Long Term Travel Planning: How to Get Started

So you’ve caught the travel bug – welcome to the club. There’s a lot to explore out there and you’ve come to the right place to get started if you’ve got your eye on something slightly longer than just a two-week escapade to Italy. Bumming around the globe for an extended period of time – we’re talking a couple of months or more – is surely a nice prospect, but let’s not forget that, depending on the length of your stay, there are some things to consider before you start packing. Let’s say you’ve completely lost your marbles and just want to drop everything and take off for 6+ months. What kind of travel planning lies ahead? Let’s crack that code, shall we? This travel planning and slow travel prep guide will help you get started.

Image of a globe with destination pins

Long Term Travel Checklist

I’m not a huge fan of super-detailed travel planning; it stresses me out to have to think about every possible detail so far ahead of time, and I feel like I end up spending a disproportionate amount of time mentally preparing in this way – time which would be better spent otherwise. Still, some basic considerations are needed once you start evaluating the possibility of going traveling for a while.

It may sound easy to just ‘drop everything and go’ – but what does ‘dropping everything’ entail? From time allowance, through budgeting, through practical considerations, and beyond, here is our list of fundamental elements that will help you get started with your travel planning.

Travel Planning PrepFirst-Time: Long-Term Travel Checklist:

  • 1. General timeline – How much time can you devote to traveling?
  • 2.Budget: Money matters when you travel
  • 3. Weather patterns: Hit the best destinations at the best time
  • 4. Preferences/interests: What kind of travel are you into?
  • 5. Career considerations: For during or after
  • 6. Insurances, visas/passports: Get covered
  • 7. Lifestyle adjustment: Going minimal
  • 1. Establish Your Timeline

    You’ve decided to take the leap and go travel for a couple of months. That’s cool. Perhaps the most basic question here is: how long? You don’t have to be super-precise in your timing, but a general idea of how much time you’d like to spend abroad will help you handle the next steps of long-term travel planning and is crucial in budgeting as well. Not sure how long you’d like to travel for? If that’s the case, start with a lower number. It’s always easier to stay on the road for a bit longer, rather than plan for too much time without knowing how you actually might like it. Aim for three months, perhaps, and see how you go from there, if possible. If it won’t be possible to tack on extra time to your trip, don’t worry – you’ll always be able to do this again! And, most importantly, don’t be too ambitious with the number of your destinations. Sure, you can hop from place to place every two days, but it will likely tire you out and you might get less enjoyment out of the experience. I can tell you from experience that less is definitely more.

    2. Setting a Travel Budget

    This was probably the second most common question when my husband and I started planning our sabbatical (the most common one being ‘Where are you gonna go?’). Let’s be clear: long-term travel definitely IS a luxury that not many people can afford. Hell, many can’t even afford to vacation in another state, not to mention perusing Central America for 5 months. But if you’re lucky enough to gather together some travel money, the good news is, long-term travel doesn’t have to be as expensive as it sounds. In fact, we’ve found that, in many countries, you can travel for the same money or even less than your monthly expenses back home. To put things in perspective: our 4-month-long trip in 2014 set us back roughly 4,000 Euro per person, including all the flights and two dive certification courses. Compare that with monthly expenses of life in Berlin, and you’re pretty much looking at the same number (and that’s with us NOT flying in and out of Berlin every 2 weeks, either). Check out 10 of the cheapest countries to travel in the chart below:

    Country Cost per Day (Low End) Tourist Visa
    Indonesia From $8-$15 30 days, on arrival
    Thailand From $12-$20 Up to 60 days
    India From $12-$20 30 days, E-visa
    Sri Lanka $15-$20 30 days, E-visa
    Laos $10-$15 30 days, on arrival
    Vietnam $10-$20 30 days, on arrival
    Philippines $10-$20 30 days, on arrival
    Cambodia $15-$25 30 days, on arrival
    Myanmar $15-$25 28 days, E-visa
    Malaysia $15-$25 Up to 60 days, on arrival

    As you can see, there are many ‘cheap’ places to travel to. What does that mean in real-life terms? If you’re cool with a cheap and cheerful standard, you’ll have no trouble finding accommodation for 10 Euro a pop, or eating out for $4 per day. We’ve been there and done that. And no, we didn’t sleep in a pig sty and eat leftovers from our host families, either.

    You should, however, consider your hobbies when traveling. Do you like hiking and lazing around beaches? Fabulous – a lot of this is for free. On the other hand, if you’re into adventure sports, count on higher expenses in that area. Depending on what you’re into, allow yourself more spending for one area, but therefore compensate in some other category. For instance, if you like to dive (which is not a cheap hobby by any means), you should consider staying in simple guest houses instead of mid-range AirBnBs to offset the cost a bit. You get the logic. And if you’re truly worried that you might run low on funds, consider working remotely and making money as a freelancer, or working while on the road – there are a lot of options out there, from temporary work in the hotel and service industry, to working for room and board at local farms, for instance.

    3.Check the Weather

    This might sound rather silly, but trust me: most from the west tend to be quite western-centric – forgetting that the southern hemisphere has the opposite alignment of seasons, not taking into account heatwaves or rainy seasons, and not being very thorough at keeping an overview of what happens where. After all, why would you follow the weather in Cambodia, anyway, right? The thing is, you want to travel smart. This doesn’t mean avoid all rainy seasons/winters/what have you by any means necessary – it likely isn’t as bad as it’s cracked up to be. However. If you plan the majority of your trip around the time when 80% of Thailand has heavy rainfall, it might put a bit of a damper on your experience. Doable? Absolutely. Enjoyable? This is highly subjective. We’ve done rainy season in some countries and didn’t find it that bad, but, for your sake, do some research before you start picking destinations.

    Chalok Bay on Koh Tao on a rainy day
    It might look like this! Click image for more info on Koh Tao!

    4. Slow Travel Planning Based on Interests

    Going hand in hand with the topic of budgeting, it’s important to have somewhat of an idea of how you want to travel and what activities or experiences you might want to seek out. And this is twice as important if you’re traveling with someone. Simply put, do you want to go on a sightseeing spree, are you into exploring nature, do you want to meet lots of people and party? There are as many different travel styles as there are types of cheese in France. Okay, maybe that’s a bit excessive, but you get the point. Having a clear idea of your travel style will make it easier to find compatibility with travel partners, whether long or short term, to plan activities, and, ultimately, to have a clear idea of your finances.

    5.Career Considerations

    Some people might place this higher up on the list, some might not – again, very subjective to your situation. Nevertheless, how your travel experience might mesh with your work is not to be overlooked or taken lightly, especially if you’d like to return to your country of residence. Also, it’s always good to have a plan B, isn’t it?

    Laptop and a cup of coffee
    Pick up some remote work and you can earn money anywhere!

    Of course, if your long-term travel coincides with an end of a job or a career pivot, you might not need to be too concerned. Perhaps your plan B was to travel around and find odd jobs! But if you are in a similar situation to us and want to return to your ‘home’ country sooner or later, it’s good to have a clear-ish idea of what career step you might want to take afterward. Sure, things might change and perhaps traveling will spur a newfound passion for, say, reflexology or bunjee jumping and you decide to devote your life’s work to this. Who knows? But considering your job options after coming back should definitely be part of the plan. Can you use your time away to your advantage, work-wise? Think of the skills or interests you might want to develop while traveling – maybe that will give your CV an edge or provide enough momentum to explore a whole new career path.

    6.Insurances, Visas, et al.

    So you want to blow this joint and leave tomorrow? Maybe not so fast, pal – there might be some ‘official’ things you might need to cross off the list before getting on extended holiday. First off, you don’t want to be caught off guard with a crazy-ass medical expense. Check out what travel health insurances are available and compare prices to get an idea of how this might affect your overall costs, and find out the implications of that on your current insurance payments. There are many good deals to be found, especially if you’re searching from within the EU, as many providers see this as a niche yet very competitive market and respond to pricing accordingly. Secondly, get an overview ahead of time of which of your destinations might need a visa, and allow yourself plenty of time to get that sorted. While many countries do have visa-free or visa on arrival relationships with dozens of countries, depending on where you’re from and where you’re traveling to, you might still be looking at the good old ‘sending your passport to an embassy to get your visa sorted’ type of situation – which would take weeks.

    And finally, take a tally of all the running contracts in your home country that you might want to cancel or pause. We’re talking subletting an apartment, pausing your expensive phone contract, pausing a gym membership, apply for a credit card that you can use abroad . This all may take time to arrange, so make sure to factor in some admin and organizational work to get yourself setup for an extended absence.

    7.Get Minimal

    The hard truth is, if you want to devote a couple of months or more to traveling, you’re gonna have to make some compromises and switch to a rather minimalist lifestyle. The most obvious being packing. Of course, you could take your entire wardrobe and every cool gadget you own, but you won’t able to do so without a group of personal butlers. You got those? Then you’re likely reading the wrong kind of website right now, honestly. Jokes aside, knowing how to live with just a limited contingent of possessions, services, and amenities is not as easy as it may sound. Being used to a wide choice of, well, everything, might make a switch to just a handful of options quite tricky, both mentally and physically. The good news is, you likely need way less of everything than you’re used to, and you’ll get accustomed to the new, lighter lifestyle quickly. With packing light, you quite likely won’t get it 100% right the first time – or even the fifth time, and there will always be something you establish you didn’t need at all, but too late, and vice versa. Check out my upcoming packing guide for long-term travel to get a head start on which items to ditch and which to take!

    Prepare for a Modern Nomad Lifestyle

    It might sound odd at first, but perhaps the most important out of all long-term travel tips is to prepare yourself for some periods of being tired of the bouncing around. This happened to me and is bound to happen again; no matter how much we love to discover new things and explore, there might still be that little feeling of missing sleeping in your own bed or having to do the same packing-transit-accommodation drill over and over again. It’s good to have a base, and there’s nothing wrong with that! If you find yourself in a slump, try to combat that with establishing a familiar routine that brings a bit of stability into your experience. Continuing your favorite workouts from back home, following a favorite TV show (as silly as that sounds), or picking up some remote work with a company based in your town are just few examples of not getting the traveler’s fatigue. And, most importantly, don’t forget to allocate some ‘doing nothing’ time – you do this back home, so why not when you’re on the road?

    This is especially important because you will inevitably experience life very differently than in your home country. You’ll be exposed to different cultures, norms, and habits, and you should get used to being open and non-judgemental about that. Simply put, what you consider ‘standard’ might not be the same as the local definition of the same word, so prepare to be flexible in that regard.

    Start Your Detailed Travel Planning

    Have you figured out all of the above? If so – and if you’re firmly decided to take the leap and LEAVE, it’s time to get started with the more detailed travel planning. Here is our tried and tested long-term travel checklist.

    • Apply for visas
    • Make an overview of flights: However, cheapest flights are not always the best option due to hidden costs.
    • Scope out accommodation: But only book if you absolutely must. Flexibility is good.
    • Check for national holidays – This may affect your budget in a big way, like with our trip to Melbourne.
    • Go ahead with those vaccinations mentioned in organizational prep
    • Notify your bank of your departure if needed

    Conclusion to Travel Planning for Slow Travel Beginners

    No matter your travel style, we’d be amiss not to point out that some degree of travel planning is needed – whether you go exploring for 6 months or 6 years. Surely, you may have the option to be flexible with some of the basics, such as the timeline or budget. However, having a ballbark idea might be a good start to commence your next adventure – especially when it comes to picking destinations or assessing your interests. At the same time, if this is your first time considering long-term travel, take a minute to find out whether an extended period of time is truly for you, complete with a minimalist lifestyle with not much more beyond whatever is of the utmost necessity for you. Are you settled on traveling but need inspiration? Then check out some of our previously visited destination guides!