Deciding Where to Go
Now what? The world is huge, and you want to see as much of it as you can. Or do you? So many things come into play when planning an extended trip, especially if you’ve never done it before.
You can’t go everywhere
A whole year!
“We’ll be able to go everywhere and see everything,” we naively thought, as our longest trip to date was 3 weeks.
This is the very first thing one must realize when planning to travel long term, whether it’s a sabbatical, a gap year, a round the world (RTW) trip, a family adventure, or a retirement trip. You simply won’t be able to go everywhere and see everything. It’s not possible. Unless you have an unlimited budget and can afford to fly everywhere all the time, you are going to have to prioritize and save some destinations for that next trip (and the one after that).
One of the biggest mistakes people make when planning is planning to do too much.
Extended travel is different than a one or two week vacation. It’s very difficult to sustain the pace that most travel at when going on vacation. Downtime is a necessity, and you’ll probably travel at a much slower pace than you’re used to. Seeing site after site and traveling to new cities every few days will get old quickly. You will get burned out at some point, no matter how quickly or slowly you travel. Trust me. And if you travel at a frenetic pace, that burnout will come much quicker.
If you’re traveling as a couple or with a friend, it gets trickier. Make sure you and your traveling partner discuss how fast you think you want to move. And be sure to build in time to slow down and at least give yourself the opportunity to chill out for a bit, even if you think now that you won’t need to.
If you’re a family, this is more important. Slow travel fits families perfectly, as kids (especially the littler ones) tend to get exhausted when trekking from hostel to bus to new city to new hostel to bus over and over again. You need to give yourselves a chance to breathe, so keep this all in mind when coming up with your itinerary.
>>Plan your route and start pricing multi-stop, RTW plane tickets.
How to prioritize
Ask yourself what your top priorities are.
- Are there any cities/sites/experiences you have always dreamed of visiting or doing?
- Are you a city person, or do you love the outdoors and hiking and camping?
- Would you be happy circling the globe checking out the world’s best beaches?
- Are more you more of a museum and culture person?
- Is food extremely important to you when traveling?
- Do you want to volunteer, work, or take any classes while abroad?
- Do you enjoy a combination of everything above?
Other questions to ask yourself revolve around the style of travel you enjoy and what method of travel you have in mind for your trip.
- What types of accommodations do you plan on staying in (and how much do you actually know about various accommodation options)?
- How do you plan on getting around?
- How much advance planning do you want to do, and how much of your trip do you want to leave open to spontaneity?
- Will you want to take any guided tours on your trip?
- Will any of your must-see destinations and activities require tours?
- Do any of the tours you want to take book up months in advance (you’d be surprised)?
- Have you educated yourself on multi-stop plane tickets vs. airline alliance RTW (round the world) tickets vs. buying one-ways as you go?
- Do you have a budget number in mind?
The answers to all these questions will help shape your route.
Your head may be spinning, and you may feel a bit overwhelmed, but don’t worry, it’s natural to feel this way at this point of the planning process. Remember you’re at the very beginning of this whole thing.
It’s important to be honest with yourself when answering these questions. Don’t feel like you have to take part in an activity you wouldn’t otherwise care about. If you don’t like camping and hiking, that’s perfectly acceptable. If you couldn’t care less about museums, that’s okay. This is your dream trip, not someone else’s – remember that.
If you’re taking the trip with other people, whether it’s a partner, spouse, friend, or family, come up with a plan for choosing where to go. If you’re going with your kids, make sure they have a say in things as well – this will get them excited and feeling part of the decision-making process (what kid doesn’t want to offer their input?). An idea might be to give each family member the opportunity to choose one must-see place or activity that no one else can veto or complain about.
Research tools to help
We began by reading as many travel blogs as we came across. There are literally hundreds of thousands of travel blogs out there, many revolving around RTW, long-term travel and with a wealth of information. There are so many now that you should be able to find one that fits your niche perfectly – whether you’re a solo traveler, a couple, a family, a career breaker, gay, straight, whatever – you’ll find someone to connect with. We also took a trip to our local library and checked out travel guidebooks. They are usually old and out of date, but at this point, we just wanted to read about different destinations and what they had to offer.
At this point, we just want to estimate (we’ll dig into actual costs soon, don’t worry). And keep in mind that any budget number you see is based on someone else’s experience. There are some who can travel Thailand on $10 per day, and some who can’t do it for under $100 per day – EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT!
Here are a few tools to help you estimate costs:
- BootsnAll Travel Guide Pages – Our travel guide pages are broken down by region, country, and city, and they all have a budget on the right-hand side of the page. Any reader can add what they spent to that number, so it’s an average from our readers, not a hard and fast rule on what costs will be like.
- Guide books – Most guide books have per day cost numbers in them, but they can often be a year or two out of date, which is something to keep in mind.
- Here are some specific blog posts and articles that discuss costs and budgeting for a RTW trip in detail. Check them out.
Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, seeing Iguazu Falls, hiking around Patagonia, spending some time lounging on islands in SE Asia, visiting Angkor Wat, and catching a glimpse of the Taj Mahal ultimately topped our lists. While there were certainly other places we were dying to go, these six places and experiences were most important to us. They became our pillars, our must see’s and do’s, and ultimately the framework, or skeleton, for our RTW trip.
Pillars don’t always have to be a city or place either – they can be an experience. Volunteering can be a pillar. WWOOFing can be a pillar. Surfing, hiking, biking – whatever interests you most about the world – plan your trip around those. This is the time to dream. Pillars ultimately come down to all those places and things you’ve always talked about seeing and doing.
It was not easy to narrow this list down. Certain experiences just had to be cut, no matter how badly we wanted to do them. But it all goes back to that number one realization.
You can’t do and see everything.
Some activities and places, while important to us, had to be sacrificed, mainly because of cost. While going to the Galapagos was something we both wanted to do, spending thousands on a 10 day trip there was simply not feasible (wish this article was published before we left). Traveling for a longer period and experiencing more was more important to us than seeing the Galapagos. The same went for visiting regions like Europe and going on safari in Africa. We wanted to, but they were ultimately too expensive for this trip.
Planning around your Pillars
Suddenly, the puzzle was coming together
Considering guided tours
If you want or need to take a few tours over the course of your trip, start looking into them now, particularly for ones that book up well in advance (like the aforementioned Inca Trail hike – it can book up 6+ months in advance, particularly during high season).
How to plan the route
Many things must be taken into consideration when planning where to go first and getting a rough framework in place. Taking thing like weather, high season vs. low season, festivals, and holidays into account are all part of the planning process, as all will impact costs and the vibe of the destination you are visiting.
If spending a lot of time on the beach is what you’re looking forward to most, you want to make sure you’re not there during monsoon season. If Carnival in Rio tops your list of activities, you’re going to want to plan far in advance as accommodations book up quickly and airfare rises around that time. If hiking the Inca Trail is most important to you, you have to know that it is closed the entire month of February and you may have to book up to 6 months in advance.
Read about How to Use a Stopover to Maximize Your Flights.
Don’t try to create the perfect itinerary
Remember that everything has its pros and cons. Travel during high season typically means best weather but also brings larger crowds and higher prices along with it. Low season has lower prices and less crowds, but it could rain, snow, be bitterly cold or unbearably hot. Shoulder season has a great combination of lower prices, less crowds, and the possibility of either good or poor weather. You’re always taking a chance when traveling during shoulder season. It all comes down to personal preference in the end.
Check out the following articles and video about planning the itinerary:
A real example
Deal with the possibility of wet weather in South America or the monsoon season in SE Asia?
Again, doing the proper research helped in the decision making process. Talking to people who had traveled in both areas was vital in assisting us. We ultimately found out that even though May-September is considered monsoon season in much of Southeast Asia, it typically didn’t rain all day every day for months at a time. While heavy, uninterrupted rain was certainly possible, the norm was for it to rain hard for a few hours each day while otherwise being pleasant. It also meant that prices and crowds were down during this time, another plus for us.
Since we weren’t the most well traveled people out there (we had only been abroad to Europe for a few weeks at this point in our travel careers), starting in Southeast Asia seemed daunting to us. We feared the culture shock and language barrier would be too intense for us (in hindsight, it wouldn’t have been). Combining all that with the fact that we found a super cheap, one-way flight to Peru departing in October, and our decision was made. We would begin our trip in South America.
>> Check out lessons to learn from Adam’s RTW trip
>>Download our free Around the World Airfare Report to learn more about your options
AirTreks has been around for over 25 years and has experts who have all been at this for a long time. You can also build your itinerary on the AirTreks Trip Planner and get an estimate of costs, then you will be assigned a personal travel consultant who will talk to you about your goals for the trip, your budget, and craft the itinerary that fits your needs.
Do it yourself
>>Read Why Planning a Multi-Stop Trip Shouldn’t Be Difficult
>> Find out how to save time and money on your route
How much to plan in advance
We bought that first plane ticket to Lima, Peru for departure in mid-October. I hoped to have that perfect mix of having a rough framework in place that also allowed for spontaneous decisions. Hiking the classic Inca Trail was one of our pillars, and we knew that booking in advance was necessary, so we had to plan. After the Inca Trail was booked, we turned our thoughts towards Christmas and New Year’s.
By the time the holidays came around, we would have been on the road for over two months, and we thought we may want a bit of a break. We considered hunkering down somewhere and maybe renting an apartment, so we decided to rent one in Buenos Aires for a month around the holidays. Renting your own place for a couple weeks or month is something I highly advise all travelers to do – especially families. It’s great to be able to unpack your bags and have a place to call home for a while.
Our flight into Lima, the Inca Trail hike, and an apartment in Buenos Aires were the only things we booked before leaving. It left us with a rough itinerary for the first few months. We knew that we had a few weeks after our arrival in Peru to make it down to Cusco for our hike, and then we had about month and a half to make our way over to Buenos Aires. That left us with plenty of time for spontaneous travel. The gaps in our itinerary created the advantage of being able to decide on many destinations while on the road and still giving a rough framework to work with.
Note: Many people automatically think that booking a multi-stop, round the world plane ticket takes the spontaneity out of the trip, but if you book your flights weeks or months apart, there’s still plenty of time to make decisions on the fly and be spontaneous.
Remember to do what you want to do
There is no right or wrong way to plan a long-term trip. Some may tell you have to do this or you have to go there, but put trust in yourself. While others may be more well traveled than you, you know yourself best. Do what’s best for you.
The best thing you can do is devour as much information as you can and then make an informed decision. While we can give you the tools to make that informed decision, remember you’re taking this trip because you want something different out of your life. You want something special that you will remember for the rest of your life, so make your decisions based on what it is that you want out of your trip.
Read more on long-term, round the world travel:
- Why It’s Not Selfish for Parents to Travel with Young Children
- 6 Reasons Living on the Road is a Good Option in a Down Economy
- Why It’s Not Crazy for Working Professionals to Quit Their Jobs and Travel
- 5 Reasons to Take a Career Break
- 25 Wonderful Places To Visit In Your Lifetime
Photo by Hurst Photo