If you’re going to travel to many places or to one place for a long time in one trip, then you need to plan for a lot of things and it’s probably going to mean you need to bring a lot of stuff. In the process of preparing for a year-long Exchange program in Japan, here are some things I have learned about preparing for a long-term trip.
1) Reserve Early and Plan Ahead
Especially when it comes to very long trips, you want to plan way ahead and start very early. If you are going to be traveling for 6 months to a year at a time or more, make sure you figure out where you’re going to be living and reserve hotels or apartments early. This is true for any trip but especially long ones. The longer you wait to reserve a place to stay, the less likely it is you will have a place to stay or that it will cost less. Sometimes this requires more research than you might expect. When I was preparing for my Exchange program overseas, I had thought I was going to be in University dorms in Japan, however I was informed they did not have enough space for me. Therefore I had to do extra research to try and find an alternate place to stay while I attend school in a foreign country. I had to figure out what my options were, and once I found an option I liked, I needed to take initiative to contact the company I was going to use and make reservations to stay with them. I ended up reserving space with a real estate company called Sakura House, which rents out small apartments, dorms or share houses, for a month to month rate. It is most cost-effective for people who are staying for longer than a normal hotel stay, but shorter than a normal apartment contract.
2) Figure Out What You Need To Bring
Brainstorm what you will need to pack based on climate, events, desires and obligations while you’re there. Consider where you are going, including all the different places you might visit during your trip. What will the climate be like during the entire length of your stay? How will it change? Will you need summer and winter clothes? Will it rain, snow, or be terribly hot? Also consider what kinds of activities you will be doing. Obviously you will need some casual clothes, but what about formal clothes, business clothes, workout clothes? What kinds of cultural considerations are important? Are your clothes culturally appropriate?
3) Consider Space, Weight, Physical and Financial Limitations
Once you have brainstormed what you need for the whole length of your trip, consider how much space you have available for packing, how much weight it will be, how much it will cost and how difficult it will be to manage. This will be easier if you already have your tickets. Look up the airline that you will be using and find out their baggage policies. It is important to know the dimensions and weight limitations for the airlines you are using because this will determine how much you can take within the limited space allowed as well as the fees associated with the amount you take. If you are finding that the baggage limitations are insufficient for the amount of stuff you want to bring with you, then you will need to decide whether it is worth paying overcharges to bring the extra items, or whether you want to try to ship them later. For myself, I was packing for one year in Japan so I needed to bring clothing for all four seasons, clothes that are school and work appropriate, clothes for different events such as business or formals, and also holidays and cultural events such as Japanese festivals. I had more items than I could fit in the limited baggage allowed. I looked into options for shipping, but I found out that one box of international shipping cost almost twice as much as paying overweight fees at the airport. So, I ended up deciding to pay an extra $300 at the airport to check extra heavy bags rather than ship things which would cost upwards of $500.
4) Keep A Consistent Budget
Speaking of extra fees during travel, don’t forget to carefully budget! Keep in mind how you’re going to get income and pay bills while you’re away. It is very easy to overspend when preparing for trips and while you’re there. Come up with a consistent system help you track how much you spend and how much is left and where your limitations need to be. I personally like to use the YNAB program (You Need A Budget). Whatever method you choose, make sure you use it regularly and monitor it carefully. If you are going to a country with a different currency, then you may want to visit a currency exchange location and buy a couple hundred dollars in that foreign currency before you leave. It is important to have some local money on hand when you arrive, just in case you run into problems and cards will not work. Be familiar with whether or not tipping and other customs are acceptable or expected in the country you’re going to. On the subject of cards also, be sure to notify all of your banks and accounts about your travel plans so that your cards do not get blocked by the fraud department when you start having foreign transactions show up on your accounts.
5) Don’t Neglect Your Life At Home While You’re Away
Set up your life in your home country so that it can be sustained without you for a while. If you have bills make sure you can pay them while you are away or find a way to stop them before you leave. Check if you have subscriptions that are still going, utilities that will still be charged, insurance, or other bills that will need attention. Also consider what will be done with your car if you own one, do you have any pets that needs care, will you need any house sitting, do you have any people under your care, do you need to move out or change places when you come back, etc. Life at home does not stop just because you are out of the country, so you need to make sure that your life at home does not crumble in your absence. If you don’t have insurance such as medical or property insurance that will cover you outside of the country, make sure you get some that will in case something happens to you or your belongings or rental property while on foreign soil.
6) Leave Lots of Time, Check, Verify, Communicate, Verify
When it is time to leave, I recommend being at the airport ready to check in at least 3 hours prior to an international flight or 2 hours prior to domestic flights. If you have connecting flights, if any of them are international, arrive 3 hours early to check in. Also if you have connecting flights, make sure that there is time in between each flight when you book them to deal with any problems such as delays, difficulty finding the gates, or airline mistakes. It is better to have more time than you need than not enough time. Make sure you keep open communication with the airlines you are using and be sure you can receive notifications from them if there are any changes to your schedule or flights. Personally call each different airline to make sure things will work the way you expect them to. For example, my flight to Japan was through American Airlines and Singapore Airlines. When I called American Airlines to confirm that my luggage would be checked all the way through to Japan, they initially said that Singapore Airlines was not a partner airline with them, and therefore I would have to pick up and recheck my bags in Los Angeles before moving on to Tokyo, which would mean I would have to pay the baggage fees for each airline also. That would double the cost and effort of the trip. But when I called Singapore Airlines, they said that American Airlines is a partner with them and that my bags would be checked all the way through to Tokyo without needing to recheck them in Los Angeles. They said that all of the baggage policies and fees associated with American Airlines would be honored by Singapore Airlines and I would not need to change anything or add fees. Needless to say I had to reconfirm all of this with American Airlines and let them know that both Airlines were saying two different things. It ended up working out favorably as Singapore Airlines was correct, and I did not have to recheck my bags or pay extra fees when switching Airlines. The moral of the story is that it is important to communicate with every Airline involved before you leave to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that there will be no unexpected surprises when you try to leave. If something doesn’t sound right, have them double or triple check to verify the facts. Also Singapore Airlines gives superb service and his amazing in-flight meals and treatment. I highly recommend flying with them sometime.
7) Prepare Your Transportation & Be Able To Function Without Internet
Research local transportation before you arrive and be willing to go with the flow because unexpected things might happen. Upon arriving in Tokyo, I knew that I was going to need to use public transportation to get where I was going. Because my flight was arriving after normal business hours, I would not be able to check into my apartment that I had reserved online. So I had to make sure I had a hotel reservation for the first night and I needed to find a way to get myself and all of my luggage there on my own. I needed to research the train systems in Tokyo before I arrived so that I would have an idea of exactly which trains and which stops I would need in order to get to the hotel. Also, it was important to keep in mind that my phone service would change as soon as I landed also. Unless I wanted to pay hefty roaming charges, I could expect to no longer have the use of Internet on my phone or be able to make phone calls until I could get a local Japanese phone service. Therefore, if I wanted to keep track of the transportation information and routes that I would need to get from the airport to the hotel, I needed to save that information so that I can access it offline. To do this, I used screen shots so that all the pages with the information I needed were saved in my photographs. At the hotel, I used WiFi and the same method to figure out how to get to the apartment office and my residence building the next day.
8) Improvise, Adapt and Enjoy!
Be open to the unexpected! When I first arrived in Tokyo, after I went through customs, I was greeted by a TV crew for Tokyo TV who wanted to interview me about why I came to Japan at how long I would be there. Apparently it’s some kind of show that’s popular in Japan where they sometimes follow foreigners just see what kinds of accomplishments they make in Japan. I don’t know if I will be chosen to be interviewed further, but it was a fun and interesting experience to be greeted by a TV crew right after landing. Be flexible in your schedule and try to enjoy the experience. Travel is a lot of work and it’s important to be able to go with the flow and adapt well to change when it happens, because it will happen.
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