Planning a Round The World Trip

So there is a secret to planning a RTW (round the world) trip that is pretty bold: the only thing holding you back is time. I want to help you make the idea of a round the world trip into a reality.

Time is by far the most ‘expensive’ part of a RTW trip. The year or so leading up to planning, and the year of travel. It is not money. Repeat, it is not money. Most, if not all people that have the ‘that is good for you but I could never do that’ equate RTW travel with expenses.

The second part of the secret? This trip is costing me less than my apartment would be. Think about that. Get it out of your mind that RTW trip is elite, or unattainable. If you want to go for a trip (see amazing places, eat exotic foods and make friends from all over the world) you are going to make it happen.

You know this. Your reaction just played it out. If you read that last paragraph and imagined what you would look like on a beach or at the base of majestic mountains, you are going to go on the trip. If you didn’t place yourself in a situation of travel, didn’t imagine, you are not (or are going to have to prove yourself wrong). That is pretty simple.

Ok, game on. You are going to do a RTW trip. Perhaps not this year, perhaps not next, but you are going to make it happen. For me this was my freshman year of college (2002). I won a travel sheet set at a ‘you should think about traveling’ event. The seed was planted. I was going to take a trip. 2010 I took the trip.

Lets take a deep breath and remember what travel is about in one picture. Get there (photo by Stephanie Pahler).

Railay Beach, Thailand

So here is your 5 simple steps for doing a RTW trip:

Step 1: Where do you dream of going?

Cool, now take that list, and go there. Well, you are going to go there, but go there online. Find flickr photos of beaches, cities and mountains you want to see. Go to Everlater’s discover feature. See what others have said. What do you like? City? Parties? Mountains? Trekking? Diving? It is all an option. Start an Everlater trip, dot to dot plan out some cities. This isn’t costing you a thing, but try it out. See what it looks like on a map.

Step 2: Time is king.

Travel is fun. Hurried travel is commuting, and everyone hates commuting. Plan on the time to travel. Don’t spend 5 days and Peru and go on. This goes with Step 2, but plan on spending a month in every country. You want to be there, slow down. It is massively cheaper and you get more out of the experience.  Don’t ‘have’ time for a RTW trip?  Can you find a month?  Go to Thailand.  One county for four weeks is a great short, or mini RTW option.

Step 3: Read the synopsis in guidebooks, then leave them at home.

I hate the guidebooks. Hate them. Actually, I love them. They have some great data. I just hate who uses them. If you have your nose in a guidebook, you miss the feel of an area. To me guidebooks are like getting to know a place from a newspaper published a year or two ago. How is the sports team? 4-2, but in 2009. That is great, but what does that mean for the town today. This day. The day you are there, the day where the leaves are falling off the trees and the bbq smells especially sweet. I would rather have that memory than spending the day sloppily going about the city doing stuff because it is there.

Step 4: Budget, save and book.

If I were to ask you to give me blue colored books next week, and it would save my life, do you think you can find them? If I were to ask you to save up $500 a month for a trip that you will alway remember and make you a better person, would you do it?

You need to save for this trip.

Start now. Set up a folder in your accounting. Start. How much do you need to save? Generally, and this is very generally, $1200 a month, plus airfare. I spent $600 in Thailand for four weeks of massages, food and adventures. Other places are much more expensive. You can cut that in half if you want to couchsurf or camp. A lot cheaper than you thought, I am guessing. Now airfare.

A bit tricky. Do you do the RTW ticket that the airlines sell? I’ve done some homework for you here, my trip. I costed out my out RTW trip with OneWorld and also a bunch of one way tickets. The RTW trip ticket would be $6400, the one way package would be $4300. Here I heard nothing but amazing things about the RTW tickets, and for my trip, they are not cost effective at all. The bad part about one way tickets is the airlines are being pressured into guaranteeing countries that you will leave. If I enter China, and don’t have means to exit, the airline is responsible for flying me back (my last flight leg right?). I’ve written a bit more about how to get under $500 transatlantic flights here: “How to Get the Cheapest Airfare.”

Flight On JetBlue

This is annoying because I have to lie, and I don’t like to lie. Before I check in for my flight, I do a search of kayak.com for a flight from my destination to home. I take a screenshot of this, and when they ask ‘when are you returning home’ flash them the itinerary. That is it. They buy it every time (a US passport and businessman like looks help, I am sure).

Ok, to budget. You want to go to 8 countries, so 8 months of travel. $4300 for the airfare, $9600 for the lodging, food and activities. $14,000 for eight months of travel bliss. Save up for this, $1000 a month for a year, plus some holiday gifts. It is a stretch, and hard to do. If you want to do it, you can do it. When you take off, you can cancel your phone, insurance, rent etc. Look at how much you pay for rent. Look at my photos. Debate with yourself.

Step 5: Set goals and act / Learn how to smile.

What type of trip do you want to have? Really be honest with yourself. Want to get drunk a lot? Hit on Asian (wo)men? Climb mountains? Make these goals. Write them down. Talk to people about them.  Dream.

Quick trip to the Pike Street Market, now onto a plane! .

You are going to smile a lot on your trip. I don’t mean smile as in show your teeth. I mean smile from your heart. You are going to play football with a group of kids on the streets of Colombia, and without a common word know that the world can be amazingly good, that you can feel humbly alive.

Smiling is good. Feeling a compassion to life, even better.

(photo by Galen Kasel)

A note on Safety.

A strange note meant in good humor: a lot of people gave me some terrible advice planning this trip. It was all about how dangerous travel is. Colombia, they said, was so bad I would have to hire a local to go to the ATM for me. In reality, Colombia is one of the safest places in the world. Everywhere has their unsafe feeling spots, simply stay away from them. Looking back, I should have slapped them, and remarked how this neighborhood isn’t quite safe either. You are going to take motorbike taxis, eat raw foods, swing from ziplines, dive into rivers, and drink until you see the sun rise on the beach. All of this is worth the small risks.

If someone tells you a horrible story, look at your local paper that day. Bad things happen everywhere, in a very, very small margin.

So, that is how to plan a RTW trip.  Hello from Tokyo.

  • Beautiful post 🙂

  • Thanks for the tips! I'm only 18 and there are so many places I want to go. Your post really put RTW traveling into perspective and now I see that it is, indeed, very possible. 🙂

  • Great post Andrew, I definitely agree that Time is the biggest factor. Once you cancel the monthly bills, rent, etc. it’s amazing how similar the expenses of travel are to what you pay already. I think there’s a great mental difference between feeling like you’re on a vacation trip and truly traveling. The trick like you said is to stop and stay a while, if you’re moving from place to place you’ll retain that vacation feeling and feel like you need to see, do and spend at each place to get the most out of it in a short period of time.

    Glad you’re still soaking it all up – keep the posts coming, I plan to use them all as a reference one day. 🙂

  • kia

    I too commented how Columbia was unsafe from my experience (but that is from entering from the Panamanian border). So I’ll stand in line for my slappin. I love this post and will pass it on to any dreamer who is smart enough to live and go beyond dreaming. When I take Bodhi somewhere in the future and he is on an uncomfy bus not the same as US standards I’ll tell him to suck it up buttercup and think of his Uncle A.

  • RTW trip is quite easy, but it is important for people to figure out how they want to travel and what they want to do. This will determine cost.

    Personally, I don’t want to sleep in dingy hostels with 6 other people in the room. That is not very fun to me. I like nice, clean, personal spaces where I can relax. And hotels are generally very expensive. A lot of “cheap” developing countries have either poor backpacker accommodations or rich businessmen accommodations and there is no great clean $30 hotel room option that you find all around Thailand.

    Second, it will depend on your preferred activities. Trekking and walking around the cities is free. But access to anything famous is not. Access to Machu Picchu is $50+overpriced train+overpriced everything. Galapagos, Everest, and many places are like this. They guys guarding the area may all make $15/day, but that doesn’t stop the owners from extracting as much as they can from the tourists. Additionally, access to any hobbies that require specialized gear is often more expensive than in the US as well. Skydiving in Thailand? More expensive. Motorcycle rental in S Africa? More expensive. Paragliding in China? More expensive.

    Lastly, in terms of safety, it is important to realize that even in _very_ high crime areas, most people will be fine, particularly if they are there only for a very limited period of time. It’s just statistics. But there is a reason why Bogota middle class people not only put bars on their windows, but also 10 foot walls with barbed wire and glass surrounding their houses and why they avoid big chunks of the city after dark and why they avoid taking cabs off the street – and if they can, move to gated compounds guarded by pretty serious security. It is not just unsubstantiated paranoia. Criminals are also salivating at bagging themselves a rich tourist and you immediately jump to being #1 target so it is even worse for tourists. Hostels in Bogota have an intricate camera and double security door systems in place, and when I was there a few months ago one of them got invaded by a team of criminals and everyone was robbed anyway… And this is just Bogota – probably the safest big city in Colombia. It really sounds like your experience in Colombia is very limited. Try wondering around Choco, Meta, Northern areas and you will understand why people are literally fleeing very high violence into Bogota/Cali/Medallin and why Colombia has the _highest_ number of Internally Displaced Persons in the World. Yes, it is a lot better than what it used to be, but this is certainly no Thailand. Oh yeah… about security and costs… in the expensive and safe areas of Bogota where you can walk around after dark with no worries, there are no cheap places to stay.

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