Planning a long trip? This to-do list will help.

by Kim on March 4, 2012 · 59 comments

I put together this list to guide those of you that plan to embark on a big trip. I know it seems like there are a million things to do (there are a million things to do) but staying organized and taking it one step at a time will make the process a whole lot easier. 

Also, if you’re planning to travel long-term you may be interested in the e-course that my husband and I created called Travel School. In Travel School, we teach you everything you need to know to travel the world long-term. Click here to learn all about it. 

The biggest, baddest long-term travel to-do list

1 + year until departure: big pictures stuff

Determine your budget.  Your budget will depend on a number of things including where you want to travel, how you want to travel, and the length of time you’ll be gone.  Will you be working on the road or relying completely on your savings?  Resources:  Determining our RTW budget (So Many Places), How much does it cost to travel around the world?  (RTW Expenses)

Employment. Do you hope to take a leave of absence or will you quit your job?  Look into the rules at your place of employment- you may be surprised, or disappointed, in the possibilities.

Inventory your stuff.  Take a good hard look at all your stuff.  What can you sell now to beef up your savings?  What do you absolutely want to keep and what can you live without?  If you own a home, will you sell it or rent it out?  Resources: The decision to sell our home (So Many Places), How to have an indoor yard sale (Married with Luggage)

Get to know your finances intimately.  If you’re going to save a bunch of money you need to know exactly how much money you have and where you’re spending it.  Sit down with your finances and figure out where you are.  Resources: How I paid off $24K debt in nine months (Furtherbound); Eliminate unnecessary bills (So Many Places)

Get serious about saving. Change jars, tax returns, and whatever portion of your paycheck you can manage- save it all!  Once you’ve determine how much you can save each month you’ll be able to determine how long it will take you to reach your savings goal.  Once you get a grasp on your savings you’ll be able to predict your departure date!

Pets.  If you have pets you need to begin thinking about who will watch them while you travel.  If you’re anything like us then your pets are your babies, and you want to make sure you find someone you can trust to take good care of them.  It’s never too early to put your feelers out.  Also, don’t forget to leave room in your savings to pay for food, vet and boarding bills while you are on the road.

6 months until departure

Start to plan your itinerary.  Search for flights to get an idea of costs.  Consider weather.  

If you don’t have a passport, order one.  If you do have a passport make sure it is valid and won’t soon expire.  Do you have enough pages left or should you order more?

Apply for a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.  Resources: RTW friendly bank accounts (Jack and Jill Travel)

Make an appointment at a travel clinic for vaccinations.  Resources: Typhoid, hepatitis and yellow fever, oh my! (So Many Places), Travel and expedition medicine (Travel Doc clinic) 

Consider the electronics you’ll take with you.  Do you want a computer?  A nice camera? Purchasing electronics can get expensive so give yourself time to budget, save and shop for deals. Resources: And on the seventh day they shopped (So Many Places)

Tell your family and friends about your big adventure.  Be prepared for a variety of reactions and remember that not everyone will be jumping up and down for you. Resources: We’re going to travel the world! (So Many Places), Tipping our hand (One Giant Step)

Buy plane tickets to your first destination.  

3 months until departure

Choose a pack.  Do you want a travel pack or backpack?  What size?  Resources: Choosing the right backpack (Nomadic Matt), Travel pack or backpack?  (Eagle Creek), The pack that Brian and I both carry. 

Create your packing list and shop for what you need.  Resources: My RTW packing list (Answering Oliver), Gear update: 18 months of travel later (Legal Nomads) 

Apply for health insurance and, if you are carrying expensive electronics, extra insurance for your possessions.  Resources: My health insurance headache (Katie Going Global), Getting health insurance when you travel (Almost Fearless) 

Create a will and a living will.

Book 2-3 nights in a hostel in the city of your first destination.

Choose a bank with no ATM fees and lower foreign transaction fees.  We had to apply for our Charles Schwab account by mail.  Resources: How to avoid bank fees while traveling (Nomadic Matt) 

Make all of your doctor and dentist appointments and insure you have a clean bill of health.

Give proper notice where necessary: gym, rent and anything else in which you’ve signed a contract or lease will require between 1-3 months notice.

Do you have investments and retirement accounts? Do you have TurboTax online to efile your earnings? Make sure your accounts are in good order and will work for themselves while you travel.

Tell work you are leaving, or at least begin to consider when you might give notice.  Some people are comfortable giving two weeks notice while others give months or even years. Resources: Telling our jobs about our plans to travel (So Many Places) 

Research VISA requirements to the countries you think you may travel to.  Does your first stop require that you buy a VISA in advance?   Resources (for U.S. citizens): The state department.

If you are opening your house or apartment to renters consider how you will receive payment.  Will you hire a property manager to fix any issues that arise?

Start a blog or create an email list so that you can keep in touch with friends and family.

Make sure your license is current and valid.

Apply for an International drivers license.

1 month until departure

Sign up for online bill pay for bills that will trickle in once you’ve given up your permanent address.

Ask a trusted loved one to have power of attorney over your finances in case you can’t access them.

Get a Skype phone number and teach your family how to Skype.

Sign up for volunteering and lodging options that can help save money and keep you on the road.  Resources: Trusted Housesitters, Servas International, Workaway, Airbnb, WWOOF, and CouchSurfing (to name a few).  

Defer your student loans if applicable. 

Get your resume and LinkedIn profile in shape.

Consider enrolling in the Smart Traveler program with the state department.  Resources: U.S. Department of State

Make copies of your important log-ins: credit cards, online bill pay, blog and email log-ins. You might go weeks between logging in to your accounts, make sure you don’t forget those important passwords.   

Determine what you’ll do about filing your taxes.  Will you have a loved one scan your documents so you can file online via Turbotax?  Perhaps you’ll ask a family member to file for you or pay an accounting agency to do the dirty work.  Think ahead about how you’ll handle this task.  

Inventory your stuff again.  What can go to Goodwill?  What will you keep?  Are you getting a storage unit?  If so, now is the time to rent one.

Organize your files.  We had years and years of old bills and other junk stored away in our files.  Pare down your documents to only what you’ll need to refer to in the next three years.  Shred and recycle everything else.  

Collect addresses of loved ones so that you can send post cards.

Get extra passport photos to use in VISA’s.  

1 week until departure

Cancel your cell phone service.

Notify your bank and credit card that you’ll be traveling.  

Scan copies of your marriage certificate, birth certificate, passport, VISA, and plane tickets.  Email copies to yourself and to your family.


Upload books to your kindle.  

Donate/ give away/ or put the rest of your stuff in storage.

Cancel your utilities/cable/car/renters insurance.

Forward your mail.  

Make a note of your bank and credit card company’s international phone number for lost or stolen cards.

Ensure the emergency contact in the back of your passport is correct and completed.

Get a stash of cash from the bank (clean, unwrinkled US dollars) and a bit of local currency for your first destination.  

Eat all of your favorite foods.

Throw a gigantic going away party.

Freak out.


What am I forgetting?  Please add to this list in the comments below.