Planning a trip is always part of the adventure of travelling, and even more so if it’s a round-the-world (RTW) trip across many countries on various continents. Planning a trip around the world is a fun experience but keep in mind that there are various distinct aspects involved that are usually a non-issue for a typical ‘single-destination’ holiday. These include varying costs and climates in different countries. When I prepared my RTW trip last year, I made many notes along the way, organising them by region. My notes included things I wanted to see, transportation, costs and accommodation options. I also created a checklist for other important aspects such as travel health insurance and things to pack.
Based on my experience, I’ve compiled a list of tips which will, hopefully, be helpful to anyone planning a lengthy round-the-world trip.
1. Which places to visit
This is the best part! When I planned my trip, I already had a very good idea of where I wanted to go. My advice is to ask yourself what interests you: nature, culture, cities or a combination thereof. Are there specific countries you’ve always wanted to visit? Print out a world map. Then get a pen, circle your home, then continue circling other places you’d like to visit. Be realistic – you probably won’t be able to see everything on a single trip (especially if there are time constraints) so prioritise. Do your research on the internet, make notes of specific destinations, especially those you definitely do not want to miss. I suggest organising your notes by country or region and leave sufficient space for more notes! Check this article for great tips on how to plan your trip using social media.
Don’t forget to research visa requirements for each country and the best way to obtain the visas (in advance in your home country or in another country or upon arrival).
While you’re doing your travel research, read about the culture and local customs of the places you’d like to visit. Make notes of anything that catches your eye. Check if you’ll be able to get by easily with English in the various countries or are more language skills required.
2. How much time to spend and when to go
This obviously depends on how much time you can afford to spend on this trip. Pull out your world map (from point 1) and make notes of (approximately) how much time you’d like to spend in a certain country or region. This step will make you think twice about certain circles (some of which may have to be deleted), depending on the total amount of time you have for the entire trip. If you have a fixed amount of time, you’ll have to prioritise. Enter the start and end dates on the map, then allocate, for instance, more time to countries/regions with the most circles. If there’s a specific event in a certain destination you’d like to experience (for instance, New Year’s Eve in Rio or Easter in Guatemala), make a note on the map.
Another important factor to keep in mind are the seasons. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere and you decide to leave in the summer, you might not want to visit a wintery Southern Hemisphere straight away. You can choose to travel around the Northern Hemisphere and the tropics, then head down south when it’s spring in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s also a good idea to research the various seasons in certain regions, for instance, the hurricane season in the Caribbean and the monsoon season in South and Southeast Asia, and plan your trip accordingly.
This is the tricky part. Pull out your country notes (from point 1) and get onto the internet. Most countries’ tourism boards have websites which contain information on general costs of accommodation, travel and food. You could also purchase guidebooks of certain countries/regions and get your information there. Some countries will be more expensive than others – for instance, $50 a day will get you a lot farther in Thailand than in Australia.
First, get an idea of how much a typical day would cost (board, local transport, food & drinks) in each country or region. Then make a daily estimate and multiply it by the number of days you plan to spend in the country or region. Leave room for costs of local tours and other expenses. Jot down your budget estimate for each country/region in your country notes.
This will give you a general idea of your day-to-day expenses. There are more expenses to think of though! Keep on reading.
4. Round-the-world tickets
This is another fun part! You can choose to search the web for round-the-world tickets or look up a reputable travel agency that’s specialised in round-the-world trips. I did my research on the internet but booked my RTW ticket with a specialist travel agency – I preferred the face-to-face contact as I had an inkling I’d be calling/e-mailing this person many times throughout my trip for assistance!
The world’s airline alliances (SkyTeam, OneWorld, Star Alliance) all have RTW tickets. Some are quite standard and not very flexible (but they’re the cheapest!) whilst others are highly customisable. There are many factors to keep in mind when booking a RTW ticket. For instance, depending on the type of ticket, the number of miles or countries/continents covered may be limited. In addition, you can only fly in one direction (eastwards or westwards), unless it’s within a continent, and backtracking is not allowed. Once you’ve left a certain continent, you can’t go back (unless it’s home!). Take out your world map and compare your ideal trip with what’s offered by the alliances. If none matches, then you could consider a customised RTW ticket but it will be a lot costlier.
Certain airline alliances do not cover all corners of the globe. For instance, I believe One World’s Global Explorer RTW ticket is the only one that covers the South Pacific (Australia-Tahiti-Easter Island-Chile) route. Most other alliances cover the northern Pacific, i.e. Australia to North America via Southeast Asia, China/Japan or Fiji/Hawaii.
Various online travel sites that are specialised in RTW tickets have handy tools to help you plan your trip. For instance, you could type in the places you want to visit and you’ll receive a suggested flight itinerary and its cost. Search for “RTW trip” to locate these sites.
Another tip: if you feel like indulging yourself and you have the resources, a Business Class RTW ticket is cheaper than you might think!
Once you’ve decided on a RTW ticket, you’ll have to pull out your map again to create a schedule for the flights. This will be very easy if you’ve jotted down your time allocations on your map (see point 2). Most RTW tickets have a certain level of flexibility in that you can change the dates of flights (during the trip) for a minimal charge, or sometimes at no extra cost.
5. Health insurance/requirements
Travel insurance is an important aspect that I almost overlooked as I already have a travel insurance policy. I discovered that my policy only covered trips shorter than three months. Check with your insurance agent, travel agency or online booking site for more information on travel insurance restrictions and if add-on policies are required. Get an idea of what’s covered: medical costs, hospitalisation, lost luggage and the cost of flying home if there’s an emergency.
It’s also a good idea to research vaccination requirements for each country/region. Will you be travelling through malaria or yellow fever areas? Jot down these requirements in your country notes and check with your general practitioner.
6. Booking ahead vs. leaving it to chance
This is completely up to the individual. I’m a bit of a planner so I planned a large part of my trip in advance. Using my RTW itinerary as a guide, I booked some local tours and flights. I can certainly recommend booking certain tours/flights in advance, especially if it’s during the tourist season and you do not want to miss a specific tour.
It’s good to strike a fine balance though as there will be new places you’ll discover while on the road (that might mean making a detour) or a certain place you really like where you’d like to spend more time. Booking too many things in advance may prove to be constrictive.
7. Accommodation/local transport
Research the various accommodation options in the places you’ll be visiting. Take out your map and country notes and jot down hotels you’d like to stay at and their costs. Keep in mind that some places may only have a limited number of options so you might want to book ahead, especially during the tourist season. Take your budget into account as well as some places may be more expensive than others (French Polynesia is a good example).
It’s also a good idea to research the local transport possibilities in the countries you’re visiting. What are the possibilities of getting from one place to another? What is the cost? You’ll find out a lot more when you’re there but some advanced research is always handy.
Another point to keep in mind is travelling in large countries, like the United States, Canada, Brazil or Australia if you’re subject to time constraints. In this case, it is advisable to purchase a local air pass as an add-on to your RTW ticket – it’s a lot cheaper if these are purchased in advance. These air passes are basically coupons for a specific number of flights for a fixed price (regardless of the distance flown). During my RTW trip, I utilised two air passes: by Qantas in Australia and by Lan in Chile and Argentina.
One thing to keep in mind when planning your budget is that you’ll always exceed it on a RTW trip! Before you leave, make sure you have sufficient cash in your checking account and your credits cards are not near their limits! Having an internet banking account is very handy (it allowed me to transfer money from my savings to my checking account while I was on the road and running out of cash!).
When travelling, it’s always advisable to have small amounts of cash in hard currencies (e.g. USD and EUR). Always handy if you run out of the local currency and there are no ATMs, and credit cards are not accepted in the area. While on the road, I always had my country notes with me so I could keep an eye on my spending and my budget allocations. Don’t worry if you’ve exceeded your budget allocation in a certain country – you could make up for it by spending less in another!
Keep it light! Remember, you’re travelling around the globe! The best investments are sturdy, lightweight bags, walking shoes and a lightweight, quick-dry towel. It’s a very global world so the chances of buying your favourite toothpaste or shampoo in a foreign land are quite big, so go easy with the toiletries. Lightweight, easy dry clothing is also recommended. If you’re travelling through various climates, you could pack a warm jacket in addition to lighter clothing. I packed lots of t-shirts as I could dress in layers and they were easy to wash. Whatever you don’t have with you can always be purchased wherever you are so don’t overpack! Make a note of specific medication (and sufficient quantities) you may have to bring with you.
A small torchlight, a Swiss army knife (remember to always pack this in your checked luggage!) and insect repellant (for the tropics) are other handy items to have with you.
10. Staying in touch with family & friends
When you’ve booked your RTW ticket, print out copies of your itinerary and leave them with family or friends at home. Don’t worry about ways of keeping in touch with the home front. You’ll probably have your cellphone anyway. Check the roaming charges with your local cellphone company for suitable offers or purchase an international phone card. You can also purchase pre-paid cards for your cellphone in the various countries you visit. Furthermore, there are so many internet cafés everywhere, making it easy to keep in touch via Skype, Twitter, Facebook or Gmail Chat or Gmail VideoChat. In addition, an increasing number of hotels, cafés, airports, even whole towns offer free WiFi nowadays. My iPod Touch was my favourite travel gadget during my RTW trip – I had my music on it and I could check my e-mails and read up on news back home every day!
This list is by no means exhaustive. If you have more RTW trip planning tips, please share them in the comments section. Last but not least, travel safe and enjoy your trip! You’ve earned it!
Note: this post was brought to you by RebTel.
Read other articles in the Velvet Escape “Ten” series:
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- Ten things to do in Macau
- Ten things to do in Birmingham (UK)
- Ten incredible bridge walks
- Ten velvet escapes for 2010
- Ten unforgettable city cruises
- Ten things to do in Cape Town
- Ten things to do in Kuala Lumpur
- Ten things to do in Hamburg
- Ten things to do when you travel alone
- Ten reasons to travel alone