This FAQ is an addendum to the 40,000+ words of questions and answers linked from the How to Travel the World page. These are the smaller topics that might niggle at your mind. We’re not talking flights, itineraries, and accommodation. No, those are the biggies. These are things like when and how to file your taxes abroad, handing your mail, your period, your stuff—anything pressing you might want to know about handling while traveling long-term. I’ve been on the road or living abroad since 2008 years—if something isn’t covered on the site’s resources, reach out to me directly.
How should you handle mail while traveling long-term?
What to do with your US mail is a tough call for some travelers who do not feel comfortable having a family member take care of their postal mail while they are traveling or living abroad. My parents are very good about processing my mail, and my father regularly sorts, opens, and scans anything important. That being said, there are options perhaps even better than a family member if you anticipate more than junk mail coming to your address (and if you will be gone for several months).
Traveling Mailbox: Ideal for some travelers running a business or with a need for an address/residency in a particular state. This service is pretty perfect—the basic plans is more than enough scanning, sorting, and shredding for most travelers. And even better, they will forward on paychecks to your bank and things of that nature.
Earth Class Mail: This is a good option according to other travelers—they scan your mail and allow you to sort what you would like them to do with it via an online interface. You can trash it, forward to yourself (anywhere in the world), forward to a family member for handling, or view the scanned image of the mail and deal with it when you return!
St Brendan’s Isle: This is highly rated in the forums and does a roaring business with the cruisers and snow-birds who leave the country for some time each year. Affordable services and good online reviews.
How to file U.S. taxes while traveling overseas?
Let’s start upfront by noting that I am not a tax accountant so take this all with a grain of salt; it’s my personal experience with taxes from the road.
I have an accountant in the United States who does my taxes, I went this route about ten years ago when I started writing off expenses related to freelancing and running myself as a business—using an accountant saves me money in the end because he knows all of the extra discounts as well as the specifics so I don’t mistakenly file something incorrectly! When I was returning to the U.S. for a few months a year, I would usually have him file an extension and then do my taxes when I come home. This worked for me but might not if you’re out of the country from April through October (when the extensions must be filed). In that case, get everything in order before you leave and be prepared to process all of your tax paperwork from overseas.
My parents handle mailing in any of my 1099s and W2s to my accountant, and the rest is taken care of by my accountant once I send him spreadsheet of expenses and write-offs. I am not particularly meticulous and really suck at organization but yet somehow to easily file each year.
I keep a Google Spreadsheet to log all of my incoming money, then I log expenses (like internet on the road, any extra room costs for internet on the road/a desk in the room, etc) as well in various categories with the date, country, expense in local currency and expense in international currency (the U.S. government wants day-of exchange rates, so use Oanda for historical rate data). This spreadsheet is where I keep track of anything extra that crops up that you might forget later down the line—log it in the spreadsheet and then send to your account for magical wonders because all you need to send in are the category totals and they put the deductions in the proper spots!
If you’re gone for a while and/or living abroad, consider combing through this site for advice: Taxes for Expats.com.
How do I handle taxes as an expat living overseas?
If you’re living overseas, you likely owe taxes in your overseas home if you stay there more than six months (though the amount of time to be considered a tax resident varies by country). The U.S. has double taxation agreements with many countries, and it gets complicated really fast. You will need to hire a tax account in your overseas country of residence within a year of moving there to sort out your tax liability.
One key issue facing expats is that the double taxation agreement only ensures that you don’t pay double taxes—but in places where the tax rate is significantly higher than the U.S. tax rate, you may owe U.S. taxes, and then taxes to your overseas home that make up the difference/gap in tax rates. In gross simple terms: If you’re in a 20% tax bracket in the U.S., but you’re in a 35% tax bracket in your new home, you will owe 20% to the U.S. and then 15% to your overseas home country. Or, depending on your visa and residency, you owe it all to your overseas home country. It really, really depends on your employment situation, your visa situation, your country’s tax laws, and so much more. You also need to sort out where you’re paying your social security tax. Get help so you’re tax compliant.
How to long-term travelers secure visas?
Research the visa situation of each and every location on your round the world itinerary. Every country on earth has different visa requirements depending on your nationality, and even depending on how you plan to enter the country (at an airport or an overland border crossing). Research not only the entry requirements, but the length of that visa, the price, and any other stipulations. While some countries offer free visas on arrival for tourists, other visas can cost $200 or more. Also, if you plan to visit one region for several months, make sure that the government offers a visa to fit that situation (some regions are governed by regional visa restrictions—the 90-day Schengen in the European Union and the Central America-4 (nicknamed the C-4), to name just two.
For fellow U.S. passport-holders, the government offers visas and travel warnings for every country in the world—use this as a launching point. Use that as the base of information, and then verify details with the embassy or consulate site for your destinations.
Three most common visa situations:
- visa on arrival generally, or at a specific border-crossing or airport
- visa by application at any embassy before you arrive
- visa by application only within your home country
On many long-term trips, you will obtain the visas for your upcoming countries at an embassy somewhere out there in the world. You can apply for your Indian visa at the consulate in Bangkok, or apply for your Australian visa online a few days before you leave. Some visas expire within months or a year, so you must plan around having access to embassies or consulates for certain locations on your route. Also, for several places in the “Stans” and Russia, visa policies are strict—for example, it is very hard for general travelers to apply for a Russian visa outside their home country. These stipulations may affect the destinations you ultimately visit, or the order of destinations on your route around the world.
Keep in mind:
- In most cases, you must have 6+ months of validity left on your own passport to qualify for a visa.
- In most cases, you must have at least two blank pages left in your passport or officials will not issue the full-page visa stickers (which is all some countries offer).
- You must adhere to the strict specifications on the length of time your visa visit allows you to stay in the country, otherwise you may face either fines, or serious more consequences.
- If you lose your passport, you also generally lose the validity on those visas, too. Transferring long-term visas is often a hassle, if it’s even an option.
- You may need to prove proof of onward travel before you can enter a country (an outbound flight or bus ticket, for example).
Please research visas for every destination on your planned route around the world. At best, you might have to skip a country, and at worst you find yourself stuck in no-man’s land between countries at a foreign border crossing (and let me assure you, border-crossing towns are not much fun). The following three resources offer good starting points for learning visa restrictions for your nationality: Visa Hunter, Project Visa, TravelState.gov.
How to do laundry while traveling?
Don’t fret about this! There are places to do laundry in every country and if I am trekking or really can’t find something I hand-wash it (this is often the case with underwear if I run out I just hand wash a few!). Laundry can be really cheap to have someone wash and dry it for you, and if you’re in a pinch then you’ll need to hand wash.
When I volunteered in Nepal I had to hand-wash my own clothes because we were outside of the tourist areas, but most locals and guest house owners will provide you with a couple buckets and you can make quick work of it. Though it’s not glamorous, learning how to really get your clothes clean on the road is a bit of a rite of passage for long-term travelers.
What to do with your stuff while traveling long-term?
Purging for long-term travel is necessary, I was fortunate that my storage location was on the exact opposite side of the country (Los Angeles to Florida) so I sold every single possession that wouldn’t fit in my car (and subsequently my parent’s closet).
Even if you have the room and luxury of not purging before your next trip, consider stripping yourself down: minimalism is the new pink. There are a good number of online resources. This post from Zen Habits is a great start, and this one has some other great ideas. My friends Warren and Betsy wrote a great guide about purging before a trip, Getting Rid of It and then there is always this highly rated but kinda wacky Japanese approach to decluttering, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Do you have to bring a full supply of tampons/pads?
I love the Diva Cup with every fiber of my being. It’s a reusable, medical-grade silicone menstrual cup that I fully reviewed just after my RTW finished. It’s sanitary, you never have to buy tampons on the road, and it’s ideal for remote travel when can’t dispose of trash. This is not a sexy topic, and one that embarrasses a lot of people, but in the review I give a frank overview of why you should consider going with a Diva cup rather than dealing with the hassle of hunting down tampons in a tiny town in Laos.
If you’re concerned about hygiene, check out my health post for more advice on dealing with toilet issues, health, and illness.