Round-the-World Travel: What to Do Before You Go

This is a Hipmunk guest post from Jodi Ettenberg, a former lawyer who is traveling (and eating!) her way around the world, one country at a time. Her views and opinions are hers alone and do not represent Hipmunk. You can follow Jodi on her Legal Nomads blog.

So you want to travel around the world, but some of those countries on your list? They’re a bit daunting. That’s not to say you won’t go – you will. But you want to feel like you’ve done your research and are prepared for the worst, or at a minimum for some food poisoning.

When Hipmunk asked for a travel tips crash course for developing countries, I dug through the packing lists I meticulously prepared before I quit my job in April 2008, and then went through what I now know I really need. I’ve learned that there is a fine line between smart pre-travel preparation and over-compensation. So here are some of my tips for what to do before you go, what you ought to bring with you and how to cope when things don’t go as planned.

Before You Go: Packing, Planning and Insurance.

1) Research the Weather. Do not discount weather in your planning.  Exploring the Philippines was an awe-inspiring few months, but when monsoon season started I quickly learned just how difficult backpacking could be when you’re constantly dripping wet. While wet and dry seasons are less delineated these days, it still makes good travel sense to get a rough idea of when to go. The best times are usually shoulder seasons, on the cusp of the high or low periods. Prices are lower and while you might get some bad weather you’ll also avoid a good amount of the crowds. Bonus: some seriously beautiful sunsets.

ResourcesThe Traveler’s HandbookTravel Independent’s country guides.

Boo to rainy season in the Philippines:


Yay to shoulder season in the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia:


2) Vaccinations. Yes, you need them. Not all of them, mind you, but certainly some basics are important before you head to environments wholeheartedly different from the one your body is used to. Regardless of country, I’ve always made sure I had the following shots up to date: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Meningitis, Yellow Fever, Tetanus booster, Typhoid/Diphtheria, MMR booster (measles, mumps and rubella) and Polio. There are others such as cholera, rabies, and Japanese encephalitis that are more subjective based on budget and destination, and your doctor will be able to help ascertain how necessary they are.

ResourcesThe Adventure Doc’s vaccination pageCDC’s Malaria MapCDC Traveler’s Heath recommendationsWorld Health Organization’s Country-specific Reports.

3) Medical insurance. There were times on this trip where I got sick, and while some countries are not expensive to find good medical care, others break the budget. Medical insurance is something that you hopefully won’t need on your travels, but if you do get sick, you’ll be relieved to have a policy to protect you.

Resources: has a handy comparison chart for several medical insurance plans popular with round-the-world travelers.

Times medical insurance was an excellent idea: skydiving over Cape Town, South Africa and rappelling down waterfalls in Banos, Ecuador.

Skydiving_over_capetown Rapelling_in_banos_ecuador

4) PDF copies of your things to yourself. Before you leave, PDF yourself (and archive) copies of your passport, your visas obtained in advance and any other documents you might need to show and/or potentially lose on the road.

5) Consider getting a Google Voice number so you can receive emails of voicemail transcripts or texts left for you while you were on your travels. While not a failsafe method of communication (let’s just say their voice transcription technology needs a little work) it comforts me to have a number for my parents, bank or friends to reach me along the way.

6) Back up your Laptop: If you are traveling with a laptop, consider backing up your photos and computer files online. It’s awful to lose all of your photos and if your computer and backups are stolen, you’re going to be very upset.

Resources: Companies like Carbonite or Mozy will backup your laptop or desktop to the cloud.

7) Read How to Shit Around the World before you go. Written by a doctor with a great sense of humor, the book aims to demystify street food, help you stay healthy and get people to give you strange looks when you read the book on the subway. Ok, the latter is my own contribution but riding the R in New York was much more fun with this book in hand.  The book has some helpful tips on how to avoid getting sick when you travel and how to minimize the pain when you do.

8) Spend some time looking at visa requirements: You’ll need them in some countries and have a visa-waiver exemption in others. It’s a good idea to read up ahead of time, as some countries are very specific about obtaining a visa ahead of time.

Resources: For American Citizens, entry requirements are here; for Canadian Citizens, entry requirements are here.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this series: how to pack for a round the world trip.

Do you have any planning tips to share? Leave them in the comments!  


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