Traveling For A Year

So you have the time and the money to take a twelve (or 15 or 24) month break from your life and try on a new one for size. What could possibly be more exciting?  What follows are a few tips for traveling overseas long term.

Before you leave home you will have to deal with a few issues (see Leaving Home Checklist).  If you will be away for an extended time, you will need to find a way to handle bills, taxes and other such items in addition to the more prosaic deliveries and plant watering.

If you don’t know the area (no, the three days you spent there two years ago doesn’t count) it will serve you well to rent a room or other accommodation short term until you have the time to determine where you’d like to live. It will also allow you time to learn some of the oddities of renting which may be peculiar to that area. For instance, in Yerevan, Armenia, westerners are startled when their landlords not only leave closets full of personal items (which the renter may not use), but come over and let themselves in to cook dinner or entertain.  You’ll want to understand some of these things before signing up for a long stay.

If you will be in a capital city (and some other larger cities), there will be expat community groups and there may be women’s club. Those organizations frequently have a website and sometimes a book on how to accomplish things tourists rarely encounter (finding an English speaking dentist, the low down on local meat and produce; locating a language teacher, navigating the local bureaucracy, renting a living space). They will also provide the local expat view of potential dangers. This is the info you need to live there. Start by looking on line for expat (use the term “expat” in the search) websites for the city.  Those will often link to other sites which serve the various constituencies in that area.

As a bonus, you may find a lively social group. If you are going to a major capital (e.g. Tokyo or Moscow) the expat community will be very large and probably divide socially along country lines. If you are in a smaller capital (think Accra or Phenom Penh), the expats will probably be a more international social circle. Either way, I have always found these have much to offer and have a varied social life.

If you are headed to an area where telephone, electric and water service are similar to home and internet is readily available, adjustment to your stay will be easier.

For those of you headed to more “difficult” areas (e.g. those with unreliable water, electricity and internet), you are about to experience life as most of the world knows it.  Absence of the big three (above) make living much more interesting. A few suggestions follow:

You will, of course, need light just to navigate and candles are not a very good source for reading or much else. Battery powered or other lights which will throw more ambient light will be much more satisfactory.  Various items will be available locally, depending on the available fuel. (Do remember many of these fuels are highly flammable.) I suggest you pack a flashlight and buy locally.

The electric items you brought with you such as computers, phones and pads will need to be charged–usually when there is no electricity. There are a variety of options you should investigate before you leave home: extra power packs, solar chargers, crank chargers…new items arrive regularly. If you have no power there are also no street lights, traffic lights… it’s dark! (Take that flashlight with you on evening jaunts. Add this to your overseas travel checklist.) If you have never spent an evening sitting in a black room, you can’t know how boring it is not to be able to read or do much of anything else.

Water: this turns out to be the most difficult commodity to live without, I think.  Aside from the obvious drinking and washing, you also need water–a lot of water–to flush the toilet. My strategy is to acquire as many large containers (2 liter bottles, buckets, the bathtub) as possible and fill them all anytime you have water. Will you will, of course, need to conserve water.  Just for fun, practice taking a bucket bath:

First find a bottle and make a very weak solution of shampoo and water (like 20 to 1). Work it though your dry hair. Dip a cloth, sponge or whatever you like into the water, soap it sparingly and wash your body. Now using a dipper (most of these countries have plastic dippers available in any market) you slowly pour one dipper at a time over your head, using your other hand to work it through your hair.

If you have no hot water, you will be able to purchase a small appliance to heat your (metal) bucket of water. You may recall the little immersion heaters used to heat a cup of water. What you are looking for is a large version of the same thing. You can also buy electric hot water kettles.

To wash clothes use very little soap and soak them first.  Dish washing without hot water: wash in cold and pour scalding water over them.

Internet either is or isn’t – not much you can do about it. Internet cafes abound in cities where people do not have access, so ask around.