When you take the time to prepare for extended travel, you will have a much better trip. We recovered from jet lag, but something still felt a bit off. It took us a while to realize the simple problem: in our pre-departure packing fervor, we’d taken no time to mentally prepare for extended travel.
We were suddenly surrounded by the unfamiliar — another culture, a foreign language, different customs. It was part culture shock, part “I can’t believe we’re doing this for 3.5 months” shock. One day we had full-time jobs and were living in Washington, DC. Two weeks later we’d quit our jobs and moved our stuff to Minnesota and ourselves to Argentina. Sure, we’d done a lot; but we didn’t take time to mentally prepare for extended travel.
Having no set schedule, no boss to report to at 9 am, and no place to call home was disorienting. All we had done was book our flights to Buenos Aires. In retrospect, the shock could’ve been easily avoided, or at least alleviated, with a little mental preparation. After our months’ long excursion to Argentina, we experienced amazing sites, including the Perito Moreno Glacier, Iguazu Falls National Park, Peninsula Valdes, and the penguins at Punta Tombo. We didn’t want to waste the opportunity there, but didn’t have enough energy to fully experience Guatemala. (Luckily, we still made it to Tikal National Park, an unbelievable place filled with Mayan ruins and exotic animals.)
How to prepare for extended travel in 7 steps
Learn from our mistake and take steps to prepare for extended travel. Take these steps to get ready so you can start enjoying your destination as soon as you arrive.
1. Jot down your expectations
Ask yourself some basic questions. What do you think the new culture will be like? What do you hope for? How do you think it will be different from your culture? Writing down your expectations will help you realize exactly what they are and how they might be different from reality.
2. Write out your goals
What do you hope to accomplish while you’re there? Conquer a new language? Do some freelance work? Jot down a few goals before you go and revisit them after you’ve been there a while. Having them prepared beforehand will help you stay on track once you’re there.
3. Nail down a schedule
If you’re traveling for an extended period of time, a daily schedule will give you a sense of normalcy — and help you maintain your sanity. What time of day do you want to get work done? When do you want to read or write? How much time do you want to spend sightseeing versus relaxing or working? You don’t have to stick to it completely, but a basic schedule will help you figure out your life in a new country. When you take the time to prepare for extended travel, your time there will be much more relaxing, enjoyable, and productive.
4. Communicate with your travel partner
If you’re traveling with someone else, take time before you leave to talk about what you hope to get out of your travels. How much time do you want to spend alone? How many hours a day do you hope to work? Getting your expectations out in the open will help prevent misunderstanding or conflict later.
photo credit: Leposava
5. Get to know the culture
Before you leave, rent movies and read a book or two about the country you’ll be visiting. Your guidebook can only provide so much insight, and your local library may be a treasure trove of cultural information. Knowing a little about what to expect can go a long way toward helping you prepare for extended travel.
6. Talk to people who have lived there
If you know someone who is from the country where you’ll be traveling, or who has lived there, ask them about it. Especially ask about what’s different there, what they were most surprised by when they came to your country, and what they think might be the biggest shock for you. Narrowing down a big list of must-see destinations to a small list can really help you prepare for extended travel. If you don’t know anyone who’s been to your country or region of choice, ask around; a friend of a friend might have studied abroad there. A great way to find out what to see and do as well as what to avoid in a new place, is to ask people who have lived there. Depending on your interests, you may do better asking for suggestions about the hidden gems, not just the typical tourist attractions.
7. Learn some of the language
This is the one step we did fairly well before we left and it’s definitely helped. Take a few hours to learn at least some basic phrases in the language of the country or countries you’re visiting. Hearing a foreign language all around you is always disorienting, but being able to communicate and understand even a few words will help you feel at home much faster.
Other Tips to Prepare for Extended Travel
I love making lists. Actually, what I love about making lists is crossing things off. Something I did do with our extended trip to Argentina was to make a lot of lists. Here’s a glimpse into it.
- Sell stuff we’re not taking with us on craigslist
- Move stuff to place for storing
- Get banking in order
- Figure out best travel credit card /debit card to use while abroad
- Let banks/credit cards know we will be out of the country
- Ensure that all credit card/bank statements are solely electronic
- Tell post office forwarding address
- Make copies of all essential documents and leave with someone we trust
- Decide on cell phone situation (keep one US phone active and “pause” the other?)
- Decide what other electronics to bring (computer, cameras, etc)
- File power of attorney paperwork for important decisions in case something goes amiss while we’re away
- Determine any medicines needed for travels
- Determine any shots needed for travels
- Make packing list
- Figure out what we need to purchase before we go (a bag lock, new lens for camera, lens case for camera, extra memory cards)
- Determine best guidebook and buy it
- Find online research about places to visit and print or download to coputuer
- Buy small Spanish dictionary
- Find volunteer options abroad
- Book first few days in the hostel
- Figure out health insurance options
- Figure out travelers health insurance options
Remember that it’s all too easy to get caught up in physical preparations like buying supplies and packing, but it’s equally important to mentally prepare for extended travel. Whether you are going to Argentina or Alaska, taking these steps will help you get there.