Everyone has those “What if?” moments in life. Some are huge, some are tiny, and some we just think of when we’re bored and our minds are racing.
One of the biggest reasons we decided to chuck it all and head off on an extended trip around the world was because of one of those “What if?” moments.
- What if we decided not to take this trip that we have in our heads and have thought so much about?
- What if we just move on with our lives and forget this crazy notion that two regular people who have a bit of debt, no savings, and no trust funds could actually save enough to quit their jobs and travel for a year?
These “What if?” questions propelled us to take the leap. We decided that if we didn’t go on this life changing adventure after all the talk, then we would regret it for the rest of our lives.
While researching and planning our trip, it was always easy to find out what cities had the best food, most energy, and coolest attractions, what historical sites were must-see’s, what the best season was to travel in a particular place, and what people spent.
One thing we never saw from travelers who had already went and come home was the answer to a different “What if?” question.
What if we had to do it all over again?
What would we do differently? With the knowledge of having already completed a RTW trip, what advice would we offer other travelers? The following eight things, in no particular order, are what I would advise the intrepid traveler to consider when planning to take an extended break and travel the world.
#1 – Don’t save the most difficult country or region for last
If a country or region is a notoriously difficult place to travel in, then it makes perfect sense to save that country for the end of the trip, right? Especially if you are new to this whole long-term travel thing, or if you have never visited a place that is challenging, this is a logical assumption. While long term travelers gain tons of experience and are able to adapt to different situations more easily as the trip goes on, there is such a thing as a travel burnout. Eventually one gets sick of taking 24 hour bus rides, being hassled every time they step out of their hostel or a restaurant, and having to poop in a hole.
After ten and a half months of travel, we ended in India. As advertised, it was an exhausting place to travel, and after that long on the road, we were already exhausted before touching down in Delhi. Obviously everyone has a different tolerance when it comes to traveling, but ending in a place that exhausts travelers at every turn is something I advise against doing. Perhaps add those difficult places in during the middle of your trip, when you aren’t a noobie yet are firmly in your travel groove.
Spend your final month in a place that’s easy to get around, that has people that are known as being friendly and laid back, and just savor your final moments on the road. A tropical beach is always a good place to unwind and reflect before re-entering the real world.
#2 – Don’t spend all your pre-trip money on fancy travel clothes
We’re all tempted to do it. We all see the advertisements. We all think, “Well, those pants are super lightweight, they have legs that zip off, and $75 for a pair of specialized travel pants seems reasonable.” Look, I have owned several pairs of zip off pants, and I even brought two pairs with me on the trip. I even think they are perfect for hiking, but that’s about it. They are not durable, they tear and burn easily, the wind goes right through them when it’s cold, and let’s face it, they look kinda ridiculous.
You have also no doubt seen the shirts that are lightweight and breathable. “Fantastic,” you say to yourself. “I’m going to Southeast Asia during the hottest time of year. Perfect!” When temperatures soar over the 100 degree mark and the humidity is over 90%, it really doesn’t matter how “breathable” your shirt is. The fancy $60 shirt from the outdoor store is typically made of polyester, and guess what, you’re still sweating just as much as you would if you would have just bought that sweet $3 Chang Beer tank top you had your eye on.
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So instead of spending the equivalent of a month’s budget in Bolivia on travel clothing and gear, wouldn’t it make more sense to wear what you normally wear and are comfortable in? If you wear cotton t-shirts all the time at home, then bring cotton t-shirts with you. If you wear blue jeans every day, then don’t leave home without them! Sure, they may be heavier, and you may not see many packing lists that contain blue jeans, but wear what’s comfortable for you.
My wife spent loads of money on travel clothes only to get rid of nearly all of them halfway through the trip. I ended up keeping about half with me. While some travel specific clothing is nice, particularly if you do some multi-day trekking, you’ll probably regret having nothing but fancy travel clothes.
Remember you can always buy clothes at your destination, usually for a few measly dollars. If you want to be comfortable in the heat of Asia, then wait until you’re there and buy clothes that locals wear.
#3 – Really think about your travel style and itinerary
The biggest reason I hear from long-term travel planners for not booking a multi-stop ticket is that they want their itinerary to be open. They want to be able to come and go as they please, not having to worry about catching that next flight. They have romanticized visions of waking up one morning in Santiago and deciding to fly to Auckland.
Have you ever woken up one day and tried to purchase a plane ticket for the very same day or even the day after? Wanna guess how much that ticket is gonna cost? Hint: It’s not going to be cheap. Sure, you may be able to find a last minute deal now and then, but what are the chances that deal will actually be to the place you really want to go?
We bought our plane tickets as we went instead of buying a multi-stop, RTW ticket. And while I don’t think I’d want to buy an all encompassing RTW ticket like the alliances sell, I would definitely buy them more than one at a time.
Everyone is different when it comes to this, so this is just one man’s opinion. I’m a planner by nature, and there is an art to long-term travel planning. You have to do what’s right for you, your personality, and your budget. If you have a small budget (like we did), and you decide to buy as you go, think about how much time you’ll spend researching that next flight. We spent an inordinate amount of time looking at possible flights and prices when we should have been enjoying the place we were in.
It can also wreck havoc on your budget and wish list. What if you really want to go to New Zealand from South America, but you wait until you’re there to buy the tickets and they’re twice as much as you planned? You either have to bite the bullet and pay the extra money or not go.
I’m not saying that you should definitely buy all your flights up front and plan out your entire itinerary, only suggesting that you think long and hard about this part of the planning process and do what’s going to work for you.
#4 – Make more of an effort to get friends and family to meet up with you
My mom and younger sister came to Thailand for two weeks about halfway through our trip. It was a definite highlight for me to share our experience with them, and it was incredible to see them traveling in a place so foreign to them both. We had other family members and several friends talk about coming to visit us, but they just never pulled the trigger. Now that we’re home, we have had that “What if?” conversation on more than one occasion.
I understand that not all friends and loved ones would be interested in joining you on your trip, but most of us are close with at least a few people who would love to share these experiences with you. So get after them and put some pressure on them to meet up with you. Do what you have to do. Lay the guilt trip on, pull the “But we’re not going to see each other for a whole year” comment on them. Don’t feel bad either because both you and whoever you convince to meet you will both be thankful in the end.
#5 – Find a happy medium with your budget
Budget. One word can cause so much stress, both in life and travel. In order to pull off a long term trip, you have to have a budget and stick to it. If not, you could be home in half the time. It would not have been difficult to spend double what we did on our trip. Actually, it would have been quite easy. So having and maintaining a budget is crucial. However, it does not have to be the most important thing on your trip that shapes every single thing you do.
Don’t let your budget define your trip. I was psycho about the budget the first month. It created tension between my wife and I because I analyzed the importance of every dollar we were spending. Don’t miss out on amazing opportunities because you might go over your budget for that day. You’ve decided to take the trip to have incredible experiences, and often those experiences cost money. So let loose sometimes and buck up; sometimes you just have to.
#6 – Rent a place for at least a month in a few different regions
One of our favorite memories from the trip was the month we rented an apartment in Buenos Aires around the holidays. At that point we had been on the road for three months, so unpacking our backpacks, sleeping in the same bed every night, and having our very own kitchen, bathroom, and refrigerator was a welcome change. It’s nice to be able to settle down and slow the pace of travel. It does get exhausting at times, and recharging the battery every few months is a great idea. Renting an apartment and staying put gives you that much needed rest and change of pace, and it can sometimes be more affordable than hostelling it.
One of the reasons we take a trip like this is to get out of our routine at home. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to do exactly what you want to do day in and day out. But after a while, your routine becomes not having a routine, and you start to crave some normalcy again. By renting an apartment, it gets you back in a bit of a routine, and it affords you a break from buses and trains and planning. Even though you may develop some old habits again, you’re still in a completely foreign place, and you really get to immerse yourself in a culture by living in it day in and day out. Looking back now, I would have loved to have done that again somewhere else, and if we had, maybe I would have been refreshed enough to stay away even longer.
#7 – Take more pictures
If there’s one thing I can promise you upon your return, it’s that you will remember some mundane yet awesome experience, painstakingly search for pictures of said experience, only to find you don’t have any. Maybe you forgot your camera that day. Maybe you just didn’t feel like getting the camera out. Maybe you just felt a bit embarrassed to go all touristy in front of a big crowd. Whatever the reason, you won’t get all the shots you hope to, and you won’t have pictures of something you wish you had pictures of.
We probably took upwards of 10,000 pictures, so it must sound absolutely absurd to say that we didn’t take enough. But it seems like every time I write a new blog post or article, or when we’re showing pictures to friends, I start searching for a particular picture of a particular place we visited, and it’s not there. Take as many as you can wherever you can. Of everything. I never would have thought I would want pictures of the hostel bathroom from Valparaiso, Chile, but since I’ve been home, I’ve wished I had one (to show everyone how horrid they actually were).
>> Read: 10 Ways to Take Better Travel Photos
#8 – Come home sooner
I know some of you may curse me and call me names with this one, and that’s OK. I can’t urge you enough though not to be afraid to come home earlier than you planned. You’re not a failure, you didn’t quit, and there is nothing negative about it. While I loved every part of our trip and would do just about anything to be back on the road right now, I could have cut our trip short by a month or two. I love home, I love my family, and I love my friends. Most people do, so wanting to get back to that is nothing to be ashamed of.
Even the most hardcore travelers have a limit when it comes to being a nomad. It could be a week, a month, a year, or a decade, but most people eventually want the occasional visit home or the urge to settle down in one place for a bit. If you’ve never traveled like this before, there is absolutely no way to know how you will react. You may want to come home after a few months, or you may want to keep going indefinitely. Listen to yourself and your instincts and be honest. If you’re ready, you’re ready, and the thrill of getting on that plane to depart is closely rivaled by the return home.
Reflecting and thinking about our adventure is something I do on a daily basis, and it’s always fun to wonder how things would have turned out had we done something differently. It’s naïve to think that every aspect of a year long trip would be perfect, so analyzing and thinking about how it could have been better will only improve that next journey.
If you had it to do again, what are some things that you would change about a certain trip? What do you agree with on my list? What do you disagree with? I’d love to see your comments below.