So you want to take the plunge? Join the crazy world of full-time travelers? You are lost on how to prepare to travel?
What do you do from deciding this life is for you to heading out to your first destination?
I’m going to do my best to give you a step-by-step list on how to prepare to travel for a year and cover the many questions I’ve gotten so far. This is NO small decision or task and can take many years. We day-dreamed about doing this for easily 5 years before finally starting to get serious about it and make real choices.
However, I will say that once you get out there, you’ve overcome the biggest hurdle! So hold on and push through. And when in doubt, utilize this as your go-to checklist for traveling full-time.
Table of Contents
Set A Date
- Pick a date (roughly if needed, as in Spring 2022). I could not move forward without setting a date. Even if this is just a month and year, or time of year, that you will go, you need something to look forward to. You need a deadline. Everything centers around this.. school, work, home, finances, etc. Just pick something. You may have to adjust it a little bit, or a lot, but I don’t think you can start planning without it. We picked the end of the school year in 2018. It was when Grace would turn one years old, which was my personal requirement to leave. I didn’t want anyone less than a year. We picked this basically when she was born, so about a year out.
- Pick your first destination (or the first few). Once you have a date, you can start thinking about booking places also. This is an essential part to prepare to travel with a family. We started to book places about a year in advance because we wanted to see if that would save us money. Especially in Hawaii, where booking a year out is pretty normal, I still think this was a good idea. Some other locations did not even want to talk about booking that far out, so it is location specific. However, you need to know where you are going to know what climate you will be in. What clothes do you need to pack?
Prepare to Travel: One Year Out
- Start a budget. Sit down and have all your current expenses. I already kept our budget in a spreadsheet, so it was easy to just make a copy of that and edit. Highlight all the costs you will NOT have when you leave. This includes mortgage or rent, utilities, car payments, car insurance (I’ll address specifics on insurance in another post), home or renters insurance, repairs, cleaning, gas. This will also include kid’s sports, piano lessons gym memberships, donations, shopping, etc. You eliminate a lot when you live out of suitcases! Figure out how much this all add up to and you’ve got a good idea of what you can probably spend on accommodations. Yes, you will still have travel costs and expenses. But I keep those as part of our “variable” budget since it changes drastically wherever we go. We can do public transportation around a big city for just a few dollars and see tons of sights. If we do a taxi (for us that means two taxis), it is usually around $30-50 USD dollars, depending on where we go, like to or from the airport). We also shop SO little, especially compared to what we used to do. Shopping was very much a hobby before we left. If you have some locations picked out, try to get a budget for those locations also. You probably know what you will spend per night, on average, even if you haven’t booked a place. Try to look up museum costs, flight examples, etc. We sketched out a budget for the first six months of our travel well before we left. It, surprisingly, was not much more than our budget at home.
- Book accommodations. IF your are going somewhere that will let you book out a year or so in advance, do so! You’ll be surprised what it does for you emotionally to put that first dollar down towards your travel. Chances are good you are only doing a deposit that you can get back anyway. However, to finally put a dollar towards your dream and make it tangible goes a long way. This is such a rewarding step to prepare to travel.
- Start to get rid of your home or your home cost (renting). If you have to sell a home, start talking with a realtor or getting an idea of what needs to be done to sell. Start fixing things up, getting an idea on your equity, etc. If you are renting your home, start prepping for that. Do your research on rentals rates in your area, think about what damage you might have to anticipate by renting. In the case of renting, you probably aren’t going to do any updates at all, but may have to do so when you return. So plan to have some cash on your return! Another thing to consider: perhaps you want to Airbnb your own home! This means you don’t have to get rid of your furniture as it needs to be fully furnished. What a time-saver! People make serious money on their Airbnb’s, but it does come with some hassle. If you are leaving your home empty, which plenty of people do, make sure you have arrangements for someone to check on it regularly. Hint: This can seem pretty obvious, but most moves occur around the school year, so most are in the early summer and settled by the time school starts. We were a little late on this in selling our home, not listing it until the first week of October. We ended up sitting on a house MUCH longer than we expected and it didn’t sell until March in a SUPER competitive market.
- Figure out what you’ll do with cars. Do you have to sell these also? Start prepping. We were leasing cars and had to buy them before we left. This meant we sold a car in California at the end of month 4 of our full-time travel. This was not ideal. We didn’t get a great price. However, it was just our reality!
- Start brainstorming about anything you want to keep long term. We actually kept a good amount of our furniture. The idea of our travels was to find out new home and we didn’t want to have to replace anything if we settle stateside. However, now that we are over a year out, I would have gotten rid of more. We very well might settle abroad and I don’t know if we will pay to ship anything big!
Prepare to Travel: Six Months Out
- Start packing! We had a BIG house with a LOT of junk. We started packing Jan 1, knowing we would leave the end of May. I’m so glad we started to prepare to travel so early.
Pro tip: One of my good friends that has moved many, many times gave me a great idea! She suggested different colors of duct tape for different rooms. That way, someday, boxes will be identifiable by color of the tape without having to read a label and I’ll know where they go!
How did I start packing? Here is my priority list:
- Toys first. I love and hate toys, but they cause the most amount of mess and clutter in my house. So we packed up all but one basket of toys. It was hard for the kids to see this go first, but it was so much better for me. I organized, cleaned, packed, and gave away a ton. We kept only what we wold consider our “grandparent toys”- what we would keep for grandkids. This wasn’t much. We also kept anything that was SUPER sentimental, but you certainly don’t have to.
- Baby room. We needed a room to “stage” our stuff in. A room that could be safe from packing and I could put things in that I wanted to take. Since Baby Grace was still sleeping in our master closet and hadn’t moved to her nursery, we emptied out that room completely, cleaned it, and starting using it for just things that were coming with us (or that might).
- Non-bedroom closets. I started picking closets to pack that I rarely used. The gift closet in the basement. The sports cabinet. I would pack up or trash whatever I could not see using in the next couple of months. I would then leave just a few items there that I knew I would either trash or use before we left. Side note: this was quite helpful in finding things that I might take on the trip. I would throw those into our staging room and pack up or trash the rest.
- Storage areas. I was really overwhelmed with the kids clothes I had in storage. We had bigger sized waiting for everyone. I wouldn’t recommend this now, but I did create bags of bigger clothes for my mom to either ship to us or bring to us as the kids grew. Now that I’ve been out, I would just recommend buying as you go. Because we all have so little clothing, it wears out fast and we get tired of it. So just buy a few items in each place: a couple of shirts here, a pair of shoes there. It’s easy and keeps everyone happier with their stuff anyway. Plus, you can match where you are with you clothes as you are buying what is appropriate for that place versus trying to guess in advance.
- Unused kitchen items. The kitchen is that hardest thing to pack and the worst thing to lose, in my opinion. However, I had some things I hadn’t used in months that I could pack or get rid of. I went through my food storage, my small appliances, my china, my holiday kitchen items and took care of all of it.
- Bedroom closets. Leave the clothes for sorting later, but start going through all that junk in the closets! All the trinkets, school stuff, baby items, etc. Pack it up and leave just what you use every day. It’s good practice for travel 🙂
- Start buying your flights. If you haven’t already, purchase flights or start watching them. You can’t book out most flights more than 8-9 months out. There are lots of opinions on when it is cheapest. I’ve heard either very last minute, which I can’t settle well on, or well in advance– it all depends on your sytle and which would make you feel more at ease while you prepare to travel full-time. There are tons of apps and websites to watch flights and their costs- starting at least watching and think about buying. A good place to start is Skyscanner.com and Google Flights.
- Visit a health department. You’d be shocked to know how many vaccines you may want to get before you go and how much time you need to do them! Be sure to check out my blog post on this here. Because we were going in the US for the first 5 months of our trip, we waited to get some of the ones for Asia until we were already traveling. However, it’s a good idea to go talk to someone about where you plan to go and what you’ll need. Some vaccines have a series of shots that may be months in between each shot (Hepatitis A). You can also see your doctor, but I found it easiest to visit the health department.
- Get your passports. If you don’t have them yet, OR if they are within a year of expiring, I recommend getting new ones. We replaced all the kids passports to give us as much time as possible. I now REALLY wish I had picked the ones with the extra pages because we will have to get new ones for everyone well before they expire just because we are out of pages! Such a bummer. However, we’ve researched and it is possible. We have to go to en embassy and be somewhere for at least a month, or so it sounds. Many, many countries will not let you in if you don’t have at least 6 months left before you expire!
- Homeschool. If you plan to homeschool, start thinking about what you’ll do. There are as many choices for homeschool as there are places to go in the world, or so it feels. It is incredibly personal. Some travel families “world school” and do nothing formal. They use apps when they have downtime and figure the world education is doing better than anything else. Some families are registered with their local school district and have to submit lesson plans and reports. Some use an accredited school online that is very time intensive. I wanted something in the middle. I didn’t want to have to report to anyone, but I wanted some structure. See my post about homeschooling for more info.
- Figure out your mailing address. There are professional services that will provide you a mailing address and send you digital copies of your mail (from what I’ve heard, many of these addresses are in TX). We decided to have our mail go to our family that were living in UT already. This made it easier for homeschool (some states have different requirements for parents who opt to homeschool). IT also means that family can bring us mail when they visits or mail it to someone else for us when needed.
Prepare to Travel: One to Three Months Out
- List your house or inform your landlord. Start wrapping up things on your home and get ready to get rid of it.
- Get ready to sell your cars. Get the info you need to list it, research which engine you’ll use, have it serviced for the last time, etc.
- Give notice to your employer, if needed. Depending on what you’ll be using to finance your travels, perhaps you’ve already asked to take your job remote. If you are using savings and the sale of your home, perhaps you’ll be surprising you employer 🙂 . Either way, you will likely want at least the last week to be work free.
- Arrange final locations for your belongings. We had a few of our more precious items (piano, massage chair) go with family members to keep it until we figure out our life! This keeps them safer and in better condition that a storage unit where they will just break down. Plus, it helps others in the meantime! Start giving stuff away, selling on Craigslist, learning to live with less. It helps a lot actually to relieve your stress and can be super helpful for others.
- Inform your school district you’ll be homeschooling. I had to notarize a letter at the school district office that I would be homeschooling until further notice. We also were going to a charter school, so I let them know to give away our spots. This was kind of a hard day, not going to lie!
- Tell your friends! This is super personal, but you’ve probably told those closest to you about your plans and it’s time to make the official announcement! Get it out there. Prepare for the backlash, the questions, the excitement, the jealousy, the anger (in some cases). It will come and you’ll need to hold strong.
- Determine where pets will go. This was and is the hardest part to prepare for travel full-time. We didn’t have ANY idea when we might return, so we chose to adopt out our pets. We gave our dog away to a stranger from Craigslist and our cat to some close friends. Both were quite old and have now since passed away. I’m grateful they died in the loving care of others! Alternatively, some families travel with pets! Check out this feature on Our Uncharted Life and their adorable bulldog!
- Finalize Move Day. You’ll probably be having a truck scheduled, moving company help, or an estate sale. No matter what it is, get it scheduled for your launch date or right before. We decided to stay in an Airbnb near our old home for the last 3 nights before we left, officially. This was a lifesaver so we could move everything out, clean, have a comfortable place to stay, and let the kids finish school in the meantime.
Overwhelmed yet?! Haha, me too! Just writing it up reminds me of all the stress I felt when we had to prepare to travel.
I have never had insomnia, but I did during those last 1-3 months. Preparing for a year of travel is no easy feat. It was endless late nights of packing, the sadness of saying goodbye, and the anxiety of the unknown that lay ahead of us that were a perfect storm. Moving is one of the three big traumas of life, along with death and divorce, and it not to be trifled with! Plan as much as you can, take time to breathe, and look forward to Part Two: Launching Off!
Best of luck,