15 Tips for Dealing with Money on Your RTW Journey

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

BEWARE.

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.

 

 

 

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. 

IMG_0754

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. 

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I Give UP! Details Overwhelm Sets In

I quit.

What have I been thinking?

Who do I think I am, chucking my entire life, pretending I can travel the world for a year?

I can’t even imagine how I’m going to deal with my stuff and figure out what to do with my house, let alone have enough money to live and work from the road.  I’m 58 years old, for Pete’s sake. I give up. I’m not going.

These thoughts pass through my mind whenever I think of everything I need to get done to realize my dream of traveling around the world for 365-ish days. And the more I read other world travelers’ blogs, the more I realize that this is perfectly normal, this not-knowing-what’s-going-to-happen fear, this there-are-so-many-things-to-do/plan/decide/buy overwhelm.

Yesterday I was feeling that overwhelm in a pretty major way. My mind whirled with the myriad details of what travel bag to choose, which walking shoes to buy, whether I should sell or rent my house, what to keep and where to keep it, how I’m going to manage mail, how I’m going to deal with taxes, and on and on and on . . .

Then I remembered about lists.

Before I started hyperventilating, I grabbed a pencil and notepad and began writing down everything that was streaming through my mind like a high-def Bruce Willis action movie. A peaceful calm immediately started trickling through my manic brain. Oh, right, I thought. At this age I have tools to deal with fears, anxiety, and overwhelm. I just have to remember what they are and how to use them when I need them most.

I realized then that I actually had a list of lists constantly running in the back of my mind. I am astounded that I had not yet started a real, physical, long-term list of things I need to do/research/buy before I go. So now I have the beginning of my list of lists and a place to jot down all the random thoughts that come into my head when I read a blog about dealing with taxes while traveling or what mail service to use. Lists Fix Everything

Here is the very beginning of my list of lists:

  • Stuff:
    • Room by room, separate items into three categories: Keep, sell, give
    • Create a timeline of selling stuff using VarageSale, Craigslist, Facebook, specialized garage sales (Jewelry! Clothes! Electronics! Tools!)
    • Find an awesome home for my cat, Apples.
  • Stuff about the house:
    • Get CRM from my realtor—should I sell?
    • Talk to property managers about renting to long-term tenant—should I lease?
    • Prepare house accordingly
  • Stuff to purchase:
    • Laptop (Dell Inspiron 11 3000 series)
    • Backpack (probably Eagle Creek Switchback 22) and packing cubes
    • Walking shoes
    • Down jacket
    • The perfect pair of pants
    • Travel insurance
  • Stuff to research:
    • Best way to travel between countries
    • Volunteer opportunities
    • Weather by month
    • How to deal with taxes
    • (This list is going to get huge!)
  • General stuff to do:
    • Re-establish my credit (I had to file bankruptcy in 2010. It’s been a long recovery.)
    • To that end: apply for a credit card
    • Decide where my permanent address will be (tricky, since I don’t plan on coming back to Oregon. Probably will be my mom’s in California)
    • (Another rapidly growing list!)

These items represent just a tiny beginning of things that go through my mind. This list of lists will grow quickly, I’m sure. And when I am working on planning my trip, I’ll go to my list and see what to do. There’s nothing like crossing off an item on a giant, months-long list of lists to feel like I’m making progress!

My goal is to leave by November 2015 and travel for a year, so I also remind myself I have time to take care of all these details, but no time to waste. My departure date will be here before I know it, so I am actively choosing my travel laptop, my backpack, my walking shoes. I am sorting through my stuff and talking to property managers. And the money? I’m already halfway to my goal of saving $10,000, so I may increase the final total if my work flow continues to hold steady.

From now on, when I have those moments of panic and anxiety about preparing for such a huge life change, I will simply remember my lists and take comfort in knowing that it will all work out as long as I stay on track. After all, these are some of the best life skills I’ve developed, tools I can pull out of the bag when they’re most needed.

What do you do when you’re in overwhelm? Are you a list maker? Please share the life skills you’ve developed and keep in your tool bag!

 

 

I’m Packing My Laptop and Hitting the Road

Working as a vagabond traveling the worldearth

Three and a half years ago, in late 2011, I took the first hard steps toward liberating myself from a job that would tie me down. I deliberately chose a new career that would be portable, knowing that some day I would move from the Rogue Valley in southern Oregon, where I have lived for nearly 22 years. Much has changed in those years, myself included. The life I thought I was going to live in Oregon, after living for 17 long years in southern California, didn’t last. I changed careers more than once, reinventing myself each time. I broke hearts, including my own. Once someone broke my heart. (Isn’t that odd, to use the term “broken” for the heart, which must continue to function for us to even exist?)

All of that is in the distant past. I am happy, healthy, and ready to hit the road. I am a freelance editor by trade (my business site is http://www.redletterediting.com/), although, like many entrepreneurs, I also do things like coach public speaking, teach astronomy, and create PowerPoint presentations for clients. The best part of what I do, to my mind, is having the freedom to take my work on the road.

There are many, many ways to make money on the road. Blogging is huge, if you’re ready for a learning curve. And here’s the thing: it is learnable. Some people shell out a bunch of bucks to learn how to monetize a blog. Others put Google to good use and patch together enough free information to figure it out. (That’s my style.) Blogs and other websites can also be monetized by creating relationships with affiliates, whereby your website makes money on any sales that happen as a result of someone clicking on a link from your website. (Expect that to happen on this blog eventually.) It is no longer necessary, or desirable, to have megawatt ads screaming from every corner of every web page. Many working people have jobs that automatically translate to travel, such as that of my friend Bobby, whose company sends him literally all over the world for weeks on end. His girlfriend even gets to go most of the time. That’s different from being a vagabond traveler, of course, but I do think he’s got an amazing setup.

People become travel writers, photographers, day traders, and English teachers. Many freelance careers are already portable, suchas website designers, graphic artists, business consultants, and even administrators. Heck, when I was a young little hippie chick, I made money miming on the streets of Santa Cruz, California. Busking is fun and easy for musicians and other talented folks. I’ve even heard of hairstylists setting up shop in hostels and making enough money in a couple of days to travel for another few weeks. (Something for me to think about, too! I was a hairstylist for 28 years before my first major reinvention to chemist.)

If you are thinking of traveling the world while working, start planning now. Explore opportunities. Consider your current skill set. How could you translate your talents and abilities to a portable career? If it’s just not possible, then what else might you be interested in learning? It took me a IMG_0643year to develop my skills and another year to build a solid editing business. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, knowing what it is going to allow me to do: travel the world for as long as I like, doing what I love to do.

What do you think? Do you have a portable career or job already? Can you make it be so? Your subscription to this blog, your likes, shares, and your comments support my blog’s visibility. Please take a moment to share and to let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment. (Usually the comments link is at the top of this post.) Thanks for reading. Come back soon!

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