15 Tips for Dealing with Money on Your RTW Journey

You finally spotted it. That familiar sidewalk machine that magically spits out money.


Keep reading . . .

If you are planning an RTW, at some point you must figure out how you are going deal with your money. Things have changed a lot since the days of travelers’ cheques and no ATMs. The ready availability of ATMS in foreign countries, and thus the ability to utilize your debit card(s),  makes carrying travelers’ cheques and large amounts of cash obsolete.

Yet, for long term travel, having plenty of backups and safety nets in place is crucial. The last thing you want is to lose access to your money because your debit card was lost or stolen!

Here are 7 tips I have compiled for structuring your money situation before your RTW and 8 tips for once you have arrived in a new country:

  1. Have two checking accounts at home, and bring debit cards for both. First, maintain a “home base” bank account at a large bank, such as Wells Fargo or Bank of America.
  2. Second, if you don’t already have one, open a Charles Schwab Platinum checking account. Make this the main debit card you use, because Schwab actually reimburses all ATM fees you ever generate by depositing them straight back into your checking account each month. I’m not kidding. And ATM charges in foreign countries add up fast. It is not at all unusual for ATM fees to be $5 or $6 for each transaction. The reason for the two banks is this: The home base bank is a brick-and-mortar bank you can use for your second person to deposit checks and otherwise easily access. While Schwab has brick-and-mortar buildings, they do not function as walk-in banks. You can’t deposit or withdraw money at these buildings; all the banking with Schwab is online. Also, if one of your cards is lost or stolen, the thief will not have access to your entire money pile if it is divided up between banks and accounts.
  3. There are many reasons to add at least one other person, preferably two, to your two checking accounts (home base account and Schwab account). If you run into any problems, this person can easily deposit cash, write checks for you, deposit checks, and so on. They can even have a backup ATM card in case you lose yours, although you will probably need to change the card number altogether if you lose it. Also, if the worst happens, your backup person will be able to handle this part of your affairs. 
  4. Call both banks to find out how to get a replacement debit card if yours is lost or stolen. Most banks have an international phone number that you will want to keep on a separate piece of paper, preferably in duplicate. Keep this and other important information in a separate place from the cards themselves. In fact, keep the cards separate.
  5. Let your banks know you are leaving the country and will be traveling to multiple foreign countries. This is super-important because most banks will freeze your account (for your protection) if they see unusual activity on your card and they didn’t know you were traveling.
  6. Bring a pre-paid Visa or MasterCard with a few hundred dollars on it as a backup in the event that you can’t access your money any other way.
  7. Bring a couple hundred dollars (or your home currency’s equivalent) as a very last resort. You need all these backups for a variety of reasons. For example, in many countries ATMs can go down for days.
  8. When  you arrive at a country, immediately find an ATM to take out a small amount of cash for transportation and maybe food.
  9. Depending on which country you’re in, take out only $200 or $300 at a time from an ATM. You don’t want to carry a lot of cash with you, ever. (You can see how getting your ATM fees reimbursed every month can make a huge financial difference.)
  10. Never exchange your home currency at exchange stations if you can help it. They charge more and usually have the worst exchange rates. ATMs are the best way to go, with banks a close second.
  11. Get small bills by buying a coffee or some other small item so you can get the change. In many countries, drivers will claim to not have change for your big bill, and you’ll “tip” them the extra, far more than you would otherwise. 
  12. If possible, never use a free-standing ATM machine. Always use one that is attached to a bank. The free-standing ones are much more susceptible to fraud and tampering, such as having a dummy PIN pad that tracks your PIN and a dummy card reader that swallows your card. It happens, and more often than people would like to admit.
  13. If you must use a free-standing ATM, let someone go ahead of you. This way, if there is a problem with the machine, it won’t be your card that gets swallowed. Sounds terrible, I know, but this is reality.
  14. Wear a money belt for most of the cash you do carry. Just keep a small amount in your purse or pocket. Never access your money belt in a public place.
  15. Note that I haven’t mentioned credit cards at all. Partly because I am not going to be carrying one (except for the prepaid one mentioned earlier), but also because credit cards are by far the most expensive way to travel. And if you’re on an RTW, you hopefully aren’t living on credit, anyway. If you do bring one, use it for emergencies only.

The main thing is you never want to completely lose access to your money. Several of these ideas serve as backups and safety precautions so that you are never left without money. Be safe, be smart, and enjoy your RTW!

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Taking Care of Details in Preparation for Departure

OUCH! I rubbed my arm where I had bumped the big bruised swollen area. 

Geez, how long is this going to take to go down?

Two days before, I had received the second of three rounds of vaccines in preparation for my travels. This one was the only shot I’d received that left such a mark, and the nurse had warned me about it. “The Tdap shot will feel like someone punched yIMG_0954ou really hard in the arm,” she had said. She was right.

My first round of vaccines included yellow fever, Hep A, and Hep B. Some countries in South America and Africa require a yellow fever card that verifies you’ve had the vaccine. On that visit I also received my prescription for malaria pills and Cipro. The second round of shots included the Tdap (tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis), Hep A and B boosters, and typhoid vaccine, which came in capsules I had to take for a week. I have one more round scheduled for this week, my final Hep A and B. I’ll also be getting prescriptions filled for a Z-pak (heavy-duty antibiotic) and a pain killer of some kind, probably Vicodin. It’s always good to go prepared. Rounding out my meds are Pepto-Bismol, aspirin, neosporin, moleskin, and band aids. I’m sure there’s more, but that what lists are for, right?

Yellow fever is nasty. The statistics are rather frightening: up to 50 percent of unvaccinated people die from it. I hadn’t had a tetanus shot in who knows how long. The reason the injection site swells is because the shot is full of (inactive) tetanus, and you basically get tetanus, also known as lockjaw, at the site. 

I feel very good getting all these vaccines. Besides the swollen arm, the only side effect I had was fatigue for a few days after the yellow fever shot. The good news about that one is that the CDC has just changed the prIMG_0953otection time from ten years to life. 

I’ve taken care of other preparatory details, too. I just got my passport back, filled with 48 more blank pages. Some countries won’t let you in if you have less than six blanks, so I’m covering my butt here. Only problem is, my passport no longer stays closed because it has so many pages!

I’ve researchVietnamed visas for my first several countries, all in Southeast Asia. Most of them allow visitors to pay for one at the border, although some are free. Vietnam is different, however. I have to acquire a visa before I get to the country. There are a few ways to do this. I can mail my passport and payment
to one of the two Vietnam embassies in the States: San Francisco or Washington, D.C. Or I can go in person to the San Francisco office. But it looks like the cheapest and most popular way is to buy a visa at a Vietnam embassy in Thailand or another SEA country. I think I’ll do that, because I’ll have a better idea of the date I’ll be arriving in Vietnam. They won’t let me in prior to the date on the visa, so waiting seems like the best option.

I have mentioned this before, but the Evernote app is fantastic for clipping information from the web to keep all in one place. Every time I read information that I want to refer to later, I click on the Evernote icon on my PC’s browser or use the app on my iPad. Since the two sync, they’re always up to date. I’ve made a notebook within the app for easy sorting. It’s truly fantastic!

I’ve also decided to not spend another dime on any clothing items beforeIMG_0956 I leave. I’m heading to Singapore first, where I’ll outfit my wardrobe with most of what I will need while in SEA. I’ve also tagged some great-looking Air BnB places in Bali and other countries. Some of them are truly gorgeous, and at $12 to $18 a night, fit right into my budget.

I’m almost down to the last of my stuff to get rid of. Tomorrow I make a huge haul to Goodwill, then I’ll post some specific sale items to see if I can get a little more money for my trip fund. I head to California in about nine weeks (!!!) to spend a month with my family before I go. It’s starting to feel real, this amazing adventure that I’ve been preparing for since December. I’m excited, nervous, scared, and thrilled to think that it’s really happening. I am so ready.




How To Sell Everything and Travel around the World


It’s just . . . empty.

After my two-day liquidation sale, the house is emptier than it has ever been.

Empty closet

The result of my first liquidation sale.

One of the ways I am funding my trip around the world is by liquidating my possessions. People ask me all the time, “How does it feel?” That question is usually followed up by, “I don’t think I could do that.” (Continue reading to find a list of tips on how to have a successful sale.)

I am surprised, pleasantly so, at how easy it is to see my stuff get distributed to others, particularly friends. There hasn’t been even a moment of regret or sadness or longing or second thoughts, although I did get emotional describing what my dad’s books have meant to me.

When I was a little girl of six or seven, I used to squeeze into the small space behind my dad’s creaky old brown leather lounge chair that nestled into a corner of our living room. Built into the wall behind the chair, just above floor level, were a set of shelves that contained all the wonders of the world. As Dad relaxed after work and watched TV, I would eagerly pull a random volume from the Britannica Encyclopedia set off the shelf, open it, and be transported to another place, another time. I didn’t care what the topic was; even then, my eager young mind devoured statistics on foreign lands far, far away or a detailed description of how dolphins and whales work.

Also tucked away in this secret kid-sized space behind my dad, who sometimes drifted off into a nap with a loud snore, were a set of books titled The Harvard Classics Five-Foot Shelf of Books. This treasure really did take up five feet of shelf space, and contained a large sampling of some of the greatest literature ever written. While volumes like The Odyssey and passages from the Bhagavad Gita were way over my little-girl head, I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed feeling the soft, worn pages and smooth leather covers as I tried to comprehend what I was reading.

A friend was buying these and other special books at my sale. She listened attentively as I described how meaningful the books were to me, which made parting with them very sweet. And what made this transaction all the more special was when she told me what she was doing with them: she is shipping them to India, to a library she is building there. I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute to my dad than seeing his books end up in a library in India!

Before the sale, I had invited family members to come from out of town and take whatever they wanted. I made sure they got family heirlooms and other important items that I want to keep in the family. My nephew, his wife, and their two teens and preteen all had fun going through my closets, drawers, boxes, and shelves. They each got items they wanted, such as the television set, pots and pans, walkie-talkies, and my antique vanity set. I felt really good about seeing a lot of my valuables and treasures go home with them.

Getting ready for a liquidation sale is no small task. I spent more than a week going through closets, drawers, and shelves, filling boxes with things that I have acquired over the last forty years or more. Memories unexpectedly flooded back to me as I unearthed trinkets, blankets, games, and so many other things that filled my home.

I decided to have the sale indoors, as there was too much stuff to haul outside. I borrowed several long tables, turned three rooms into a store, enlisted the help of a half-dozen friends, and spent hours and hours sticking tiny white price tags on every single thing. (I was still pricing stuff during the sale!) I had a canopy outside, too, with tools, garden equipment, and other outdoor stuff for sale.

Here is what I learned from this first sale:

  • Don’t call it a garage or yard sale. When you sell everything, it is a liquidation or estate sale. (No, you don’t have to be dead to have an estate sale.) This way, people don’t expect “garage sale” prices.
  • Price everything. From chairs and lamps to can openers and toothpick holders, people simply will not buy stuff without a price tag.
    Candle holders

    Price everything.

  • Clean and wash everything. Items sell much better if they are not dusty or rusted or just plain dirty.
  • Group like items together. I had a table with nothing but office supplies on it. I displayed all the glassware and pottery on shelves on a hutch in the kitchen. The games were beautifully and artfully stacked by a friend who knows how displays work. Collectibles and small antiques were gathered on two long tables.
  • Take the time to make nice displays. Make it easy for people to see what you have. For items of value, go on E-bay to see what similar items are selling for. Don’t just guess. You could miss out on good money.

    Wash everything and make nice displays.

  • Buy or borrow waiter-type aprons, the kind that tie around the waist and hang to the hips. Fill them with pens and labels and change for your friends who are helping.
  • Post the sale on your Facebook page.
  • Make a flyer and distribute it on community bulletin boards.
    Sale flyer

    Make flyers.

  • Tell everyone you know you’re having a big sale. Friends love supporting you and having a “piece of you” to remember you by.
  • Put an ad on Craigslist early on the day before the sale. If you post days early, you can’t repost for several days, and your ad will be buried way down the list.
  • Make good signs. All they need are the words “Estate Sale” or “Liquidation Sale,” the day and time of the sale, and an arrow pointing the driver in the right direction. Don’t bother with an address or phone number. Just get shoppers to you with arrows. Keep it simple! (I made my signs on poster board and taped them to cardboard boxes. Then I placed a huge rock inside each box to weight it. Worked GREAT! I got lots of compliments on my signs.)
    Sale signe

    Make good but simple signs.

  • I also put up a big poster board in the yard, facing the street, that said “MUCH MORE INSIDE!” for those who drive by first to see if they want to stop. That made a big difference.
  • Assign friends to specific areas of the sale if it’s spread out like mine was.
  • Have snacks and drinks for your helpers.
  • To maximize your profit from the sale, don’t price stuff ridiculously low. Don’t bargain on prices too early in the sale. If someone offered a lower price, I would say, “It’s still early in the sale, so you could come back tomorrow when the prices drop to see if the item still here.” People usually don’t argue after that. They buy.

    Group like items together and price them well.

  • During the sale, make people feel welcome, but don’t stalk them. Be friendly, engage in small talk, and encourage them to browse.
  • Have a shelf of toys, books, and other kid stuff at kid height. While all my toys were priced, I usually just gave one to a kid who had been playing with it while mom or dad shopped. I did this just before the family left, whether or not they bought something.
  • Have music playing in the background. Don’t play it too loud to talk over. Choose music on the slow side; it’s been proven that people shop longer with slow music. I played a smooth jazz station on Pandora.
  • Have a free table near the entrance/exit. I had the “FREE STUFF” sign facing in toward the sale so people saw it on the way out rather than on the way in. People love this table.
  • Have shopping bags available for people who buy a lot of stuff.
  • Relax, enjoy the day, and appreciate the friends who come to help! I could not have done this sale without them.

Since I am not leaving until October, I did hold on to things I want to make my remaining time comfortable. I still have my couch, chair, kitchen items I use all the time, lamps, curtains, and other things that I need while I’m here. Those things will go in the last sale. (I am keeping about ten boxes of stuff, mostly clothes and kitchen items.)

My first sale was highly successful. It took planning, effort, and friends to pull it all together. I made a couple thousand dollars, and I still have lots more to sell. I will be having a sale every month until I go.

The biggest lesson I learned from going through the process of purging my personal belongings is this: when I finally do settle down again after traveling the world, I will be a minimalist.

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Living in the Ending of Things

Where is that thing, I wondered as I dug deep in the back of the closet.

I know I have it. I’ve had it for years.

As I searched for the missing item, I realized how much stuff had accumulated on just three shelves in only one closet. 

Stuff, stuff, everywhere. And I am getting rid of it all.

Every single thing.

Item by item, I scan each room as I try to assess the value of everything I have lovingly, and sometimes unknowingly, collected over a lifetime.

I am no longer attached to the vast majority of these things, these representations of my life. In fact, everything I own is being reduced to just ten boxes, things I’m actually making myself keep, because I will eventually settle into one place again. I am keeping items that are, for the most part, sentimental: a painting, a family heirloom, a favorite sweater, my new pans.

I’m thrilled that my family was just visiting, because I gave a box to each of them, two adults, two teenagers, and a pre-teen, and had them fill their boxes with whatever they could find of mine that they wanted. I was thrilled when my beautiful great-niece chose my beloved collection of perfume bottles and antique trinkets from the top of some long-forgotten woman’s mirrored vanity. The tall, handsome 14-year-old snagged a stunning decorative knife, the youngest, still a sweet kid but looking more and more like a young man, got my first-gen iPad. Their mom and dad got camping stuff and keepsakes. They each got a box-full of my memories.

How does one begin to liquidate a lifetime of possessions? Getting rid of all my personal belongings is a monumental task, and yet here it is, looming in front of me. 

Memories flood in as I look more closely at things I’ve had for years, things I don’t really see any more. One by one, memories come from my many years of a marriage long since over, of my crafting days, of lifelong friendships and friendships come and gone. Even my plants hold the history of the business I once owned. Who is going to inherit these memories? Who will hold precious the items I have carefully chosen, over many years, to fill my space?

One by one, items I post to my Facebook friends are finding homes with people I know, at least. Nothing has yet gone to a random stranger, although that will certainly happen in my first liquidation sale. 


Bottom photo by Suzanne McQueen

But how can I possibly put a price tag on the little print of Vermeer’s L’astronome I got when my husband and I visited the Louvre on our first and only trip together to Europe? What is the value of the lovingly hand-beaded astronomy orb I spent hours and hours making during a creative period? How do I price the tiny trinkets friends have gifted me over the years, dusty now, sitting in a glass bowl?

I have given myself many months to prepare for this part, this parting with the symbols of my life. I am spending time with my thoughts, my memories filled with sweet hope, quiet satisfaction, deep contentment, tragedy, and lost love.

Occasionally, I must remind myself why I am doing this. Why am I, at fifty-eight years old, selling everything I own to travel the world? Then the spark flares, the adrenal flows, and the excitement rises as I remember: to experience life to its fullest, to meet people of all colors, shapes, and sizes around the globe; to see the spectacular sites of ancient history; to hear the sounds of monkeys screeching, shop owners calling out in strange tongues, and temple bells ringing through the jungle; to smell the fragrance of flowers I’ve never seen, aromas of foods I’ve never heard of; and to taste, in all respects, the flavors of lands far away and completely foreign to me.

This is what drives me: the knowledge that this is the only life I have. The time is now, while I am young enough and healthy enough to vagabond my way through the world. And I am thrilled and excited all over again.

Ah, there’s that thing. I gently pull out a small, faded photo of my former husband and me before we got married. I am sitting on his Harley, and he is standing beside me. We are falling in love, smiling the smiles of joy and young life. There are casts on each of our broken right arms. The Golden Gate Bridge is rising high in the background. This picture is going with me on my journey around the world. It holds all the love, all the dreams, all the adventure I once felt as a young woman. It will remind me that the future of that young woman is now. Now I stand on the threshold of the rest of my life. 

If you like this blog post, please like, comment, and share. Doing so will help support me as I prepare for this amazing lifetime journey.

25 Countries in 12 Months? Good Luck with That!

Well, this is weird.We travel not to escape life, but for (1)

I was talking to a friend the other day. She pointed out that I had not written anything about what, exactly, my plans were for traveling the world, only that I was doing it.

I feel silly. Stupid. Completely missed the boat. 

So thanks, Julie, for helping me write my next blog post!

But what can anyone say who has a nebulous, grand, visionary plan to slow-travel—vagabond, really—across the globe for months on end? How concrete can a year-long adventure really be months before departure, if at all?

Still, the point is well taken. Surely I must have some idea of where I’d like to go, right?

Sort of, I guess. Okay, yeah.

While I still have a while to purge, prepare, and pack before I depart, I am collecting information on places I want to investigate further to see if they will make my final list of where in the world to go.

My general itinerary at this point is incredibly ambitious. It includes the following regions of the planet:

  • Southeast Asia
    • Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand
  • China
  • South Korea (possibly)
  • India and Sri Lanka
  • Central Europe
    • Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland
  • Kenya (??)
  • South Africa 
  • South America
    • Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia
  • Central America
    • Panama, Nicaragua, Belize

That’s 25 countries if I don’t count Kenya. I already figured out that a year is not long enough. As I said, it’s ambitious, but I do think that if I love the vagabond lifestyle (which I think I will), and I continue to get work on the road that supports me (as a freelance editor, mostly books), I’ll just keep on going until . . . what?

My end game plan is to land with my family in California, collect the ten boxes I will have saved from the purge of my belongings, and move to Ecuador. Of course, there’s a lot of time between here and there, and the way I want to travel is to be open to where the wind blows, so to speak. “Hey, there’s a food festival in Hong Kong! You have GOT to join us!” “What?! You didn’t know about the Flower Festival in Guatemala?” You get the idea. So who knows where I’ll really end up, or when.

So there you have it. My rough, ambitious, heart-stopping, exciting itinerary. Will I hit all the countries? I would love for you to follow my blog and stay tuned! 

Where in the world have you been? What is your favorite country? Where would you NEVER go again? Leave a comment, like, and share my blog, please! I’ll love ya for it!

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