As we did our pre-trip planning, there were a lot of topics to cover. Here is all of the stuff we looked at, including updates:
- Gear List (What do we take and what do we take it in?!):
I (Rachel) just don’t see myself walking around everywhere with a big backpack strapped on, but I do see where and when it can be convenient. So I started looking into carry-ons that we could put straps on – unfortunately, these are pretty expensive! Luckily, my parents bought us the luggage as a Diwali (Indian New Year) present – thanks mom and dad! Here’s what we ended up buying – I’m a little apprehensive because it’s a bit heavy and budget airlines have restrictive weight limits for carry-ons but we’ll see how it goes!
Even though neither of us have ever gotten vaccines for travel, we figured this time we were going for a long enough time to go ahead and get the vaccines recommended by the CDC (for the most part). The only note we have here is that city/county clinics are cheaper than so called travel clinics and neither took our insurance.
Before South America, Samir got a vaccination for yellow fever, which came out to $150.
Before South America, Rachel got a vaccination for yellow fever, which came out to $150.
- Credit Cards
Most credit card companies will jack you on both the FX conversion rate plus FX transaction fees – these can be anywhere from 3-5%! Craziness! There are a few cards out there that don’t have FX transaction fees (who knows what they do on the rate!) – the ones with low or no annual fee are the Capital One VentureOne Rewards and the Chase Sapphire Preferred (Chase also has cards through Continental and Marriott that are no FX transaction fees but they have a higher annual fee).
Credit Cards – Update
For some reason, we didn’t get the Chase card despite several other accounts with them. The Capital One card has a strong fraud-protection feature – so strong that we’ve been shut out from using it too. We’ve had to call them, and verify the transactions have been ours, even though we placed a travel alert on the account. It’s actually been frustrating to use.
Same thing applies for ATM fees – not only would my bank charge a fee, their bank would charge a fee as well plus a 3% foreign exchange conversion – anywhere from $6-$12 per withdrawal! Craziness again! There are a couple of banks that don’t charge foreign transaction ATM fees – one of which is Capital One (with a minimum balance of $5,000). Also, USAA offers some good deals for ATM and Credit accounts, but we didn’t look too much into those since neither of is in a military family (though some USAA services have been opened up to non-military families).
Cash – Update
Capital One has strong fraud-protection on debit cards too, which has meant we show up at an ATM in Asia and are rejected for a withdrawal, unless we call the USA phone number, from Asia.
ATMs throughout the world have a maximum withdrawal limit, which has stymied us at times. In Thailand, it was usually about $350, though we got up to $525 once. In Laos, it was $130. In Indonesia, it was $220, though we got up to $330 once. In Peru, it was $160 or $270, depending on which bank’s ATM was being used. In Uruguay, it was $235.
In Argentina, someone told us about a money transfer service through Xoom.com, which offers much more favorable conversion rates in countries where the currency fluctuates often (such as in Argentina), with a maximum withdrawal limit of $2,999 per 30 days. We can send you a referral email link – we both get a bonus if you use it.
- Travel Insurance
There are many types of travel insurance out there, and all the information is kind of confusing. The main thing we wanted coverage for was medical insurance for unfortunate, catastrophic type events and injuries. We didn’t need trip interruption or trip cancellation insurance (this is helpful when you’ve booked a lot in advance and have to change your plans due to a covered reason and they refund the amount spent on the trip) since we aren’t booking a lot in advance. We wanted specific medical insurance. There were a few companies we looked at that were in our budget – World Nomads (comes recommended by Lonely Planet and a bunch of backpacking sites), Patriot International (which we’re likely going with) and I think Atlantis (I used www.insuremytrip.com to compare quotes). These policies all have a Sports or Adventure Rider that cover you for what they consider Adventure type activities but I think are kind of normal (like snorkeling or jet skiing). Also, they have the flexibility of being purchaseable month by month.
- We decided on Patriot because they provided for one extra month of home country coverage once we came back to the US, would cover our hiatus trip back to the US and they charged the same amount per month regardless of the number of months purchased whereas World Nomads would give a better discount based on the number of months purchased.
- Passports / Visas – For the most part, we should be able to get these on arrival, if even required. The only exceptions are India (Samir and I both have this one anyway) and Brazil. Brazil will have to be done on our hiatus between SE Asia and S America because the rules are reciprocally stringent.
Thailand – we got a 30-day visa on arrival, no charge
- Cell phones – Samir and I both got our phones unlocked and plan to get SIM cards in each of the places we go to – hope it works out!
Cell Phones – Update
- We discovered that in Asia, cell phones are not sold with a contract as in the United States. Cell phones are sold separately from SIM cards. Phone numbers are assigned to SIM cards.
- India SIM – A new SIM card is primarily obtained by giving a passport-size photo and photo ID proof of Indian residency. If you’re traveling, it’s easier if you can get a local citizen to go with you to get a SIM card. There are many service providers in India – we went with Vodafone. We initially got 2GB of data for one month for 100 rupees (about $2) and 200 minutes of voice for 100 rupees. On the voice part – incoming calls are free and do not count to totals for minutes, and do not expire like the data did. We were a bit bummed though because we ended up on a local calling plan, not a national plan, so we got hit up with roaming charges outside of New Delhi. We had to recharge voice one time – for 500 rupees between the two of us. Adding minutes/data is done by “top-up” or “recharge” – you go to a place that sells recharge for your specific provider (usually on the sign outside), they pull out a code and they text it, along with your phone number, to the provider. Up to 30 minutes later, your account is credited.
- India Experience – It took Samir forever to get his data plan working because the Apple iPhone comes with a lot of stuff disabled/hidden, even on unlocked phones. Rachel figured out the custom APN settings, which finally got the data working. Our experience with Vodafone was hit or miss. In some places, our relatives or people on the street had excellent service while we had none. In other places, our relatives had no service while we had great service. And service varied depending on which phone we used – the iPhone or the Blackberry, even when the phones were right next to each other.
- Thailand SIM – We were confused by where to go get a SIM card, finally setting on 7-11, whose presence all throughout Thailand has been startling. They seem to have one every 1 mile in every direction in every city. We chose 1-2-Call / AIS / Happy SIM as our service provider, though we got different SIM cards. Rachel’s is Freedom SIM which is cheap on voice, expensive on data. Samir’s is Net SIM which is the opposite. Initial costs were 69 TB for Rachel’s and 50 TB for Samir’s. We spent another 300 TB each on recharge. Data here is by the hour, not by the volume of data. 300 TB recharge for Samir yielded 100 minutes and 30 hours of data. For Rachel, it yielded 200 minutes and 5 hours of data.
- Thailand experience – We’ve noticed that if data is turned on but not being used – it still gets charged. Text messages sometimes count against voice, sometimes against data.
- Laos & Cambodia SIM – The Thai SIM works here, but the international roaming charges are pretty extreme (we called customer service and asked). We decided not to get a SIM card here, especially since we were in each country for less than two weeks.
- Malaysia SIM – There are four major networks here. We decided not to get a SIM card here because we sort of got used to not having one, and because none of the networks are good at both voice AND data.
- Indonesia SIM – We decided not to get a SIM card here because we got used to not having one.
- We’re dependent on Skype over a Wifi connection, so we look for hotels that have Wifi.
- USA SIM – We decided to get SIM cards here. Samir got his at Best Buy, which they charged him $20 (just for the card itself) plus more money for the actual plan. The only plan with data was for $50 for the month, and the data turned out to be very slow, though it was helpful some times. Rachel got hers at the AT&T store (so the card was free), and she paid $2 a day for unlimited voice and text, but no data.
- Peru SIM – We didnt bother since we were only in the country for two weeks.
- Uruguay SIM – We didnt bother since we were only in the country for three days.
- Argentina SIM – There are three major networks here – Movistar, Personal & Claro. We went with Movistar, primarily because that was the only company whose kiosk we found easily.
- Argentina Experience – They give you some free credit when you originally buy the SIM card, but the free credit only gets activated after you buy additional credit, which you cannot buy at the same place where you got the SIM card. In addition, the network sends you a text message with your phone number in it – you dont get it when you buy the card. Samir received his number after 18-hours. Rachel received hers after 96-hours. Signal has been strong all over Buenos Aires (though not in the underground subway system).