So much information is needed when taking the plunge and deciding to travel the world for an extended period of time. Costs and budget are usually one of the first things on everyone’s minds, and it’s probably the most important item (unless you’re just really rich, which in that case, I doubt you’re reading this site).
But before we can talk in detail about budgets (it’s coming soon, don’t worry), there’s a few other things we need to get out of the way first. Decisions on where you’re going to go on that career break, sabbatical, gap year, or RTW trip will greatly affect how much money you’re going to need to save up.
#1 Thing to Consider
The #1 thing that you will quickly find out is that you will NOT be able to go everywhere. When we very first decided to go, we thought, “Wow,a whole year traveling, we’ll be able to go everywhere!”
WRONG! Unless you have a massive budget, that’s just not possible. Moving quickly and to many different continents/regions of the world means flying, a lot, and that means expensive.
Now each person/couple is different, and some like to move fast, but if you’ve never traveled for longer than a couple weeks, you’ll quickly realize that travel burnout is a very real thing. You WILL experience it at some point of your trip, and that’s a guarantee.
If you move really quickly, trying to go everywhere and do and see everything, burnout will come quicker. For us, one of the main reasons we decided to go on a trip like this was to be able not only to see a bunch of great sites around the world, but also to get to know places. To really soak in the culture of the country/city we were in. And you simply can’t do that if you’re moving to a new place every other day.
Besides, you have to save places for that next trip, which you will want to go on about a month after returning home.
Questions to ask yourself
There are tons of questions you are asking yourself right about now. Your head is in a fog from all the forums you’ve perused, blog posts you’ve read, books you’ve bought. I know, we’ve been there. It’s overwhelming, especially at first. Some questions are more important than others, and some you need to be asking yourself right away. Some can wait for later. If you’re just beginning preparation for a trip of this magnitude, these are the questions you need to be asking yourself right now:
- Are there any sites/countries/cities/activities that you’ve always dreamed of going/doing? (this is probably most important, and the answer to this question is what ultimately became the framework for our trip)
- What are you interested in doing/seeing?
- Do you like historical sites? Museums? Cities with culture?
- Do you like big, massive metropolises? Or do you prefer small, quiet towns?
- Do you like the outdoors? Camping? Biking? Hiking?
- Does your travel tend to revolve around food? (Ours does!)
- Do you like to party? Drink? Dance? Stay out late?
- What is your travel style going to be?
- How do you plan on getting around?
- Mainly overland/public transport? Buses? Trains?
- Do you ever want to rent your own transport?
- Do you have airline miles built up from previous travels that you can use?
- What types of accommodations do you plan on using?
- Hostels? Hotels? Guesthouses? Camping? (if you’re unfamiliar with hostel life, be sure to read this post, You’re Married. Why Would You Stay in a Hostel? to familiarize yourself with the myths and reality of staying in a hostel)
- How much of your trip do you want to plan out?
- How much spontaneity do you want?
- How do you plan on getting around?
- Do you plan on working and/or volunteering at all while gone? Where? Doing what?
- Do you want to learn any skill or take any classes (language, dancing, surfing, scuba, etc.)
- Do you want to settle down for part of the trip and stay in one city/place for a while? Any idea where?
- RTW Plane Ticket or buy as you go? This is an important topic that will have its own post next Tuesday.
Is your brain sufficiently drowning with questions right now? Don’t worry, this isn’t as difficult as it seems, and you don’t need definitive answers to all these questions. They’re just things to consider. If you’re like us, you probably want a combination of all these things. And that’s good.
Be honest with yourself with all these questions. If you truly don’t like the outdoors, that’s OK. Then don’t plan anything based around outdoor activities. If you really are not the partying, drinking, staying out late type, that’s fine. Then you probably want to steer clear of places that are known solely for their nightlife.
How we decided
At this point, I think it would be best to go over our decision making process and how we ended up designing our trip around South America and SE Asia.
The answer to the first question
That very first question up there is most important. If you’ve dreamed of seeing and experiencing something in particular, now is the time to make that dream a reality. That is why you’re taking this trip, right? To break out of your daily routine, to create memories that will last forever. What better way to make memories than going to destinations you’ve always dreamed of going.
Research tools to help in the decision-making process
While there were definitely things we had dreamed about, the list we came up with was a result of research. After the decision to go, we digested everything travel related we could find. We went to libraries and checked out random guidebooks. We read travel blogs, we joined various travel forums, and we looked at tons of pictures
We were still young (at the time of first planning, I was almost 29, Megan was 26), so we knew that now would be the time to go to places that may be more difficult to travel in when we were older. The thought of 24+ hour bus rides didn’t really seem too appealing to us in our 20′s, so how would it sound in our 40′s, 50′s, and beyond? Multi-day treks through the Peruvian Andes and Patagonia sounded tough while young, so would these be things we’d really want or be able to do when older?
All these questions we asked ourselves helped narrow down what regions we wanted to go to and what activities we might be interested in.
Considering a budget and eliminating regions/countries/activities
At this point we started to consider a budget. We knew that we wouldn’t have a ton of money (we still had no idea how much we’d be able to save). Remember, at this point in the game, we still had some consumer debt from the previous years of being in school and irresponsible with our money. So we had to pay that off first before starting to save.
So what we did was start to eliminate different areas. The really expensive regions of the world were just going to be out by default. Europe? We love you, but just too expensive. Australia and New Zealand? Same. African safari? While it’s a dream of both of ours, it was just going to have to wait until another trip. Russia? Not this time around. Japan? Too expensive again. USA and Canada? We live in the US, we’ve seen plenty of it, so no. Canada is close, so we could do that later. It wasn’t easy, but at some point you just have to realize that it is impossible to see and do everything, so some things were simply going to have to wait for another time. At this point, we had a good portion of the world eliminated, and the plans started to take better shape.
Our answers to the questions
Now let’s go back to those original questions at the beginning of this post.
We had also decided that we didn’t want to plan everything out. We wanted a rough structure, but not “we’ll go here today, there tomorrow, fly over there in March, etc., etc.” We also decided that we wanted a nice mix of outdoor activities (hiking, biking, camping, etc.) combined with plenty of time spent in big cities. Food was also important. We love food, so we were going to travel in areas where we were excited about the local food. Traveling overland by bus and train was going to be our main mode of transport, and we were going to try to take as few flights as possible.
As far as accommodations went, we planned on hosteling it the vast majority of the time. We didn’t want to have to lug camping gear around with us, so that was out. Hotels were going to be too expensive. We were traveling as a couple, obviously, so staying in private hostel rooms was the way to go. We still had privacy (and our own private bathroom the vast majority of the time), but we had all the positives that go with staying in hostels. Great communal atmosphere, like-minded travelers, cheap, kitchens for cooking our own meals, etc. We felt that was the way to go.
We were also open to working or volunteering while gone, but we didn’t have anything specific in mind. Learning a new language or improving our Spanish was also something we were interested in. We also decided that we would love to rent an apartment at some point and hunker down in one specific city for a month or so.
So now we had the answers to many of our questions, so it was time to make some decisions. Our trip ultimately came down to what we called The Pillars. The outline of our trip became based around a few certain must-sees around the world.
- Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru
- Seeing Iguazu Falls in Argentina/Brazil
- Spending time hiking around Patagonia
- Seeing Angkor Wat in Cambodia
- Spending some time on beaches in SE Asia
- Seeing the Taj Mahal in India
Those 6 items became the structure to our trip. Those 6 things are what we wanted to do most. They were our must-sees, our must-dos. So planning suddenly became easier. Excluding the Taj Mahal, everything else was located in either South America or SE Asia, both great destinations for budget travel. We may have to do some roughing it here and there, but that was OK. We were young, and we were willing to tackle day long bus trips, sleeping in shoddy accommodations here and there, and most likely getting violently ill at some point.
So now we had a base. A plan. We had a broad idea of where we wanted to go. A rough structure that provided us a vague itinerary that still left plenty of room for flexibility and spontaneity.
Next week on Tuesday Travel Tips, I’ll delve into RTW tickets vs. Buy as You Go, followed by How to Decide on a Route. There is much debate on the RTW vs. Buy as you Go, and I’ll offer all the information necessary in order to make the most informed decision possible.