I recently returned from an around-the-world trip, and I've had a lot of people reach out to ask about tips and advice. For efficiency, I've asked friends to send me their questions, and I've compiled the answers below. If you have any additional questions to add to this list, please contact me on Facebook.
This blog covers a lot of the logistics of being a nomad, but if you'd like to hear more about my personal experiences and adventures, please join me for my talk "Eat Pray Startup: One Entrepreneur's Search for Innovation and Creativity Around the World" on Wednesday, April 24, 2019, from 6-9PM at Cross Campus Santa Monica. RSVP here and use promo code *TRIBETHEORY* for a free ticket: http://bit.ly/2IoF2J1
1. Did you buy an around-the-world ticket?
I didn’t for my 2019 around-the-world trip, but when I did my 2007 around-the-world trip, I did purchase the One World RTW ticket. In 2007, I think the RTW ticket made things much more convenient, but I found it unnecessary in 2019 now that nearly all of the airlines have become digitized and a bunch of local budget airlines have emerged. I spent about $4500 in 2007 dollars (so it should be more now) for a 4 continent, 20 flight RTW ticket, whereas I only spent less than $4,000 in 2019 dollars for 31 flights across 3 continents traveling a bunch of budget airlines and getting last-minute tickets. Note that when you’re traveling budget airlines, you can end up in some really ghetto airports on uncomfortable layovers (that dreaded 2 to 6-hour layover where you don’t have enough time to leave the airport). I recommend getting Priority Pass so you have lounge access while you wait it out.
I would recommend a RTW ticket if you have an airline group that you have loyalty on and want to maximize the benefit of miles traveled on your trip. Also, if you have any fear of budget airlines, a RTW ticket may save you money when flying only premium airlines. My 2019 trip involved airlines who have had some notorious crashes like Air Asia, Malaysian Air, and Thai Lion. (No Boeing 737 MAX flights though!) Buying tickets as you go gives you more flexibility in your trip, however.
2. Did you book/plan your flights in advance?
I booked most of my flights as I went, but a few notes on this:
3. What about visas?
I didn’t run into any problems with visas. All the ones I needed, I was able to do online so I didn’t have to go to an embassy or anything. However, I am a US citizen, and visa issues will vary depending on your citizenship.
One of the more difficult and expensive visas for Americans is PRC China. Getting a Chinese visa usually requires a visit to the embassy (but you can go to any of them) and can take awhile to get processed. I entered China three times during this trip, but I was able to avoid paying for a visa by taking advantage of the Free Transit Visa. The way it works is that most of the major Chinese ports of entry will allow citizens of certain countries to enter the country without a visa if you are going from Country A to China to Country B. This does not work for round-trips, but works well for nomads like me. Depending on your port of entry, you can stay 3 to 6 days. More info about this visa is here. I've used this visa about 7 times successfully in the past few years, but I have also seen people in line with me get denied entry. The key seems to be having your hotel reservations and exit ticket printed and to be able to explain your plans for the "layover." Go on Tripadvisor and look up a few of the tourist attractions in the city you're going to so when the immigration officer asks what you're doing, just mention a few of these.
4. What luggage did you get? Did you get a backpack or suitcase? Carry-on only?
I am 5’3 (160cm) and I’ve just never been into backpacks. It’s just too much weight considering my little frame, and I’m paranoid that carrying all that weight will make me shrink! However, after all my travel experience, I’ve also learned that you should never take more than what you can physically lift yourself.
Traveling carry-on only is appealing, but most of the budget airlines have really low weight requirements for carry-on, like 7 kg, which is basically the weight of a carry on suitcase or heavy-duty backpack, so it makes carry-on only really difficult. A lot of the low-cost airlines also tend to check your bags at the gate anyhow, so I gave up on that dream.
I opted for a medium sized 25” suitcase for my trip which weighed about 20 kilos (44 lbs). I also had a pretty large laptop backpack. On parts of my journey where a suitcase would be too difficult to travel with, I would pack a couple of days worth of essentials into my backpack and then leave the suitcase at airport left luggage (most airports have this, but at varying costs so research ahead) or at a hotel I’d be staying at during some point of the trip.
5. What did you pack?
I had to pack for all 4 seasons, which made it challenging, but some of my must-haves on long trips:
6. What packing advice do you have for women?
Women particularly have a hard time traveling because the fashion industry has set ridiculous standards on what we need to survive and is constantly marketing us crap we don’t need. Here’s some of the changes I’ve made to accommodate travel:
Moral of the story: I loved Fashion, but I love Travel more, and therefore I’ve made the decisions to sacrifice Fashion for the sake of Travel. It’s a very personal decision, which I leave to each traveler to determine on their own, but I will say that my travels have been much easier since I ditched Fashion.
7. Where did you stay?
Where you stay is probably the most important decision you’ll make in any of your travels. The good news is there’s a lot of options. During my trip, I stayed at a wide variety of places and types of accommodation. Here’s how I think about it:
8. How did you find people to hang out with?
I love traveling alone, but I hate eating alone. Some ways to avoid eating alone (in order of effectiveness):
9. Which co-working spaces/companies did you use? Which would you recommend and why?
I did some coworking as I traveled. WeWork does offer a membership that allows you to access their worldwide locations, but I’d have to continuously pay even when I was in places without WeWork, so I opted not to do this. This would make more sense for a consistent digital nomad that plans to work through the entire trip. I did find a lot of great local coworking spaces. It’s pretty easy to find them on Google Maps (just search for “coworking”) or NomadList also was a good way to find the best spots.
10. How do you address safety?
It makes you very vulnerable to be in a new place, but over the years, I’m finding that apps and technology are making it A LOT safer for nomads. Some of my recommendations:
11. How did you maintain phone connectivity throughout your trip?
I travel a lot, so I have the T-Mobile plan that lets me roam for free in 200+ countries. The plan gives free roaming because in every country, they’ve negotiated to have their customers roam free on a lower service tier. This means that my data service was crap in a lot of countries where the lower service tier may be 2G or worse. However, it worked well enough considering it didn’t cost anything. The only issue was that I found out during the trip that T-Mobile doesn’t allow you to use this for more than 5 months in a year. As such, I had to buy local SIM cards in a couple of the countries, but T-Mobile unlocked my phone for free and remotely via email.
12. How did you deal with money? Did you use your credit card, ATM or travellers’ checks?
I have an account with a bank that refunds all my ATM fees, so I used that ATM card to withdraw cash. The banks that tend to offer this are the ones that don’t have as many physical locations.
As for credit cards, I got the Chase Sapphire Reserve card specifically for this trip. It costs like $450 for the annual fee, but it comes with $300 in travel credit - so it essentially becomes $150. The fee is totally worth it though, because it also comes with Priority Pass, which is a membership card that allows you access into premium lounges in almost every airport in the world. I find this to be particularly important when you’re flying budget airlines like me since you end up in some really ghetto airports. If not this card, just make sure you have a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees, and you’ll be good.
Travellers’ checks are completely unnecessary in 2019, but I would recommend that you carry some US currency with you on the trip. There are some countries where the infrastructure may be an issue so your ATM or credit cards don’t work for some reason. (Although don’t stress too much about it because you can always just pull the currency from your prior stop and exchange it at the next stop.) Make sure that you get the money in $100 and $1 denominations. Some currency exchanges will give you a better rate if you’re exchanging $100 bills. Also carry about 100 $1 bills in case you end up in countries where vendors prefer to accept USD over their own currency (i.e. Cambodia). Having $1 bills allows you to negotiate prices.
13. Should I purchase travel or health insurance? What if I get really sick when travelling? Did you carry any medications?
I did not get travel and/or travel health insurance, but a lot of people will probably yell at me about this. I did, however, manage to get through the entire trip around the world without getting beyond a couple of mild colds. This is miraculous if you think about how many flights I was taking. A few tips for maintaining your health while traveling for a long period of time:
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