The Ultimate Travel Checklist for the Newly Nomadic

You’ve read the articles about what you need to do before a big international trip and have checked off a handful of countries on your list already. The reminders to make sure your passport and visas are up-to-date, check current travel advisories, get proper vaccinations and prescriptions, are irrelevant because you already know it by heart and are immunized against just about everything. If this is you, then this travel checklist is catered to you — ya big leaguer. We’re diving into things you may not have considered on your previous trips and what you should prepare before your next trip that will make your life that much simpler and smoother when you’re out there. This list addresses the tiny, everyday trivialities that inevitably surface in that day-to-day travel life. These items are often overlooked and preparing these beforehand could mean the difference between a memorable but frustrating trip that broke the bank and a memorable and smooth trip that just *worked* throughout, not to mention it wasn’t outrageously expensive.

1. Never pay foreign ATM fees Again

You’ve just paid for your sushi dinner in Tokyo and spent the last couple of Yen in your pocket. You go to an ATM to withdraw more cash when all of a sudden BAM! The ATM tells you you’ll be charged $5 for withdrawing money. “Press “ENTER” if you wish to proceed.”

When you forecast your trip budget, you often consider “macro” costs such as transportation, room, and food, but what’s often glossed over is the ATM withdrawal fees which will take sneaky little bites out of your overall expense if you don’t pay attention. Given that many countries are still cash-based and that ATMs typically charge a $2–5 flat fee, not to mention some will even charge an extra 1–3% of the withdrawal amount on top of that flat fee, a single withdrawal could cost you the price of a meal.

Here’s how to avoid the frustration when confronted with ATM fees. Open up a free checking account with a bank from any of these top 11 banks, which issues an associated debit card that will reimburse you the foreign withdrawal fees at any ATM in the world.

I personally have a Charles Schwab Debit Card and I saved literally hundreds in ATM fees. I lived in Indonesia for a year where I withdrew the maximum amount of cash the ATM permitted, about once a week. The ATM I used charged 50,000 IDR/transaction and I withdrew 52 times over the year. The fees alone would’ve added up to 2,600,000 IDR total, and converted to dollars at around 13,500 IDR to one dollar, it amounts to a savings of about $192 in ATM fees that I otherwise would’ve just taken as a hit.

Here’s my friends and family referral link to open a free Schwab account. You would get $100 bonus for opening a new account, at no cost to you, and no benefit to me.

2. Make your idle car work for you

Got a car you are just going to park in your garage while you’re away? That’s soooo 2015. Now you can share your car and make money while you’re not using it. There’s a lot of buzz recently about car sharing and there has been both positive and negative experiences on both sides for car renters and rentees. But the idea is nonetheless intriguing: you own a car and when you’re not using your car, you’re renting it out to a complete stranger. Sound like some other services you know? Airbnb is massively successful when it comes to opening up your home to complete strangers so the idea of renting your car to complete strangers isn’t such a big leap either. Your car is insured when you enter into the service so you can rest assured you won’t come home to a dirty, totaled machine.

A few such services built on the peer-to-peer car sharing model are:

  • Getaround. Easiest platform to start sharing your car in terms of red tape and liabilities.
  • Turo, previously rebranded from RelayRides. Provides longer-term car rentals for vehicle renters, on average 5+ days.

3. Leave the pets at home

A big ball and chain for some people are their pets. What should you do about them when you’re traveling for a long period but don’t want to give them up? Consider opening up your house to a trusted friend who could use free housing and with whom you can exchange for house and pet-sitting. This way, you don’t even need to move your stuff into storage or be bothered to clean up your place to rent it out. Your pets are happy, your friend is happy, and you’re free to roam around in the meantime.

4. hedge your risk against getting locked out of your accounts

Don’t get locked out of your accounts while you’re abroad. It’s the most frustrating thing when you can’t access your email or bank account due to “security reasons”, and even more frustrating when you have to jump through hoops and make international calls to the institution just to regain access to those accounts — better to avoid the experience altogether. In case you lose the device that’s usually always logged into your accounts, like if you get your laptop stolen or if you drop your phone (and SIM card) into a river, you need a full-proof way to protect against losing access to the data that was stored in said devices. This sounds like something that’s low priority and a hassle to do, but once you’ve done it, it’s set-it-and-forget-it. This is really a best practice for anyone who manages multiple personal accounts and the benefits of doing this before something breaks can’t be emphasized enough.

Here are the apps that are instrumental to account loss prevention while simultaneously maintaining a high level of security:

  • LastPass. It’s a password manager in the form of a browser extension and mobile app which stores all your passwords and secure notes in one place. It’s free to try for 14 days, then it’s $1/month when you decide to keep the service — and it’s totally worth it. Before you travel, store all your accounts and passwords here and rest assured you’ll be good to go anywhere you go.
  • Google Authenticator. If you have accounts set up with two-step verification that are linked to your mobile number, usually there’s an alternative option to use Google Authenticator. Use this option. It’s preferable to using your mobile number for this reason: when you’re abroad, it’s very likely that you’ll turn on roaming which means you won’t receive the text or voicemail with that crucial code you’ll need. Instead, verifying your identity through Google Authenticator when prompted is as easy as opening up an app to get into your account.

5. Get into the mindset of cooking while traveling

One of the biggest expenses of traveling is food. And eating out every meal and even just once a day starts adding up in cost and in calories. A lot of hostels come with kitchens, but those kitchens mostly go underutilized. One of life’s greatest pleasures is to make like Anthony Bordain and taste authentic cuisine prepared directly from the place that birthed it. But sometimes it can be just as great of a pleasure to David-Chang-it and concoct dishes yourself out of the produce bought from the local farmer’s market. That’s an experience in itself because the produce varieties are local to the region and are inevitably different from the ones you’re used to at home, i.e. durian, jackfruit “meat”, even unique varieties of garlics and cucumbers you’ve probably never seen. Fresh produce and meats from markets in other countries (non-US or Canada) taste different and are of higher quality by default because they’re non-GMO and not pumped with growth hormones. Cheers to that.

Essential travel app for you to find your perfect getaway kitchen:

  • I consider the Hostel World mobile app a must-have app. The ratings are usually on point, although there are some hostels that I believe inject fake ratings to boost their own score. But that’s easily discernible by just reading the reviews. The app tells you whether there’s free wifi, laundry service, if there’s a kitchen, and any other information you might want or need. Hostel World’s my app of choice over sites like Airbnb and Agoda because I’m usually traveling alone, and hostels in mixed dormitories are the most cost-effective for solo travelers.

6. Never get lost

Although the saying goes, all those who wander aren’t lost, sometimes, those people get lost. Especially when they’re trying to get back to their hostel and all the cafes and bars are closed so they can’t connect to wifi.

Here’s the best offline map I found to be supremely helpful when traveling outside and even inside of the country:

  • Offline map where you can search like you’d normally do, but without needing to be connected to the internet. As long as you first download the grid of the desired city you’re in while you have internet connection, you’ll have this map data ready for when you’re not connected.

7. Do not fear loneliness

If you’re traveling solo for an extended period, loneliness tends to set in sporadically. I find that the best cure for loneliness is to keep a journal. Not only does this help me document what I’ve done and seen so far, but, at the risk of sounding cheesy, it has helped me make better friends with myself. I never go traveling without one, let alone live life without one. In a way, this habit of writing in a journal every time I feel lonely, or any spike in emotion for that matter, has brought me closer to me. When you document your life in such a way, inevitably, you grow more familiar with yourself. Don’t let the fear of being alone stop you from traveling solo or to a country where you don’t know anyone. It’s counterintuitive, but embracing loneliness brings you closer to yourself in all your wholeness more so than any other person ever could. Loneliness is a stimulus. Journaling is a tool. Conquering loneliness is a power.

Corollary: research done here and here backs that putting pen to paper results in better retention and comprehension than typing on a laptop. And now Evernote has this cool feature which allows you to scan your handwritten notebook, digitize the contents, and make them searchable!

Recap Roundup of Essential Travel Apps:

May your travels be awesome, memorable, and experiences of a lifetime. But more importantly, may you spend more time experiencing, engaging, and exploring, and less time managing administrative hurdles.

Originally published at on June 5, 2016.