Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Summary of our Countdown List

INTRODUCTION: How does one go about planning for a career break? START A LIST! My indispensable 2Do iPhone app kept me on task. Now that we are transitioning from the Planning Phase to the actual Trip, I recently decided to go through and publish the list of things we accomplished over the past 6 months in the event that someone may find this information useful. I know there are things we forgot to ‘write’ down on our list, but here’s the general idea.

BACKGROUND: We are a married couple in our 40s with a furry child (aka. dog), living a relatively simple life in a quaint neighborhood of Kansas City. We have resigned from our jobs and are about to spend our savings on a trip around-the-world for 8 months. We have a house/dog-sitter and we will continue to pay our household expenses while on the road. Although we’ve been daydreaming about such a trip for a while, we started getting serious about 6 months ago.

Read further for our 6-month, 4-month, 2-month, 1-month, and 1-week checklists....


Our main goals, 6-months out, were as follows:

1. Figure out where we want to go! Research destinations by reading books and online resources. (a) If you have no experience with this type of planning, the Meet, Plan, Go website is a great place to start. (b) We find the Lonely Planet travel books helpful. We purchased several of these books and read them cover-to-cover. (c) The Rough Guide’s First-Time Around The World, by Doug Lansky was also very helpful in getting started.

2. Finalize the destinations and purchase our round-the-world flights at a reasonable cost. (a) There are several travel agencies that specialize in round-the-world travels. We went with Airtreks.com. (b) The price points vary, depending on the route and number of destinations. With our approximately 10 eastbound, fly-in/fly-out destinations, our cost came to $5000/pp, including travel insurance.

3. Start the vaccination process, as some vaccines (e.g. hepatitis series) may take at least 6 months to complete. Some of the vaccines are costly, so planning ahead also helps spread the cost out over several months. (a) We did extensive research through the Centers for Disease Control and other sites to determine the required and recommended vaccinations. (b) We then made a consultation appointment at a travel vaccination clinic to learn what our options were. (c) We wrote an extensive blog titled 9 Steps to Knowing the Required and Recommended Travel Immunizations and Pills.

4. Begin learning a language. Having a working vocabulary of another language isn’t something that can be accomplished overnight. Best to plan ahead! (a) We heard good things about the Rosetta Stone, so we purchased the Spanish version. (b) Language courses through the community college or adult continuing education series usually have a set start date and require many weeks of attendance, so this information should be looked into, well in advance.

5. Set a goal of how much $$ you want in the bank by the time you leave. Put yourselves on a budget to meet that goal.

Other items on our 6-months to-do list included:
  • Home Stay or Alternative Lodging Options. Start looking up alternative options such as: www.trustedhousesitters.com, www.airbnb.com, www.vrbo.com, etc. We registered our profile on some of these sites, which may come in handy later.
  • Travel Insurance. We purchased this along with our RTW tickets so there was no further research to be done. Be sure to add the emergency medical evacuation option.
  • TEFL Courses. If interested in teaching English abroad, this site can help obtain teaching credentials.
  • Schedule Various Doctors’ Appointments. Take full advantage of your existing health insurance plan. Go get your annual physical, lab work, dental appointment, eye appointment, etc. taken care of. Don’t wait until the last minute. Things may come up during these visits that require follow-up and resolution.
  • Verify Passport and Visa Expirations. Most countries will only allow entry if you have at least 6 months (or 1 year) left on your passport before it expires. Akiko’s permanent visa card was also expiring right before our travel adventures began, so this had to be taken care of. Read her “adventures” at Lessons Learned from My Greencard Renewal Saga.
  • Begin Creating Digital Files. Perhaps I have too much faith in digital records, but in an effort to de-clutter and downsize our life, I was determined to scan several thousand old photos and store them digitally. This was going to take some time to accomplish if I did it on my own at home, so I started this at around 6 months.
  • Start a Blog! We wanted to record our planning process, so we started our travel blog at 6-months out.

Our main goals 4-months out, were as follows:

1. Secure advanced reservations. (a) Machu Picchu: This is one place we knew we wanted to go for certain in Peru. Because Machu Picchu tickets are not sold at the entrance gate and are limited to 2500 per day, we didn’t want to show up in Peru, only to find that there were no tickets left. We wanted to get our reservations secured as soon as possible. (b) Kyoto, Japan: Similar to Machu Picchu, we knew we would be taking a trip to Kyoto, Japan at the end of May with 4 other friends. Although there isn’t an entrance limit into the city, it does tend to get crowded and hotels booked. I wanted to get our shinkansen (bullet train) and hotel reservations secured for all 6 of us as soon as possible. (c) Hotel for Quito, Ecuador: Our first destination spot at the “real” start of our RTW adventure (Japan doesn’t count!) is Quito, Ecuador. We will be arriving late at night and didn’t want to worry about finding lodging after a long trip, so we went ahead and booked a hotel in advance for the first few nights.

2. Give notice to employers and ask for leave-of-absence. (a) Of course, the timing of this is employee-employer specific. If you fear that your employer may let you go as soon as they find out you are leaving, then 4-months advance notice is not going to work for you. (b) Leaves beyond 3 months is still very rare for any employer in the United States. If you are interested, there are several career break blogs and websites offering advice on how to go about pitching your ideas to your employer on how to secure a leave-of-absence.

3. Locate a house and dog sitter. (a) Determine the ideal candidate for a house/dog sitter. Of course he/she would actually need to like dogs and know how to care for one. Our house is very small, so it would be ideal for a single person and no children. (b) Start telling everyone you know that you are looking for a house/dog sitter. We received several serious interests within a week or two, just by word-of-mouth! (c) Place advertising. If you live near a university, students may be ideal candidates as they are somewhat transient in their housing. For a fee, there are several websites specializing in house/dog sitter placement as well. (d) We got lucky. We were hoping our family friend would agree to move into our house for free and watch our dog while we were gone. She agreed! Having a trustworthy friend helps eliminate a lot of anxiety and need for background checks, interviewing, drawing up a contract, and figuring out how to manage our bills and mail on our own.

4. Begin downsizing household belongings and eliminate clutter. (a) Taking an extended leave is a great opportunity to downsize everything else about your life. All that material wealth will probably have less meaning after seeing the world. (b) Clean out your closets, basement, drawers, etc. (c) Donate your belongings!

5. Research visa requirements per country. Our post on Do We Need Tourist Visas? explains how we went about researching the visa requirements.

6. Research health insurance options. Our previous 2 posts explain this process. Maintaining Health Insurance During a Career Break. Who Knew There Were So Many Considerations! and Health Insurance Options - Our Final Decision. (a) Ask Human Resources about COBRA. (b) Research the various types of health insurance in consideration of what will be appropriate for your situation. (c) Look up various plans through websites such as www.eHeathInsurance.com.

Other items on our 4-month to do list included:
  • Cancel Memberships. Start canceling various memberships that cost money or are automatically deducted from your bank account (gym, monthly massages, automatic $ reload on prepaid cards, etc.)
  • International Driver’s License. Research international driver’s license requirements.
  • Power Converters. Research power converter needs and purchase the appropriate gear. One compelling reason for carrying only Apple products (iPhone, iPad) is the compact universal converters that can be used interchangeably. Can you imagine lugging around huge power cables and converters for laptops? See our post on International Power Plugs.
  • Hair. Start growing my hair out! Seriously. Due to our minimalist packing, I will not be carrying any hair products, dryer, or flatiron. My hair is essentially…going hippie. Best way to manage hair in this condition is to keep it in a ponytail, which requires some length.

Our main goals 2-months out, were as follows:

1. Obtain travel medications, a supply of OTC meds, and a supply of ongoing prescription drugs. (a) After meeting with the travel immunization clinic, they wrote prescriptions for antibiotics, malaria pills, altitude sickness pills, etc. Take these prescriptions and have your own primary care physician re-write them. Your insurance plan may cover some of the cost if prescribed by your primary care. (b) Map out the timing for ordering ongoing prescription drugs through the 90-day discount medication program plans so you have plenty of supply to take with you. (c) Make a copy of the prescription and have it easily accessible. The prescription should have the name of the medication, the condition for which it is prescribed, and the doctor’s name and contact information. (d) Look up foreign equivalents to routine over-the-counter meds that you take when you have a headache, cold, or allergies. Here is a list that we put together at Foreign Equivalents of Over-The-Counter Meds.

2. Research security options to avoid theft (identity theft and “regular” theft of belongings). (a) Pacsafe Bag Protector. We purchased a safety device made of wire mesh that is big enough to enclose one entire backpack. We will use this to keep our valuables inside the bag and leave it locked up in the hotel (Hotel provided safes are not always reliable, or may not have one). It comes in a variety of sizes. (b) Consider hidden money belts and wallets. (c) VPN. We purchased an app for our iPhone and iPad called VPN Fire, which will give us some security while on a public WiFi network when enabled. Read our post at, VPN for Secure iPhone and iPad. (d) Internet Cafes. If using public computers in an internet café, remember to erase cookies and history and any other footprints of sensitive information that can be recovered by a hacker at a later time. The book, The Rough Guide First-Time Around The World, by Doug Lansky provides explicit instructions on how to protect your data.

3. Set-up a financial plan for how to pay for things abroad while managing finances at home. (a) Start list of expenses that will continue while absent, and convert to electronic bill notification and payments, if possible. (b) Research credit and debit cards compatible in foreign countries. Be sure that your debit card will work in a foreign country. Many European and Asian countries are also converting to Chip-and-PIN credit cards, which mean that your magnetic strip credit card may not work in some places. Read more about this subject at our recent post, We Got a Smart (Chip-and-PIN) Visa Card. (c) We had our housesitter set-up a PayPal account so that we can remotely reimburse her of any unexpected expenses that she may need to incur for the house or the dog.

4. Start collecting travel gear and backpack. We are each traveling with one backpack for the next 8 months. Therefore, it takes some thought when selecting clothing and shoes that will span most climates, countries, and conditions. After much research, here is Akiko’s pack list: Curating My Travel Wardrobe.

5. Figure out how to keep in touch with people while traveling. (a) Call your cell phone provider and discuss international plans. (b) Consider setting up a free phone number such as Google voice or through Skype as your main voicemail number while traveling to avoid people calling you directly and risking international roaming charges. Note that this option only works on WiFi. (c) Look into obtaining a GSM cell phone where you can switch out the SIM card specific to the country you are in. The SIM card is the "brain" of the phone. It has a small computer chip embedded into the plastic that stores the cell phone number, settings, messages and other data necessary for the handset to function. The major benefit is being able to utilize the local cell phone rates.

Other items on our 2-month to do list included:
  • Register trip in Meet, Plan Go! http://meetplango.com/register-your-career-break/
  • Reading List. If you plan on catching up on some reading, start a list of books to read on the road. I will be using my Kindle Cloud Reader on my iPhone and iPad. Books are very easy to download directly from Amazon. Recently, I came across a website, www.pixelofink.com, which publishes a list of FREE or bargain Kindle books at least 3 times a day! As a result, I have a substantial collection of free books to read while traveling.

Our main goals 1-months out, were as follows:

1. Prepare house and dog for sitter. (a) Complete any maintenance that needs to be done around the house so the housesitter doesn’t have to deal with it. We replaced a front door that really needed updating. Our electrical breakers went out a week before we were leaving (thank goodness), so we had the electrician replace those. We changed all the smoke detector batteries, etc. (b) Create a home walk through/inspection list to go over with your housesitter. (c) We hired a cleaning service to do a deep clean of the house right before our housesitter was moving in. (d) Take a video or photo inventory of all the belongings in the house for insurance purposes. (e) Account for all the house keys and make copies as needed for house sitter. (f) Take your pet(s) to the vet and get all routine exams and vaccinations completed. (g) Purchase enough heartworm and flea/tick medication to last. (h) Obtain a new pet ID tag with housesitter’s contact information. (i) If your pet goes to daycare, purchase pre-paid packages of daycare so the dogsitter doesn’t have to pay out-of-pocket. Place the dogsitter on the list of owners in the daycare/boarding facilities’ database.

2. Figure out what to do with the car(s). We decided to sell one of our older cars to a friend, and drive our other car to our parents’ home so they can use it in our absence.

3. Be prepared to look for a job upon returning by updating your resume, curriculum vitae, or professional portfolio before you depart. Updating these documents is probably the last thing you want to do when you have short-timer’s disease. However, it will be even less desirable once you return from your career break. Best to update the information while it is fresh in your mind!

4. Manage important documents. (a) Unsubscribe to junk mails and magazines. (b) Arrange process for getting notified of the incoming mail. We gave our housesitter permission to open our mail, take a photo of anything that she feels we should handle, and email us the photo. (c) Scan and upload important documents that may need to be accessed from anywhere (taxes, prescriptions, insurance paperwork, itineraries, credit card copies, passport, driver’s license, etc.). (d) Make a list documents with expiration dates (e.g. licensures, insurances, dog vaccinations, etc.). Have a process for getting notified and be able to renew these documents. For example, Mike’s Texas insurance adjuster’s license will expire while we are gone, so he had that renewed early. Akiko will receive notice to renew her nursing license while we are gone. If the state board chooses to audit her continuing education documentation, she will need to be able to produce those documents from anywhere in the world. (e) Write down and save important contact information: doctors, friends, families, insurance policies, banks, credit cards, travel insurance, embassies, etc. (f) Have a back-up for all the information stored in your smart phone. You will be very sad if your phone gets stolen and you have to try1 and recreate all of the information. (g) Send your family and friends, information on how to best get in contact with you. (h) Call Human Resources and confirm how (e.g. automatic deposit) and when you will receive your final paycheck(s). For example, Akiko’s paycheck will be automatically deposited, but her PTO cash-out check will be sent to the home address. Of course they cannot tell me when it will be mailed, so our housesitter will need to try and send it to us somewhere…

Items on our 1-week to do list include:

  • Call credit companies and notify them of our trip so they do not place a fraud alert on our cards and disable them
  • Obtain several copies of passport photos for visas
  • Change voicemail message on personal phone
  • Leave anything valuable (e.g. jewelry, wedding bands, etc.) with someone trustworthy
  • Register trip through the State Department
  • Leave car keys with the parents!

    That’s all, folks!