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World Travel 101: Tips for planning long-term travel

Travel with Cash? Not a good idea!

Travel with Cash? Not a good idea!

Want to take an extended trip around the world? For months? Even a year?

It isn’t hard and it isn’t expensive. Over the past 10 years I’ve traveled to over 50 countries and typically spend about $30/day.

This post will highlight some tips on planning your around the world trip: you can avoid the mistakes I’ve made, and learn from all the great tips I’ve come across.

Airline Ticket:

This will almost certainly be the most expensive part of your trip.

Around-The-World tickets are popular. I’ve used them once, and I won’t use them again.

It’s must less expensive to sort your tickets as you go: point-to-point tickets between “Gateway” cities (Bangkok, Los Angeles, Kuala Lumpur, London, Dubai, etc) are pitifully cheap. Getting out of the US on a one-way ticket can be a challenge however, due to American airlines’ insistence on R/T tickets.

Of course the trade-off here is flexibility vs risk. With an Around-the-World ticket, you know in advance the cost. But you’re also tied down to an itinerary. Buying point-to-point works well as long as you have flexibility and time in your schedule.

I recommend a using a combination of the Kayak.com-“Buzz” service, the Kayak +/- 3-day schedule checker, and the even better +/-3-day schedule checker from Cheapflights.com.

Costs and Money:

There are three ways of carrying money around: cash, travelers checks, or ATM/Credit Cards

ATM/Credit Cards:  Get an account with Schwab’s Investor Checking.  Their Investor Checking is free, pays a pretty decent Interest Rate, is tied to a brokerage account if you want to dabble in stocks.  Best of all, they refund ALL ATM FEES.

History of ATM cards and travel:  ATM cards used to be the way to go, but fees started adding up.  When I was in Vietnam a few years back, I got hit with a $5 “Cirrus” fee and another $2.50 ATM fee in Vietnam for a total of $7.50 of fees per transaction.  As I could only take out $150 at a time (per Vietnam, not my bank), this was almost a 10% tax on using the ATM.  Now some banks are charging a foreign transaction fee.  Thailand charges almost $6 per foreign transaction fee.

So get the Schwab ATM card, it refunds all the fees.  I’ve been on the road for a year, and every single fee has been refunded, around $10 a month (more when I was in Thailand).  Works plenty fine here in the US too, just use any machine, even that one at the bar that charged $4.50 per transaction.  If you’re leaving in less than a few days, you can probably still sign up – I couldn’t believe how fast all my info showed up from them.

If you don’t have a Schwab account, check your fees!!  Wells Fargo charges $5 per foreign transaction.  My credit union gives you up to 8 foreign transactions free, after which you pay.  Check before you leave!

ATM card warnings:  Make sure your banks know you’re going.  My credit union card often gets shut down as they think “Foreign=Fraud.”  So then you have to hop online and email them not to worry.  Like your Mother, they want to know where you’re going and for how long.  So make sure you have more than one card, so you have a backup incase.  When you need money is when you usually find out the card doesn’t work.  I have three cards.  If you’re with a friend, give one of the cards to them, so you have one if you lose your stuff.

Travelers Checks:  This used to be the way to go

Advantages:

  • Replaced (tho perhaps not easily….) if lost or stolen.
  • You know how much money you have.  Good for budgeting
  • Available in different currencies if you like
  • Can use in many many places.
  • With all the ATM fees, this may perhaps be cheaper these days!
  • ATM’s are still not everywhere.  Islands are notorious for not having machines.  I used them almost exclusively in Africa in 2001-2002 as there were few machines.  Check the latest Lonely Planet for ATM info.

Disadvantages

  • UG! Such a pain to cash!  If you’re frugal, and you are because you’re reading this, you have to be on your toes to cash them.   Banks and (dwindling numbers of) change bureau’s whack you with transaction fees (fixed, good if you cash a lot) and/or a percentage commission.   Businesses seldom or never take them at the low end of travel.  Businesses that take them, say your Hilton-class hotel, might also give bad rates.  So you may run around looking for a good rate.  And of course moneychangers are notorious con-artists (especially in Bali) and may rip you off, so try and stick to banks.
  • You may have to pay to get them.  In the US, my credit union gave them to me free.  AAA also gives them free.  Your bank may charge 1%.

Travelers Check Recommendation:  I don’t carry any.   It doesn’t hurt to carry $200 in travelers checks in case you’re in a pinch.  Get a few smaller denomenations too in case you need money but can only find a bad rate.

Travelers Checks Tips:

  • If you carry a lot, feel free to get huge denomenations.  I had $5000 in TC’s, mostly in $500’s, when I went through Africa.  I could pop into the American Express office and change my $500 into $50’s or $20’s for free.  Keeps the size of your money wad a little smaller.
  • Take digital photos of the TC numbers and email to yourself (along with your passport and other info like flights)
  • Don’t leave home without it.  Get American Express travelers checks and get in Dollars.  Sure, Eurocheck is accepted elsewhere, and Euro’s are getting more common, but you’re not in Europe anymore.  The world likes dollars and AMEX.  Don’t screw around.
 
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