Wondering how to plan an around the world trip? Learn from someone who’s already done it! Here is everything you need to know before tackling around-the-world travel. In this post, I break down the round-the-world trip planning process into 7 actionable steps.
Soon after graduating college, I realized there were little pleasures to be found in the traditional 9-to-5 lifestyle. I felt swallowed whole into the bottomless pit of Corporate America, despite not having a very “corporate” job. I found that working in a newsroom doing what I loved — reporting local news and writing articles I was proud of —came with a few strings attached. Namely, little to no vacation time.
You get three sick days … but don’t you dare use them up.
Ten paid vacation days, but don’t take them all at once.
Six company holidays, if you’re lucky.
I loved the industry I was in, but having no more than 10 days of vacation, at least for the next five years, didn’t sit well with me. How would I manage to travel to the countries on my bucket list; visit my parents in their respective home states; and also see my family in Brazil with only a few days off?
It was impossible.
I realized that working for a company in the U.S. meant little to no travel time overall. If I wanted to see the world in longer than five- to 10-day increments, I had to make something drastic happen. That’s when I started plotting my escape, which eventually led to my around-the-world trip.
In 2017, my boyfriend and I quit our jobs to travel around the world for 10 months, visiting countless cities across 22 countries. I know that planning an around-the-world trip can be incredibly exciting, but also super overwhelming. That’s why I’m sharing the exact process I used to plan my round-the-world trip.
Plan Your Dream Round-the-World Trip in 7 Steps
It’s not easy to plan a trip around the world, but I promise you it’s worth it. When I first thought of quitting my job to travel, I had no idea where to start.
After some online research, I found a small but thriving community of full-time travelers who were living a life that appealed to me far more than that tied me behind a desk.
Many of these travelers had started their journeys with an around-the-world trip. There was even a term for it, “round-the-world travel” or “RTW” for short.
I didn’t need any more convincing. I told myself that if they could do it, I could too. So I started planning my dream around-the-world trip.
Around The World Trip Planning Process, At a Glance:
- Decide where to go
- Create a backpacking route
- Determine how long the trip will last
- Identify a trip budget
- Create a savings plan
- Let go of current commitments
- Buy that one-way ticket!
Step 1: Choose Your Destinations
This was probably the most fun part of planning a trip around the world, as the opportunities are endless!
The very first step was to write down every single city or country I’ve ever dreamt of visiting. Aside from obvious dream destinations like Paris and Machu Picchu, I read a ton of travel blogs to come up with incredible ideas like the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia and Koh Tao in Thailand.
Since I was traveling with my boyfriend, he did the same.
We later compared our lists and circled all the destinations we had in common. Then we went over the differences on each and debated whether or not the other person would like to go there, too. After all was said and done, we had one giant list of cities. From this list, we’d create our around-the-world trip itinerary.
Step 2: Create Your Around The World Trip Route
Aside from saving enough money to make this trip happen, creating a feasible round-the-world trip route was the second most difficult task.
There are a few factors to consider when creating the smartest, most cost effective around-the-world travel route:
- The number of transcontinental flights you’ll need to purchase
- Following one global direction
- The weather in each destination
The first is to determine how many transcontinental flights will be needed during your around-the-world trip. In other words, how many continents do you plan on visiting? Flying from continent to continent will eat up a big chunk of your budget. The more continents you visit, the more expensive your trip will be.
WHAT I DID: My boyfriend and I settled on three regions of the world for our trip: Europe, South America and Southeast Asia. Then we looked at that list of dream destinations and narrowed it down to places that were located in these three regions.
The Global Direction
The second factor is to plan an around-the-world travel route that follows one global direction: East or West. For example, since I’m based in the U.S., I decided to start in Europe. From there I’d continue onto Southeast Asia and then to South America and back — literally circumnavigating the globe.
One of the most common rules for around-the-world travel is to avoid backtracking. Backtracking leads to spending more money on transportation. Use this rule to choose your entry and departure point in each city, country and continent. Your route should always be moving toward your exit point.
WHAT I DID: Although I had originally planned to travel east around the world, my route took several unexpected turns. Guil and I started our trip later than we had hoped due to a delay in his citizenship process. We started in Europe as we had originally intended, but a promise to spend Christmas with our families in Brazil took us to South America after. From there we returned to the U.S. for an opportunity to work a two-week gig and make more money to fuel another three months in Southeast Asia. Crazy route, I know!
The third factor you’ll want to consider is weather. Lightweight summer clothes are the easiest to pack for an around-the-world trip, which is why so many people choose to chase summer around the globe. Stuffing a big winter jacket in your backpack is not ideal. Check the weather of each region you’re visiting to see how that may affect the direction of your route.
WHAT I DID: I visited Europe in the fall, South America in the summer, and Southeast Asia during the “hot/wet season.”
Step 3: Determine The Duration of Your Round-The-World Trip
How long do you want to travel for? The duration of your around-the-world trip will depend on how many places you want to visit, the pace at which you’re traveling through them and your travel budget.
Once you’ve created a general route, the next thing you need to consider is how much time you want to spend in each desination. The pace at which you move from one place to another depends on what kind of travel experience you’re looking for.
Slow Travel vs. Fast Travel
Slow travel means spending weeks, if not months, in a single city or country.
Slow travel allows travelers to truly get to know a destination and get a sense of what it would be like to live there. This kind of around-the-world travel allows you to interact with locals on a regular basis, find a local cafe to call your own and settle into a slower routine.
Some slow travelers pick a city as a base and explore more of the country from there, while others spend weeks in the same city. This is definitely a more cost-effective way of traveling around the world, as you’re not moving around as much. But you’re also not seeing as much as you could at a quicker pace.
Fast travel is the complete opposite.
These are travelers looking to see as much as they can in a set amount of time — which was me at the time. Fast travel means spending no more than a few days in each city in order to maximize your experiences around the world. It means visiting several countries in one month by hitting the top sites in each. It can mean sensory overload — like visiting Machu Picchu and the Salar de Uyuni within the same month, as I did in 2018.
You can also incorporate a mixture of both: I traveled to Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague and Budapest in one month and then spent a few weeks exploring just Italy.
It’ll Also Depend on Your Budget…
The duration of your trip will also depend on how long you can make your money last. While I initially planned to travel abroad for six months, I was able to stretch my budget to make it 10.
I knew that I eventually wanted to return to the U.S. and continue working in journalism — so traveling around the world indefinitely wasn’t the plan. As my trip grew longer, though, I was able to add more destinations to my itinerary or travel a bit slower in places like Italy and Peru.
| TRIP PLANNING TIP: Make a spreadsheet of all the cities you want to visit in the order of your desired around-the-world trip route. Write down the number of days you want to spend in each city, ensuring to calculate transportation time between each. Then start putting in some actual dates to give yourself a general idea of the itinerary you’ll be following. The sum of the number of days is the duration of your trip, and the last date on that spreadsheet is the day you’ll fly back home.
Step 4: Identify Your Around-The-World Trip Budget
Coming up with a budget for an around-the-world trip can be overwhelming.
To make things simpler for you, the first thing you should do is figure out your average daily cost. This figure will depend on your traveling style: Are you a budget backpacker, luxury traveler or somewhere in the middle?
On average, most around-the-world travel guides suggest a baseline budget of $50 per day.
To put things in perspective, Guil and I spent an average of $62 per day per person. This includes every single expense such as transportation, food, accommodation and daily purchases averaged out over the entirety of our 10-month trip.
We’d fall under the budget backpacker category, though we did splurge on nice hotels and meals every now and then. We typically kept our accommodation at $30 per night or lower, so $15 each. We often traveled by land to save on transportation costs, including a lot of overnight journeys to save on hotel nights.
Your personal daily budget will depend on what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to afford more travel experiences.
| READ MORE: For a detailed cost breakdown of my around-the-world trip, head over to this post: True Cost of Backpacking Around the World.
Step 5: Create a Savings Plan
Now that you have a budget in mind, it’s time to create a savings plan. Your financial plan will depend on how much money you already have saved and when you’d ideally like to leave for your round-the-world trip.
My initial trip budget was $15,000. I knew I wanted to leave within 1 1/2 to 2 years from when I began planning. So I set a goal to put away $1,000 per month so that in one year, I’d have $12,000 saved.
I had to considerably change my lifestyle to achieve that. I stopped spending money on clothes, restaurants and gym memberships. I also cut back on social activities unless they were free, like a friendly gathering at someone’s house. Still, cutting down my monthly expenses wasn’t enough. I began working odd jobs like brand ambassador gigs to make up the rest.
One point I cannot stress enough is the importance of having a return fund. Your return fund is the money you’ll use to settle back into “normal” life after returning home. This fund should cover the costs of finding a new apartment and keep you afloat while looking for a new job. In addition to the $15,000 I wanted to save for my trip, I wanted to have $10,000 set aside for my return fund.
I know this all may still sound overwhelming — and that’s completely fine! It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when planning such a big trip. But all your sacrifices will be well worth it when you’re traveling the world.
Step 6: Relieve Yourself of Current Commitments
Leaving for an around-the-world trip means pressing “pause” on life as you know it.
Consider all your current life commitments, such as your job, your home, your car lease or your pet. Traveling long-term means leaving all of the above behind, albeit temporarily.
As you approach your departure date, start thinking about when to put in your two-week notice at your job. If you have a pet, this would be the time to begin making arrangements to leave it behind with someone you trust. Apartment and car leases will have to either be terminated, or you can plan your departure date around their end dates.
Unless you own your home, you’ll most likely have to move out and store your belongings somewhere. Guil and I rented a storage unit for our furniture and clothes. Whatever we didn’t need anymore, we sold. More money for the trip!
This is when things start to feel real.
It can be scary to load your life away into the back of a U-Haul truck without knowing when you’ll see your belongings again. In a few months, though, I promise you that you won’t remember half of what’s in that storage unit. And you certainly won’t be thinking about what you left back home when you’re experiencing the greatest freedom you’ve ever felt. Around-the-world travel has a way of making you forget about the less important material things and focus on the beautiful present.
Step 7: Buy That One-Way Ticket!
The last and final step is to buy your first one-way ticket. This is probably the most exciting moment in all the round-the-world trip planning process.
This is when everything you’ve been working toward becomes reality.
Based on my personal experience, I find it best to purchase plane tickets as you go. This gives you the liberty to make changes in your itinerary, as well as extend your trip if you’re able to. Air travel in places like Europe and Southeast Asia can be incredibly affordable, even if you buy a ticket the week of.
As for traveling between cities, most of that will be done by land anyway. Bus and train tickets are also easily purchased the day of, and you’ll find that many times it’s best to book them in person rather than online. Same goes for accommodation; we booked most of our stays the week of.
I hope this guide on how to plan an around-the-world trip has inspired you to hit the ground running! As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions.
If you found this post helpful, you may also enjoy:
- The True Cost of Backpacking Around The World
- The Ultimate Around The World Itinerary
- What to Pack For An Around The World Trip
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