Warning: Lots of words, no pictures…
We’ve been asked quite a bit about the steps we took before we left the States for a year of travel; this post covers the large items from our checklist. We spread out tasks as much as we could and managed to cover a lot of ground in the few months before starting our trip.
The most difficult part was the decision to move away from the comfortable, (relatively) predictable life we led in Seattle. The Pacific Northwest is a great place to be in all seasons, and there was lots of good food, hiking less than an hour away, an ocean, local wine, and lots of career opportunities for both of us. Traveling the world for a year meant giving that up in exchange for the unknown, both on the road and upon our return. We both love to travel, and every trip always felt as though it ended too soon and should have been the start of something grander.
The catalyst ended up being notice that my own job was gong to come to and end as the company I worked for downsized. It didn’t hurt that the lease on our apartment was gong to be up at about the same time, and Kevin’s desire to work for himself meant we could live anywhere with reliable internet.
We were never big spenders, and we worked to pay off our student loan debt as quickly as possible. Saving was also constantly on our mind as we had been building a reserve to provide Kevin freedom to go indie (the cost of living is so high in Seattle that even with me working full time, we would still need to dip into savings each month). The money we had saved to that end would go further abroad.
As anyone who lives in Seattle – or who wants to live there but has had to settle for suburbs – knows, it is a pricy city, especially where housing is concerned. Even a brief look at our budget and some comparisons for cities around the world proved to us that it would be cheaper to live elsewhere, even while moving each month. Of course, we had to rule out some big destinations like London, Paris, New Zealand, and Australia, where prices vastly outpaced our budget, but aside from a few exceptions, the decision to live abroad would give us a longer runway while allowing Kevin to work and both of us to experience new cultures and places on a frequent basis.
My job wound down, and we began taking steps toward the possibility of living abroad long-term. Everything we did and the amount of money we spent was relatively small until about a 6 weeks before we left; if something drastically changed we could have called the entire trip off and only been out a few hundred dollars. But then we bought airfare and booked apartments, gave final notice on our lease, and started telling family and friends – we were committed to at least a couple months of travel.
When we saw our potential plans included places where tropical diseases were a concern, we set up appointments at a travel clinic to decide which precautionary vaccinations we would need. We didn’t know which countries we would be visiting, so we played it safe and asked for almost everything that was available. That meant boosters for tetanus, polio, and Hepatitis A & B. It also meant prophylactic shots for Japanese encephalitis, yellow fever, and rabies as well as the oral typhoid vaccine. The cost of all the injections was more than $2,000 per person; thankfully our insurance covered all of those as preventative care! We were also given prescriptions for a high-powered antibiotic cream and antibiotics to use in case of wildly upset stomachs. Since the rabies shots have already come in handy for me, I’m going to applaud my own decision to get better at dealing with needles. I also got my vision checked and a new prescription ordered.
As you might guess, the internet is a sea of inspiration (some good, some awfully outdated), and stacks of travel books from the library didn’t hurt our state of mind either. While it is fun to pretend we were going to go everywhere, the world is too big and our budget too small for that. We settled for finding places we would want to call home a month at a time; cities that provided easy means of transit, good food, cultural variety, and were still relatively cheap. Since we book a few months out, this process will be ongoing.
We set up a mail forwarding service and began changing the addresses on our accounts with plenty of time to spare. We now have the option to have our mail stored until our return, scanned to us, or shredded (even 7,900 miles away, sending junk mail to its doom gives me a sensation of glee).
In our previous travels, we noticed foreign transaction and ATM fees can really add up, so with that in mind we opened two new accounts. The first was a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and which had points we could use toward later travel expenses. The second was a new bank account with a debit card that could be used worldwide with no ATM fees. It was important to us that our travel bank account be completely separate from our savings account so that, if our travel card becomes compromised, our savings are secure. Now that we are on the road, we find an ATM upon arrival so that all of our day-to-day purchases are made with local currency and our cards are used rarely and at locations that are as secure as possible.
Though we didn’t own an entire home’s worth of physical stuff, our apartment was still pretty full. We hadn’t moved in about four years, so items gathered in corners unnoticed. I couldn’t bear to part with my books, so we already knew that a storage unit would be necessary. (Kevin put up with me storing almost all of them, and doing the physical labor of moving a small library – I have a perfect husband.)
About two months before we left, we started seriously going through our material possessions to decide what was worth saving, what could be sold, what should be donated, and what could be recycled or left for free on the sidewalk. All told, about four large carloads went to local Goodwills – outdated fashions, unneeded cooking supplies, some small furniture. We drove many carloads over to a 10X5′ storage area, and with about three weeks left before vacating our apartment, we rented a Uhaul and moved the furniture (bookshelves mostly, but also a desk, dresser, and a few other bulky items). Large, unkeepable items were sold online. We spent the last days before our trip in an eerily empty house.
The most unexpectedly emotional part of the downsize for Kevin was selling Eva, our beloved car. I’m not convinced she ever liked me since she often threw a fit if I planned a trip; it didn’t matter if we were going to Mount Rainier or Montana… she found a way to complicate an oddly large portion of the getaways I planned. I think her jealousy of me stemmed from the fact that Kevin bought her on Valentine’s. We did find her a good home, but being without a car was an odd feeling, especially with so many last-minute errands. Even though we were used to walking most of the places we needed to be on a daily basis, a car is one of those things society expects you to have. By getting rid of Eva, it felt a little like going backward. Then we reminded ourselves that where we lived… and where we were going… we didn’t need a car. (We would still probably need roads… roads come in handy.)
One of the most frustrating aspects of our preparation was finding and applying for health insurance. Though healthcare in many parts of the world is cheaper in price and the outcomes on par with the US, going without insurance was not an option. We researched multiple plans with widely varying prices and coverage caveats. We finally settled on one with coverage in just about any country we could legally visit, emergency medical evacuation should there be a worst-case scenario, and a moderate price tag. Since international health insurance plans do not fall under the aegis of the Affordable Care Act there were loops to jump through and paperwork to produce. After producing the most mundane medical records going back years, we had to answer still more questions, and we received notice of our coverage only about a week before leaving. (It was an unhappy reminder of how miserable shopping for health insurance was before the ACA.) We would have started that process earlier if we had known it would take more than a month.
What might have seemed like dragging our heels to settle down became an advantage. With no debt, no house (too pricey in Seattle), no kids (not ready yet), even no pets, we had no strings strong enough to prevent us from leaving. Since we already lived on the other side of the country from our families, the other side of the world didn’t seem so far. And since we live in the future, keeping in touch and staying connected from anywhere isn’t the struggle it used to be.
We’ve already come more than 10,000 miles from O’Hare and every day has been worth the stress of upending our lives as we knew them.