The logistics of taking a ‘year off.’
Many people’s first assumption is that traveling for a year must be very expensive.But this is just not so.It certainly can be if you are staying at four and five star hotels and traveling in first class. It also can be very affordable if you stay in hostels and budget hotels and get all the discounts you can.For me, staying and living in Chicago would have cost me way more than this trip when you take into account my mortgage payments, bills (gas, electric, cable, phone, cell phone), and other monthly costs such as grocery bills and other random costs that come up each month. I’ve eliminated all of these and have even gotten rid of my cell phone (never liked it anyway!). Most hostels average around $20 per night depending on the country you are in (in Costa Rica I stayed at one that was $6 a night for a single room and in Australia some were $30 a bed).At the average rate it only costs me $600 a month for lodging. That’s way less than the rent or mortgage on a condo in Chicago.Now, things come up when traveling that raise costs such as special tours and trips—like taking surfing lessons or a boat cruise of the Galapagos Islands. But by saving money in cheaper countries you can make up for these costs. Plus, in a normal year just living at home, random costs like these often come up as well (car needs repairing, unexpected furnace replacement, etc.)…or even just trips to Target where I never could get out for under $100.
There are a few options here. United and American Airlines and their travel partners (Star Alliance & One World) do actually offer ‘round the world’ tickets. They are priced on how many miles you will go and have some rules. You must always go in the same direction and must travel for one year or less. You are also only allowed a certain number of stops.Some of these restrictions forced me to look elsewhere. Some of the cities I wanted to go just weren’t serviced by these airlines and I wanted a little more flexibility. There is also a pretty cool site that called Airtreksthat specializes in Around the World Trips.Luckily for me I was able to get a Teacher/Student ID card through STA Travel which then allowed me to get cheaper airline tickets with their special student rates. There are STA Travel offices all over the globe—in fact I just bought my next set of tickets for Asia at an office in Sydney.To give you an idea of the amazing savings my first set of tickets got me: My first tickets were from Chicago to Costa Rica to Ecuador to Chile to Argentina to New Zealand to Australia, all for just $2200. That is amazing when you consider a ticket just to Australia or Argentina is usually close to $2000 alone!
Shots & Other Health Concerns?
When traveling to some locations around the world there are some definite health concerns.Before I left Chicago I visited the Northwestern Travel Clinic.
I had to get several vaccinations…most of them just to be safe. My arms were poked with:
- Hepatitis A&B (need 3 separate shots for ‘full’ course)
- Yellow Fever
I also had to get a prescription for Malaria Pills mostly for Southeast Asia and a few parts of Costa Rica. And, last but not least, everyone’s favorite, some diarrhea pills just in case some odd foods give me some ‘odd’ feelings. Altogether, this wasn’t cheap, it totaled near $500, but most vaccinations last for ten years—so hopefully this we last me a few world trips!
In the past when I’d thought about moving or living abroad—I always struggled with the ‘three Cs’—Cat, Condo, & Car.
Cat: Up until now, I knew I just couldn’t take a trip like this because I would never leave my cat, Sneakers. Unfortunately last year, he decided to leave me and the world behind.In the spring of 2005, he was diagnosed nearly simultaneously, with diabetes and asthma. Both are treatable and we spent the rest of the year giving him twice daily injections of insulin. Plus eventually we had to give him twice daily inhalers for his asthma. Diabetes in cats is quite common, but also quite hard to regulate. Poor Sneaks had to endure monthly blood tests to see how his insulin levels were doing. This year was very hard on him and me. The diabetes seemed to be under control, but sadly, the asthma became worse and, even after seeing a cat asthma specialist, we were running out of options. In early 2006, he started to seem uncomfortable and I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life. The one thing I never wanted was for him to suffer and although for a year, I knew this may happen, I’d so hoped he would just get better. But he didn’t. On February 28, 2006 we brought him in to the vet and he was put to sleep.I would give anything to have him back instead of be on this trip, but that just wasn’t meant to be. So in effect, sneaks allowed me to be free and be able to go on the trip of a lifetime.
Condo: In Chicago, I was fortunate enough to own two condos. The first one I’d lived in for five years until I bought the second one in 2004.I was able to keep the first one and rent it out while I lived in the second one. To be able to pay for my trip, I sold the first one without a realtor for nearly twice the amount I’d paid for it (gotta love Chicago real estate)!I decided to keep the second one and rent that out so while I’m away most of my mortgage is covered. This way I still ‘own’ something and could eventually move back in there if I want to—although with no job, not quite sure I will be able to afford it anymore!
Car: In 1992, I bought my first (used) car, a sweet red Honda Prelude, when I was a junior in college.In 2006, I sold my first (still used) car after owning it for fourteen years. I obviously loved the car and it served me more than well. Since moving to Chicago in 1998, I hardly used it, but it was a great weekend car and I figured I’d just drive it until it died.I bought it for $8900 and sold it for $1800—not bad for a seventeen year old car. My car outlasted my cat, my condos, and of course all my boyfriends. Ah, Honda.
The rest of my stuff:I love getting rid of things and traveling for a year is a great excuse for ‘cleaning out house,’ literally.I sold dishes, my old computer, my TV, a carpet cleaner, and other various items on Craigslist.com and had a Yard Sale and sold a bunch of other stuff like clothes, pots, and $200 worth of other random miscellany. Some of my furniture I loaned to friends, some I left in my condo, and the rest, along with other personal belongings, went into a storage pod. These ‘pods’ are the coolest. They came to my condo, dropped off two large storage ‘pods’ (wood crates) by the curb (I did get permission from the city to ‘park’ them here), and picked them up a few hours later once all my stuff was crammed inside. I’d hired two movers, and with the help of my brother and some good friends, we were virtually done moving in an hour. And that was that…I was on my way.
What to bring? (see also “How to Pack Lighter” & “Me & My Bags“)
Clothing & Shoes: 3 pairs of pants; 1 pair jeans, 3 pairs of shorts, 1 sports bra, 3 bras, 1 bikini, 1 pair boxer PJs, 1 running top, 1 pair of running shorts, 1 sweater, 1 fleece zip top, 4 pairs socks; 10 pairs undies, 4 tee shirts, 4 tank tops, 1 short-sleeve button down shirt, 1 skirt; 2 long sleeve athletic tops, 1 baseball hat, 1 floppy sun hat, 1 pair nicer sandals, 1 pair Columbia hiking sandals, 1 pair Reef Flip-Flops, 1 pair Cole Haan/Nike Hiking Boots, 1 pair New Balance Sneakers, 1 jean jacket, 1 packable rain jacket).
- Soap: brought one bar—get the rest at any hotels along the way
- Nail Kit: Cuticle Trimmer, Nail File, Clippers
- Hair Gel
- Body Mist
- Cotton Swabs aka QTips
- Folding Hairbrush
- Hair Bands/barrette
- Plastic Spring Hair Clip: a must! Use this everyday.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- SPF 30 Sunscreen
- Body Lotion
- Face Lotion with SPF protection
- Makeup: Maybelline Mascara, Cover Girl Eyeliner, Rimmel Eye Shadow, Blush, Lancome Face Powder, Loreal Lipstick
- A couple sticks of Lip Balm with SPF
- Small roll of Toilet Paper: a necessity in some spots of S. America and Asia
- Tampons: see toilet paper
- Ear Plugs
Jewelry: Timex Watch: also plays roll of Alarm Clock; Necklace, 1 pair dressier earrings, toe ring, rings
First Aid Kit: Band-Aids, Bandages, Hydrocortisone, Neosporin, Ibuprofen, Imodium AD, Tums, Prescription Meds: Malaria Pills & Diarrhea Pills; DEET Bug Spray, Multi-Purpose wash for Body or clothes
- Apple 15.4″ MacBook Pro Notebook Computer
- Canon EOS 60D DSLR Camera Kit with Canon EF-S 18-135mm Lens
- Canon Powershot 500 HS Digital ELPH Camera (Silver)
- Apple ipod
• Dell Latitude D420 Notebook Computer: I edit my photos and write this LLWorldTour blog on this 60 gig, 3 pound laptop. At barley an inch thick, it is slimmer than most of the reading books I brought and slips easily into my daypacks. In today’s world this little device has kept me in touch with the world. I can read news, email friends, write my articles, and even talk on the phone. Thanks to Skype, I can call friends and family for free with this awesome online calling service.
Canon Digital Rebel SLR Camera: This Digital 8 Megapixel camera is lightweight with a great compact body ensuring the perfect shot every time. I have averaged about 200 photos a country—that’s a lot less than I actually take thanks to digital’s amazing review and edit capability!
Sony Cybershot PSC-100 Camera: This is my smaller point-and-shoot camera for the days I don’t want to bring the big one. It’s perfect for going out in the evening.
Mini Ipod: I love apple, and it’s nice to have my music on long plane rides or when I go for a run or lay out at the pool. BUT I have to say the battery life sucks!
Electronic peripherals: extra camera batteries, extra camera memory cards, camera & computer cords/chargers, plug adapter set
- 2 pairs Sunglasses
- Bungee Cords: you just never know—already used to hold open a door and as a clothesline
- 1 Micro Fiber Quick dry towel: great for those hostels that don’t supply towels
- 1 Silk/Cotton Sleep Sack: great for those hostels where you just don’t trust the sheets
- 1 Water Purifier Bottle
- Couple Locks
- 1 Candle: to freshen up those stinky rooms
- A Few trinkets from Home (Crystal from Mom, Chicago Calendar from Claudia)
- 1 Swiss Army knife & 1 Squirt—mini Multi-tool
- 1 Mini roll of duct tape: 1001 uses including patching holes in screens to keep out the mozzies!
- 1 Deck of Plastic Playing Cards (gift from Renee)
Reading/Writing/Paper material: Lonely Planet Guidebook for Costa Rica (the rest I will get along the way) and novel, “Honeymoon with my Brother” by Franz Wisner; World Travel Journal (gift from brother & sis-in-law), Weekly Calendar, Passport, Tickets, Photocopies of each, Immunization Card, some notes/magazine articles on some spots I will visit, 2 small mini wallets, waist security money belt, cold, hard cash!
Some more FAQs here at 9 months in.
And some more interesting tidbits here at 1 year in.
Some FAQs after my first 15 months here.