Travel Planning

Travel planning resources to navigate the world with peace of mind.

Travel Budgeting Tips & Templates

Travel Budgeting Tips & Templates

Traveling is a dream for most people, but too often it feels out of reach. However, with the right amount of research and preparation, you can make any travel dream a reality with effective travel budgeting.

Explore my best tips to get the most out of your money while abroad, plan effectively for the costs you’ll likely run into, and some tricks to cut unnecessary costs! No matter what kind of traveler you are, you can go on the trip of your dreams with a few short steps that break it all down.

Map for travel planning with a notebook and pen

Table of Contents

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Part 1: Know Your Starting Point

Define Your Goals

Why you want to travel, and what you’re hoping to get out of it is a great place to start. Are you looking to live lavishly without a care in the world for a few weeks? Or, are you trying to connect more deeply with yourself, your communities, and the planet? 

This is more than just how you want to travel, it also includes where. Each location has a different cost of living which is a major factor to consider. Island hopping in the Mediterranean is much more expensive than mountain trekking in South America!

The ‘way’ you envision your travels will set the scene for your expenses, and be the best starting place to begin planning!

Estimate Your Expenses

Based on how you envision your travel looking like, and where you hope you go, you’ll be able to dive deeper into the logistics of the costs you’ll face. Travel budgeting is only possible if you know what expenses you’ll likely have abroad. 

In general, this can be broken down into transport, accommodation, food, activities, health, documentation, and any pre-travel expenses you will have!

Transportation

Transport is typically the most expensive element of travel expenses, especially if you fly to your destination. Be sure to check out how to book the cheapest flight so you can cut costs where possible!

Once you arrive, how much will you need to move around? Will you be in one place for a few weeks or months, is there public transport, or will you need to rent a car or a motorbike? Ground transport differs greatly by region, check out Omio for Europe, 12Go in Asia, and providers like BudBud for long-haul buses!

While you won’t know the specifics of every cost, it is essential to do some research here to understand what the expenses of your destination look like so you can move around comfortably!

 

Accommodation

Once you arrive, where will you stay? Your accommodation is an essential element that will set the scene for your trip. The luxurious traveler may love an all-inclusive with no extra thoughts, while a more cultured traveler will be looking for a homestay, guest house, or more engaging lodging experience.

Check out sites like Booking.com, HostelWorld, or Airbnb to familiarize yourself with the accommodation options you have at your destination. Often, you can get great deals on accommodations by connecting with hosts directly, or with a minimum stay. For example, Airbnb often has a ‘long-term’ stay discount for any bookings over 28 days!

Food

The food you eat while traveling depends on the type of traveler you are. Local food is always the most affordable and allows you to connect with the local culture and people while having the lowest environmental impact.

Many accommodations offer free breakfast, which is a life-savor for your budget and for those mornings you just want to take it a bit slow. Be sure to consider this in your cost and choices when choosing accommodation!

Estimate your food in terms of cost per day, so you can easily multiply it over the number of days you will be traveling. 

Technology

Technology isn’t something you need to have while traveling, but in the modern day, it’s hard to go without it. This includes your phone plan, VPN, and anything specific to you like drone registration costs, or specific tech insurance.

International phone plans can be tricky to set up, but essential for every traveler! Getting an eSIM through Nomad or Airalo can be the easiest option, and affordable! If you plan to work or connect to public WiFi, getting a VPN is also advisable to protect your data.

Use code TAYL58RX for Nomad eSIM, or TAYLOR8492 for Airalo eSIM to save $3!

Activities

What type of traveler are you? Are you excited to explore the outdoors with some hikes, dives, and anything in nature? Or, are you ready to lay back on the beach with a book and a sunhat for days on end?

The things you’re interested in greatly change your activities budget. To get ideas of what to do in a destination, I always start with a booking tour like Get Your Guide to see what is offered! 

If you have any extra money to spend with your travel budgeting, I suggest you send it towards the activities and excursions you take. These are the once-in-a-lifetime moments that you’ll remember forever.

Health

This is an essential element of travel expenses that you really shouldn’t cut corners on. This includes travel insurance, travel medical insurance, and any relevant vaccines.

There is no better way to put stress on your travels if you aren’t fully prepared with the best travel insurance for you. In case your bags get lost or damaged, you get injured during an excursion, or if your things get stolen. Know the differences between the types of insurance, and be prepared for the unexpected.

Depending on where you’re traveling, a vaccine may be required or highly encouraged. Every country handles vaccines differently – in the US you can call your local Passport Health office to see what is advised and the costs for each. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, no US insurance company will cover these costs. 

All of the health costs can be estimated before you depart!

Documentation

You cannot enter a country without the proper documentation. That may include a valid passport, a visa for entry, proof of vaccinations, proof of a booked departure ticket, and any other requirements like proof of accommodation, bank statements with a minimum balance, and more.

Check with your country’s embassy to see a full list of requirements for entry into a country. For US citizens, you can check out the US Embassy hereTo purchase a visa, check out iVisa!

All of the documentation requirements can be purchased before you depart. but will be dependent on where you’re from and where you’re going!

Pre-Travel Expenses

Are you ready to go, or do you have a few things to get still? This could include luggage, a travel backpack, a travel camera to document your trip, some packable clothing to complete your wardrobe, travel toiletries, and more!

Be realistic and don’t get more than you need. Traveling on a budget is easier when you have fewer things, especially for long-term travel plans. Check out the ultimate long-term travel packing guide so you have what you need!

Set Your Budget!

And just like that, you should have a rough idea of your budget! Whatever number you have come up with, add 10% to be sure you’re financially set even when faced with the unexpected. We can’t plan everything perfectly, but we can plan for the uncertainties of life. 

There may be some other things for you personally to consider while travel budgeting, like if you’re traveling with a pet, or a child, or going for a specific cause like a retreat or volunteering. 

 

Part 2: Saving For Your Trip

Now that you know approximately how much your trip is going to cost, you’ll have to save the money for it. Saving money isn’t easy for everyone, but with some simple goals and guidelines, anyone can do it!

If you already have the money at your disposal – if so, skip ahead to Part 3!

Cut Your Costs

The easiest way to save is to cut out some of your expenses currently. Maybe you make coffee at home rather than picking it up on your commute, eat at home more often, or favor free activities while you’re waiting to go on your trip. 

The sooner you can cut your costs and add to your savings, the sooner you’ll be on your way… or have more money to spend on your experience!

Track Your Expenses

To know where your money is going, and where you can maybe cut back, it’s helpful to have a  app, journal, spreadsheet, or whatever you use best to help monitor your spending. 

Historically I used Mint, which is now a part of Kredit Karma. Apps are a great way to track your spending in real-time, categorizing your transactions into specific groupings for easier tracking. 

It’s a great idea to track your spending for a few months to get an idea of your baseline, and make realistic cuts where you can!

Part 3: Make Your Money Last

Travel Credit & Debit Cards

A simple way to cut your costs abroad is by getting a credit and debit account that is designed for travelers. That means, no ATM withdrawal fees, and no foreign transaction feesNot only will you save, but you’ll also get points that you can put towards your trip! 

Not enough travelers do this, and especially when most of the world relies on cash transactions, that’s a lot of ATM withdrawals at $3.50 each! 

Travel Hacks To Save

There is no set way to save money abroad, it depends on where you go and the type of traveler you are. But, here is a list of my favorite travel hacks to save abroad that you should do on top of travel budgeting!

Travel in the Off-Season

Traveling in the off-season is a guaranteed way to save, plus, you’ll get to experience a place with way fewer people! Nothing takes away from the magic of a place than a bunch of tourists from your home country. Usually the ‘shoulder seasons’ have great weather, fewer travelers, and lower prices!

Avoid the Tourist Destinations

On the note of avoiding tourists, the places you see on Instagram that it seems everyone and their mom has been to, usually just aren’t worth it. They’re crowded, overpriced, and sometimes even require hours in a line! There are almost always hidden gems nearby that are similar, without the crowds of people.

Travel Slowly

Slow travel is a game-changer for those who have the time to do it. By traveling slowly, you’re not in a rush to see everything there is to be seen. Instead, you can wander freely, finding the hidden gems at your pace, while getting to connect to the locals and the land. 

Read more about what slow travel is and why it's right for you

More Ground TRansport, Fewer Flights

Flights are always more expensive when traveling a shorter distance. Although it seems like a huge time saver, you miss the beauty on the ground, the rolling hills, and rural landscape of a place. Not to mention, the carbon footprint of flights is insanely higher than a bus, train, or ferry. 

Thrift Shop & Local Markets

Shopping abroad can be an excursion in itself. Whether you’re at a boutique thrift store or a market with local artisans, you’re guaranteed to find unique things to bring home. Avoid shopping malls or any other chain store, you’ll be missing the unique gems you could find off the beaten path. 

Cook At Home & Eat Local

Where you eat will determine a lot of your expenses. In expensive regions like the US or Europe, cooking at home is a great way to save on costs while you try to create local dishes. If you don’t have a kitchen or you’re in a more affordable place, stick to eating where the locals do for a fun experience while saving money! 

Check Out Volunteering Abroad & Work Exchanges

If you’re an extreme budget traveler, or if you simply favor a raw experience, check out volunteering abroad and work exchanges. Programs like WorkAway or WorldPackers are a great way to experience a new place for little to no cost, with accommodation and food provided in exchange for 20 hours of work! 

Summary - Travel Budgeting

No matter what kind of traveler you are, or where in the world you want to go, it is all possible with the right planning, saving, and commitment. By breaking down each of the main expense categories, and doing some realistic travel budgeting for what you want, you’ll be able to create the trip of a lifetime!

While planning only gets you so far, saving is still a necessary component to see your dreams through to reality. Follow the tips to cut costs where you can before you go, while also choosing more budget options abroad. Traveling doesn’t need to be expensive if you don’t want it to!

As always, slow travel is the best way to save money, create a more enriching experience, reduce your stress, and make travel sustainable for the long term. Nobody wants to leave their trip, and the best part is you don’t have to!

What are some of your favorite ways to save money abroad, so you can do more?

Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Budget, Travel Planning, 0 comments
How To Book The Cheapest Flights

How To Book The Cheapest Flights

Traveling is so exciting once all of the planning is finally done. The costs can quickly add up in the process, leaving you with little to spend while you’re actually there exploring! Unlike rental cars or museums that have generally consistent costs, flights are a huge way to save if you navigate it well and do the research. This article will help you book the cheapest flights so you can save where you can, and explore more!

Check out the following resources to help you surf the web and find the best deals for you!

View out of a plane with a yellow sky and clouds

Table of Contents

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Summary

1. Check your Points

2. Discount Flights

3. Flight Search Engines

4. Airline Direct

5. Check again within 24 hours

Be ready to take these offers with the flexibility of destination and date, pack light to save on luggage costs, and travel in the shoulder seasons!

Flight Search Engine

Myth or Fact?

1. Flights are Cheaper on Tuesdays

Myth. However, it is in fact cheaper to fly on a Tuesday, as well as on Wednesday and Saturday. The day of the week a flight is booked is irrelevant, however, there is a difference in flight cost depending on the length of time until the scheduled flight! It’s typically best to book early (2-3 months), however, there are some unbeatable last-minute flight deals!

2. Search in Incognito Mode

Myth. While flight prices do fluctuate on the market and demand for a particular flight, your search patterns will not influence this! Flight prices are constantly changing, but your cookies have nothing to do with it! However, if you don’t search in incognito mode, be prepared for endless ads!!

3. Flying a Budget Flight is Always Less Enjoyable

Myth. While there definitely are a lot of cheap flights out there that have some pretty significant drawbacks, there are some gems you can find for a good price. Often, flights are reduced in price due to a long layover, a self-transfer between airports, limited baggage, and a lower-quality experience. Check below for the discounted flight sites where you can find insane deals without all of the extra negatives!

Before You Start

Be Flexible

The key to cheap flights is flexibility. You may find flights that have crazy long layovers in another city or better options on a different day. Maybe, you aren’t super attached to any specific destination, so you can be flexible there too!

Another big consideration is your luggage – many budget airlines have baggage limitations. Keep your options open and ready to grab by traveling light and being flexible. 

The more flexible your plans are, the more options you can take advantage of!

Start With What You Know

Start with what you know and search from there – there are a lot of variables to consider and some may be necessary for you to keep consistent. For example, you want to go to South America but don’t care when or which specific country. Or, maybe you have 2 weeks off in the spring and want to go anywhere during those dates. These are 2 completely different situations that require different approaches

 

So, do you know the dates you want to travel? Do you know where you want to go? The cheapest flights can be purchased with the most flexible plans! Do yourself a favor and see if you can get a bit of wiggle room with both the destination and the dates. 

The 24-hour Rule

Once your flight is booked, you have 24 hours to cancel (this is a federal law in the US). Since flight prices fluctuate daily, you may find that the flight you purchased went down in price just hours later! If you’re a real bargain hunter, go ahead and cancel your flight to purchase the better option. 

This is also a good thing to know when you come across a good deal. Found a flight you can’t pass up? Book now and sort out the rest after, you never know how long the prices will last!

Let’s Go Through an Example of the Process:

1 Passenger with 0 bags traveling from San Francisco (SFO) to Costa Rica on October 18, 2023. The dates are slightly flexible +/- 7 days, and the airport in Costa Rica does not matter.  

*These figures are researched on August 29, 2023 – <2 months before the trip. 

Step 1. Fly Free With Points

For any budget traveler, getting the right credit card and cashing in on those points is essential. Not only will they help cover travel costs if things don’t go to plan, but with the right card you can accrue points that you can cash in for flights!

Especially if you’re not a frequent flyer, you’ll want to use those points whenever you can, so start here! Check your credit card’s points value, and see how much that translates to in-flight miles. Typically the points can only be used when the flight is purchased through the credit card’s website, and these aren’t typically the cheapest options. So that’s up to you to decide if the points are worth using this time around. 

Find the best deal you can with your credit card points, and then continue to Step 1 and beyond to see what you’re comparing it to! You may find an awesome deal within the steps below that makes you want to save your points for something else. 

Chase Sapphire Preferred

This is the best travel card for its travel benefits. Earn 5x points booked on travel through Chase, earn 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months, get comprehensive travel insurance, and more!

Example: Chase Sapphire Preferred

I use the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card – Through the Chase app, I found a flight for $205 on October 17 – a great option to compare to after the final steps!

By booking through Chase, I can use my Rewards points to pay for the flight, making it essentially free!

Step 2. Discount Flight Sites

You have probably heard of these discount flight websites – they offer insanely low prices for select flights. This is a great place to start, especially if your plans are flexible. Let’s break down some of the most popular discount flight sites!

Going through 3rd party groups can create a complicated customer service network. Be sure all info is accurate before booking to avoid unnecessary headaches!

Going (formerly "Scott's Cheap Flights")

Going is a subscription-based search engine connecting you with discounted flight deals departing from your home airport. You choose the destination, and Going will provide alerts of insane deals that can get you there for cheaper.

Subscription tiers are either Limited ($0/year), Premium ($49/year), or Elite ($199/year), each offering increased benefits to get the best deals. The deals are found by a team of people who search for the best options. However, there are limited features showing only round-trip tickets!

Example: Going

In Going, I found 1 deal that matches a flight from SFO > Costa Rica. A round-trip Avianca flight for $350 in September-November, with more options available by changing the date!

*This is round-trip, however, the link directed me to Google Flights where the price was $150

Travel Pirates

Travel Pirates uses a tried and trusted search engine to guarantee quality flight options – KAYAK. However, what distinguished Travel Pirates from KAYAK, is not the search feature, but the deals lists. Travel Pirates uses a team of deal hunters to put together the best deals for flight, transport, and accommodation while considering the overall value of the option (for your money & time)!

Example: Travel Pirates

In Travel Pirates, using the ‘Plan Your Own Trip’ feature, I found a flight for $135 on October 18! Within the deals section, there was a discount for $133 across LATAM – with further inspection, the $135 flight found through the specific search was the best option!

The Dollar Flight Club

The Dollar Flight Club works similarly to Going – where you input your home airport, ideal destinations, and date range and the platform will provide alerts when there is a low price. There is a free option, with the upgraded subscription available for $ /year. 

One major drawback is you cannot specify whether it is a one-way or round trip, providing skewed results. The results direct you back to either Skyscanner or Google Flights to further investigate. So if you know where you want to go, just go straight to Skyscanner / Google Flights and skip this step, however this is a great place to take advantage of deals found for random destinations around the world!

Example:

In The Dollar Flight Club, I found the applicable flight through Avianca listed online for $135, however, with further inspection the price was actually $150 as I was directed to Skyscanner and Google Flights. 

Step 3. Flight Search Engines

If you didn’t find any killer deals from step 1, then we move to a broader search with these flight search engines. These are technically an Online Travel Agency (OTA), which have their own added fees and discounts applicable. So, even if all of the search engines you use pull up the same flight options, you may see different prices! That’s why it is best to use them all and compare!

 

Protect your flight costs with the best Travel Insurance.

Google Flights

Google Flights is many travelers’ starting point when looking for flights. This is a user-friendly platform that provides a great baseline for what to expect in regard to price. Google Flights considers both major & budget airlines, offering a wide range of options! It also has some helpful features including: 

  • ‘Explore Everywhere’ feature
  •  Low price alert
  • Calendar price view to show cheaper dates
  • Extensive filters

Example: Google Flights

Using Google Flights, I found the same $150 flight with Avianca that many of the Discount Flights found. However, it also showed that if I changed the date from Oct. 18 to Oct. 20, the price would go down to $81

Since that’s only 2 days and a very reasonable flight schedule, that is the best option so far!

Google Flights is the best place to start to find the cheapest flights
See the "Travel on October 20 for $81" pop-up!

Skyscanner

While no flight-searching platform is consistently the cheapest, Skyscanner would definitely be a top contender. This platform is reliable and has a well-supportive customer service department. 

  • Often has the best prices!
  • Explore Everywhere Feature
  •  Low Price Alert

Example: Skyscanner

Using Skyscanner, the best flight is $150 through Avianca. This is the same search result as the Dollar Flight Club above!

ITA Matrix

Owned by Google, the ITA Matrix is a common tool amongst travelers, that compares the prices of major airlines. This is another great way to get a baseline, but it often doesn’t boast the best prices. ITA Matrix has a unique UX compared to many of the other sites, which, is preferred by many users due to its expansive filter options. 

  • Low price alert
  • Calendar Price View
  • Does not include budget airlines
  • You must use the exact destination airport code

Example: ITA Matrix

Considering the ideal date of October 18, ITA Matrix provided a JetBlue flight option for $205. However, their calendar view showed a cheaper option for only $81 on October 20. 

Since 2 days is worth a $124 savings, the $86 flight with Frontier is a better option. 

Momondo

Momondo is a part of the Booking Holdings Corporation, which owns KAYAK, Expedia, Booking.com, and more. However, this site has a fun style and quality options! One of the best features is the Flight Insights view to see historical changes and the best times to go!
  • ‘Search Anywhere’ feature
  • Low price alerts

Example: Momondo

Using Momondo, the cheapest flight on October 18 is $150 with Avianca, as reported above by other sources.

Kayak

If you open KAYAK after Momondo, you’ll notice they are extremely similar, and so far I can’t see any difference! 

  • Flight price alerts
  • ‘Explore Everywhere’ feature
  • Date Range filter

Example: KAYAK

KAYAK shows a $150 flight from Avianca 

Step 3. Straight To The Source

Once you find the best flight at the lowest price, you may want to check out and be done. However, it’s worth it to go straight to the airline site and see if they offer the flight any cheaper. Sometimes, they even have discounts and deals on their website to encourage you to purchase through them rather than a 3rd party agency. Call customer service and see if you can lock in anything cheaper!

Example Decision: San Francisco to Costa Rica

So far, the cheapest flight from San Francisco > Costa Rica is $81 from Frontier as seen on Google Flights & the ITA Matrix. 

However, this flight is for October 13 or October 20, and if flying on a Friday doesn’t work, then the best option is $150 through Avianca on the 18th. 

Let’s move forward with Frontier!

The website does have a discount offer for members of the ‘Den’, however, this is a membership service costing $60/year and $40 enrollment. Definitely not worth buying into that unless you fly Frontier often!

So with some time and research, you found a flight for only $81 to Costa Rica using Google Flights.. time to pack your bags and get to planning!

Now that your flight is booked, get ready with everything you need to know about an International Phone Plan!

Summary - How To Book The Cheapest Flights

There are dozens if not hundreds of flight-searching options out there. You could spend your life finding deals and saving the most, but your time should also be valued in this process! 

The more flexibility you can have in your travel plans, the easier it is to find flight prices you feel good about. Some major ways to save include traveling with only a carry-on, traveling mid-week, and going during the shoulder seasons.

There is no perfect answer when it comes to finding the best flight, so start with some ideas about what you want to prioritize so your primary needs are met, and the rest will fall into place!

Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Budget, Transportation, Travel Planning, 0 comments
Ultimate Guide To Travel Insurance

Ultimate Guide To Travel Insurance

Traveling is filled with new experiences and exciting opportunities, but it definitely doesn’t always go to plan! There are a lot of things that could go wrong while on the other side of the world. Be prepared for the worst with travel insurance coverage to protect yourself and your belongings with this ultimate guide to travel insurance.

There are so many things to cover, including your personal health, belongings, new camera, and the travel plan itself! But how do you know what insurance you need to cover everything? Keep reading to break down the available insurance options designed for travelers so that you can explore without worry!

Planning materials laid out on a map

Table of Contents

What insurance Do You Need

Types of Insurance

Travel Insurance: Insurance plan that covers trip interruptions or other costs related to travel including baggage delay, flight delay or cancellation, and hotel and rental car costs. Travel insurance is offered through many credit cards, covered in many travel medical & health plans, or can be purchased as a stand-alone plan. 

Travel Medical Insurance: Insurance plan that covers emergency medical needs while abroad. This is an excellent option for short and long-term travelers who don’t stay in the same country and don’t have underlying medical conditions.

Travel Health Insurance: Insurance while abroad to cover routine health needs & emergency medical needs. This is an excellent option for an expat or long-term digital nomad who needs regular doctor and dental visits.

Renter’s Insurance: Insurance plan that covers theft or damage to property. This will cover your personal assets both at home and while abroad!

Device Insurance: Insurance plan that covers electronic equipment and accessories. This is important for digital nomads and explorers that rely on their electronic devices such as a camera or laptops. While Renter’s Insurance does cover electronics, the limit may be lower than the value of the electronics property. 

 

Where Are you Insured

Since insurance is provided through contracted policies, there are limits and parameters that dictate where coverage is applied (and where it’s not)! And since insurance is a business, they get really good at slipping out of paying for you, so be sure that you understand the 

Be sure to read the policy to be sure of the coverage limitations, including your state of residence, country of residence, global, or any other restrictions. 

Insurance should be your best adventure buddy, not a limitation. Get a plan that allows you to live and travel to the fullest!

Be sure to check location limits for insurance policies to ensure you're covered everywhere you plan to travel!

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is the most basic and available insurance applicable to travelers, and many people don’t even know they’re already covered! Travel insurance is anything ranging from lost or delayed luggage, delayed or canceled flights, cancellations due to sickness or terrorism, rental car insurance, and more! Travel insurance can be obtained in many ways, including through Credit Card Benefits or bundled with a Medical Insurance plan

1. Credit Cards

Many credit cards are created with benefits and rewards for travelers when you use your card to book! There are so many options for credit cards designed for travelers. Check out the benefits of your credit card to see your benefits, you may already have travel insurance!

I have a Chase Sapphire Preferred card that covers everything I could want for travel coverage! This includes rental car insurance up to the value of the car and trip cancellation coverage for myself and direct family/travel companions. and baggage delay reimbursements! As a bonus, I get a $50 credit annually to apply toward any hotel booking!

2. Part of Medical Insurance

Most Medical Insurance policies created for travelers offer some travel insurance in their plan. It’s definitely a good idea to get emergency medical coverage while abroad to avoid any unforeseen costs due to an accident or injury. Many of these plans offer a variety of other benefits to help you out during your travels. Keep reading below for some of the best travel medical insurance to find out more about travel insurance coverage and your considerations and options!

Be sure to get the most value from your insurance policies by comparing the costs of different options. Even if a medical insurance option may bundle in travel insurance for an extra fee, you could be getting those benefits for free with a particular credit card. It's a puzzle to get all the right pieces together for full coverage and savings!

Medical Insurance

Medical Insurance vs. Health Insurance

Travel Medical Insurance covers unforeseen circumstances and emergency services while traveling abroad. This includes anything from illnesses, injuries, accidents, evacuation, and more! Basically, anything that doesn’t happen regularly and isn’t a result of a pre-existing condition. Medical Insurance does not cover health care for pre-existing conditions, routine health care office visits (dental cleanings, physicals, check-ups for anything), and anything found in the policies exclusions.

This article is only highlighting travel medical insurance; emergency medical needs while abroad. If you want access to routine doctor’s office visits and preventative medical attention, or you’re moving abroad long-term, look into travel Health Insurance.

Things To Look For in a plan

  • Emergency evacuation coverage
  • Support finding doctors abroad
  • Prescription medication coverage
  • Duration of coverage
  • Location of coverage & location specific considerations
  • List of exclusions to consider
  • Physical activities that are excluded
  • Primary insurance requirements

Depending on the duration of your travels, you may still want a medical health insurance plan in your home country of residence! If you’re a long-term traveler, that’s a cost you’re probably looking to cut. Be sure to look at the policy requirements of all of the medical insurance plans below to see if Primary Insurance is required and needs to be included in your budget.

Having health insurance in your home country may be overkill, and it also will likely not be needed. However, accidents happen, and if something happens and you have to come home for medical treatment, you better hope to have some essential coverage!

1. SafetyWing - *Nomad Insurance

SafetyWing is the best generic travel medical insurance plan that is affordable and covers the basic needs of every traveler. This includes emergency evacuation coverage, repatriation to the home country due to life-threatening injury or illness, and more. Although it does have its drawbacks – like its cookie cutter plan options and limited coverage for some things, it is definitely a great option for most travelers!

Plans & Prices

  1. *Nomad Insurance ($45.08/month) – Travel Medical Insurance
    Great standard coverage for the basics abroad. Nothing too fancy, nothing too skimpy, just right in the middle for your average traveler, usable indefinitely!
  2. Nomad Health ($123/month) – Travel Health Insurance
    In-encompassing health insurance with coverage for routine medical needs and coverage for pre-existing conditions. 
  3. Remote Health ($80/month/member) – Travel Health Insurance For Digital Nomad teams
Pros Cons
  • Affordable
  • Includes Travel Insurance
  • Ease of Use
  • Coverage provided at home every 3 months abroad
  • Plan can be started from anywhere and stay active until 70 years of age!
  • A lot of exclusions for activities
  • Vague language in policy
  • Added expense for coverage in the US (not applicable to US residents)
  • Travel insurance is limited
  • No customized policy options
  • Prescription limited to 60 days

2. World Nomads

World Nomads is an insurance provider that is designed for true explorers. Unlike SafetyWing, World Nomads offers packages based on your residency, destinations, and travel duration so you get exactly what you need for your adventure. Check out their website for a quote for your plan options based on your info! The plan prices listed below are an estimate and will change based on your age, location, and travel plans!

Plans & Prices

  1. Standard Plan ($100/month)*

    Great for travelers who aren’t afraid to push the limits and want to feel comfortable doing it. Includes some extreme sports and comprehensive medical coverage. 

  2. Explorer Plan ($150/month)*
    The Explorer Plan is for the most extreme adventurers who like to live on the edge. This is the best Medical Insurance plan out there for thrill seekers around the world!

*Costs based above are based on: age 26 American citizen traveling to Guatemala and Argentina for 6 months.
 
Pros Cons
  • Personalized cost based on travel needs and duration
  • Includes Travel Insurance
  • Ease of Use
  • Extensive coverage, limited exclusions
  • Includes loss, theft and damage of personal assets and gear
  • Covered domestically >100 miles from home
  • Cost
  • Limited to 180-day coverage
  • Not as reasonable for non-extremists

3. GeoBlue / HTH Worldwide - (US Residents Only)

GeoBlue (owned by Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield) has recently partnered with HTH Travel Insurance to offer additional options for coverage! This is a great option for anyone who doesn’t want their insurance set up to change a lot from home. Geoblue has many options for short-term travel, frequent explorers, and digital nomads and expats abroad! *Be sure to check if primary health insurance is required or not. If you’re a US resident traveling abroad, look for low-cost options covering basic emergency needs at home.

Plans & Prices

  1. Voyager ($25/month)* – Single Trip Insurance
    The Voyager plan is for single-trip travelers and is limited to 180 days. 
    (Hint: If you call before the expiration date you can extend your coverage!)
  2. Trekker ($175/month)* – Multi-Trip Insurance
    The Trekker Plan is for multi-trip travelers in a 12-month period. Travel cannot last longer than 70 days and requires that the insured has a primary health insurance policy.
  3. Xplorer Plan – Long-Term / Expat
    The Xplorer plan is for long-term travelers or expats that need a more permanent and full-coverage plan. Plan options are dependent on your destination, family, age, and more, so plan pricing differs situationally.
Pros Cons
  • Personalized cost based on travel needs and duration
  • Includes Travel Insurance
  • Expands to HTH Worldwide for additional options
  • Great coverage options in the US (necessary)
  • Great for people who need Rx abroad
  • Great travel insurance
  • Cost
  • Limited to 180-day coverage
  • 12-hour delay required for baggage reimbursements
  • Some plans require primary health insurance
  • Limited by State
  • Requires in-network providers abroad

Personal Property Insurance

For every traveler, the things you carry on your back are essential to your nomadic life! The extra movement puts wear and tear on your things and increases the chances of a major incident happening, potentially putting you out thousands. Renter’s Insurance is a great option for anyone with expensive gear they plan to bring on their adventures, including sporting equipment, gear, electronics, or jewelry! While some travel and medical insurance offers some coverage on tech gadgets and gear, chances are it’s not enough to cover the cost of some of these more expensive items.

As a digital nomad, I rely on my laptop and camera equipment to travel the world. That’s on top of my technical gear and personal items that I simply like to have. I feel safe and covered against the worst situations knowing Renter’s Insurance will cover my items.

Renter's Insurance vs Device Insurance

Renter’s insurance is a great option to insure your personal belongings and property! There are many options available with different exclusions and coverages based on your location and assets. However, the renter’s insurance may have a cost limitation in coverage.  

If you have high-tech devices you use and travel with, they could be valued at greater than $10,000. If that’s you, then you may want to find an insurance plan specifically designed for electrical gadgets to cover the cost of potential damage, especially considering the added movement that could impact your gear!

Summary - The Traveler's Guide To Insurance

Life doesn’t always go to plan, especially when you’re constantly on the go and living a world away! Making sure you have the coverage you need to save on unforeseen costs is the best way to move freely and easily knowing that you got your back. Thinking about travel insurance while setting up a credit card is a must, these often have the best travel insurance! When selecting medical insurance, be realistic about what you see yourself doing, and work around that to make sure your top needs are met.  

Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Insurance, Travel Planning, 0 comments
Best VPN for Travel & Digital Nomads

Best VPN for Travel & Digital Nomads

In today’s interconnected world, where your digital data is your most valued asset and privacy and security are paramount, having a Virtual Private Network (VPN) has become an essential tool for everyone. Whether you’re jet-setting across the globe or working remotely from a tropical paradise, a VPN can safeguard your online activities, protect sensitive information, and even help you save money. In this guide, we’ll dive into the world of VPNs and explore the top options for young budget-conscious travelers, to help you stay protected online! Keep reading to find out the best VPN for travel!

Woman sitting and working at a cafe, protected online with a VPN

Table of Contents

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Summary & Recommendation

1. SurfsharkOverall Best Travel VPN. #1 choice for No Trace Travel due to its low cost, high speeds, the most countries with server locations, and added features for a better experience. Stay protected online with Surfshark today!

2. NordVPNFastest Speeds Travel VPN. is a quality-assured option, a favorite of many due to its long-term success as a VPN service.

3. ExpressVPNMost Consistent Travel VPN. Reliable and affordable VPN with consistent speeds and reliability.

4. CyberGhostMost User-Friendly Travel VPN. Simple to use and consistent performance.

What Is a VPN?

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a service that encrypts your internet connection and routes it through a secure server, masking your online identity and activities. This encryption shields your data from potential hackers, cybercriminals, and even nosy advertisers.

For travelers, this means added protection when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks in airports, cafes, and hotels. Additionally, a VPN can grant you access to geo-restricted content, allowing you to stream your favorite shows and access websites as if you were in your home country, or any country of your choice (hello unlimited Netflix options)!

Who Needs a VPN?

Anyone who values their online privacy and security can benefit from a VPN, not just the IT nerds who actually know about the breadcrumbs you leave with every click. The advantages are especially pronounced for young budget-conscious travelers and digital nomads:

  1. Secure Public Wi-Fi Usage: When you’re on the go, you’re likely to connect to various public Wi-Fi networks. A VPN ensures that your data remains encrypted and safe, preventing potential cyberattacks.

  2. Bypass Geo-Restrictions: If you’re traveling abroad and want to access content from your home country, a VPN can make it seem as though you’re still there, granting you access to your favorite websites and streaming services. Every country has different online restrictions, a VPN can help skirt around those (in a legal way).

  3. Cost Savings: Many online services, including flight booking websites and hotel reservation platforms, often display different prices based on your location. By using a VPN to appear as if you’re browsing from a different country, you might unlock better deals.

  4. Remote Work Security: For digital nomads, a VPN adds an extra layer of security when accessing company networks or sensitive work materials from various locations.

Cost - Many companies offer their goods and services at a rate consistent with your location, meaning there are deals out there waiting for you in other countries! Use a VPN to see your savings potential.

Considerations To Choose The Best VPN For You

All VPN’s are not created equally – each offers a different combination of features and quality for a competitive advantage. Before looking into VPNs to purchase, it is important to consider what factors are the most important to you! 

By carefully evaluating these factors and assessing how well each VPN meets your specific needs, you can confidently choose a VPN that enhances your online security, supports your digital lifestyle, and aligns with your budget.

Cost

While budget is a key concern for many travelers, remember that a slightly higher investment can often lead to better security and performance. Consider the value you’re getting for the price, including features like security protocols, server options, and customer support.

Security & Reliability

The primary purpose of a VPN is to enhance your online security and privacy. Look for a VPN with strong encryption protocols, a strict no-logs policy, and additional security features like a kill switch. Prioritize reliability and a solid reputation in the industry.

Number of Devices & Compatibility

If you have multiple devices or are traveling with others, a VPN that allows multiple simultaneous connections can be a significant advantage. Similarly, consider the devices you’ll be using during your travels. Ensure the VPN supports all the devices you plan to connect, such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets.

Server Speed & Locations

VPNs can sometimes result in slower internet speeds due to the encryption and rerouting of traffic. Look for VPNs that prioritize maintaining high speeds, especially if you intend to stream content, video call, or work remotely.

The more server locations a VPN offers, the more versatility you have in accessing geo-restricted content and maintaining optimal browsing speeds. If you have specific regions in mind for your travels, ensure the VPN has servers in those areas.

Read More - Once you establish how you will protect your data online, check out everything you need to know about International Phone Plans!

Option 1 - SurfShark

Surfshark is a versatile VPN option that offers a well-rounded set of features suitable for budget-conscious travelers and digital nomads, making it our #1 Choice for Travelers. It stands out with its unlimited simultaneous connections, allowing you to secure all your devices under one subscription. With a quickly growing network of over 3200 servers in 100 countries, Surfshark provides an amazing range of server locations for accessing geo-restricted content and maintaining good speeds.

Cost – $2.49/month for 2 years
Speed – 100+ Mbps
Servers – 3,200+ servers in 100 countries

Tip - Unlimited devices mean you can share the plan with your travel companions to save!

Option 2 - NordVPN

NordVPN is renowned for its strong emphasis on security and privacy. With a vast network of over 5000 servers in 60 countries, it offers a wide range of server options for accessing global content. NordVPN is a solid choice for users seeking advanced security features while maintaining good connection speeds. It also provides specialized servers for activities like streaming and torrenting.

Cost – $5.49 / month for 2 years
Speed – 100+ Mbps
Servers – 5,608 servers in 60 countries

Option 3 - Express VPN

ExpressVPN is a high-performance VPN option with a focus on speed and reliable connections. With 3000+ servers in 94 countries, it offers a broad server network for accessing content from around the world. ExpressVPN is particularly popular among users who prioritize streaming, as it provides consistent speeds and reliable access to geo-blocked content.

Cost – $6.67/month for 1 year (+3 months free)
Speed – 100+ Mbps
Servers – 3,000+ servers in 94 countries

Option 4 - CyberGhost

CyberGhost is known for its user-friendly interface and is a great option for beginners. With over 7300 servers in 91 countries, it offers an extensive server network. CyberGhost places a strong focus on streaming optimization, making it a preferred choice for users who want seamless access to geo-restricted content.

Cost – $2.19/month for 2 years (+2 months free)
Speed – 100+ Mbps
Servers – 9,438 servers in 91 countries

Summary - Best VPN for Travelers & Digital Nomads

Selecting the right VPN depends on your specific needs. Consider factors such as server locations (to access content from your preferred regions), speed (necessary for streaming and remote work), and ease of use. Each of these VPN options provides a range of features tailored to different requirements, ensuring that you can travel with peace of mind, knowing your online activities are secure.

In conclusion, a VPN is a valuable investment for any young budget-conscious traveler or digital nomad. Not only does it protect your sensitive information, but it also enhances your online freedom and opens up a world of possibilities. 

Choose a VPN that aligns with your travel needs, and embark on your adventures with the confidence that your digital footprint remains secure and untraceable.

Purchase an External Hard Drive before you go!
Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Technology, Travel Planning, 0 comments
8 Must-Have Zero Waste Travel Toiletries

8 Must-Have Zero Waste Travel Toiletries

Toiletries are a necessary thing to pack to maintain our hygiene and personal maintenance, but the number of things we pack can easily add up, especially when we pack unnecessary and wasteful products. Zero-waste travel toiletries are a great way to reduce your waste while traveling, and save money! This article will cover some of the best zero waste travel toiletries for you to consider for your next adventure. 

By choosing low-waste, reusable solutions you will not only reduce the waste you create but also save space in your bag and save money on future purchases! With this guide, you can save $150 annually with sustainable swaps in your toiletry bag alone!

These products are designed to minimize waste and reduce the environmental footprint of your travel, while also saving you money and hassle from shopping in foreign places. In this article, we’ll discuss some essential zero-waste toiletries that can help you maintain your hygiene and keep the planet clean. 

Arrangement of all zero waste travel toiletry options that I use

Table of Contents

Anything purchased through the links on this page helps me maintain this blog going. Thanks for supporting – Learn More.

1. Makeup Palette

We are starting the list strong, with a game changer for your toiletries with a completely zero-waste makeup palette. Makeup has always been a source of waste in my cosmetics since they are so often made with plastic packaging, are non-refillable, and have a short lifetime.

Level up your low-waste lifestyle with this completely zero-waste palette by Elate. This is a 100% customizable palette, where you can pick and choose which capsules you want to complete your look. Choose from eye shadow, blush, eyebrow color, eyeliner, foundation, concealer, and more! You can mix and match to make your perfect set, without buying all the extra crap.

This palette comes in different sizes, so you can design it for your glam desires. The palette housing is made from Bamboo, and each tablet is set in 100% aluminum, so you can recycle them everywhere! When one is finished, simply order a new one and receive it in 100% recyclable packaging.

Open makeup palette, DIY makeup remover, reusable cotton rounds, and eco-brushes

Sunscreen

If you don’t consider sunscreen in your daily makeup application, that should change. Your face is constantly taking on the sun’s harmful rays, which can increase the appearance of aging and create skin cancers. The catch is, not all sunscreens are created equal. In fact, popular brands like Banana Boat, Coppertone, and Neutrogena cause a lot of damage to our marine ecosystem.

The chemicals in these sunscreens cause reproduction issues, growth defects, and more (and you’re putting that on your body?!) Look out for these harmful chemicals in many name-brand sunscreens that lead to marine degradation and coral bleaching.

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Benzophenone-1
  • Benzophenone-8
  • OD-PABA
  • 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor
  • 3-Benzylidene camphor
  • Octocrylene
Sun Bum Face Sunscreen is my go to daily protectant. It is vegan and reef friendly, which is so essential for environemntal conservation. While you're already on a roll saving the planet, get yourself some Sun Bum Body Sunscreen as well.

2. Makeup Remover

On the topic of makeup, makeup wipes are quickly filling our waterways and landfills, and for no reason at all. Not only are they a major source of waste, but also a major source of money spent. Save yourself the trouble while traveling, and swap to a zero-waste option that you can even make yourself!

For the past few years, I have been using reusable cotton pads and a DIY makeup remover which leaves my skin feeling clean and hydrated – yay no toxic chemicals on my skin!

DIY Makeup Remover

The makeup remover is a combination of almond oil and rose hip water, but any oil-based solution will work! It even takes off my waterproof mascara! Look around you for a ‘Refill Store’, and get a makeup remover created just for you.

This is a great chance to reuse any old bottle (make it under 3oz. so you can take it on a carry-on), and refill it to make your perfect remover. I wear some makeup daily and only need to refill my 3oz container 1x per year! The cost is about $4 to fill the bottle.

Reusable Cotton Pads

Cotton pads are the best way to remove makeup with your new DIY remover. They are soft, eco-friendly, and can be homemade! Once I am low on clean cotton pads to use, I simply soak them and wash them with non-toxic soap, and they’re good as new! No searching for makeup wipes in a small town in Vietnam, you got yourself covered for months (if not years). The cost is free or $5 if you purchase them!

If you're not handy with a sewing machine, purchase yourself some Reusable Cotton Rounds!
Amazon.com
Makeup Wipes Annual Cost Re-usable Annual Cost Annual Cost Savings

$0.02 / wipe * 365 days = $73

Pads + DIY Remover = $9

$64 Saved Annually

3. Menstrual Cup

If you’re a person that has periods, you need to get on board with this one. Menstrual cups are a complete game-changer for your monthly cycle in terms of health, ease, comfort, and cost.

Not only do they reduce unnecessary waste, but they are also so much better for your health. Shoving cotton *up there* affects your pH, meanwhile, silicon has no adverse effect on your body. Once the cup is in, you don’t even feel it!

If that doesn’t convince you, the cost savings will. Let’s assume the average period requires 4 tampons/day and lasts 5 days, that is 20 tampons/month. A box of tampons containing 47 tampons = $10.47, or $0.22/tampon. Over 1 year (13 cycles), that is $57!

A menstrual cup lasts about 8 years... that's right, 8 years of no tampons or pads. They vary in cost, but my personal favorite is the Pixie Menstrual Cup. This cup has different sizes since all bodies are different, comes with the cutest carrying bag, and has a Buy-1, Give-1 promise. Your purchase will benefit you, and a woman in need to have menstrual stability for the rest of her pre-menopausal life!
Pink menstrual cup and tampons which are both zero waste travel toiletry options

I have been using a menstrual cup for over a decade, and I couldn’t imagine ever going back. I do keep a few ob-applicator free tampons in my purse and bag for emergencies, and mostly since I have had them for years and can’t just toss them!

Tampons Annual Cost Menstrual Cup Annual Cost Annual Cost Savings

$0.22 / tampon * 20 tampons * 13 cycles = $57

Menstrual cup = $23 / 8 years = $3

$55 Saved Annually

4. Reusable Cotton Swab

Cotton swabs serve such a simple purpose, and they can easily be swapped out for something that will save you money and waste. Not to mention how bulky they are to keep in your travel bag.

If you just can't go without the feeling of being completely clean in your ear canal (I get it), at least opt for a more sustainable option like these Bamboo Swabs!
Amazon.com
I use The Last Swab, and absolutely love it. The silicone tips are covered in little dots to leave your ears feeling clean and fresh every time. It is easy to clean, and takes up no space at all while traveling!
Cotton Swab Annual Cost Last Swab Annual Cost Annual Cost Savings

$0.01 / swab * 365 days = $3.65

The Last Swab = $11 / 5 years = $2.2

$1.45 Saved Annually

*Okay, so not a major cost savings, but it is a major waste reduction. Not to mention you won’t have to go buy some while you’re traveling and make space in your bag!

5. Soap + Scrub Bag

Once you’re traveling, you realize anything in a bottle takes up so much space. And if it is any type of soap or product, you realize it is mostly water taking up all that space!

Going for a bar of soap will save you so much space, and you have more control of what you’re putting on your body! Not to mention it will last at least 2x as long as a bottle of body wash.

You’ll never see organic, natural body wash soap, but you definitely can get that in a bar of soap, while also supporting local artisans as you travel!

Black and White scrubber bag for soap
Amazon.com

Scrubber Pouch

Some people can just use soap and not scrub their bodies, and still feel clean. That’s not me, and if it’s not you either then a scrubber pouch for your soap is the perfect solution. Simply slide your soap into this woven little bag and you have an upgraded loofah that will last a while!

They come in a variety of designs and materials, so you can get one that works well for you. You can even try out making one yourself!

If you're going to give crocheting a go and make your own, props to you! However if crafting isn't your thing, check this high quality MainBasics Scrubber Pouch. Now you can wash away all your dirty consumeristic ways and say goodbye to plastic loofahs for good.

6. Bamboo Toothbrush

The bamboo toothbrush is the icon of ‘sustainable living’, but hey it’s true! Toothbrushes have a relatively short lifespan and should be replaced every 3 months. That means 4 of these plastic sticks end up in the landfill, or more likely washed up on a beach somewhere, where they stay for the next 500 years.

Set of 10 bamboo toothbrushes, labeled as Climate Pledge Friendly on Amazon
Amazon.com
Switching to a bamboo toothbrush costs you $0 extra, and offers the opportunity to reduce your plastic use! Get yourself a pack of Bamboo Toothbrushes to bring along on your travels. It's always nice to have a spare when you need it, and you may not find these sustianable solutions in every country you go to!
Plastic Toothbrush Annual Cost Bamboo Toothbrush Annual Cost Annual Cost Savings

$3.98 / toothbrush * 4/year = $15.92

Toothbrush = $0.8 * 4/year = $3.2

$12.72 Saved Annually

Toothpaste Tablets

On the note of dental hygiene, toothpaste tablets have taken over the ‘zero-waste’ market. They are an ingenious solution to toothpaste tubes that typically can’t be recycled. But how feasible are they for travel?

To be honest, they’re not easy to come by in many parts of the world. And if they are, they can be outrageously expensive. While traveling for the past year, even in Westernized areas of Europe, I struggled to find them!

However, if you're in an area that receives Amazon deliveries, check for the Hello Toothpaste Tablets. They are only $7 for 1 month supply, which is comparable to your average bottle of toothpaste!
Blue container of toothpaste tablets to reduce waste
Amazon.com
Generic Toothpaste Annual Cost Hello Tablets Annual Cost Annual Cost Savings

$1.0 / oz. * 14.2 oz / year = $14.2

$7.99 / month * 12 months = $95.88

-$81.48 Saved Annually

Toothpaste tablets aren’t a feasible swap for everyone yet, due to the high cost. Sustainable purchasing doesn’t have to be perfect, just be mindful and do what you can!

7. Medicine Organizer

Traveling with medicine is a good idea for a lot of reasons. You never know when you’re going to feel a type of way (headache, fever, stomach issues, no sleep, etc). Rather than bring a bunch of bulky bottles, or worse, not bring anything and try to find it in a foreign country when you need it most, get an organizer!

This Sukuos Medicine Organizer allowed me to just take the medicine and vitamins from my containers at home and have a bit of everything, just in case!
Open medicine organizer with various pills to use for travel

8. Jewelry Organizer

Okay, so not really toiletry per se. But, I have seen way too many people using zip-loc bags to hold their jewelry. While this does work, it wears down over time, resulting in waste, or doesn’t protect your jewelry, resulting in waste.

I am a big jewelry person, so this is a must-have for me. My case is reliable and durable, and it was a gift from a friend, so there was no unnecessary consumerism on my part! Ask around to your friends and family to see if they have something laying around for you that will help you stay organized!

Summary - Top 8 Must Have Zero Waste Travel Toiletries

By choosing zero waste toiletries, you will reduce the amount of waste you create, save money, and reduce the number of items in your luggage while traveling. Many of these items are affordable, and pay for themselves over a few months! Every item you purchase supports a future state of the world; one filled with trash that litters the planet for millennia, or one that prioritizes innovative solutions in a sustainable way.

We travel to see the beauty of nature around the world, let’s not fill it with trash and waste. Support low-waste items and support a cleaner future, for all.

Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Packing, Travel Planning, 0 comments
What Is The Schengen Visa Rule?

What Is The Schengen Visa Rule?

Europe is a traveler’s dream for its historical cities, unique cultures, and beautiful scenery. The population density makes it easy and affordable to move around to different places and explore everything the continent has to offer. However, before going to Europe you must be aware of the Schengen Visa rules and restrictions that can affect your travel. 

There are 27 countries in Europe that share a tourist visa permitting a 90-day stay in the region, so travelers can’t stay in Europe indefinitely without leaving the region. While this does create a headache for travelers to manage and decide how to spend their limited time in these European countries, it allows Schengen citizens to maintain their economy and life without nomads roaming their world for too long. 

So if you were thinking you’ll hop over to Europe and stay 1 month in each country, you can’t. At least not with a little bit of planning and a thorough understanding of the Schengen Visa Rule. 

Assortment of travel items including a camera, passport, compass, photos, and a notebook laid out of a brown and white map

Table of Contents

Schengen Area

What Is It

The Schengen Area (pronounced: sheng-uhn) is comprised of 27 European countries (and counting), that share a border for tourist and travel purposes. The countries that have voluntarily joined Schengen have abolished their internal borders, allowing people to travel freely between the participating countries, for up to 90 days in a 180-day period.

Schengen Countries

This Schengen Area is not to be confused with the European Union. The EU is a voluntary alliance focused on economic prosperity since much of European countries rely on trade with each other. 

So just because a country is in the European Continent, it doesn’t mean it is a part of the EU or Schengen area.

Countries that are outside the EU, but in Schengen include: Iceland, Switzerland, Norway, and Liechtenstein.

Countries that are in the EU, but outside of Schengen include Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, and Ireland. However, Bulgaria, Romania, and Cyprus have plans to join Schengen soon.

Schengen Countries
Austria
Belgium
Czechia
Croatia
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Italy
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Netherlands
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland

Microstates

A big question is on Europe’s microstates (Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican City). Since these countries can only be accessed from a Schengen country (France & Italy), a Schengen is needed.

If you don’t need a Schengen visa for Europe, then no visa is required for these microstates. Although they are not technically within the Schengen Area, they do count towards your 90 day limit.

Schengen Visa

Generally speaking, citizens of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, European countries, and much of south and Central America do not need to obtain a Schengen Visa. There are some exclusions in certain circumstances, so please thoroughly check the Schengen Visa Info website to confirm your status.

*NOTE: After 2023, anyone who does not need a Schengen Visa will need to apply for ETIAS, which is a visa waiver.

For those who do need a Schengen Visa, the cost is 80 EUR and can take 10 working days for processing. There are specific requirements on top of the application including travel health insurance, flight itinerary for arrival and departure, proof of accommodation, proof of financial records, proof of employment, and travel itinerary.

If you’re traveling to the Schengen Area for any reason beyond tourism, you must apply for a visa specific to your purpose of travel. More information can be found on the Schengen Info website. 

90/180 Day Rule

As mentioned above, you are limited to 90 days in a 180-day rolling period. There are a few things to note about how the 90 days are counted. First, the days are only counted when you’re in a Schengen country, as soon as you leave, the days stop counting towards the 90 days (but continue counting towards 180 days).

 The 90-day part is pretty straightforward, but the 180-day period is where it gets a little confusing. The 180-day period is counted backward from the last date of exit from Schengen. 

Example

Let’s say you enter Spain (in Schengen) on January 1st, and you stay for 30 days until January 30th. From here you leave to Morocco, (outside Schengen), and stay in Northern Africa for 60 days. [You’ve used 30/90 days] = 60 days left

From here then you enter Italy on April 1st, and stay for 6 weeks (42 days) before departing to Albania (outside Schengen) on May 12th. [You’ve used 72 days/180 > 30 days in Spain + 42 days in Italy] = 18 days left

You spend 30 days in Albania, before going to Croatia (in Schengen) on June 12. You now have 48 days left that you can spend in Croatia before you reach 90 days. You stay in Croatia until July 29th when you’re on your 90th day.

But wait, wouldn’t that mean you overstayed?

No! Since it is a rolling 180-day period, 180 days from the last exit (July 29th) is January 31st. That means the 30 days you spent in Spain from January 1-30 are not counting towards your 90 day limit. 

How to Keep Track Of Time In Schengen?

The 90-day limit is a hard limit, there are no extensions or easy workarounds, so you need to know when you entered to know when you have to leave. The 90 days include the day you arrive and the day you depart.

My partner and I did a simple Google search and counted the weeks “90 days from (entry date)”… but this search didn’t include the first day!!

We had our whole plan to leave Europe on the 91st day, which needed to be changed. 

Schengen Calculator App

We then found the ‘Schengen App’ where you can enter your travel dates that are in the Schengen area, and it will tell you how many days are left in the area. This app allows you to save trip dates and shows you an accurate count to determine how many days are left so you can plan effectively! There are a few in the app store you can use!

Also check out this Short Stay Visa Calculator from the EU. 

Screenshot of Schengen Calendar app

How Can I Get Around The 90/180 Day Rule

The 90/180 rule is definitely a firm rule held up by the participating countries. While there are some reports that immigration doesn’t thoroughly check the entry dates on your passport and calculate the time in the region, it is definitely a no-go to overstay. 

Punishment for overstaying can include being sent to your home country or being banned from the Schengen area for a number of years (which can definitely add a big hurdle to travel plans). 

Travel to Non-Schengen Countries

Luckily there are a few countries in Europe and surrounding areas that you can travel to while you wait out the time months to return! Check out the Balkan Region, where you can explore Albania, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia, and Kosovo. This area is affordable and incredibly beautiful.

Another option is heading north to the UK! England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland are free from Schengen restrictions (thanks to Brexit). 

Alternatively, check out Northern Africa like Morocco or Egypt, and the Middle East

Digital Nomad Visas

Many countries around the world are offering ‘Digital Nomad Visas’, also called ‘Resident Permits/Visas’, which allow you to reside in a country for an extended period (a few years) if you’re making an income.

Each country has different requirements for visas, which can be found on their government’s website.

This option requires a bit of planning further out and often must be applied for while in your home country.

Student Visa

It’s not uncommon for travelers to enroll in a European University to obtain a Student Visa. This allows the traveler to remain in Europe and travel freely for the duration of their visa (up to 3 years). While you can go to class and learn some things, you don’t have to! 

This option does take a bit of planning since it involved applying and acceptance to a foreign university, but it is definitely possible.

Working Holiday Visa

This visa allows a person under 30 to travel and work within a country for 1-2 years. This is a great option if you’re from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or the US (although the US only has 2 options). You are able to move around Europe freely during this time, and have the chance to make some income! Work for pay can only be done in the country where the visa was provided.

It is also possible to get consecutive working holiday visas so you can stay in Europe for years!

Bilateral Agreements

Many of the Schengen Member Countries have a bilateral agreement in place which allow a traveler to stay in that country for up to 90 days, regardless of time spent in the Schengen Area. There are exclusions, so some additional research is required.

Countries with a bilateral agreement with the US include Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Portugal, and Spain. A full list of countries that have a bilateral agreement at all can be found here

This is the least common option, and traveler still face difficulties. Many of these bilateral agreements were implemented after WWII, and border agents may not be aware they even exist. It is crucial to verify your entry date into the country which you choose to exercise this, as well as documentation proving the agreements existstence. Remember, there are no border crossings where your passport will be stamped if you’re coming from another Schengen member.

Summary - WHAT IS THE SCHENGEN VISA RULE?

Europe is one of the most traveled regions of the world, for a great reason. It is easy to get around, there is so much culture and history to experience, and the ability to do it on any budget. However, as a tourist, the Schengen Rule is a common barrier to living your Europe travel dreams. This 27-country agreement limits tourism stays up to 90 days every 180 days, making you think outside the box to stay longer. 

There are ways to get around this, including alternative visa options, traveling to a country that is in a bilateral agreement with your home country, or simply optimizing your travel so you don’t overstay. No matter what option you go with, you’re sure to be in a beautiful place with opportunities to explore and learn on every corner.

Explore the other destinations waiting for you in Europe!

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Posted by Taylor Mallaber in Europe, Travel Planning, 0 comments
Explained: International Phone Plans For Travelers

Explained: International Phone Plans For Travelers

No matter where in the world you’re going, it has become essential to stay connected to the online world too, for navigation and moving with ease. In this article, I will go over the things to know and consider when purchasing international phone plans for travelers, to keep you connected without paying more than you need. 

Changing to a phone plan that works where you are can be confusing, overwhelming, and can get extremely expensive if you don’t know what to look out for. Keep reading to understand the different digital elements at work and some of the best options to consider! 

Woman's hand holding an iPhone in a remote travel destination, with waves crashing in the background

Table of Contents

Will My Phone Work Abroad?

Luckily with the globalized world we are in now, there is a lot in place to make it easier for us to stay connected. This makes it easier to switch phone plans to fit where you are. 

However, there are some key definitions and things to understand to navigate the confusing language that phone carriers use so that you can pick among the best international phone plans for you!

Phone Plan Basics

A phone plan is a general term for the essential services of the phone, offering calls & texts, and/or data. They are not synonymous and one may be much more important than the other! 

It’s essential to know what services you need while traveling so you can get the right phone plan for you.

Almost every phone plan comes with a call & text plan, which is the allotment of minutes you can spend talking on the phone and the number of messages that can be sent and received within a specific time. 

However, this is not included in every travel phone plan, and almost always has limitations on international calls and messaging.

The data plan is set in terms of gigabytes (GB) for some time (10 GB/30 days) or it can be unlimited so you can connect without any limits! This is what connects you to the internet and allows the use of Google Maps, searching on a web browser, and using social media platforms. 

If a phone plan doesn’t include a data plan, then it can only connect to the Internet via WiFi (and hotspots). While Wi-Fi is great to stay connected and cut down on data plan costs, be sure to stay protected with a VPN for travel.

Mobile Technology - CDMA vs. GSM

When mobile communication was created and widely used in the 1980s, there were different technologies that dominated the industry, including CDMA and GSM. This is essentially the way that cellular devices (phones) communicate to get an internet connection- or frequency bands – associated with the second and third generation (2G and 3G). So, when your phone is on 3G data, it is either using CDMA or GSM technology.

CDMA phones can connect to CDMA networks, and GSM phones can connect to GSM networks. We can leave the specifics of how that communication works up to the engineers, and just go over which carriers use which communication technology.

Since the technologies are different, they aren’t always interchangeable. It’s important to know which technology your phone uses, and where that will and will not work. Newer devices are capable of working on both, so this shouldn’t be a concern for too many people unless your phone is older.

Unlock Phone

Many phone carriers “lock” a user’s phone so that it cannot be switched to another carrier. For example, if you purchase a phone with AT&T, it is ‘locked’ to the AT&T company for 60 days after purchase. This becomes a major barrier in switching phone plans while traveling but can be dealt with with a few steps. 

Historically, unlocking a phone while still under contract would have voided the contract, but most carriers have gotten away from this so you can take control of where you can use your phone, and with what company. Many companies sell their phones unlocked! The process depends on the carrier, and further guidance can be found from the experts here

*You cannot move forward with any of the international phone plans until your phone is unlocked!

International Phone Plans

Many providers offer international coverage, which may include the areas you’re traveling to. For example, many phone plans in Europe include coverage within the EU, and phone plans in the US often include coverage in Mexico and Canada. You should look at your current plan’s coverage to see what is offered because it might already be the solution you’re looking for! 

It is important to note that these international phone plans often limit you in data usage at 4G/5G rates, and then kick you down to 2G/3G. With everything, read the fine print to know what this is going to look like while in use, and understand if it will meet your needs!

When traveling outside of the regular coverage areas, many domestic phone plans have International Plans made for use while traveling. This is usually a daily fee for a certain amount of minutes/texts and data usage.

While this is a very convenient option, it can get ridiculously expensive, especially if you’re traveling for more than a few days. Keep exploring the best international phone plans that fit into your travel budget.

For example, in the US I used Verizon, which has international phone plans known as ‘Travel Pass’, where I could essentially have the same benefits of my plans at home anywhere in the world for an additional $10/day. This was useful for the first day that I landed since we didn’t have any internet connection to get to the bus stop and our Airbnb, but would have cost a fortune to use any longer. 

PRO's
  • Great for short-term travel (< 3 days)
  • Most convenient
  • Contact with home country
  • Keeps home country phone number
CON's
  • Typically very expensive (roughly $10/day)
  • Cookie-cutter plans
  • Data limits
  • Limited texts and minutes

Check out this article to see all of the Essential Phone Apps for International Travel!

Local Physical SIM card

If you’re traveling for more than a few days, the recommended option is to go with a local SIM card. By purchasing a local SIM card for your destination, you essentially get a local short-term phone plan and a local phone number! 

There are a few considerations to make when going with this option. When you change your number, you no longer can send and receive messages and calls from everyone back home with your home country number, however, you can call and connect with the destination so you can call a restaurant or a taxi company.

Without a SIM card, your phone is essentially a camera that is WiFi-dependent for anything else! Most wireless providers offer various plans for data packages and length of time. This option makes it very affordable to select a plan that is specific to your travels and at a reasonable price. 

A SIM card can be physically inserted into your phone, and many newer smartphones have eSIM compatibility which can be purchased and installed virtually, so you’re ready to travel before leaving home!

Physical SIM

Historically, SIM cards have been physically inserted and removed from the phone, allowing it to change plans. To do this, a user would need to purchase a SIM card beforehand online or find a seller in the destination country to purchase a SIM, and manually switch it out. 

Most providers have plans specific to travelers (3 days up to a few months), so you can get the plan that fits your schedule and data needs. 

One major perk of getting a physical SIM is it can include call & text AND data (unlike an eSIM). While this is a relatively easy option, you may be stuck without data when you land in a foreign place if you didn’t set it up before you left! 

With some older phones, the physical SIM is the only option, which can be purchased online and shipped to you before you leave. Many major airports sell SIM cards (at a slightly higher price), or you can navigate to a local telecom store to start a new plan. 

Be sure to keep your original SIM card in a safe place so you can pop it back in when you return home and have your old number!

PRO's
  • More affordable than International Plans with a domestic service provider
  • Customizable packages for specific needs
  • Transfers to a local phone number (SIM)
  • A lot of provider and plan options
CON's
  • Requires additional planning & activation
  • Transfers to a local phone number (SIM)
  • Risks non-coverage period if not purchased before leaving home country
  • Risks losing domestic SIM (your old number would be gone forever)

eSIM

Luckily, newer phones have adopted an eSIM capability or electronic SIM. This allows the transition to international phone plans to occur online, and be activated when it is needed! eSIMs essentially work the same as a physical SIM with a few differences. 

An eSIM is purchased through a company that works with a specific provider. For example, you wouldn’t purchase an eSIM through T-Mobile, you would get it through a company like Nomad which uses the best local networks, like T-Mobile. 

*There are some settings to ensure you don’t get astronomical international roaming charges, by keeping all data restricted to the eSIM.

One major difference between a physical SIM and an eSIM is that eSIMs do not have options for call & text, since it doesn’t give you a local number. This is a data-only option! This may prevent you from calling local restaurants, a taxi company, or anything else in your destination country. 

An option to get around this issue is that local places are often on WhatsApp in many countries where tourism is popular. Or, you can get a Google Voice plan that ports your home phone number to Google, where you can make calls and texts from your home number abroad.

eSIMs are made for travelers, so the options are much more flexible and convenient for you! This includes regional plans that extend beyond a specific country’s connection so you can move across borders without worrying about your internet connection.