I’m standing in line at the ATM in the Manila airport terminal.
It’s 6:36PM local time and I landed over 3 hours ago to discover that there is a hold on my Scotiabank account, my CIBC account has insufficient funds (thanks to subscription deductions I didn’t budget for), and Payoneer has chosen today to deduct my annual membership fee leaving me with a balance that is below the minimum for withdrawals. Go figure.
I am not hyperventilating yet (surely I should be). Instead I find myself asking questions and pondering the lesson. I’ll tell you the end of that story another time, although since I’m here recounting, it’s obvious that things worked out.
When you’re traveling abroad these things happen. If you’re traveling for an extended period of time they’re more likely to happen. And while there may be no way to prevent them altogether, it helps to plan properly before leaving home. Of course, knowing what to plan for is half the battle.
So here are some of the things you should know and remember when planning a year-long trip abroad.
The money stuff…
I’m starting with the money because it’s super important since there’s very little you can get done without it. So even though not all my problems were money related, it’s still a good place to start.
1. Make sure debit cards aren’t close to their expiration date
This one seems obvious enough, but before you scoff at it, consider the fact that most of us don’t check our debit cards periodically for the expiration date so it’s easy to miss the date and end up on the other side of the world with a card that doesn’t work.
2. Alert your bank of your travel plans
I can’t stress this one enough. Of all the items on this list, accessing money from my account was one of the most challenging while traveling abroad. I would show up to the ATM on Gili Island, the transaction would be denied, then I’d call my bank only to be told Indonesia wasn’t on the list of countries I declared when I last called them 2 months ago.
3. Be prepared for your bank to drop the ball (and have a contingency)
Truth be told, even when my bank was aware of my travel plans (they sometimes had more information than my parents for crying out loud) they still dropped the ball and left me stranded.
Which leads me to my next piece of advice.
4. Use multiple banks
This is good advice, whether or not you decide to travel. But it becomes even more important if you’re traveling. Always have a plan B and C. On numerous occasions I had to rely on my Plan B bank for money when my primary bank dropped the ball.
5. Some places don’t have ATMs so always walk with cash
This one caught me off guard. It’s not that I hadn’t heard it before, but somehow I didn’t take it literally enough.
Thailand had an ATM on every corner. I saw more ATMs in Bangkok than I see in most parts of New York City. El Nido, Palawan on the other hand, was quite the opposite.
The point of this anecdote is, always check before hand for specific locations and withdraw enough cash depending on where you’ll be staying next.
Other practical matters
Even with money squared away, there are some other housekeeping matters you will definitely want to tend to before you set off for your year abroad.
6. Travel insurance
Travel insurance – like pretty much all other kinds of insurance – is a nuisance and seemingly unnecessary expense until you’re in a jam.
Being in a foreign country in a jam with no way out is never a good thing. So plan for the unlikely and get travel insurance. While I never had to use my travel insurance I could breathe a little easier knowing I had it in the event of an emergency.
7. Know what vaccines are required and get them
You don’t want to get to the airport in Australia to discover that you should have gotten the yellow fever vaccine because of your earlier trip to Ghana so now you’re unable to enter the country.
A good idea is to get a full check up before you leave home so you’re cleared by your doctor with a clean bill of health and can get the required vaccines for all the regions and countries you’re thinking of visiting.
8. Travel with passport photos
This one isn’t that big a deal but it will definitely come in handy depending on which countries you’re traveling to and how remote the areas are. In my case, the Cambodia visa is issued at the airport upon arrival and passport photos were needed. Sure, I could have paid the extra to get one at the airport, but I saved that money (and time) by having my own.
9. Confirm visa requirements for every single country you’re thinking of visiting
Notice I didn’t say planning on visiting? Because when you’re traveling for an extended period of time, plans will likely change. So even if you’re just thinking about it, get the information. The last thing you want is to land in India without a visa on the assumption that because it’s a third world country there’s a visa on arrival option.
They will deport you. Just ask the American couple I met at the airport in Cambodia who had that unfortunate experience.
10. Confirm what to do to extend your stay in the countries you’re traveling to
Stuff happens. Maybe you meet a boy or girl and decide you want to stay in the Philippines longer. Or maybe you get a job in Malaysia and decide you want to stick around for more than 30 days. Always find out what’s required to extend your stay in any given country you visit. Sometimes it’s possible, sometimes it’s not (I extended my stay in the Philippines). But you want to ensure you have all the information before you make any freedom-impacting decisions.
Travel is full of uncertainty, and there’s no way to safeguard against mishaps. Still, it’s easier to have a smoother trip when you’re aware of some of the things that can go wrong.
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