Preparing to Travel: My Massive To-Do List

Although I just gave notice at work and publicly announced my upcoming trip last week, I started preparing much, much earlier.

Here is a look at the massive RTW trip to-do list that I have been checking off over the last year, approximately in chronological order.

  • Change bank accounts. I moved my primary checking and savings to Capital One.  They reimburse out-of-network ATM fees up to $25 per month and I earn interest on both checking and savings. I kept the US Bank account that I have had for 13 years and linked the accounts so I can easily move money between them.
  • Give myself a pay cut.   I set up direct deposit to my savings account so that $300 of every paycheck goes directly to savings.  I never see it and after a while, I pretty much forgot about it.
  • Determine a savings goal. I looked into accommodations and transportation costs for possible destinations and read about other traveler’s expenses for long-term travel to come up with a savings goal of $30,000 (more on that in upcoming posts).
  • Track my expenses. I set up a spreadsheet and kept track of every dime I spent. This allowed me to identify areas to cut back and I could see how close (or far!) I was from my savings goal.
  • Start a blog. I launched this blog nearly a year ago with the idea that I would eventually leave on a long-term trip.  Starting early has allowed me to get comfortable with the technical aspects of running a blog, start finding my voice as a writer, and build a loyal readership before I leave. It has also helped me…
  • …Connect with other travelers.  Through my blog, Twitter and Facebook, and through reading other travel blogs, I have connected with dozens of bloggers who have taken a career break and/or traveled long-term.  Discovering so many people doing what I wanted to do made me believe it was really possible.  Their advice and inspiration have been invaluable.
  • Sell or rent my condominium.  I hoped to sell my place in order to free myself financially.  Unfortunately, the market was not on my side.  So I went to Plan B and found tenants instead.  The rent I will get isn’t enough to cover my mortgage and assessments, but it comes close enough to make it feasible for me to spend close to a year on the road.
  • Renew my passport.  I took care of this in March as it was set to expire in June anyway.  I also got extra pages for free at the same time.
  • Research and apply for volunteer opportunities.  I applied for the Geovisions program in Russia a couple months ago and should get my family assignment any day now.  I also tentatively have something lined up in Moldova and will apply for another volunteer opportunity in Armenia in the next couple weeks.
  • Find someone to manage my condo. Instead of hiring a management company for $100 a month, I lined up a friend to do it. I’ll pay her on an hourly basis as issues arise. I also arranged for my tenants to pay rent online through, which then directly deposits the rental payments into my bank account.
  • Find a home for my cat.  I hated the idea of giving my cat, Leo, to a random stranger on Craigslist or to a shelter, so a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders when a friend volunteered to take Leo for the year.
  • Sell my stuff.  I don’t consider myself a minimalist by any means but I also didn’t want to pay $1,000 to rent a moving van to haul all my stuff up to Minnesota to store in my parents’ basement (and then more money when I eventually move it all out!). And I really didn’t want to pay for a storage unit here in Chicago when I can make some money selling everything instead.
  • Book my flight.  I used frequent flier miles for my one-way flight to Helsinki, so I tried to book this early since I heard airlines can limit the number of seats that can be booked with miles.
  • Apply for my Russian visa. This has been a bit of a headache and I will have an entire post about applying for Russian visas, particularly 3-month business visas.  I sent my application off last Wednesday and it is supposed to be ready August 10.  Crossing my fingers…
  • Doctor and dentist appointments.  While I still have good insurance through work, I made a point to get an annual physical exam and a dental cleaning and check-up.
  • Vaccinations.  I went to Egypt in 2008, which required me to get the Typhoid vaccine, as well as tetanus-diptheria-polio and the first round of Hepatitis A (I forgot to go back for the booster a few months later).  This time around, I got the Hep A booster, a round of Hepatitis B shots and the meningitis vaccine.  Lucky for me, my insurance covered everything except the $110 consultation fee, saving me about $500.
  • Fill prescriptions & order a back-up pair of glasses.  I have a few prescriptions to get filled before my insurance through work runs out.  I also ordered a back-up pair of glasses since my insurance covers it.
  • Print & laminate gluten-free restaurant cards.  Okay, this is pretty unique to me, but I highly recommend it for anyone who might travel with food allergies of any kind.  I found a website that provides restaurant cards explaining my gluten allergy in multiple languages, so I printed out versions in Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Russian, Ukrainian and Uzbek.
  • Get extra passport photos.  I am going to be obtaining numerous visas while I am on the road, so I got a stack of extra passport-sized photos to use.
  • Buy stuff.  I have tried to keep the purchases to a minimum, but some must-haves that I have picked up so far include a new Asus netbook, a Kindle with 3G, a new backpack, extra memory cards and camera batteries, a Steri-pen, a travel towel and new hiking shoes.
  • Find a place to stay.  I booked a hostel for my two nights in Helsinki and for the first couple nights in Tallinn.
  • Create a Skype account. By all accounts, this will be a great way to keep in touch while I travel.  Now I just need to convince my brother to get an account so I can video-chat with my niece and nephew.
  • Give notice at work.  This is when the whole thing really started to feel real!
  • Plan my going away party. The most fun item on this list!
  • Apply for global medical insurance. Just submitted this application today – it was not fun.

And there is still more to come over the next few weeks:

  • Sell more stuff.
  • Add my dad to my bank accounts.
  • Notify my banks and credit card companies.
  • Cancel my cell phone contract.
  • Cancel utilities.
  • Submit a change of address with the post office.
  • Get one last hair cut & color, facial and pedicure.
  • Request a gluten-free meal with American Airlines for my flight to Helsinki.
  • Withdraw cash in the form of bills that are recent and in good condition (may be necessary for visas along the way).
  • Create a list of bank and credit card info.
  • Launch newsletter for my blog.
  • Set up appointment for donations to be picked up (anything I don’t sell).
  • Transfer files that I might need from my laptop to my netbook.
  • Update my Couchsurfing profile.
  • Study and practice Russian some more.
  • Update my resume.
  • Update my LinkedIn profile and request recommendations from colleagues.

Not everything on the lists above will apply to everyone, but I hope this will be helpful for those of you who might be starting to think about taking some time off to travel or putting together your own RTW trip to do list.

What do you think?  Am I missing anything?


Photo: Kristian D.

18 thoughts on “Preparing to Travel: My Massive To-Do List”

  1. Hi,
    Just found your blog and I wanted to say thank you for sharing your to-do list.
    I’m always amazed how getting tasks out of my head and on to paper makes it seem do-able. Look forward to following your travel adventure.

  2. “Convince me” to get a Skype account? How about “ask me” first? 😉 Pending my response, you may not need to do any convincing.

    1. um, I did ask you and you said you were “anti-Skype.”

      also need to add to the list “get Dad a webcam for his computer since it doesn’t have one built in.”

  3. I love that you are heading out on this adventure. Having spent a year as an expat – albeit not taking in as many sites and venues as you – I would say that oddly the best thing to have was my American Express card…and not for the credit. AmEx was actually more helpful with travel arrangements, Visa (travel not credit card) help and their offices are located in so many areas that you can almost always get help in English which is good to know in a pinch. Your list is great. I asked my primary care physician to put together a little emergency kit for me also, she did so with all pharmecuetical samples – I was in Africa much of the year so there were some special disease issues to worry about. Have a wonderful time.

  4. Great list. There a couple of things on here I hadn’t thought of, like adding my parents to my bank account as a precaution. A friend I met in Vietnam had just had her bag snatched in Cambodia with all her belongings (money, passport etc) in and her Dad had to keep wiring her money, meaning she had to keep finding a Western Union. If he’d had access to her bank account, I’m sure this would have been easier. Also, I like your idea of keeping track of your expenses. I reckon I could guilt myself into saving even more if I see written down exactly what I’m spending on every week!

    1. Thanks Julia! I think it was actually my dad who suggested I add him to my accounts. Figured it makes good sense as a precaution.

      It was definitely an eye-opener to start tracking my expenses. Quite scary how much I spent on random stuff like m&ms and Diet Coke from the vending machines at work. 🙂

  5. Well, you are actually overprepared, Katie ;).
    It’s a a good idea of using the “gluten-free” hand-made phrasebook, tho.

    One thing you might have forgotten.
    Get the names of cheap local SIM cards, with Net access, for every country that you will land at. You can thus buy them at the stations/airports, etc.

    A feellow CS-er

  6. And when are you leaving again? I might take a year to get all this done! This is quite a list so good luck with your list. It’s definitely worth the effort and gets you into the details of planning well before your trip even starts!

    1. Well luckily everything in the top section has already been done – and it did take about a year! I’ve got about 4 weeks until I leave and most everything else is pretty mundane and shouldn’t take too long. Will just be a bit tedious…

  7. Also print list of US Embassies in your travel locations (unless marked in travel guides). Plus, you could start a “donation” web page or link, if people want to donate extra frequent flyer miles to help you along the way. Also, let us know where to mail care packages — all of your friends and followers can make sure to send gluten-free goodies your way. (Case in point: Annie’s Gluten-free chocolate/vanilla graham bunnies. Yum!)

    1. Oh, good call on the embassy list Kari! And I love the idea of getting care packages w/ gluten free goodies – I am sure they will be hard to come by in a lot of places I am going. Although I figured those would probably be limited to my family. But hey, if anyone else wants to send one, I certainly won’t refuse. 🙂

  8. Great list Katie! I’m going to have to come back to this one when I’m in your shoes… I love a good list. Things are coming together for you and it is sooooo exciting!

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