Ten tips for planning a RTW trip

  • SumoMe

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, 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 for planning a RTW trip which will, hopefully, be helpful to anyone planning a lengthy round-the-world trip.

A beach on Zanzibar's east coast


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.

The Iguazu falls

Iguazu Falls

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.

Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur

Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur

3. Budget-planning
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.

Tha faces of Bayon, Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

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.

While you’re on the road, get onto Twitter to ask for suggestions on things to do and see, or places to stay/eat. Use country/place name hashtags (e.g. #Spain, #NYC, #Rome, etc…) to expand the reach of your tweet. You may be surprised by the responses you receive.

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.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

8. Money
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! 🙂

Whitehaven beach

Whitehaven beach, Australia.

9. Packing
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.

Bora Bora

Bora Bora, French Polynesia

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 or smartphone anyway. You can purchase pre-paid cards for your cellphone or one with a data plan for your smartphone in the various countries you visit. In addition, an increasing number of hotels, cafés, restaurants, airports, even whole towns offer free WiFi nowadays. My favourite apps to keep in touch with the home front include Whatsapp, Line and Skype.

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! 🙂

Read other articles in the Velvet Escape Tens” series.



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32 Responses to “Ten tips for planning a RTW trip”

  1. Travel Nerd 14/04/2012 12:10 pm

    One additional point for #9: Leave all your technical stuff back home!

    If you are into sunrises you should take an alarm clock (handy for early busses too). And take a camera.

    Forget about GPS, Mobiles, Laptops, iPads, solar panel for charging the batteries, …

  2. Richard 15/08/2011 6:43 pm

    Great tips Keith.

    It’s true that people often overlook the small print in insurance policies and you should always check the details in depth before a trip to make sure you don’t get caught out!

  3. velvet 09/08/2009 1:36 pm

    Hi Dan,
    Thanks for your comment. A Southern Hemisphere RTW trip. Sounds awesome! I’m sure you’ll have a fab time!


  4. Captain Cocktail 08/08/2009 10:20 pm

    Great info! I’m planning a Southern Hemisphere(technically south of Tropic of Cancer) RTW trip for 3 months starting in January. I can do the north at some other point

  5. Eva Gill 09/07/2009 8:55 pm

    Thanks, Soultravelers3 for the great information.

    I’ve been trying to just look at a small piece at a time, or I’ll get a little overwhelmed. We figure we may never really be ready, sort of like having kids, there is always something else to finish or take care of first. At some point you just have to jump in and go with it.

    Our timeline is somewhat open ended. There are a ton of variables, as you know, not the least of which is making income while underway. We recently sold our business, but we’d rather not come back broke. (Although we’d probably do this anyway.) Your cost numbers are really encouraging. We’ll be starting in France (John wants to spend a ski season there) which we figure will probably be the most expensive segment. It will also make the transition easier, instead of jumping feet first into a place where we don’t have at least a lame understanding of the language.

    I’m sure as things come together I’ll be tracking you down with questions and reading through your site. I’ve been following you on twitter for a couple of weeks. I’m a new tweeter, just started 3 weeks ago, and finding really helpful info through it.

    Also, thanks, Keith, for letting me know their response was here!

    Thanks again!

    Eva Gill

  6. velvet 09/07/2009 1:00 pm

    Wow, thanks so much for your comment! The feedback and additional tips on how much it costs and educational needs for kids are brilliant!

    Thanks so much!

    Best regards,

  7. Soultravelers3 09/07/2009 12:52 pm

    Great post & thanks for the mention!

    I would also suggest to add more time if you possible can as a year goes by really fast when you are trying to see the world. It is also MUCH cheaper that way. We have been on an open ended world tour since 2006, have been to 4 continents, 29 countries & over 88,000 miles ( mostly overland) using every mode of transportation from cargo ships to camels. One learns much more from deep immersion and slow travel and there is no chance of burn out ( which can happen by fast travel).

    We live large on just 25K a year ( total costs for a family of 3…including some stays at 5 star hotels!), so find traveling the world, MUCH cheaper than living at home. Educating our child is our main motivation, so we have even spent the majority of the time in “expensive” Europe ( when the dollar has often been very low). Slow travel is also greener. We took only one long flight in our first 1 1/2 years…that right there saved a bundle!

    Digital schools and educational opportunities are amazing today Eva, but you will find that the travel itself will be the best possible education. I highly recommend adding books ( like historical fiction) about the places you will visit to add so much to the experience before, during and after. I have a growing list on my website & have also written lots on this topic on Bootnall forum.

    We even do our piano lessons via webcam skype calls to a teacher on another continent. Lots of great things like Brainpop and MIT’s Scratch, John Hopkins Univ CTY classes etc, etc have been great additions for us, but don’t forget that finding a good free internet connection is not always easy on the move.

    The keys to education on the road is math every day with a very portable quality system like Singapore math, excellent books, journal daily, discussions. Most kids return to school far ahead of their peers ( just as most homeschool kids are usually far ahead of schooled kids with MUCH less time spent).

    The prep for such a trip is the hardest part, but there are so many who have or are doing it, that one can learn from each and everyone. We learned so much from so many different sources ( from FOTR …Families On The Road, to early retirees like Terhorsts who retired over 25 years ago at 35, to a French family of 4 that toured the world via RV for 4 years on 1500 euros a month).

    One family who did it said it could not be done for less than 30K per person for a year, but of course we ( and many others) prove that entirely wrong. Google the many articles about how to travel the world for free. Lean from everyone and make your own plan. It is easier, cheaper and more rewarding than most people realize and there has never been a better time to do a RTW trip!

  8. velvet 05/07/2009 5:24 am

    Hi Zack,
    Thanks for your comment though I disagree with your arguments. I used the One World Global Explorer Pass which includes Air Tahiti Nui (even though Air Tahiti Nui isn’t a member of One World, it does participate in this round the world pass). That completes the missing Pacific link as Lan Chile flies to Tahiti from Santiago VIA Easter Island. I’ve just checked http://www.Lan.com and they still fly this route. So, your point about no ongoing flights west is unfounded. From Tahiti, you can fly with Air Tahiti Nui onwards to Australia. If your plan is to return to the mainland from Easter Island, I wouldn’t suggest using a round-the-world pass for the Easter Island return, instead, get a separate LAN South America pass as an add-on.
    I agree with you that the old flora and fauna on Easter Island were wiped away but there is so much more to see on this island. See ‘Mystical Rapa Nui‘ And not everything is imported. The islanders have fresh vegetables and the surrounding waters are packed with fish – you’ll find that many restaurants have fresh tuna/mahi mahi on the menu. Prices are not astronomical as you say because the Chilean government subsidises a lot. I found the prices to be only slightly higher than on the mainland.

    I hope I have cleared these misconceptions.

    Best regards,

  9. Zack Domike 04/07/2009 11:00 pm

    Hard-to-get-to Easter Island Via the RTW offered by OneWorld may not be worthwhile. The old flora and fauna were wiped away in the 19th century when Easter Island was a sheep farm. Since all foods are imported, prices are astronomical. And the final nail in the coffin is that One World does not have ongoing flights West, as I had expected. Routes were changed, so now LAN to Easter Island is only with return to Santiago, which uses three of your four stops in South America.

  10. velvet 03/07/2009 7:03 am

    Thanks Eva for your comment and additional tips. I’m glad you found the article helpful. With regards to education needs, I’m not sure if you know them but I suggest getting in touch with SoulTravelers3: http://www.soultravelers3.com/ They’re a family of three traveling around the world and they have loads of tips and ideas.

    Best regards,

  11. Eva Gill 02/07/2009 11:06 pm

    Thanks, Keith!

    We are in the midst of pre-planning for what we’ve been calling “walkabout,” a long-term RTW trip, taking a year to a year and a half. I did not know there was such a thing as RTW airline tickets, although they may not work for us anyway. I appreciated some of the other info, and will probably refer back to this article as we plan.

    We are taking our children (they’ll be 11 and 13) and will have to find an online school or other way to include their work while keeping it light. I’m hoping for a school that is digital- no big text and workbooks. Do you (or your readers) have links to any resources?

    Also, I’d add that it is good practice to leave photocopies of passports and visas, as well as credit cards with family or a trusted friend. Also, we will be working while we travel, and will upload photos, working files, and video to an online backup service like ibackup.com or idrive.com; availability of this may also be helpful for some of your readers.

    Again, thanks for the info!

    Eva Gill

  12. andygeog 30/06/2009 9:15 pm

    Great tips, seems like common sense but so easilly overlooked.


  13. Nomadic Pinoy 14/06/2009 2:13 pm

    Coming from your experience, these are really good tips. Thanks for sharing.

  14. JoAnna 13/06/2009 1:07 am

    In regard to point #6, I met RTW travelers in Cusco who were disappointed they couldn’t hike the Inca Trail because they hadn’t booked ahead. I agree that if there are specific things you definitely want to do, check in advance regarding booking the tour so that you don’t miss out on something high on your travel agenda.

  15. Dan 13/06/2009 1:35 am

    Some good tips there.

  16. velvet 13/06/2009 1:11 am

    Thanks for your comment Joanna. I’m a bit of a planner so I usually ensure the things I really want to see are booked ahead (especially if it’s the tourist season). During my travels, I often meet people who miss out on certain highlights because everything’s fully-booked and that’s a huge pity – I mean, you’ve travelled so far to see something and then don’t get to see it.


  17. velvet 07/06/2009 1:00 am

    Thanks for your comment Sonya! Glad to hear there’s something new in the article. 🙂


  18. Sonya 07/06/2009 12:48 am

    Thanks for the excellent how-to-plan post on the RTW travel experience. There are several tips I hadn’t even considered.

  19. HazardousPaste 06/06/2009 12:46 pm

    It’s worth investigating if your bank has deals/affiliate programs with other banks in the area(s) you’ll be traveling in- you might be able to avoid fees when withdrawing cash. For example, I have a Bank of America account but am living in France. Their deal with BNP Paribas lets me withdraw Euro without the $5 foreign atm fee. Exchange rate fees are probably unavoidable though, but at least in the US you can get credit cards that have no foreign exchange fee (CapitalOne comes to mind).

  20. velvet 06/06/2009 12:58 pm

    That’s a great tip! Thanks Miles!


  21. velvet 06/06/2009 12:43 pm

    Hi Brian,
    Thanks for your comment. Like you, I used thin synthetic layers too. I did have a thick jacket with me though which could be pressed into a thin bundle. It was at the bottom of my bag in the tropics and at the top in the temperate climates. I certainly used my synthetic sheets a lot together with my jacket especially in Chile – Patagonia and in the north, San Pedro de Atacama. S.P. d Atacama was a good example. It’s a desert area (very hot & dry) but surrounded by the massive Andes mountains. There were many trips into the mountains (where we reached altitudes of more than 5,000m/16,000ft) so the temperature fluctuations were enormous. On the trip to the El Tatio geysers, the temperature varied from minus 10 degrees Celsius in the morning to plus 30 degrees Celsius in the afternoon, all within a span of a few hours!! Dressing in layers was definitely a must (I had four thin layers and a thick jacket on and peeled each off as it became warmer). Same thing is required in the Uyuni salt flats in neighbouring Bolivia.

    About gadgets, my iPod Touch was my best mate! I didn’t have any problems recharging it (together with my phone). I was very protective of it and always kept it with me. I used it for my music, checking my e-mails & news and writing my Travel Journal – very handy as there was WiFi everywhere I went (lots of free spots in Southeast Asia and South America, and to a lesser extent in Australia).

    During my trip, I kept in touch via e-mail, Skype and Gmail Chat/Gmail VideoChat (easy because lots of my friends/family use Gmail).


  22. brian from nodebtworldtravel.com 06/06/2009 3:02 am

    I would say stay away from the gadgets that require an outlet to charge. I lost my iPod and it is just one more thing to keep track of.

    On my round the world trip, I definitely used thin synthetic layers that dried fast. If it got cold I could put on two or three on and be comfortable. No need for a bulky jacket.

    Skype is the best for communication. Use it often and stay in touch. Everyone, you and your family and friends at home, will feel better.

  23. velvet 05/06/2009 6:10 pm

    Thanks Isabelle for your comment! Hope these tips are helpful.


  24. Isabelle 05/06/2009 6:04 pm

    Whaw! Great planning tips! Thanks for sharing this information. It’s always nice to read tips from travelers who speak from experience!


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