim to be settled? These are all very important questions.
Step 2: scan and save your important documents
Getting photocopies of driving licenses, passports, insurance documents, vaccination certificates and any other important documentation could save you a lot of trouble. It’s a great idea to save electronic copies too, in case you need to access and reprint them.
Tip: print out copies of documents and give them to your friends and family in case they need to send something from home. You can also get passport applications ready and leave them with a trusted friend or family member in case you need a replacement passport. Having those applications ready to go with someone at home will mean that you don’t need to post it from wherever you are in the world. This will speed up the process and save you money – something we found out the hard way.
Step 3: read up on scams and crime in the places you are visiting
Learning about the places you visit in advance will make you much more prepared in case of emergency. There are common scams in lots of different places that, if you know about, are usually fairly easy to spot and avoid.
Again, this isn’t intended to scare you about where you’re going. There are probably plenty of scams and crime in the place where you live. It’s just making sure you are prepared and able to prevent yourself from getting into trouble.
Travelscams.org is a good place to start with finding out about common scams targeted at tourists.
How do I save memories from my travels?
We took thousands of photos on our career gap. When you’re away for a few months or years, you will amass memories that you want to cherish and look back on later.
There are plenty of digital options to help you with this. You don’t need to lug around heavy journals or hard drives.
Step 1: set up an online storage facility to back up photos
Storing photos online is the best way to keep your memories safe. We used Amazon Photos on Prime and Flickr during our trip. Google Photos is another option.
Sometimes you will have slow or no wifi, but try to upload in regular intervals whenever you can. When our cameras were stolen in Buenos Aires, I hadn’t backed my photos up for a couple of weeks, so I lost a lot of images from our time in Chile, which we still mourn. I’d simply been lazy in the hostel we stayed at before it happened, and hadn’t worried about backing anything up.
Tip: sort your photos as you go. Delete blurry ones and duplicates. Doing this will save you a lot of time when you get home! You can even make the labels really specific to remember exactly what you were doing at the moment the picture was taken. This can be a fun activity to do on flights or long bus journeys.
Step 2: set up a private online community for your friends and family
A private Facebook group, or Whatsapp chat, is a great way to keep in contact with close friends and family. You can share photos and talk with your loved ones.
Updating people regularly while you travel will give you a record of your favourite things to look back on. It’s a free and easy way of sharing your experiences with the people you care about, without broadcasting it to the whole world. It also helps provide an extra level of safety if you agree how often you will post in the private group.
Step 3: set up a travel blog
It doesn’t cost anything to set up your own travel blog. Even if you don’t know anything about website design, there are plenty of options that will provide you with a ready-made site.
You can use your blog like a journal, writing entries about your experience and sharing photos or videos. Again, this is a great way of sharing your experiences with your family and friends.
A blog can also be a great way to make extra money while you travel. If you want to take that extra step, we highly recommend Adventure In You’s Blogging Fast Lane course. This walks through every step of the process from getting set up to monetising it. Tom and Anna, the couple behind the course, are among the world’s most successful travel bloggers and are excellent tutors too.
Tip: don’t worry about whether it looks correct or how good your writing is. Just get started. Think of it as an online journal and change the privacy settings if you only want certain people to see it. Don’t get sucked in to doing it too much – remember to enjoy travelling!
What else do I need to do?
The sections above cover the main areas you need to consider before setting off on your travel career break. There are still a few more things to tick off:
- Make sure you’ve had all the right vaccinations
- Get your entry visas if required
- Set up profiles on Hostelworld, booking.com and Couchsurfing
- Book accommodation for your first few days of travel
- Download all the apps you’ll need while travelling
- Get extra passport photos printed
Depending on your circumstances, there may be more things you need to do that we haven’t listed here. Travelling the world is a wonderful thing to do, but boy does it involve a lot of admin! Don’t let this deter you though.
Write yourself a to-do list and set realistic deadlines. Before our trip we allocated certain days and times to get things done, and we made sure we stuck to those plans by entering them into our online calendars and holding each other to account.
The ultimate long-term travel checklist: timeline
Use this basic timeline to plan the steps you need to take before your travel career break:
6–12 months to go
- Discuss a possible sabbatical agreement with your employer
- Check what vaccinations you will need and make arrangements to have them done
- If you’re a homeowner, begin arrangements to let out your property while away
3 months to go
- If renting, make your landlord/landlady aware of your travels and leaving date
- Begin reducing your stuff – sell or give away what you don’t need
- Make arrangements for where you will store your belongings
- Apply for a prepaid travel money card
- Apply for a credit card to use as emergency backup
- Arrange entry visas if required
1 month to go
- Hand in your notice at work if you do not have a sabbatical agreement (depending on notice period)
- Have a final clearout of your belongings, pack the rest and put it into storage
- Cancel your phone contract or arrange a suitable new one for travel
- Let your bank know about your travel plans
- Settle your final utility bills
- Get your travel insurance package sorted
- Set up a travel blog
- Read up on common scams in your first destination
- Create profiles on Hostelworld, booking.com and Couchsurfing
- Book your first few nights of accommodation
1 week to go
- Move out of your property and stay with friends/family before your departure
- Change address on all of your accounts (bank accounts, driving license, subscriptions etc)
- Scan all of your important documents, make electronic copies and give some print-outs to friends and family
- Fill out a passport application form and leave it with someone you trust
- Cancel direct debits
- Forward your mail
- Have extra passport photos printed
- Set up online storage for your travel photos
- Create a Facebook or Whatsapp group to stay in touch with friends and family
- Research travel apps and download any you’ll need
- Have a leaving party / see your loved ones before you go
What are you waiting for?
For more inspiration, read some of our interviews with people who have taken travel career breaks and reaped the benefits:
- How a travel career break inspired a teacher to start her own business
- The NYC firefighter embracing van life after a travel career break
- How travel inspired a preschool teacher to retrain as a culinary nutrition expert
Do you have questions about what else you need to do before you head out on a travel career break? Leave them in the comments below, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
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