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Part 2
Designing Your Journey

7) Challenges and Limits

8) Resources for Planning and Traveling

9) The Route You Take

10) The Weeks Before you Leave

11) The Budget

12) The Stuff in Your Pack and Why

10—The Weeks Before You Leave

Passport, visas, shots, tickets, business, insurance, etc.

Have you got plenty of time to prepare? Not so much time? Leaving tomorrow? There are wise ways to deal with any schedule and set of needs. Excerpts from the book will anchor an exacting look at how to board that first flight ready for everything.

Three primary tasks qualify as must-do-in-advance items for journeys to many parts of the world.

  • Obtain the necessary travel documents.
  • Get any shots and prophylactic pills you need.
  • Purchase advance tickets and make vital reservations.

While there are last minute ways to deal with them, start well ahead of time:

Your Passport

While Mexico and Canada don't require Americans to have passports for entry, most other nations do. European Union citizens enjoy passport-free travel in Europe, but will need a passport to leave the continent. Aside from these exceptions, a national passport is basic gear for almost all international travelers.

Passport requirements in the U.S. are straightforward. Here are the basics distilled from the richer look taken in the book:

1. Be or become a citizen of the U.S.

2. Obtain your birth certificate. If you don’t have it or can’t find it, contact the appropriate office in the state in which you were born to get an official copy. If you’re a naturalized citizen, you’ll need your citizenship or naturalization papers.

3. Get some passport photos taken. Get a dozen or more prints. You’ll need one or two for many visas you get as well as two for the passport. You might want a mix of black-and-white and color. Black-and-white photos are cheaper and are accepted many times—preferred sometimes. You can get additional photos for later visas in hundreds of places overseas.

"You can save money by taking your own photos. You need to end up with 2” by 2” pictures that feature a front view of your head and shoulders. Get a friend to help or use a camera with a self-timer and tripod. Plan your posing position so your face ends up filling at least half, but no more than two-thirds of the final image. Keep a straight face or paste on a mild smile. Keep your hair off of your face and make sure your ears show. Use a featureless white or light-colored background and make sure all the shots are virtually identical. Crop your prints down to the 2” by 2” size using a razor knife and a straight edge. With good planning and neat cropping, you can end up with 24 or 36 usable photos for significantly less than the pros charge."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserve

4. Find and go to the right office with your official birth certificate or proof of citizenship, two passport photos, a valid driver’s license or ID, and $65. Apply at an official U.S. passport agency office (located in a dozen major cities), or at one of many post offices and county courthouses that handle applications. In “up to four weeks,” your passport will arrive in the mail. You can pay $30 extra for rush service (you’ll need to show tickets or other proof of imminent departure).


Most nations require that you have a stamp in your passport proving that you are approved for entry for a designated purpose and registered for a stay of a certain length of time. That’s a visa. Unfortunately, there’s a circus of variations regarding how, when, and where you get those visas. Visa requirement info is available at libraries and travel agents, in regional and national guidebooks, through embassies and consulates (see Embassies and Consulates in the U.S.), and elsewhere.

"In some countries, visas are required, but you can’t get one. Why not? Perhaps because:

  • ...the U.S. doesn’t have diplomatic relations with country X.
  • ...you previously angered country X.
  • ...you look like a “freak.”
  • ...country X is closed to Americans.
  • ...you’re not part of an official tour group.
  • ...you’re the wrong color, age, sex, or religion.
  • ...you don’t have enough money.
  • ...you don’t have a ticket for passage out of country X.
  • ...you have the visa stamp of country X’s enemy in your passport.
  • ...they’re having a bad hair day."
    Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

In most countries where visas are required, you can get one—either at the country’s border or outside the country at one of its foreign embassies or consulates. Unfortunately, for some nations, you must obtain a visa through an embassy or consulate in your home country before you leave. Plan carefully...

"Imagine needing five visas and a passport. If it takes three weeks to get a passport, ten days for the first visa, five weeks for the second, three weeks for the third. . . . since every visa request must be accompanied by your passport, you can only get one at a time. In my five-visa example, you would need to start mailing about four months ahead of your departure date, although some embassies also have rush order options. If you live in a large U.S. city, you may be able to save time by going directly to consular offices located in your city."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

Sound like a pain? Well add these to the mix:

  • Some visas are only valid for a specific block of time. You may have to arrive and depart on very specific dates planned well in advance.
  • Some visas require that you enter the country within a limited time period after they are obtained. What if you’re visiting country X in the fifth month of your trip but the visa must be obtained in the U.S. and is valid for only three months after it’s issued?
  • Some visas specify the number of entries and/or points of entry. If you have a “single-entry” visa, you can’t leave country X to visit country Y, and then return to country X (unless you get a new visa while in Y).

But don't despair. Visas can often be extended and/or modified in the issuing country. Begging at borders for a bending of the rules has worked once or twice to get me across. In some places, an appropriately targeted bribe works wonders. You might even consider paying a visa service a hefty fee to solve problems and take on the headaches for you.

The book is loaded with details, tips, and strategies for maximizing convenient access around the globe and minimizing expense, delays, and roadblocks.

Medical Preparation

Get the shots and pills that your research reveals you should. Check out the latest info at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site (CDC). For a great one-stop review of travel disease information, hit the Medical College of Wisconsin site.


Travel vaccines or boosters that might be required or advised in addition to your 'standard' childhood shots include the following (the answer to the question, “Should I get this shot?” is included in italics). Some of them come in a series requiring two or three trips to the clinic, so start at least two months in advance.

NOTE -- All the disease and shots data presented below has been assembled by me, and I am not a doctor nor a medical expert of any kind. Your travel savvy physician and the CDC are the only sources you should trust for the latest and most accurate information.Diphtheria—Yes if you haven’t had a booster for more than 8 or 9 years. Most of you were immunized as kids but might need a booster. It often comes mixed with a tetanus booster.

Hepatitis AYes for travel in tropical countries. Gamma globulin is the standard shot and provides protection for about six months. Ask about a new vaccine called Havrix.

PoliomyelitisYes if you haven’t had a booster for more than 8 or 9 years. Polio is still common in the tropics

TetanusYes if you haven’t had a booster for more than 8 or 9 years. You can get tetanus from a rusty nail in your yard.

TyphoidYes for travel in the developing world. Regular outbreaks occur in areas of poor sanitation.

Yellow FeverYes if you haven’t had a shot for more than 8 or 9 years and are traveling to tropical or semitropical areas of Africa and South America.

Other vaccines worth investigating include the following:Cholera—Maybe, for travel in developing countries. The World Health Organization says the vaccination is only about 50 percent effective.

Hepatitis BMaybe, especially in the tropics and Mediterranean. It is transferred through bodily fluids via contaminated syringes or sex.

Japanese B EncephalitisMaybe. The disease shows up rarely in rural Asia during the rainy season. An iffy vaccine is available but recommended only for those who are spending a long time in the Asian hinterland.

Meningococcal MeningitisMaybe. Required only when epidemics show up—usually in sub-Saharan Africa but recently in Nepal and the Middle East. Rarely offered to travelers. Do some research; it’s an unlikely hazard.

RabiesMaybe. A vaccine is available but not often offered to the standard traveler.

TuberculosisPossibly. The disease is found all over the world but is not easily transmitted and isn’t a big problem for travelers. The Europeans have a vaccine but it’s not found in the U.S.

Some sources also mention paratyphoid, influenza, and pneumonia as diseases that travelers should consider for inoculation.

The “Yellow Card”

"If you are visiting countries where yellow fever and/or cholera occur, you should carry the famous “yellow card”—the International Certificate of Vaccination.The card proves to border officials that you’ve been inoculated. Sometimes it is needed to get into nations where the diseases are found. Much more often, it’s required by other nations if your passport shows that you’ve passed through the nations where the diseases occur. When you look for a place to get your shots, ask if the clinic issues the card. Many cities have physicians and clinics that specialize in Travel Medicine, or at least in travel-related inoculations."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved


This common, debilitating, occasionally deadly parasitic disease is found throughout the tropics and developing world, and is carried by a particular kind of mosquito. You can prevent malaria by taking the drug that’s used to treat it. Chloroquine has been the standard for awhile, although resistant strains are on the rise. You will need to start taking Chloroquine tablets two weeks before entering an area where the disease is found and continue taking the drug for six weeks after you’re out. The CDC recommends Mefloquine, Doxycycline, or a Chloroquine/Proguanil combination in Chloroquine-resistant areas.

Dental Preparation

"It’s a good idea to get your teeth checked and fixed before you set out— especially if you’re one of the many who don’t make regular visits to the dentist. U.S. dental care is the world’s best. The tools and sanitation standards you find elsewhere may not even come close."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

The book goes into greater detail on all topics, as well as discussing less official approaches to self-medication and strategies for updating your prevention profile on the road. For a quick reference on Yellow Card and shots recommendations for nations you're considering visiting, check out the Ultralight Handbook for the Road. For up-to-date, detailed coverage, visit the CDC site.

Advance Tickets

Buying transport tickets in advance seems like a no-brainer, but I like to avoid doing it whenever possible. Having a ticket, or even just a reservation, gives you a sense of security -- the kind of security you may want to avoid for the sake of feeling free and staying spontaneous. Even so, you may want to get your major tickets in advance for several reasons:

  • "You might save money—though not as much as you might think. In fact, you won’t necessarily save any at all.
  • You might enjoy the sense of security associated with having paid-for tickets that will get you where you want to go, including home again, though you may regret your choices when you change your mind on the road.
  • You can’t get certain air, rail, or bus passes unless you buy them here. Then again, rail, and air passes may lock you into a transportation habit and not save you a dime.
  • You can’t enter many countries unless you can show the border official that you already have a ticket to get out of that country. Although, if you don’t look undesirable, can show that you have plenty of money, have references, and/or can explain clearly your plan for buying tickets for a sea or overland departure, they’ll often let you enter."
    Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

Air Tickets

Check the weekly travel sections of big city newspapers for discount ticket prices, including round-the-world and other multi-flight routings. Discounted tickets have the same rules and rights as regular excursion fare tickets.

On the road, when I reach a point where I can accurately forecast the need for a series of flights, I call my discount ticket source in the states -- Ticket Planet, 1-800-799-8888 -- they set me up and ship the tickets (though I have to spend a chunk for international phone calls and shipping costs). In return for the extra expense, I can keep my options open as I go.

If you want your surface travel to be a thread instead of a loop, ask about “open jaws” options that allow you to arrive in one city and return from another.

Consider buying a one-way ticket in the U.S. and purchasing your return ticket when you’re overseas.

If your destination is simple and certain, check out charter companies. They advertise in travel sections, deal through travel agents, and list in the yellow pages.

"Another flight choice is to work as an air courier. When you’re on file with an air courier service, they will call you on short notice for nicely discounted flights to various parts of the world—usually international business centers. They generally want to use your free baggage allotment so plan on traveling light. Various restrictions and limits apply to destination, departure dates, and duration of stay."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

Advance Purchase Rail Passes

You may find convenience and savings in going the rail pass route -- especially if you're in the "youth" category -- however, the savings are less with short term passes, when your rail mileage is low, when the time blocks don’t match your schedule, and when you're a bit older. It’s entirely possible to lose money buying a pass. Besides, a pass makes you feel financially obligated to use it to its limits, traveling by train exclusively during the pass validity period. You may also travel farther than you might otherwise go, feeling subtly motivated to get your money’s worth and more. Think about it...

Still, it can be a joy to solve all your reservation and ticketing problems by buying a pass. I've traveled with and without one -- depending upon my travel purposes. The book examines the pass/no-pass question with care, as well as detailing a variety of rail passes.

Eurail passes are the most famous and widely used. Check out Railconnection.com for details on the options -- there are several to suit a variety of Euro-trips. Shop with care so that you get exactly what you need at the best possible price.

A big thing to remember about all passes—rail, air, and others—is that you often can’t buy them in the country or region where you use them! Some must be purchased in the U.S., though many may be purchased in a third country

Air Passes

"A number of national and regional airlines offer passes of various sorts. Often these are sold through a major carrier in conjunction with an international ticket. For example, if you fly Air India to India, they can sell you a “Discover India” pass on the regional carrier, Indian Airlines. Since the small regional airlines often don’t have many international offices, being able to get their passes through a major airline is a help. You can do this on your own, but an agent who knows the various relationships between small and large carriers can do it better."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

Every regional air pass has its own, often hard to decipher set of rules. Spend some quality time with a travel or airline agent to scope out the options.

Other Tickets

Other passes, packages, and individual tickets can be purchased at home through travel agents, if that agent represents the bus carrier, ferry line, tour company, etc., that you want.

Other Advance Work

There are no surprises regarding the other things you should take care of well in advance. Here are some excerpts from the list presented in the book:

"1. Tell them you’re going. ...One great byproduct of talking about your upcoming journey is that people may enjoy being a part of the pit crew. If you’re going to need home-based help while you’re gone, let others know how you feel...

2. Put your business in order. ...Each situation requires different actions, but the key is to find someone responsible and willing to deal with your finances and paperwork while you’re away...

3. Check your insurance. Health insurance plans and HMOs often cover you for illness and injury overseas—but may not! ... Consider buying specialized travel insurance. CIEE offers a plan through Council Travel that provides benefits for accidents, illness, emergency evacuation, death and dismemberment, baggage loss or damage, baggage delay, and trip cancellation or interruption. The benefit dollars aren’t high, but they are adequate...

4. Get in shape. At least make sure you don’t leave sick or hung over. I appreciate Rick Steves’ advice on giving yourself a day or two of complete, party-free, relaxation immediately prior to your departure...

5. Buy things. ...Read the chapter on “Stuff”; purchase and pack with care.

6. Study. Use that library! Head straight to the 910s in the nonfiction section and start there. Many of the best destination choices I’ve made started as photos and exclamation points in old guides and travelogues..."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

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