Two of the biggest questions Michael and I have received about our upcoming trip are: “How do you plan an Around the World Trip?” and “How do you choose which countries to visit?”
Well, as one might expect, those questions don’t come with easy answers. After all, there are roughly 194 recognized countries scattered across 7 continents and 5 oceans. Time constraints, route logistics, packing lists/visa requirements, climate, and budget are just some of the topics to consider. With all of these factors bouncing around your head, figuring out where to begin may be the hardest part.
Before you can really start diving into planning, you need to figure out where you want to go. For beginner travelers like us, this can be a daunting task. We suggest that you take the advice offered by our close friends at Round We Go and make a list.
After a few celebratory glasses of bubbly on New Year’s Eve 2015, Michael and I both wrote down the 10 places that we would most like to visit on separate pieces of paper. Once completed, we looked at the lists side by side. Any countries/cities that appeared on both lists automatically made it onto the ‘must-visit’ list.
At this point, it starts to get really fun! We printed out a copy of a world map (like the below which shows the places we are going) and marked the map with our ‘must-visit’ stops. Then, we connected the dots (starting in the US) going in an East to West direction. You can do it in reverse as well.
The order doesn’t matter as much as connecting the stops in a consistent direction (trying not to back track). We will go more into this later in Part Two when we discuss ‘How to book a Round the World Flight’, but for now just trust us.
Once complete, take a look at the lines connecting stops. What countries lie between Stop 1 and Stop 2? If one of those countries is on either your or your travel partner’s top 10 list, then consider adding it to the ‘must-visit’ list. For example, maybe you both have Barcelona, Spain and Venice, Italy on your lists. Lying between the two is the South of France. Is Marseille, Nice, Monaco, or Cannes on one of your lists? If so, consider taking the train from Barcelona across the region on your way to Venice.
We think it is better to start with a broader itinerary and edit down naturally once you get into the time of year you are visiting, the amount of time you have, your budget, your interests, etc. It becomes a lot easier than you think. In the above example, we found that the overall train time from Barcelona to Venice is about 24 hours. With a few scheduled full day stops in Marseille and Nice, our total travel time ballooned to 3-4 days.
While this would definitely make for an amazing experience, it would force us to lose a day each in Venice, Florence, and Rome in order to make our fixed departure flight to Paris so we opted to fly from Barcelona directly to Venice instead. The flight is under 2 hours, less than half the cost of the train trip, and allows us to take our time going through Italy (which topped both of our lists anyway).
Figuring out the ideal itinerary will vary from person to person, but we think this is a great place to start.
Some key points to consider when planning an around the world trip:
Costs – Chances are, you are traveling on a fixed budget. Check out locations where the US dollar is strongest. South America (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, etc.), South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand top the list this year. Consider visiting countries on the shoulder season (before or after their busiest tourist times) to save on everything from food to flights.
Get a little more bang for your buck by staying in an Airbnb instead of a hotel, hit the market for a bottle of wine and a picnic lunch instead of restaurant meals, and opt for overnight trains/flights to save on accommodation and maximize your time in the next city.
Climate – You will most likely be carrying all your clothes on your back. Packing (and carrying around) clothes for a bunch of different seasons is not a good idea. We are timing our departure (and route) to follow summer temperatures as much as possible.
Packing t-shirts and shirts is a whole lot lighter than sweaters and coats. Make sure to note important things like the rain/monsoon seasons. Nothing deflates a beach vacation like endless rain.
Comfort – Getting out of your comfort zone is one of the most precious gifts that travel provides. However, finding time to indulge in your creature comforts can help you appreciate them even more while recharging your batteries for the next leg of your trip. This could be a slice of pizza, a warm bath, or a night’s stay in a fancy hotel.
One of Michael’s favorite travel memories so far was a trip to Nepal to hike in the Himalayas. After a week of eating mostly dal bhat (the standard Nepalese rice and lentil dish) he stumbled upon a wine bar in Kathmandu that had French wine, charcuterie, and imported cheeses. That little treat became a memorable part of the trip and even though it was a splurge at the time, it was well worth it.