A Chronicle of Amy and Sean's World Travels

FAQ

We know inquiring minds want to know, either out of curiosity or to help in your own plans.  Here is a list of questions we have gotten from people in one form or another since we announced our plans.  If you would like to know more about anything or have your own question, please send us an email at surroundedbythesoundblog@gmail.com.

TRAVEL LOGISTICS

Q:        Where are you going?

A:        We are headed around the world for about one year.  We started in Barcelona, Spain on March 31, 2010, and if all goes according to plan, we will end up around April 2011 on some island in the South Pacific, to be determined, before returning home.  We plan to spend a little over three months in Europe, sticking mostly to Central/Eastern Europe and Spain, where we hear your money goes further.  (And fortunately, while we were there, the value of the euro kept dropping).  We plan to spend approximately 8 weeks in Africa, 20 weeks in Asia, and 8 weeks in Australia (the continent).  We hope to make it to South America, but something had to give.  Check out our planned itinerary here and our actual itinerary here (which we are trying to keep up to date with cities and towns visited, most of the hotels where we stayed, and modes of transportation).

Q:        How did you decide where to go?

A:        We looked a map for a very long, long time.  We checked out the choices of others who have taken similar trips.  We analyzed the weather.  We tried to avoid extremes and stick to warmer temperatures (per Amy’s request).  We tried to follow a logical pattern of travel, and tried to come up with a mixture of developed and undeveloped countries.  We each picked some favorites, and made sure those were represented.

Q:        Have you ever travelled before?

A:        Domestically, yes.  We’ve visited just under half of the states and over the last few years, we have been steadily working towards our goal of hitting them all.  Internationally, not very much.

Q:        What did you do about your jobs?

A:        While some people ask for a leave of absence, we both decided it was time for a change so we quit.  We gave about one month’s notice so that we could leave on the best of terms as possible.  We are not sure where we will be working when we get back or if we want to do the same type of work we were doing when we left.  While we are gone, we want to think about what makes us happy, and what we need to make us happy, including the type of job that would help us achieve happiness.

Q:        How are you planning your travel?

A:        This is still a work in progress.  We selected the general countries we wanted to visit in advance, but not necessarily destinations within those countries.  So before we head to a new country, we try to get a sense as to what parts of the country we would like to visit and how much time we want to spend there.  So far, we generally follow our planned route, but several times we have changed our original plans because something else flowed more naturally.  We investigate our next destination a couple of days in advance by using a combination of guidebooks, friends’ advice, other travel blogs, TripAdvisor, Wikitravel, and the general internet.  Sometimes we do a lot of research, sometimes we do hardly any.  Sometimes we book accommodations in advance, but sometimes we just show up and walk around.  Spotted by Locals has been helpful in some European cities for good recommendations with a local flair.  Sometimes, we think we spend too much time planning and would love to hear from other travelers about their own approaches.

Q:        How do you deal with mail/taxes/bills/licenses/legal issues?

A:        We took a netbook with us, which allows us to bank online and check our credit card statements online as usual.

Since we are technically homeless, we changed our address to Sean’s parents’ house.  Sean’s mother volunteered to scan and email any important mail.  (There are services if you can’t find someone to do this for you).  We gave her and Amy’s mother power of attorney to sign any documents and take care of any legal matters, such as converting our 401(k) to Roth IRAs.

Amy’s mom is in charge of shipping and receiving any packages.

We put wills and durable health care power of attorneys in place before we left (thanks again, Mark, for your help).

We found out that Pennsylvania allows you to get your car inspected early, and had that done.  As luck would have it, both of our licenses expire while we are gone.  We were able to complete Sean’s early, but Amy’s expired too far out.  She will have to let it expire, and fill out paperwork to get it reinstated as soon as we get back.

When renewal time came for Amy’s law license, she made it inactive.  She can reinstate it when she gets back and figures out if she will practice law again.

Since we left at the tail end of March 2009, we paid our 2009 taxes before we left.  We gave Sean’s mom a folder of documents for our 2010 taxes, and will probably have her take them to an accountant next year.

While there are a lot of logistics to work out, there is nothing that can’t be done somehow while you are gone.

MONEY

Q:        Tell us all what we really want to know: how much is this trip going to cost?

A:        Ah, yes, the elephant in the room.  Money.  We are bad at budgeting normally, and it is hard to know what your travel style will be like or how much things really cost in advance.  So the budget is a work in progress.  We’ve read about couples taking round the world, year long trips for as low as $30,000 total.  We’ve read about couples taking round the world, year long trips for as high as $80,000 total.  We are hoping our costs, including lodging, transportation, meals, and entertainment, will come in at about $60,000 total for both of us.  We’ll let you know how we do.

Q:       Did you win the lottery or inherit lots of money?

A:        We wish.  What we did do is work many hours at jobs that paid well, didn’t always live like we made good money, and saved.  We also renovated an old house for four years.  When we sold it, we didn’t actually profit a lot, but we had some cash on hand because the house ended up serving as a savings vehicle.  We also sold one of our cars, a Toyota (unfortunately at less money than we probably could have gotten at another time, since it came on the heels of the Toyota pedal crisis), and other, smaller items, like our exercise equipment, one of our couches, and washing machine.

STUFF AT HOME

Q:        What are you doing with your possessions?

A:        We never got to the point of fully furnishing or decorating our house because of the renovations, so that helped.  We really wanted to pare down our remaining things, but could have done a better job.  We sold some things, but ran out of time.  We donated a lot of things we will not need and probably never needed.  We sold one car, and Sean’s parents generously agreed to store our other, older car in their driveway and take it for periodic drives.  We kept a smattering of things like our clothes and wedding photos at Sean’s parents, and put the rest in storage.  We still have too much stuff.  We still have the bikes we never ride, the antique dresser we hope someday to get to display, and a giant couch.  In the end, we have 150 sq. feet of storage at a storage facility.  Maybe living out of our backpacks for a year will change our perspective on stuff (although Amy keeps buying jewelry).  Tip: keep your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.  Our policy covers our stuff in storage and items we brought with us.

Q:        What are you doing with your adorable cat, Fabulous?

A:        Why thank you, he is adorable, isn’t he?  Since he is fabulous, Fabulous demanded the plushest of accommodations.  He is in good hands with our friend Judy.  Seriously, leaving Fabulous was the hardest part of going on this trip.  Amy is still convinced that he will hate us for leaving when we get back.

STUFF ON THE ROAD

Q:        How are you packing for one year?

A:        The initial thought of everyone (including us) is how the hell do you live out of a backpack for a year?  The reality is, you have continually wear the same 4 or 5 outfits, you do a lot of hand-washing, and you replenish toiletries on the road.  For those of you who are really curious, or who are compiling packing lists of your own, here is what is in our packs.  We’ll try to post an update sometime during the year to let you know how everything is working out.

Q:        What type of luggage are you using?

A:        We both opted for backpacks.  I got a Gregory Deva 60L (a hiking backpack) and Sean got a Deuter 70L (a travel backpack).  We highly recommend going to REI to check out packs.  They will give you advice, including on fit, and will weigh the pack down with beanbags to give you a sense of how heavy they are.  We both picked our packs because they had an optional front loading panel.  If we did it over again, this feature wouldn’t have been important.  We hardly ever use the front panel, because it is easy enough to find things with the organization of our Eagle Creek packing cubes.  Amy also selected the Deva due to the comfort.  Even though we are not hiking mountains, carrying 25 to 30 pounds around on your back gets heavy really quickly.  She’d be lying if finding the Deva on sale in a pretty color didn’t also play a role.  Sean selected the Deuter because it was simple, long and narrow.  We both hated the feel of the front-loading travel backpacks.  While they had a big front loading panel, they had little padding and felt like we toting suitcases on our backs.  If we were just going to Europe, we would have preferred to take traditional rolling luggage, because packs can be heavy and cumbersome.  But having mobility is nice when dodging pesky touts on broken concrete or stone roads or when in a crowd.

HEALTH

Q:        What are you doing about your health insurance?

A:        Because of the way that insurance is tied to employment in the United States, we lost group healthcare coverage when we quit our jobs. (Tip: If your last day is towards the beginning of the month, most of the time you’ll still be covered under the employer’s plan through the end of the month).

We picked up a travel insurance policy for just under $600 for 6 months through World Nomads.  The policy can be renewed for another 6 months.  It covers travel related items such as theft and loss of possessions and trip cancellation or postponement.  More significantly, it covers us for most health related problems while we are out of our home country, and will cover transferring you to a reliable hospital if you get sick in a part of the world with not so great healthcare.

Although others opted to forgo any additional insurance, we chose to also take out a private health insurance policy.  Trying to figure out the coverage rules of HIPAA was unnecessarily complicated, but it is our understanding that having no gap in coverage will ensure that all pre-existing conditions would be covered in the future.  The private insurance policy also would cover us upon our return at the end of the trip, and in the event we had to return back to the United States early due to a medical condition.

We tried to find the cheapest policy with a high deductible (such as $10,000) but a manageable out-of-pocket limit.  It sucks paying a couple of thousand dollars for a policy we most likely will not use, but we wanted to be safe instead of sorry.  What sucked even more was filling out multiple questionnaires that require minute disclosure of practically every single visit you have ever had to a doctor.  Using ehealthinsurance.com, we applied about a month before we left to several insurance companies.  Every single one denied us, at least initially.  (The reasons ran the gamut from Amy’s migraines to Sean’s visit to a dermatologist clinic for what turned out to be a callous.  Ridiculous.)  Eventually, about two months after we applied, after multiple phone interviews and sending in medical records, one company accepted us.  Tip: try to apply for private health insurance several months before you leave, instead of doing it a couple of weeks before we left like we did.  Look at the questionnaires, and try to figure out which policy is most likely to be lenient based upon the amount of disclosure required.  Once you get a denied by one, you have a black mark on your record and guess what?  You need to disclose the denial.  If you have time to apply to one and wait for a response, this is best because they automatically charge you the first month’s premium.

Sigh.  Health insurance reform, anyone?

Q:        How did you handle prescription medications?

A:        Some people opt to fill their prescriptions as needed on the road.  Others get a shipment from home or online pharmacy.  We chose to carry a supply of prescription medication with us.  Amy takes four different types of prescriptions, plus we are carrying drugs for malaria prevention and traveler’s diarrhea.  Even though it is easier to get prescription drugs in some countries (i.e., by just going to the pharmacy), we didn’t want to have to worry about talking to pharmacists or seeing a doctor who spoke a different language if we didn’t have to.  Since we would be moving around, we didn’t want to have to deal with arranging for a package or clearing customs.  We wanted to be sure that we had access to particular brands, particularly with Amy’s migraine medication.  We also wanted to make sure we had enough supply for the whole trip plus at least one month’s buffer.

There is very little information about dealing with prescriptions for long term travel, resulting in some frustrations for us before we left.  The State Department advises to carry all of your prescription medication with you, but does not address how to obtain a large supply in advance.  There are two obstacles: getting a prescription for a whole year’s supply and not having to pay out of pocket.

Although we hear some people’s doctors did not bat an eye at writing a prescription for one year, Amy’s doctors were unwilling to write more than a three month supply.  Frustratingly, and somewhat contradictorily, some advised that she should be careful on filling prescriptions out of the country because drugs can have different names or not have quality control.  In the end, a friend who is a doctor was willing to write Amy prescriptions so that she would have enough for one year of travel plus one month.

As for coverage of those prescriptions, like many plans, our insurance through Sean’s employer had limits on how many prescriptions that could be acquired at one time.  If you are losing your health coverage after you quit your job, you will not be able to get a plan override on quantity.  Although we should have started the process sooner, about six months before the trip we started filling all of our prescriptions for the maximum amount as soon as the plan would allow us, even if we didn’t need a refill yet.  This allowed us to build up a stockpile of medications, particularly allergy and migraine medication.  Amy also got some samples of one of her prescriptions.  We then purchased two of the prescribed drugs, both generic, out of pocket.  (Tip: make sure to call around to check cash prices at a couple of pharmacies; some give discounts for larger amounts).  Because the two remaining non-generic prescriptions were over a hundred dollars a month, we opted just to take the amount we stockpiled through samples and insurance.  As it turns out, Amy has had fewer migraines on the road than she did at home (one benefit of quitting your job!).  She also doesn’t seem to have allergies in Europe, so she sent all but one bottle of her nasal allergy spray home, and will either get it shipped back to her or take over the counter antihistamines if her allergies flare up in the future.

Q:        Did you get any vaccinations?

A:        Yes, we had to get lots of shots!  You can find out what you need on the CDC’s website, or go to a travel doctor.  We figured out what we needed ourselves, with assistance from our friend who is a doctor.  We got Twinrix (for Hepatitis A and B) on an accelerated schedule (to protect us for life at the conclusion of the series), tetanus, yellow fever, polio, MMR, seasonal flu shot, H1N1.  We opted to not get the rabies and Japanese Encephalitis, based upon where and when we were going, the cost, and low chance of risk.  We went to our local health department, where the shots were much cheaper than going to travel doctor.  As it was, we still spent over $1,000 for shots for both of us.  We got all of our shots over a three week period, including about 5 or 6 shots at a time during our first visit to the health department.  Our arms were a little sore, but nothing major.

Q:        What about malaria prevention?

A:        There are several options for malaria prevention medication.  They all have pros and cons.  Some types don’t cover you everywhere.  We ruled Larium out because it causes some people to have crazy dreams and hallucinate.   Doxycycline is cheap, but one of the side effects is sensitivity to sunlight.  Since we both have sensitive skin and will be spending a lot of this trip in the sun, it wasn’t right for us.  Also, Doxy is an anti-biotic, which makes birth control less effective.  Malarone has the least amount of side effects, but it is extremely expensive (sometimes upwards of $6 a pill).  Luckily, our insurance we used to have through Sean’s work covered most of the doses we needed of Malarone.  Our insurance plans had limits on how many prescriptions you can fill at a time.  If we had checked earlier, we could have gotten more covered, but right before we left we were able to get a 90 day supply covered for each of us at a total cost of $100.  We paid out of pocket for the rest.

MISC.

Q:        Are you worried about spending so much time together and how you will get along?

A:        No matter who the person is, it will always be hard to be isolated from your friends and family and spending ALL of your time with one other person.  But we both enjoy spending time together, so we are not too worried about it.  We do bicker more than normal.  It is important to keep things in perspective and try not to take your frustrations out on the other person.  Every once in a while, we try to do our own things for a little while.  But overall we are having a lot of fun travelling with each other.

Q:        Are you crazy?

A:        Probably.  Or very smart.  Depends on your own individual perspective (and ours changes all of the time).

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