We have this little countdown timer on our countertop at home that shows us how many days we have left before the start of our BIG ADVENTURE. It’s fun to look at it every morning and see the time dwindling down, and now we are within the 60 day window. Barry and I are both planners – we make lists and timelines and spreadsheets to plan everything from our vacations to our finances. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about all of the plans and logistics involved in this kind of trip, so here are a few of the logistics involved…
Using cell phones internationally is always an issue when traveling. For short trips, you can sign up for a short term international plan through all of the major carriers to cover data usage and maybe provide cheaper call rates. However, this is an expensive option for long term travel.
At first, I thought that we would just bring a couple of unlocked phones with us and purchase pre-paid SIM cards as we went. When traveling in a single country in Europe, this is a good option because the SIM cards are pretty inexpensive and give you good coverage. However, generally, the SIM cards are only good in a single country which is less than ideal for the type of travel we were planning to do.
One day I stumbled upon Project Fi from Google. Project Fi piggybacks on the Sprint and T-Mobile networks and currently only works with a couple of Nexus phone models. The service costs $20 per month for unlimited texts and domestic calls, plus $10 per month per 1 GB of data, although you only actually pay for the data you use and anything left over is credited to your account the next month. I’m not a huge data user, so my service costs right around $30/month including the $3-4 in taxes and fees. But the best part of Project Fi for me is the international coverage – which is available in 120+ countries including all of the countries that we have ever traveled to or plan to travel to in the future. International data still costs the same $10 per GB and call rates vary by country but are significantly less than I was paying under my AT&T plan previously. Also, you can make and receive regular calls over a wireless network for free.
Since we will be using public Wi Fi in many places, we signed up for a VPN service that costs about $4 per month. Every time we use Wi Fi to connect to the internet we will first connect to one of their servers first so that all of our internet traffic is protected and encrypted. We can also connect to a server in the US to access any websites that don’t allow access from outside the US, like Netflix for instance. We can even use the VPN service on our cell phones when we are using them on Wi Fi. For more about why this is necessary, check out this article.
Credit Cards and Banking
For years, we have used credit cards almost exclusively for all of our purchases, paying off the balance in full every month. Besides the convenience and security of doing so, we can maximize the rewards that credit card companies offer such as cash back, hotel points and airline miles. However, almost all of the cards we used had foreign transaction fees which is obviously not ideal for international travel. We had put up with it for a short vacations in the past, but now it was time to get serious! So, we switched over to cards without foreign transaction fees and cancelled all other credit card accounts – because it’s just more stuff to lose track of or get stolen.
On the banking side of things, we use a bank that refunds all ATM fees both domestically and internationally which is great. All of our bills (not that we have very many now) are set up for electronic or online payments so that we can do everything we need without snail mail (which I’ll talk about next).
I have long wished to have the option of “opting out” of all mail. Somehow if I could just do away with a mail box so that there was no place for the mailman to stuff loads of unwanted catalogs, advertisements, and junk. Alas, we’re just not there yet as a society, but we have worked hard at signing up for the “paperless” option on every account that we can. Somehow there are still companies out there that stubbornly continue to send out gobs of unwanted paper no matter what you ask them to do. So, if you plan to travel long term you have to have a plan to deal with mail.
There are companies out there that will supply you with a mailing address and will sort and filter all of your mail, scan the envelopes/covers to your account online and allow you to select which ones to discard and which ones to open. They will then open those pieces of mail that you have selected and scan them to you. This is a handy service, but obviously comes at a price and requires you to be comfortable with having a complete stranger open your mail.
We asked a family member (thanks mom!) to do this for us and then worked REALLY hard at getting rid of as much junk mail as possible so that this would not be a big deal for her. Plus, I totally trust mom’s judgement on what we need to keep and what we don’t.
This is a topic that I haven’t seen too many long-term travelers talk about online. Maybe they decide to self-insure or hope for the best – who knows. Anyway, we felt that it was important to have coverage that would cover us in the event of a catastrophic event such as an accident or illness. Surprisingly, it’s rather difficult to find such coverage that doesn’t also have coverage for routine doctor’s appointments, medications, pregnancy and delivery, etc. These type of extras add significant costs to health insurance even though they are also the type of costs that you can more easily manage and plan for outside of insurance coverage.
We ended up selecting a plan that is designed for long-term travelers, missionaries and expats through Cigna. They offer two options – worldwide coverage including the US and worldwide coverage excluding the US. As you might imagine, the option excluding the US is significantly cheaper and honestly we haven’t decided which option we will go with yet. Although health care in the US is excellent and there is the obvious “comfort factor” of getting treated in the US for a serious accident or illness, there is excellent health care outside of the US which also can cost significantly less. Many less developed countries have excellent health care systems with many of their physicians trained in the US – it’s a good thing to keep in mind when traveling – if something were to happen right here, where would we go and what would we do?
Traveling with a Dog
For us, this is undoubtedly the one aspect of our trip that adds the most complexity. Bringing Cisco along will slow us down, limit where we can stay and what we can do, and make any change of plans more logistically challenging. That being said, he’s part of our family unit and it wasn’t even a consideration to leave him at home (although I think my parents would have loved to have him).
Bringing a dog to Europe from the US does not involve any quarantine time. Mostly it just involves a lot of planning and paperwork. At least 21 days prior to traveling, he must be microchipped and then he must be vaccinated against rabies (in that order!). The vet then has to fill out an animal health certificate which documents that these two items have been completed and this paper needs to be certified by a USDA veterinarian within 10 days of our arrival in Europe. There are some additional vaccinations required for certain countries in Europe.
This is just a few of the items that we have obsessively planned for over the last few months. Route planning, gear selection, and packing all probably deserve a post of their own, but I’ll save those for another day.