Let’s face it – I’m a planner. Deciding to travel long term with kids is not something we’re doing on a whim. We’ve been planning this trip for four years, so I’ve learned a couple of things to help you get started.
Here are six things to think about when traveling long-term:
1. There are hundreds of families doing this right now, as you read this.
Nope, we’re not unique. But with so many families leaving everyday life to see the world, there are lots of resources to help you make this happen. Two of my favourites are Vagabond Family and BootsnAll. Vagabond Family is entirely devoted to the topic at hand, with all kinds of tips and blogs of families on the road. BootsnAll has info for every kind of long-term traveller, plus they have a 30-day round the world course for families. The course is free and consists of daily emails that ask you to complete a task to bring you one step closer to going.
2. Your benefits plan is your friend. Get to know it and love it.
I’m assuming you are working for an employer that has some kind of benefits plan. If your trip doesn’t happen for a couple of years, check out how much coverage you get for vaccinations (since we all know it’s stupid not to get vaccinated these days). Figure out which ones last for life and get them done first. For example, we paid $660 for rabies vaccinations per person (three shots at $220 a piece), but now we have lifetime immunity (minus the one or two shots needed if exposed).
Something to know is whether vaccinations are covered through a calendar year, which means they reset on Jan.1, or whether you need to wait a full 365 days after you’ve used the benefit. Our vaccinations benefits reset in January, so we made sure to do exactly half before January and half afterwards to maximize the coverage. If we had started a couple of years earlier, we could have been vaccinated over an even longer stretch and had more costs covered.
3. One way or round-the-world airline tickets?
Sorry BootsnAll – I absolutely love your website. But I found that purchasing one ways was much cheaper than purchasing round-the-world. I’ve talked to other families who have found the same thing. Part of the problem is that the Canadian dollar is dropping faster than a paralyzed falcon at the time that I am writing this, and BootsnAll quotes in USD. Despite that reality, I plugged in nine major stops on a round-the-world ticket and was quoted approximately $18K USD for two parents and two kids, whereas all of my flights booked as one-ways including internal ones will come out to the same cost – in Canadian dollars. I’m getting much more mileage out of booking one-ways than I would have if I booked a round-the-world.
4. Use Kayak to figure out which routes and airlines to take. Then ditch it.
Kayak is a fantastic resource that helps your figure out what airlines to book and when. But save yourself a few dollars and book directly with the airline. You’ll find the quote is lower, and if something goes wrong, you’ll deal directly with the airline and not a middle man who likely won’t care if your problem isn’t solved.
Also, I found that booking when tickets are first released gives you the best prices. Trust me, I’ve been watching like a hawk the alerts I’ve set from Kayak to see if I’ve overpaid. While I haven’t gotten the absolute rock bottom price, the prices I’ve paid are consistently among the lowest. Be prepared to get perplexed calls from India or other places your airline is headquartered asking whether you are indeed the person who booked the flight and to confirm basic details. Make sure the contact number you enter is handy at the time of booking because your phone is going to ring – in about 15 minutes!
5. Plastic is priceless when you can’t use it
Many places are still very much cash-based. You can’t use your credit card, and you need to withdraw from ATMs instead. This makes Westerners uncomfortable because we have become so used to paying by debit or credit. Who really has more than $20 in their purse these days (well, except drug dealers and those who work for tips)? I feel the pain every Monday when I have to scrounge up toonies to send my kids to Girl Guides with “dues” in hand.
Using bank machines can get expensive. Typically you will pay $3 USD to the local bank, as well as $3 USD to pay your home bank. I’m happy to report that I’ve just discovered that Tangerine (Scotiabank) charges no fees either way, so you can withdraw your cash free of charge. The only problem is they don’t have partner banks in Asia (except India). But that’s better than nothing!
6. Up close and personal for the ladies
If you’re a guy, you might want to skip this part. But trust me, if you read this and let your wife know so that she can plan, you will be her hero at least once a month on your trip.
Tampons are scarce in Asia and pretty much non-existent in Africa. I’ve read that Singapore is the place to find them easily, along with some of the more touristy areas in Thailand. So you might want to figure out how many you really need and buy the ones with the collapsible applicator to save on space. And plan an eight hour layover in Singapore so you can do the free city tour from the airport as well as hit a drug store.