Now that we’ve been on the road with our toddler for about 9 months, we’ve slipped into a comfortable rhythm. Many of the logistics that seemed daunting at the outset — the packing, the planning — now are embedded in our regular routines. But last week, I came across an old journal entry from a few months before we set off.
“It just seems like there are too many details for any one family to manage. I’m not sure we’ll be able to actually get out the door.”
Looking back, I can remember this state of mind. I can remember just wishing there was someone who could tell me how to tackle a year living on the road, bouncing between countries. I craved a playbook that could get us started.
As much as I wish I could provide that playbook, this post isn’t quite that. I’ve learned that part of what makes this experience challenging, but also so fulfilling, is creating that playbook and discovering the needs particular to our family. That said, I’m excited to share a blueprint for 3 of the main logistical questions I had before our own departure.
What do you do about cell service?
In my research about cell service, it seemed like the three most common options were
- Finding a provider that could work abroad
- Purchasing SIM cards for each country or region visited
- Relying solely on wifi
These three are ranked in the order of cost (the first being the most expensive), but also in the order of logistical weight and freedom (the first being the most flexible). All can work, but for our family, and since I’d be working while we traveled, it felt important to have an option that allowed me to keep my normal cell number and take calls not tethered to a router.
Before we left, we were on a plan with Verizon, which does offer international access for $10/day. At our duration of travel, that was simply far too pricey.
We ultimately made the choice to switch to Google Fi, which was not only cheaper overall, but works internationally. The one catch is that you can only use it abroad for 90 days at a time, so we’ve strategically “tagged back” into the US to reset the clock every 3 months or so. And in the cases where we weren’t able to get back in time, we relied on wifi to tide us over.
How do you handle health insurance?
Our departure coincided with us leaving our 9-5 jobs, so dealing with health coverage was going to be a question regardless of our travel plans. US health insurance is opaque and overly complex, so I don’t have a good summary of the options available. That said, I’m happy to share what we did.
We ultimately landed on a mix of Covered California Health Coverage (we’re still CA residents) and traveler’s insurance. We opted for dual coverage for a few reasons:
- We wanted to keep access to my son’s pediatrician and my OB, especially because we knew that in the course of a year, we’d spend about 1/3 of the time in US
- We figured that in the case of an emergency, it wasn’t unlikely that we’d end up back in the US to treat it (at least in part). Having a safety net provided comfort.
- Relatively to US coverage, the international traveler’s insurance was inexpensive to add on. It also felt like a helpful first line of defense if there was an issue while traveling.
We’ve been lucky so far with our health and wellbeing while traveling, but are still grateful for the peace of mind this solution provides us.
What should we do with all our stuff?
Before digging in here, I’ll note that our living situation was relatively flexible as we were planning our departure: we were renting our apartment month-to-month, my in-laws had graciously agreed to take care of our dog for the year, and even after 10 years in the Bay Area, we hadn’t accumulated that much stuff.
Ultimately, our key question was around how much we wanted to store, and considering we weren’t 100% certain where we’d end up after our travels, where to store. We realized that storage costs added up quickly, and many of our items were going to lose their value over time. We also had plenty of old items that we hadn’t made much use of since our son had been born, that were due to find a better home.
We ended up getting the smallest possible storage unit we could in San Francisco, and filling it with sentimental items, arts, and a few kitchen appliances I couldn’t part with. Otherwise, we loaned out a few things to friends, and then sold or donated the rest of it.
This may seem crazy, but 9 months in, I’m all the more confident that this was the right choice for us. It gave us a nice boost of cash to start our travels. It also allows us to start with a clean slate upon our ultimate return — and that clean slate has a renewed appreciation for living leanly. We’ve been traveling with just carry-ons for months (thank goodness for First Peak clothes to help us cut down on items for my son!), and it’s liberating to know that we can reset some of our living style once we settle again.
So there you have it! While just a sample size of one, I hope that seeing an example is valuable to anyone considering long-term travel. And if there are other questions you’d want me to share about, just let me know!