First Steps

Services to Check Out Before You Travel

Now that we’ve covered what to pack when traveling, let’s take a look at some intangible things you may want to bring with you as well. I’ve put together a list of services that I have used every time I’ve traveled out of the country.

 
Travel Insurance

It is an unfortunate truth, but at some point in your life, you are going to get sick or be injured. If you’re particularly unlucky, it will happen while you’re off seeing the world. Be it food poisoning from bad sushi or a gash from falling down at the running of the bulls, you very well might need to visit a doctor during your travels. In the event your condition is more serious, you could end up paying a lot of money out of pocket for medical services. Trust me when I say that is not the way you want your trip to end.

Travel insurance is an oft overlooked part of the packing and planning stage. If you’re going to be traveling for an extended amount of time, I can’t possibly recommend this service enough. My go-to travel insurance for the last three years has been World Nomads. What I love about them is that they cover not only medical treatment; but trip cancellation, emergency evacuation, rental car coverage and more, all under one policy.  

My experience with them has been nothing but great. In the summer of 2015, I was visiting Thailand for the first time. On the day I arrived in Bangkok, there was a bombing at a popular shrine, just down the street from where I was staying. Unsure of what I should do, I called World Nomads. After explaining the situation, the representative first made sure I was somewhere safe, then asked if I wanted her to get me on a flight out of the country. Not ready to give up on Thailand just yet, I told her I would wait to see how things played out. Over the next three days, she called back every afternoon to see how I was doing and if I still felt comfortable staying in the country. That kind of customer service and genuine concern are rare, and because of it, I will always recommend World Nomads to any traveler.


World nomads travel insurance

 
Cell Phone Plan

I know what you’re thinking; “Isn’t it really expensive to use your cell phone in another country”? Normally, you would be right, but T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan gives you unlimited texting and 2G data almost anywhere in the world at no additional cost, and calls while out of the country are just 20 cents per minute. I had already been a T-Mobile customer for years before they introduced this feature, so you can imagine my excitement when it debuted. Granted, the data isn’t lightning fast when you’re outside the United States, but 2G speed is more than enough to send emails and use GPS. While I’m all for getting lost every so often, it’s great to know you can find your way back no matter where you are. You can check out a list of the 140 countries they offer service in here.

 
Credit Card

Finding the perfect travel credit card can be tricky. It’s easy to tempted by the lure of high miles and seemingly great perks. In my opinion, the most important thing to watch out for is global transaction fees; or rather, the lack there of. While many card companies will offer fantastic benefits on the surface, what lies beneath is an additional fee for using your credit card outside of the country; typically around 3% of your total purchase. That can add up quickly.

My favorite card to travel with is the Capital One Venture. There are no global transaction fees, every dollar you spend earns you 2X the bonus miles, and the annual fee is much lower than that of most other competing cards. Sure, there are cards that offer greater mile bonuses, but in many cases, these have to be redeemed through their website and are only applicable to a limited number of airlines. With Capital One, your miles can be redeemed for any travel related purchase, including train or bus tickets.

 
Debit Card

I’m not a fan of using cash while traveling. In fact, whenever possible to use your card, I suggest doing so. However, there will be situations when cash is the only option; such as riding a city bus or grabbing a drink at a little hole in the wall bar in the middle of nowhere that doesn’t have a credit card reader. In these situations, you’re going to need to have some cash on hand.

Your first thought might be to bring a stash of money from home and exchange that for the local currency wherever you go. DO NOT DO THIS. It’s a terrible idea, but more on that in another post. What you need is a good debit card. You probably already have one at home, but like the credit card issue above, most will charge you a fee for using it outside of the country.

The best choice, hands down, is the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking Account. Much like the Capital One card I recommended, there are no global transaction fees with Charles Schwab, meaning you can use any ATM in the world without the fear of being charged extra. As an added bonus, you know the $2-3 charge most ATMs will charge you for using another bank’s card? Charles Schwab will refund any of those fees you may accrue at the end of each month. To top it all off, there are no account minimums and no annual fee, so you have no reason NOT to get this card.

 
Protecting Your Gear

We’ve already discussed insuring yourself, but what about any expensive equipment you may be traveling with? In my case, I’m typically carrying a tablet and a good deal of camera equipment. If any of it were to break or be stolen, replacing them out of pocket would mean having to end my trip early.

The best camera and electronics insurance I’ve found to date is Worth Ave Group. Their policies cover pretty much anything that could happen to your gear; from water damage, to loss and theft and beyond. They also process claims from anywhere in the world, which is a huge plus if you’re going to be traveling for months at a time. Their prices are some of the cheapest I’ve seen around as well.

I thankfully haven’t needed to use their services yet, but I came close once. I clumsily dropped a camera lens in Rome and it landed on a cobblestone street, shattering the protective filter. I immediately contacted Worth Ave Group and was told all they needed on my end was a repair estimate from a camera shop. That’s it. No hassle, no list of “certified repair technicians” I had to go through; just “get an estimate and we’ll take care of the rest”. In the end, the lens ended up being fine, but seeing how they handled my claim has made me a lifelong customer.

 
Accommodations

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, hotels are not only a waste of money; they keep you from meeting other people as well by isolating yourself in your own little bubble. There are cheaper, better alternatives out there. These are two of my favorites that I suggest signing up for before you leave.

 
Hostelworld

Without a doubt, Hostelworld is my most frequently used accommodation booking website. Hostels are not only an inexpensive place to sleep, but they serve as an invaluable resource for backpackers as well. Apart from the knowledgable staff providing tips for what to see and do in the area, you’ll find that most of your fellow hostel guests are backpacking nomads like yourself. As a result, they’ll have tons of information and advice to share with you about your upcoming destinations, or maybe even some you had never considered!

 
Couch Surfing

While it may seem uncomfortable at first, Couch Surfing is a fantastic way to see a city though the eyes of a local. After making a profile, you can search for hosts wherever you may be traveling and contact them with a little information about who you are and what brings you to town. If they’re available, they can invite you to come stay with them. Oh, it’s also completely free.

My favorite part about Couch Surfing, aside from the obvious savings, is the interaction you get to have with someone who lives in the area and knows it well. If you’re fortunate enough to have them show you around, you’re guaranteed to see parts of the city you never would have known existed otherwise.

These suggestions should get you well on your way to traveling smarter! As always, if you have any questions about my recommendations, feel free to contact me!