Leaving London: how to prepare for long-term travel

DSC_0748The idea of just packing a rucksack, jumping on a plane and leaving my everyday life behind has always appealed to me. The thought has probably crossed most people’s minds, while they’re sitting behind their desk typing away at yet another spreadsheet, or standing crushed onto the tube at rush hour: why don’t I just pack up and leave – start a new life on a beach in Thailand. But real life tends to get in the way. Most of us have jobs which require 4 weeks notice; fixed-term housing contracts; partners, kids, family… Oh, and shed loads of possessions. Even though I always thought of myself as quite a minimalist, it turns out all my accumulated stuff can almost fill a car: books, clothes, toiletries, papers and more books. And then there are all sorts of practicalities to consider: do I have enough money to mosey off to some random destination? Do I need a visa, immunisations, insurance? Where will I live, what will I do, how will I fund this new lifestyle? And to be honest, once you start thinking of the reality of closing up shop on your everyday suburban life and starting a new one on the road or in a dream destination, it tends to kill the dream.

But sometimes you have to follow your dream even if everyone tells you you’re crazy and will end up bankrupt, starving, diseased and in prison a few months down the road. Ok, slight exaggeration maybe. But if you want to start your new lifestyle of travel blogging from the beach instead of spending two hours a day in the rain waiting for the number ten bus, you have to take a few risks and make it happen.

Ok, so your preparations will depend a lot on your destination and intended lifestyle. Are you going to be staying in one place or moving around? Will you be travelling long-term or for a set duration? And where are you going? Of course I can’t cover all the practicalities of all types of travel plans in one blog article. So I’m going to tell you what I can about our preparations for slow-travelling Eastern Europe. But probably a lot of it will still apply to anyone who plans to pack up and go somewhere new for a while.

Consideration 1: Work. Let’s face it, the number one impediment most of us face to living our travel dreams is work, or more specifically, money. Depending on your financial circumstances and commitments, travel may be more or less difficult. In my case, I’ve spent the last three years working as a localisation project manager, earning a decent but not especially large salary. This has allowed me to put down very modest savings, but certainly not enough to fund a year of RTW travel or anything. On the side, however, I’ve been building up a small side business as a freelance translator and proofreader. I originally trained as a translator, which is especially handy if you want to travel, as it as the major advantage that you can do it from just about anywhere. Which means that I can continue earning (albeit probably much less than I do now), even while I’m travelling or living abroad. Jean is also able to continue his current IT-based job from anywhere, and also takes on some freelance translation work, so we’re all set to keep earning wherever we are. There are of course many ways to fund long-term travel, from savings to working abroad to travel blogging, but digital freelancing is always a great option. And you don’t necessarily need to have a trade like being a translator. You can make modest money online doing all sorts of things, from writing to editing to data entry. People like to scare you off long-term travel by asking you how you will afford it, but the reality is that a smart combination of saving up beforehand, budgeting and being frugal, and working while you travel can make it a viable option indefinitely.

Consideration 2: Accommodation. Obviously when you’re aiming to go travelling long-term you probably want to give up your current residence. Selling a house can be more complicated, but as most Londoners do, we simply rent a room in a shared house and just needed to give a month’s notice and pack up. Easy enough. Slightly less easy is the question of what to do with all your stuff! Even those of us who don’t put a lot of weight on material possessions seem to end up with crate-loads of things. Choosing the nomad or travelling lifestyle necessitates letting go of a lot of that.

– See what can be thrown away. You might have all sorts of old junk that serves absolutely no purpose in your new freewheeling life. Old documents that can be sorted and recycled, knackered clothes and broken gadgets that you can throw out, and various useless bits and bobs that have outlived their usefulness.
– What can be given away? Things like books and quality clothing can be given to a charity shop, passed on to friends or donated to a community scheme. Be realistic about what you actually wear/use and what you actually need and want. If you don’t use it, give it away.
– Sell whatever you can. Ebay must be having a field day with all the stuff we’re selling right now. The TV (takes up too much space), a bike (not needed), various bits and bobs such as cables, hard drives and routers, and god knows what else has been offloaded via Gumtree or Ebay. You have to be pretty ruthless about what you can actually physically carry or transport with you, and everything else has to go.
– You might be able to put some stuff into storage or leave it with friends or family.
Being a nomad or traveller is pretty much synonymous with minimalism. No, you can’t cart your vinyl collection, your grandma’s old sofa and your stuffed toys with you. You can’t really be too sentimental about anything material if you want to be free, so get out the metaphorical scissors and start cutting yourself loose from some of the baggage that makes you feel ‘at home’ in your current life.

Consideration three: what possessions do I actually need for my journey? The golden rule is, you probably need about a third of what you think. One thing I’ve heard time and again from other travellers is that they started out buying all sort of backpacking gear, and in the end they hardly needed anything. We’re lucky because we have a car and we’re planning to drive to our destination(s), so we can carry a reasonable amount. But even so, the less you lug with you, the easier everything will be. However, depending on your plans, certain things can be useful.
1. Helpful travel accessories. This encompasses anything to make travelling itself more convenient and enjoyable. In my case, this includes: stuff for sleeping while travelling – on a plane or bus I would always bring earplugs, eye mask, sleep pillow and sleeping pills. On our upcoming road trip we’re also bringing a tent, sleeping bags and pillows/blankets so we’re not always reliant on hotels or hostels.
2. Documents and ID. Your passport is obviously the most important thing. My personal motto is that so long as you have your passport and a credit card, you can solve 99% of problems, so nothing else is really as important. I recommend making a photocopy of your passport and saving in a dropbox for emergencies. Taking a paper photocopy of your passport is also a good idea to use for ID if you don’t want to bring the real passport out on a daily basis. Make sure you bring all other relevant documents and make digital copies: driving licence, insurance documents, other ID, NHS (or similar) cards, EHIC (health insurance cards) etc. Another recommendation is to bring a ‘safe’ form of payment. In Ukraine, for example, ATMs can be a bit risky (the risk of your card being cloned or stolen, for example, is higher in Eastern Europe) – our solution is to bring pre-paid debit cards. Pockit sells pre-paid debit cards for just 99p – you can then load onto them however much money you want to budget for your trip or for a day/week. Then if it’s stolen or cloned you’ll only be risking the £20 or so that’s on the card.

Consideration 4: planning for your destination. I admit I’m pretty much of the school of get going and work it out on the way. But make sure you know anything important for your destination. Do you need any specific documents or authorisations? In Ukraine you can stay for three months without a visa, but we’ll need to apply for one if we want to stay longer. We’re not looking for accommodation beforehand as we intend to move around a bit and we can probably pay cash for an apartment. Are you going to learn the language before you go, or get classes there? We’re hoping to find a private tutor to teach us Russian. What’s the situation relating to work permits and so on? Can you find a job there, or will you be relying on your own money? And finally, what’s the healthcare situation? Do you need insurance or will you be covered by the European healthcare agreement? You’ll also want to plan your travel arrangements – see our map for our route across Europe!

So, that’s pretty much it for now in terms of our preparations for our Ukraine trip. See our next post for more information on saving money for travel and/or earning money abroad.

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