This post is part of 30 Ways in 30 days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. This series seeks to give you the practical, real world steps you need to take to get from wherever you are, to exactly where you want to be– traveling the world and living the lifestyle you want.
Ah yes, the little details that threaten to upend any good plan. How will you get your mail? Deposit checks? Pay your cell phone bill? Vote? Renew your license? Short answer: online.
Getting Your Mail
I currently use a product called Earth Class Mail, which is one of about six online companies that offer a mail scanning service. Here’s how it works: they assign you a mailing address (mine is 93 S. Jackson St. #7363 in Seattle, WA) you forward your mail there, they receive it, scan it and when you log onto their website, you can see each piece of mail you received. All online. It’s genius. Then if you want to open it, they’ll scan every page for you. Or you can have them shred it. ECM will also deposit checks or ship your mail to you, wherever you are (for a fee).
My experience with ECM over the last year has been flawless and they have hands down the best customer support. But I’ll probably be changing companies this year, since they doubled their price ($10/mo to $20/mo). Be sure to search around for the best deal, because there are some cheaper alternatives.
This can be done 100% online and in combination with a tax program like Turbo Tax and your online mail service you should have no problems filing. I get my W2′s and 1099′s mailed to me, I have my mail service scan them in and online I take a look at the numbers. I enter all the data into Turbo Tax, get a pdf copy for my records and electronically submit. If I have a refund, it is deposited directly into my bank account.
There are three ways I’ve had to pay bills back home. Calling the company directly (using Skype) to make a payment with my debit card, using the online pay feature (if supported) with my bank or setting an automatic EFT. I’d suggest getting 100% online with your bill paying before you leave. This means going through each bill and figuring out what they’ll accept. Sometimes there are forms to sign (in the case of EFT) and it’s just easier to handle before you go. I’d also set up a PayPal account and have your bank account verified with them, just in case you need to transfer money on the road (it’s cheaper and easier than Western Union if you need someone to send you emergency funds– although it can take 3-5 days to land in your bank account)
First, are you registered? Yeah, you’ll want to do that. Then it’s easy to vote from overseas and online. When the time comes go to http://www.fvap.gov/
Renewing Your Driving License
Yes, you should probably do this before you go, but it is possible to do it online for many states. First, change your address to your new online mail box, so the license gets sent to the correct place. Next follow your state’s DMV steps for online renewal. Finally when the license hits your online mail box, you can pay to have it shipped overnight to your current location. The shipping may cost you but it’s cheaper than flying back home to renew. (You can probably only do this once, they typically want to update your picture for the next renewal).
As I mentioned above, Earth Class Mail (and other services) offer check depositing services, if you get mailed a check. Personally I prefer to avoid that and try to get all of my payments either through paypal (convenient even if the payer doesn’t have an account, they can still use their credit card to send you money) or through direct deposit.
Making and Receiving Phone Calls
If you haven’t heard of Skype, go check it out. I use their paid service so that I have a permanent phone number people can call no matter where I am in the world. Skype also allows you to have those incoming calls forwarded to your local cell phone, so even if you’re offline, you can still connect. However, it has some problems. It’s perfect for calling back home, but a little shaky for business calls. To be fair, it’s not all Skype’s fault– your internet speed is going to be a big factor. But what if you’re traveling through a country that has slow internet everywhere?
If you need to make work related calls, I highly suggest getting a cheap local pay-as-you-go phone as you travel. I’ve also tried to use my Blackberry overseas, but the fees are just too high, even with AT&T’s so-called Travelers program.
Getting Prescriptions Overseas
This one is tricky. If anyone knows a better way, please let me know. We have struggled with this as my husband takes meds for ADD. The amazing thing is, it’s so easy to get a prescription in many parts of the world (walk in to a pharmacy and tell the on call doctor what you want). The cost to pay out of pocket was often cheaper than our copay back home. The big problem? Getting the drugs. He uses a specific brand and it works. But it wasn’t available in many places. Or if it was, they wouldn’t have very much. Or they’d only give us 10mg instead of his prescribed 30mg. We’d go to half a dozen pharmacies in each city trying to track it down– not fun.
Now, we get a three month supply in advance (the most our insurance will allow) and have them delivered to a family member back home, who then mails them to us overseas. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it will guarantee you have the exact prescription you need.
Seeing Your Mom (or other loved one)
Yes, travel rocks, but you’ll probably have family just dying to see your face. There are a lot of programs out there for video chat (Skype has it, so does Microsoft Live Messenger), so it might behoove you to make sure that: a) your mom has a web cam and knows how to use it (before you go) and b) that you have a web cam that you’ve tested. My laptop has one built in and I use it like crazy with my husband when we’re apart. He was able to get a cheap $10 web cam attachment for his PC that works just fine. There will be a lag, and depending on your internet speed it could be significant, but chatting via video is a very nice way to keep in touch.
Pic: Matt McGee