5 Things Every Backpacker Should Do Before Leaving Home
Despite my recommendation to roll with it and plan as little as possible (on long trips), there are still some things that I do before every trip to make sure things go as smoothly as possible. The last thing you want to be doing while backpacking is to waste a day dealing with frozen bank accounts, canceling lost credit cards or dealing with some other BS.
Here are 5 things I do that have made my life a lot easier while traveling:
1. Photocopying my passport, driver’s license, credit/debit cards and whatever else I’m bringing and sending them to my email – keeping an electronic copy of all of these items will make you not want to kill yourself if you lose them. You’ll be able to call the number on the back of your cards to cancel, show the embassy a copy of your passport so they know you aren’t Osama Bin Laden, etc. By sending them to my email, I’ll have access to them anywhere there’s internet (and trust me, a place that needs cash but has no access to the internet has become a rarity in today’s world) and there’s no risk of losing those copies.
2. Calling my banks and credit card companies – you’ll want to call the holders of your $$$ so they don’t become the barrier to your $$$. Nothing throws off red flags like a credit card charge halfway around the world so not surprisingly they’ll freeze the card. And once it’s frozen, verifying that you are really the person who owns the card can be a MAJOR pain in the ass. Don’t expect to sort it out through the internet and have fun calculating timezones and international calling fees to unfreeze your card. So make sure you notify your banks unless you enjoy doing the aforementioned activities on your vacation.
3. Storing away some emergency cash – “America sucks, Americans are stupid, fat and ignorant, etc. etc” is the popular foreign view. Guess what happens when you throw a crisp $100 United States dollar bill in their face? You see a little twinkle in their eyes and they stop speaking because their jaw goes slightly slack. Cash. Is. King.
Although $100 isn’t that much to us, it’s still a massive sum to be held in one bill. So, yes, despite America starting a near apocalyptic financial crisis, the US Dollar is still king (ever heard of Greece and the Euro?). So always pack a few Benjamins and put them away in some deep pocket in your sack. This is your emergency money so only spend it when you are out of other options, not because you want some suits.
4. Bringing stacks of passport sized photos – you never know when they’ll need your mug for some official business. And the price to take a photo (if you don’t already have one) is pretty much extortion. So carry enough so you’ll skip the lines and save the cash.
Here is a great site that I use for creating free passport photos. Gives you 5 photos per 5×7.
5. Finding out what my bank fees are – Getting robbed is never fun. Getting robbed by your own bank is even worse. Banks make their money in two ways: 1) The difference in interest between the rate that they lend at and the rate that they borrow at and 2) fees. Assuming you aren’t taking out a bank loan to go travel, banks will be raking the dough off of you via fees.
Fees are typically 3% for credit cards, 1% for debit cards and $3-5 per withdrawal on all ATMs; the caveat being often both banks charge ATM fees and add on a FX fee so you could be paying $10+ per withdrawal. This makes a difference when you’re spending a lot of cash so it makes sense to weigh paying 3% vs. paying a flat-rate charge at a ATM (but then having to carry a lot of cash). Many countries outside of Europe/developed world don’t accept plastic so your choice is already made for you.
Fear not, there are a couple ways around this. You could get an awesome checking account like the one from Schwab which charges zero ATM fees worldwide or look for global bank partners that don’t charge fees. In both cases, it will save you heartache from spending money to spend money.
If you follow these 5 tips, you’ll be well on your way to an amazing adventure.