There have been so many things to consider in planning this trip that I keep worrying that I’ve forgotten something. This post is going to be therapeutic for me, because it will allow me to put down a checklist of everything I’ve done so far and hopefully allow me to relax a little once I see it.
So, flights are sorted. Accommodation is booked for the first month and a half. What else is there to consider?
Travel Insurance – I’ve always had annual travel insurance as a perk of a bank account, or credit card, or I’ve paid for it to cover holiday trips. I decided to read through the terms and conditions of my existing insurance(s) to see what would be covered for this trip. Nothing. Most standard travel insurance covers you for a maximum of 30 days outside the country. Some do 60 days. If you’re away for longer than that, it lapses. Obviously, we want to be insured as we travel, so we had to seek out specialist long term travel insurance. That’s when I discovered that there appears to be an entire industry dedicated to the Gap Year. For people our age, choices are much more limited. Luckily, I stumbled across Go Walkabout Insurance which was able to offer the insurance we needed at a reasonable price.
Travel Insurance (again) – One thing that Go Walkabout didn’t provide cover for was the musical instruments we intend lugging around the world: my mandolin and Ishbel’s dobro. We managed to get that from Allianz Musical Insurance and even got a discount thanks to our membership of the British Bluegrass Music Association.
Vaccinations – Cross referencing our itinerary against the advice in the NHS Fit for Travel website took a little time but once we had done that, and checked the results against our existing vaccination records, we found that Ishbel was all up to date, and I just needed a tetanus booster, which I was able to get done at a local Boots.
Money – A colleague at work (from when I worked) had recommended Revolut to me, so I signed up and I am so glad I did. I’ve been paying for a lot of accommodation and other things in local currencies, and the rate I’ve been getting from using Revolut for those payments, combined with the fact that they don’t charge a transaction fee, has saved me a fortune. I’ll be using Revolut a lot on my travels and topping it up from my UK bank account as I go. Ishbel now has a card too.
Visas – More cross referencing required here, using the UK Foreign Office’s website. It turns out that we needed electronic permissions to travel into Australia (free) and Canada (CAD 7.00). We needed a visa for China (£151 each!). For the USA, most UK visitors only need the electronic access form, the ESTA. However, because the US Road Trip portion of our travels will have us in the US for more than 90 days, we would need visas. Luckily, I already had one, for reasons too complicated to go into, but Ishbel had to apply for hers, then attend the embassy for an interview. Luckily, they said yes!
Communications – This has been a difficult one. As we go on our merry way, we will sometimes be in countries in which our cellphone provider offers the opportunity to use our UK call, data and text allowance at no additional charge. And sometimes, we’ll be in countries where this is not the case. I tried to call them to talk about the situation we would be in but, of course, found myself in an infinite loop on their automated call system. I therefore used the online chat mode to try to get an answer to what would happen, since I had read the Terms and Conditions on their website and they talk about an undefined fair use policy which may result in our service being suspended if we abuse the facility. In response to my query, the helper in the online chat mode basically copied and pasted the entire T&Cs (that I had just read) into the chat box. So, I’m just going to set off and see if they suspend us at some point. We’ll mostly be using WhatsApp anyway.
Advance Bookings – There are things we want to do that may sell out before we get there, or that you can only do from outside the country. For example, I just bought tickets for Merlefest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, (using Revolut) so we know where we need to be by April 25th next year. Also, the Japanese Rail Pass, which allows unlimited travel on Japanese trains for 7 days, must be bought before you get to Japan. And a big one: the car in the US for the Road Trip. A 3 month one way rental is not the easiest thing to put in place, but Avis stepped up and got me a reasonable deal.
Contingency Planning – Always hope for the best and plan for the worst. And besides, this is just a sensible thing to do when we get to our age. We’ve arranged to put in place Powers of Attorney for our two sons, just in case anything happens and they need to make decisions on our behalf. We’ve seen friends and family who, when the situation arose in their own lives, wished that they had planned ahead. It’s comforting to know this is there if required.
That’s what we’ve done so far. And I still feel anxious about missing something. There are still some things I want to get organised in advance, like diving lessons on the Great Barrier Reef, but I think that we have everything in place that will allow us to complete the trip.