If you’re planning some long term travel, you’re probably doing all the research you can on making your travel arrangements. All that is important, but sometimes the best preparations you can make, don’t involve your passport.
Griffin and I have been living as expats for nearly two years now. We’ve basically perfected being homeless outside our home country. It didn’t come without some trial and error along the way. We’d like to pass along some of the things we did to get ready for a smooth transition from suburbia to hostel row.
For starters, you need to know, and budget, the various bank fees you may encounter while out of the country. Yes, accessing your own money is one of the most expensive parts of travel. During our first year living abroad, we paid more than $600 in bank fees. This was with minimal usage since we had our own bank accounts set up in Korea. We finally wised up about these fees and found some loopholes. Griffin set up a Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account for our travel usage. There is no set up fee and no minimum deposit or balance. We plan to use it for our long term travel when we leave Korea because of the savings we can get. Not only does Schwab not charge us an access fee, but they reimburse us for the fees we pay to the bank that owns the ATM we’re using. That’s anywhere in the world, 24/7, and we don’t need to submit anything to get it. The fees get automatically redeposited into our account monthly, just like magic.
So, here’s the thing: when we started racking up all these fees, we were still living in Korea, so how do you go about opening a new bank account while living out of the country? Or sign documents that arrive at your house that need immediate attention? Easy. You get someone else to do it. Ask someone that you trust, in our case that’s Griffin’s mom, and give them Power of Attorney to sign documents, etc. for you while you are traveling. You may also want to add that person to your bank account and forward your mail to them. Kathy can sign checks, open and close accounts, make payments on student loans, etc. She e-mails us when there is something important we need to know about and otherwise just drops the occasional check in the mail. Honestly, she’s a life saver. (Thanks so much, Mom. We love you!)
It’s easy to grant someone Power of Attorney. You can just google “Power of Attorney document” and have everyone sign where needed in front of a notary (usually found at a local bank or library). Done.
If you’re wanting to keep in touch with people back home, and you probably will, try getting a Skype Online Number. For a monthly fee of less that $10(yearly plan), you will have unlimited usage and you’ll receive e-mails letting you know when someone has left you a message. All you need is internet access. It gets lonely out on the tarmac and it’s nice to connect to people you’ve known for more than a few weeks.
Please hear this: Get frequent flyer accounts!! I can’t tell you how many people we’ve talked to that have paid thousands of dollars for tickets with no kind of reward. Set up a frequent flyer miles account on at least one carrier for each alliance partner so you can make sure that your travel will earn you something in return. Also, you’re going to be spending a lot of money while you travel, so why not let your money build up the miles you need to finally return home at the end of your trip. I have an American Express Gold Card, which earns me 1:1 dollar to mile dividend on Delta Airlines or another Sky Team airline and double miles if I’m using it to book a Delta flight. Sweet deal.
Lastly, you need to check into some travel insurance. Most health insurance policies are void the moment you leave the soil of your home country. Travel insurance is just the opposite. It kicks in as soon as you leave. Travel Insurance can be pricey, but not nearly as pricey as the emergency room in whatever country you’re visiting if you turn up there without it. I’m fortunate enough to have never used my travel insurance, but Griffin has. Incidentally, he also learned that he’s not great at ice-skating backward. =)
Give some time to the preparation you need before you embark on your dream trip. Your wallet will thank you.