It’s Day 44 of my 2-year (or more) backpacking trip in South America, and I’m writing this now in Sucre, the so-called “white city” of Bolivia famous for its relaxed atmosphere, historic buildings, and nearby prehistoric sites (it has one of the largest collections of dinosaur footprints in the world!).
As much as I would love to leave this heater-less kitchen (it’s 12 deg C!) for my warm and comfortable room upstairs, I feel compelled to update my blog. After all, I’ve spent over a month in Brazil, and I have no post yet to show for it!
In any case, I want to address first one of the most common questions asked of me by my readers: how did I prepare for long-term travel in South America (and onward)?
Traveling long-term for other nationalities doesn’t seem to be a big deal. They work a few months to save up, then leave for a year or so. It’s called a gap year, a sabbatical, or an overseas experience. It’s not so hard for them to do given the relative power of their currencies.
For us Filipinos, however, it can be a bit more complicated. Earning in pesos means we have to work much harder if we decide to embark on a long-term travel overseas. In planning for this trip, therefore, financial consideration takes precedence above all.
Funding Your Long-Term Travel
Unless you’re a millionaire, you have to consider your financial health before traveling long-term. Sure, you can stay for free in Couchsurfing, and work in hostels or organic farms in exchange for food and accommodation, but remember, you still have to pay for your transportation and other expenses.
I also don’t want to feel like a beggar when I’m traveling. I’m on a budget, yes, but I want to be able to pay for a bed if and when I want to. (That’s called freedom, yes?)
To fund my travels, then, I saved up. I set up separate bank accounts for my daily needs and my travel fund, and put in most of my monthly salary to my second bank account. I was never much into gadgets, so my phone and laptop were never unnecessarily expensive. I also didn’t go out much, and shopping just for the sake of it was not in my vocabulary.
Most importantly, however, I learned skills I can use on the road. I found work online as a writer and editor/proofreader and even worked as a virtual assistant. My savings can always be depleted, but as long as I have skills I can make money from, I will never run out of money while traveling.
What can you do if writing and editing are not part of your skillset? Plenty. You can be a virtual assistant, for example. Being a VA means helping clients with whatever they need, and oftentimes, those are not that complicated. They might ask you to email people (brush up on your English skills!), lay out a blog post (learn how to blog in WordPress, it’s free), schedule social media posts (you’re already on Facebook, so read up on other social networks), and a number of other things.
You can also sign up at Code Academy (it’s free), and learn some languages. If you’re a yoga teacher, you can make a living as a traveling yogi as well. Have you worked at a call center? Well, plenty of job posts at UpWork (formerly known as oDesk) are looking for call center agents. You can also teach English online.
Bottom line: Your finances are a major consideration in planning your long-term travel. Save up now and learn some skills you can use on the road. There are a lot of options if you’re really serious about doing this in the future.
Talking About Visas…
Another frustration for us Filipinos is our need to apply for visas. The hundreds of comments from readers in my post How to Apply for a Schengen Visa in Manila shows how difficult it is for us to go to Europe and the U.S.
The good thing is that we can have a visa on arrival or even visa-free in 62 countries and territories. Sure, it’s not as much as a European or an American, but it’s a start. It’s mostly in Southeast Asia and South America, which is why I’m here now.
Here’s how I prepared for it (i.e., making it easy for me to get my visa applications approved): I started traveling abroad in 2008, accumulating stamps in my passport to show that I have a history of traveling without overstaying in countries I’m visiting.
Because of my travel history, the immigration officers in the Philippines don’t ask me questions whenever I travel abroad. I also now have a U.S. visa that allows me more countries to visit without needing to apply for visas in advance, e.g., Mexico and other countries in Central America.
Bottom line: If you want to travel long-term someday, start traveling overseas now to establish your travel history. Bangkok is good for solo travelers, but you can easily go to Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam as well. Wait for airline seat sales and stay in hostels, and you’ll see that you won’t need much for a few days in a foreign country. Read my tips for traveling on a budget.
Things, Things, Things
What do you do with your things if you push through with your plan for long-term travel?
I have a house, with hundreds of books and clothes and other knickknacks collected for years. I also have two much-beloved cats. What did I do with them?
First, I found myself a housesitter. She stays for free in my house, in exchange for paying the utilities and taking care of my cats. I paid my mortgage a year in advance, and I will ask my family to take care of paying for it after one year (sending money is so easy nowadays).
Then I sold some of my things and gave others away. Long-term travel requires a light load, physically and emotionally. By making sure someone is taking care of my cats and my house, and there are no material things I am attached to back in the Philippines, I can push through with my trip with a light heart.
Bottom line: Leaving my pets was one of the hardest thing I had to do when I left for South America. If you’re planning to be away for years, avoid getting attached to pets and material things, unless of course you have someone you can leave them with.
Before You Leave
Here are some things you should pay attention to before you leave.
Cash, credit cards, or debit cards? Bring all. You don’t want to arrive at a new country and find that your debit card isn’t working. I brought with me $1,000 in cash, plus three credit cards (just in case), one debit card (dollars savings), and one debit card (peso savings). At the moment, I have just exchanged $200 when the ATMs in the border of Bolivia and Brazil wouldn’t accept my debit card. Elsewhere, I just withdrew money.
Important: Inform your bank about your travel plans before leaving! BDO disabled my card when I withdrew money in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, suspecting fraud. It’s a good thing they can easily be contacted, so the matter was cleared up in hours.
Immunization. Some countries require you to get certain immunizations. I have my yellow fever card, and I’ve also been immunized against Hepatitis B. Do your research beforehand as to what kind of immunizations your destination country requires to avoid problems at the immigration.
Visit your doctor and dentist. This is one thing I forgot to do. Make sure to have a general check-up before you leave, and schedule an appointment with your dentist for cleaning and any dental filling that needs to be done. Bolivia is cheap, yes, but in terms of dental cleaning, the price is twice than what I usually pay in the Philippines.
Back up your documents. Take a picture (or scan) your passport, visa pages, immunization records, travel insurance, bank details (credit cards and debit card numbers), and other important documents and send them to yourself. You never know when you need them. Make sure though that the email address you’re sending them to is secure; use a strong password and change it regularly.
I have an external hard drive to store my photos and files, and I also backed up all of them in another external hard disk that I left with a trusted friend in the Philippines.
Travel insurance. A lot of travelers I know don’t have travel insurance. This can be a major mistake! Imagine if you’re boating in the Amazon River and something happens to you? Who would shoulder your immediate hospital expenses that can cost thousands of dollars?
And what if, God forbid, you pass away on the road? Repatriating your body can be very expensive, believe me. A travel insurance will make sure everything’s taken care of for you, if something happens. I use World Nomads, but it’s so expensive that I have to look for something else soon.
Long-term travel is not for everybody, but if it’s something you dream of doing, prepare for it now. I never thought I could do it, but here I am. I’m not rich but I made this dream possible. You can, too, if you set your mind to it!
See you on the road!