I’ll preface this post by saying that Jess usually writes the blog posts, but I’ve been wanting to write a post for awhile about all the ins and outs of long-term travel. I’ve had a few friends that are considering doing the same thing we have done. So here is what we have learned.
What to do with your home and stuff-This was one of the biggest decisions/headaches for us. We debated whether to let someone we know stay in our home or rent it through a management company. In the end, we decided to completely move out of our house. We put all of our belongings in storage and rented our house through a management company. For the time being, I am happy we made that decision. The management company takes care of any issues that come up and since we left, I haven’t thought about the house much, except for the unexpected leak that we had to turn into insurance. Trying to coordinate with insurance and the management company overseas was a bit frustrating, but we got through it.
Insurance-Because Jess left his job to go on this trip, we had to find private insurance. If you have ever bought private insurance, you know how expensive this can be. I looked into a few US plans that would cover our family overseas, but found that they were all well over $1200 a month. In the end, I spent a lot of time researching international and travel insurance companies that expats use. There are a few top contenders in my mind: Aetna and Cigna. Cigna ended up being the better value for our family. We pay $250 a month for our family. Our plan is emergency medical only and doesn’t cover any preventative medical care, but we are covered everywhere with our plan. Most international plans won’t let you use the plan in the US, but we found a plan that gives us a very limited coverage in the US if we came back. It also covers us if anything major came up, like one of us getting cancer or some other long-term issue.
Another thing we hadn’t thought about was what would happen with our home owners policy if we rented out our home. Since our home is being rented out and we don’t have another primary residence, we had to change our home owners plan to a rental policy. Without a homeowners policy, our car insurance went up drastically. We also had planned to store our cars with family in another state and found that our insurance wouldn’t cover our cars in that state. We had to switch insurance companies just a few days before we left and it took a lot more time than we expected to sort out all of the details.
Cell Phones and Staying in Touch-Before we left, we switched our TMobile plan to an international plan, but even with an international plan, we only get 2G data in most countries and we are charged .25 cents a min for calls. We can text without any additional fees. Despite the limited data and high cost for international calls, we have found a few ways to stay in touch and get mobile data despite only having 2G. When we are at places that have wifi, we connect to that. We have downloaded Whatsapp. It is free and works with wifi so you don’t have any additional costs to call people overseas who have the same app. I got a cellphone with a dual sim card and we have bought data plans in a few countries. That way we have access to google maps while we are traveling.
School-We have two kids in elementary school. All the public school districts in Utah have a free online school that you can sign up for with the district, but there are other online and homeschooling options. We decided that the only way we could do homeschool is if we had a set program and were accountable to someone. That being said, we don’t like homeschooling. We wish we didn’t have to. It takes a lot of time and is really frustrating. We chose the online program that didn’t require any textbooks, but we frequently have links that don’t work. Jess and I each work one on one with the kids. Initially, Jess taught Jane and I taught Nolan, but we switched a couple of months ago. Doing homeschooling while traveling has been really hard. It eats into the time we wish we could go and do other things. We have also learned, that teaching your kids at home can be very frustrating. Kuddos to anyone who has figured this out, because we don’t always think we do it very well.
Traveling to Europe with just a passport-Most of us in the US don’t think twice about just getting a passport and going to travel, but if you are going to Europe long term there are few things you should know. A majority of Europe is part of the Schengen zone. The picture below shows you which countries are part of the Schengen zone. As a US citizen with just a passport, you can only stay in the Schengen areas for up to 90 days out of any 180 day period. You can’t stay in most of Europe for more than 90 days without getting a visa and unless you have a reason to be there other than travel, visas can be difficult to obtain. We have gotten around this by visiting countries outside the Schengen area. We have spent a lot of time in Asia and Russia.
If you go to areas outside the Schengen zone, you will need to look up each countries specific visa requirements. Many of the countries have a simple online form that you have to fill out and a small fee $10-$20 a person, but some countries, like Russia require a much more extensive application to get a visa and you are charged a hefty fee. The cost for our family to get visas to Russia was almost as much as our plane tickets over to Europe.
Adjusting Expectations when traveling with kids-When traveling with kids, I think all expectations should just be thrown out the window. Today I wandered around Prague by myself while Jess took the kids to a park and out to lunch. In one day by myself, I saw and did what it takes our family 4-5 days to do. Our kids are so sick of cathedrals, castles and museums. Even though we don’t go to that many. Kids need downtime. We have spent a lot of time at parks, bounce houses and malls because that is what our kids like to do. We make up games to play when we go to a museum. We make our kids find something small in each room of the museum, like a small figure painted on a vase and at the end they get a prize.
Another thing we do, is get out of big cities as much as possible. We all do better when we have good outdoor space, a nice grocery store close by and a good kitchen. We also find that moving around a lot doesn’t work for us. We are staying longer in each place than we originally anticipated. We stayed in Turkey, Russia, Georgia and Spain all for a month each. I feel like we got a better sense of the culture, country and what it would be like to live there.
Costs-I won’t break down all of our costs here, but I do keep a detailed spreadsheet and would be happy to share with someone who wants to know exactly what we spend each day. But here are a few things to think about. We use airbnb to book all of our accomodations. That way we almost always have a kitchen. Having a kitchen helps save on our eating out costs. We average around $60 a night for accomodations, but have found some gems for under $40. I don’t think a family could stay much cheaper than that. Individuals can do hostels, but we find that a hostel for our family is as much as an airbnb apartment.
We have also found that getting a car in some cases is cheaper than paying to ride the buses, metros and taxis. In Spain, we paid $15 a day for a car. Having a car also lets us get out of the city and the touristy areas and see more of the country. It makes it easier to get groceries and go places.
Packing-We made the decision to all just bring one carry-on and one small item. This way we don’t have to pay for packed luggage. Once you are in Europe and Asia, you can get inexpensive flights from country to country, but the weight and size limit on bags is small. Smaller than a lot of the US airlines. We each only have one pair of tennis shoes and one pair of sandals. We only have a few clothes and the kids each only get a small bag of toys. It helps when you are moving around to not have as much stuff.
Shipping stuff home-A few times we have bought gifts and souvenirs and shipped them home. For the most part, we have found that even though you may get cheap and cool souvenirs by the time you pay to have them shipped home you haven’t saved any money and it can be such a hassel to figure out the postal system in another country. My advice, check out all the cool markets, but avoid buying a lot of souvenirs.
Souvenirs-Our family enjoys going to all the markets in each of the countries we have been to and while it is so fun to buy things, we have ended up leaving quite a few things behind because we just don’t have room to bring it with us. Our kids love to get cheap toys and play with them for a little while and then find something new at the next place.
I really wanted to buy a rug in Turkey, but I didn’t have the knowledge to know a good rug from a crappy one and I heard stories of buying a rug and having the store ship a cheaper one to your house for you. In the end, I don’t regret not buying things.
Credit cards and cash- we have found that a lot of countries, including Morocco, Thailand and Turkey use cash almost exclusively. Even places you think would take a credit card don’t. When credit cards are an option we try to use those, we find that we get a better exchange rate than getting money out of an atm with our debit cards. The credit card I use, is the Costco visa card. If you do get money out of an atm, try to get as much out at one time. Doing so will reduce your fees.
If you have any other questions, send me an email and I will try and answer them. Traveling long term can be a very rewarding experience.