Plan a Trip Around the World!
February 25, 2013 7:59 PM   Subscribe

Starting in mid-April, I'll be taking a 9-12 month leave of absence from my job to travel the world. I spent a year back in 2002 travelling Europe and living in Ukraine/Russia, but I was 20 then, and did it on very little money. A lot's changed since then - technology, my age, my funds - but I'm ready for another run. Over the next month or two, I plan to ask a variety of questions, seeking tips on specific issues. But my first question is broad: what do I need to consider? What should I be thinking about now? What should I plan for? More details and my thoughts inside...

I'm a U.S. citizen, 30 years old, male, great job, overweight but otherwise pristine health, have a lot of money saved up, budgeting up to $100k USD for the trip though hope to spend substantially less. I'd like to hit South America, the South Pacific, Australia/New Zealand, China, Mongolia, Nepal, India, Jordan, Turkey and Africa (and perhaps some of the former Soviet republics if time permits, though I also like travelling slow and staying in places for extended periods of time). Those are the main regions of the world I haven't visited that I'd like to see. My preference would be to only tentatively plan the outline of the trip without buying all plane tickets up front, preserving flexibility, but I'm not wedded to that if it would be significantly cheaper to plan at least the major plane travel up front. I plan to travel light, with just a backpack as I did when I was 20, but don't plan to bring camping gear. I plan to store all my possessions while I'm gone, and not maintain an apartment - I'll use either my office or my parents' home as my address.

What I'd like to know is what I should be thinking about that I'm not. Here are questions I am considering - feel free to answer them here, but I'm really just throwing out what I'm already considering - the main point here is to figure out what I'm not considering that I should be:

(a) Insurance coverage - my job can't provide me insurance coverage while I'm on a leave of absence. I plan to buy high-deductible coverage from a company like GeoBlue, one of the expat coverages that provides coverage both in and out of the US (I may have to come back a few times during my trip for work or weddings). It looks like this will be about $200-$300 per month for $10,000 deductible coverage. Does that seem reasonable? Should I be looking at something else?

(b) Technology - I have a basic Canon dSLR camera with a few nice lenses that I use here; I don't think I want to take that with me, though I love photography; I just think it would be too bulky. Similarly, I have a Thinkpad Ultrabook and a full-sized iPad, and use a Droid RAZR Maxx for a phone. I'd like to condense the technology I take down as much as possible. I think I'll need to take a laptop for intermitent work, but perhaps I could make do with an ipad and keyboard. I currently read magazines and books on both my iPad and phone. I'd like a phone that I can use while I travel by swapping out SIM cards - I think that the Droid RAZR Maxx works for that, and I currently read a lot on my phone, so would be happy to continue to use it. But am I missing options? What's the best/cheapest way to maintain a link with the world for limited work, a travelling e-reader (I read a lot and am thrilled to not need to carry physical books any longer) and a useful camera? I also have an original kindle with the worldwide data connection - maybe that's worth bringing? But I really want to avoid bringing anything more than I need.

(c) Plane Tickets - plane tickets, particularly the continent hopping ones, will be an expensive component of the trip. Is it better to buy a round-the-world ticket up front? Or better to preserve flexibility?

(d) When to go where - given the spots I'd like to hit, what order should I go in? I'm thinking start in South America, move to the South Pacific and Australia/New Zealand toward the end of June/early July, then China in early August, Nepal and India in September/October, then Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Southern Africa toward the end of the year, early 2014. But I'm still considering it. I don't love extreme heats, and am trying to avoid being anywhere in peak tourist season - I like shoulder seasons.

(e) Where to stay - when I was 20 I stayed in hostels; that's still my inclination since they're cheap, but I worry that a 30 year old will be a bit out of place. True? I'm pretty laid back and can sleep anywhere, so I'm mainly worried about perceptions and whether I'll feel welcome. I'd like to spend as little as possible on lodging, and spend most on experiences. I also always enjoyed meeting people at hostels, and ended up travelling with the people I met on multiple occassions for short periods of time.

(f) What to pack - I think I've got this down, though realize I'll have to acquire and discard things as I go depending on the weather. Any reason I should bring camping gear? I did do a good amount of backpacking/hiking about 5 years ago and still have all the equipment - but would prefer to minimize what I'm carrrying unless there's a huge advantage to having the supplies where I'm going.

(g) Visas - of the places I mentioned, I realize I'll need visas to vist some of them and will make sure to arrange those in advance.

(h) Medicine - I'll get my vaccinations updated in advance, and get some antibacterials and anti-malarials to take along with me in case of need.

(i) Storage - I'm going to rent a storage place near where I live and store most of my possessions, though will try to sell some in advance.

Anything else I should be considering that I'm not? Sorry for the long question, and thanks in advance for any advice!

P.S. - I saw this question and the answers are coming in very handy already: link. But it's somewhat different in focus; I'm really just trying to make sure I'm thinking of everything I should be thinking about here.
posted by traveltheworld to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I'm 43, and I stay I hostels all the time. I don't feel out of place at all, and I still love meeting fellow travelers that way.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:22 PM on February 25, 2013

(a) You can get travellers insurance for up to 6 months which is much less expensive than regular insurance, but won't cover you if you need to get back to the US for better care.

(b) Be aware that the longer you are on the road, the chances of anything you have with you, (from your socks to your ipad) being lost or stolen begin to approach one. For a long term trip, I would bring a very inexpensive tablet, and a relatively inexpensive camera, and buy cheap phones and prepaid service where you need them. There are internet cafes everywhere if you need to work, even in the most rural areas, and free wi-fi is everywhere.

(c) I'd just buy a one way ticket. I don't even think you can buy a round trip with dates that far out.

(d) depends on how frugal you're being. go everywhere off season if you want to save money. Rainy season is obnoxious in a lot of places, but if you're not on a clock, it really doesn't matter if you have to hang around town for another day because the thing you wanted to do was rained out.

(e) I just stayed in hostels for 3 months and I'm 36. Never had a problem, though there were guys my age that people thought were creepy who were hitting on younger girls all the time. Don't do that, and it's fine. There are plenty of people in their 30s travelling. If you end up in a party hostel and feel out of place, you can always just get a private room.

(f) Aside from more socks than you'd think you'd need, and two pairs of sneakers (one for day to day, and one for trails), the thing that I found most useful on my three month trip was a small LED flashlight. And makes sure you always have food on you. Enough snacks to get you through a day without real food, in an emergency.

(h) buy antibiotics and anti-malarials when you get there. They are so, so, so much less expensive than in the US and you don't need a prescription in most places. Also, don't bother with anti-malarials on a long term trip through the tropics. They're hard on the liver, have terrible side-effects, and you can't take them the whole time you're down there. Just use lots of OFF, and make sure you're inside during the dawn and dusk when the malaria carrying mosquitos are out. You should also avoid traveling during rainy season (which is certainly one reason why you wouldn't want to do that to save money)
posted by empath at 8:45 PM on February 25, 2013

Btw, the main advantage of staying at hostels is meeting people. It is going to be lonely on the road for nine months. Be ready to change plans and take a bus in the complete opposite direction you intended on the spur of the moment if you find people that you're enjoying spending time with, but also don't be afraid to ditch them if you're happy staying someplace.

And when you get to a place that speaks a new language, find a school in an inexpensive area where you can stay for a few weeks and take classes, if you can, it helps so much.
posted by empath at 8:58 PM on February 25, 2013

I've done the around-the-world in nine months thing a couple of times, once in 1993 and again in '99. I hit many of the locations you're thinking about, but I went the other way, starting in Ireland/England and ending up in Peru/New Zealand. But my budget was substantially smaller. Last year I went to Scotland and England for 9 weeks so that will factor into my advice too.

(a) I had insurance but never needed it. The few times I needed medical care, it was in locations with "socialized" medicine. My policy was nowhere near as expensive but carried a similar deductible. You might want to look around, but it wouldn't surprise me if that's the going rate these days.

(b) Last summer I got by with a 7" Android tablet, an iPod nano, a Kindle, and a tiny point-n-shoot camera with a gorillapod. The tablet acted as my phone. I was able to keep a blog updated quite easily, (MeMail for a link if interested.) If I did it again, I might invest in a wifi SD card to make it easier to transfer photos from my camera to my tablet.

(c) I vote for flexibility. On your budget, I'd say your plane travel will be fairly easy to arrange as you go. On my last trip I was able to email my travel agent and arrange a change of plans on the fly, via the tablet. In my earlier travels I just made arrangements as I went. Never had any real problems. One exception comes to mind. When traveling overland from Zambia to Zimbabwe they wanted me to have an onward ticket. I had to talk my way in, (I had a ticket for Kenya to India and convinced them it proved I was going to leave the country.)

(d) You have too many spots to cover them all here. Peruse travel guides to get the best -when-to-go dates. Peru/New Zealand were both great in April. Nepal was great in October, India was great in September. Egypt/Jordan were a little cold in November, but only on some days. Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe) was perfect in December and January. Turkey was October for me, with very good temperatures. If you're doing Turkey, you should consider Greece. They make a great pair. Malta, Tunisia, and Morocco are also recommended.

(e) On your budget, stay wherever you like. Mix it up. You will not be out of place in hostels. I met more people over thirty than under on my last trip.

(f) What to pack: Less. No camping gear. Seriously. My packs get smaller with every trip I take, and I haven't missed a thing I've left behind. On my first trip, I sent back a fairly large box of stuff after the first month. Don't be that version of me. I can get more specific about clothes and stuff-sacks and whatnot, if you like. I'll just say: layers are your friend.

(g) Visas- Yes! And get double-entry visas if you're going to, say, Egypt-Jordan-Egypt. Just as a for-instance.

(h) Meds: Never had any trouble getting anything I needed along the way. I carry a small first-aid kit with me.

(i)I did the same. Worked great. Great opportunity to get rid of excess possessions, too.

You'll have a blast. It does get lonely, but there's always a new situation just around the corner, so not that hard to keep on keepin' on.
posted by zueod at 9:25 PM on February 25, 2013

Get a mega-huge (48 or 52 pages?) new biometric passport if you haven't got one. Many visas these days take up a whole page (I am passing through Vietnam for ONE DAY and I'm losing a whole page...) and with only the standard 24(?) pages you'll be done with that thing in a few months at the pace you describe. Here's the Hong Kong US consulate page on the matter, for example.

Travel insurance is great. Get something gold-plated and then forget about it. Your bank/credit union might have a good deal; ask there.

This stuff.
posted by mdonley at 10:33 PM on February 25, 2013

Almost forgot! Join a frequent-flier program (or all of them!) and scout around Flyertalk forums so you come home with super-elite airline status and never wait in a line or pay for extra bags again.

Generally you don't have to fly an airline's specific airplane to get credit in their program if you fly within the same alliance (ie, fly on Thai or Air New Zealand and credit to United as they're all in Star Alliance), and the different airline programs have wildly different rules. Many airlines have comparatively low numbers-of-miles-flown required before becoming elite.

And you know about ITA Software, right?
posted by mdonley at 10:39 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I traveled with a small digital Leica and was VERY happy with it. Panasonic makes a slightly cheaper version with a Leica lens. Leica makes wonderful lenses, and years later I am still pleasantly apprised by the quality of the images. The cameras are slim and discreet, and under 1k, so not a total disaster if lost. I have a BFA in photography, and have used all manner of professional equipment... Lenses are everything and I love Leicas.

I'm 30 and married, and we still stay in hostels too. Go for it.
posted by jrobin276 at 10:39 PM on February 25, 2013

35 here - I did a one year RTW backpack trip when I was 31, and finished a six month trip around north America on my motorcycle a few months ago.

At 31 I enjoyed the hostel scene everywhere I went, from sort of introverted hiker hostels in New Zealand to party hostels with American college kids in western Europe. On this last trip I did stay at a few party hostels and while it was fine I wasn't into it or connecting to people there as easily. But 90% of the time the hostels felt like home as they did on the previous trip.

b) I just moved to a micro 4/3rds camera because I found my D7000 to be too big on my motorcycle trip. They might be worth looking into if you want lens options and SLR levels of control and power. I'm going to Europe this May for 5 weeks and I'm only taking the m43 camera and my Note II. Even the kindle is staying behind. If I were going for a year I'd get a 7" tablet, although I'd have to give that some thought myself since I wouldn't then have photoshop on the road.

c) Price out an RTW ticket and ballpark it against what you would spend anyway. For me it was a wash so I didn't get one as that would have only added restrictions.

e) The longer you travel the less you should bring and the less you need to plan. Don't bring camping gear - only bring that if you're going to use it at least 50% of the time, and you didn't mention being a gung-ho outdoorsman. I did my backpacking trip on a 40L pack, most people do about 60 and some do 80. Really try to keep it under 60. If you bring your camping gear you're going to need an 80L unless you have a really crazy and expensive minimalist setup. Don't be afraid to dump a layer or two of clothes if you're not going to need them for a two or three month stretch.

$100k is an insane budget for a year - I did mine on 30k and that was with 2 month of car rentals in NZ and AU, traveling in European capitols when the dollar was shit in 2009 (going rate in Paris in a six bed dorm was about $35 a night), and usually not taking advantage of the ultra cheap accommodation options in India.

Honestly I think other than narrowing when to go where you're ready to go. You've done this before and if something needs tweaking you're going to figure that out on the road, not googling around on the internet.
posted by MillMan at 11:19 PM on February 25, 2013

I have a couple of 30-something friends who are doing an RTW trip right now and blogging about things including budget, technology, packing, and housing. Lots of RTW blogs like this exist. The husband is a bit of a geek for logistics.
posted by knile at 11:44 PM on February 25, 2013

At this stage I would try to think about purpose. You talk about a long list of places you want to visit. Simply being able to visit those and tick them off as you get to them can give your trip purpose of course - but, particularly over a longer trip and as one gets older, it is possible to get rather jaded by just working through a itinerary. You can go with the alternative of just going where the mood takes you - and that is fine but a bit of a cop out. So I would try to think beyond just places and to consider what really motivates and excites you about the trip. Consider a theme that would link them together. A journey where you aim to seek out the best landscapes to paint, the most fascinating local music to dance to, the locations of your favourite films and books, the places where the finest wines are produced or the most alluring species of wading bird to spot in the wild would all be more interesting than just putting together a string of tourist destinations.

So: specialise.
posted by rongorongo at 2:40 AM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I travelled a lot when younger and took off with the now Mrs MM on a year long trip abroad when I was 25. Some thoughts.

b) I'd just take something like a Canon G15. Honestly, the faff and the risk of carrying a DSLR about with you. Unless you really, really want to take amazing pictures and you're prepared to back them up then this is extraneous. Ditto the laptop. Take an iPad. A good rule of thumb is just to assume all your stuff will get stolen.

c) Flexibility, especially if you are not constrained by budget. You have a year, and one of the largest challenges you'll face is how to reconcile going with the flow and sticking to some sort of plan. It will go quickly, particularly the final 3 months.

d) I don't think June/July is a great time to go to NZ/Aus. Especially NZ, which will be coldish in the north and very cold down south. The southern part of Oz will be cold and probably wet. I like shoulder seasons too. I would start where you want to go in the season you want to go and play it by ear. FYI - the East Coast of Australia is very pleasant but slightly overrated. Tasmania and Western Australia are underrated. Also, Uluru is overrated. It's easy to say as someone that has been there but I'm glad I didn't waste precious days of, say, a 4 week trip to Oz, going all the way out there.

On your itinerary: If you want a once in a lifetime trip go to Bhutan. I've not been, but it takes a long time to get to and is relatively expensive and won't always be as pristine as it is now. Sri Lanka is fantastic, and I'd recommend not missing it. In 2-3 weeks you can get a great feel for the place. Don't go to Jordan and Egypt and not to Jerusalem. I'm not religious, and not a fan of Israeli foreign policy. Nonetheless, the old quarter of Jerusalem is a huge highlight.

e) You've mentioned you have a $100k budget, which is a lot. Too much. Your future you will probably not thank you. Where you stay really depends on what you're into and whether at 30 feel a little old travelling with the 18-22 crowd. There are hostels and hostels and you'll find ones that suit. Pick wisely and you'll be fine. Spend more on a hotel if it gets a bit too much from time to time. In Oz particularly, but also elsewhere, so of the answer comes down to whether or not you buy or hire a car. If you have wheels, campgrounds are less hectic, cheaper and often more pleasant.

f) Pack very little. You can buy clothes. You can't carry everything for all seasons. Don't try to. Don't bring camping gear.

My main bit of advice is this: unless you are very lucky, you will never get to do this again. At least, not for continuous year, and not as a spritely young man in his prime. Don't pass things over in the belief you'll be back. You probably won't. Mrs MM and I spent big on once in a lifetime stuff in amazing places and while it cleaned out the finances ten years on the memories are still there. Don't waste your time, and don't spend time doing things that are only of moderate interest to you. With your budget, you can afford to have exactly the trip you want.

Other than that: yes, the journey is sometimes more important than getting there. But in places like India or Australia you might want to reconsider the balance between time spent travelling and time spent being in the place you actually want to be in.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:12 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Carry almost nothing. Carry so little that you can walk around a city for hours with everything you own in the backpack on your back and end up without shoulder/back pain.

Hostels are great--or, better than expensive hotels. Couchsurfing is probably the most rewarding experience you can have. If you're traveling in, like, rural Western China, be prepared to sleep on the floor of someone's house. In terms of camping/backpacking gear, I'd bring a sleeping bag if I anticipate doing things like this regularly. You can sleep outside, well-hidden, without a tent if you ever need to; camping gear will be an enormous hinderance unless you actually plan on camping all the time. Bring a headlamp.
posted by tapir-whorf at 6:52 AM on February 26, 2013

Have you checked out Its a great site all about round the world budget solo travel. Lots of experienced people contributing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:30 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've gone on two RTW trips alone in the past...

(a) Insurance coverage - Your insurance sounds quite high for travel insurance. I found a policy that was more expensive than the bare bones typical policies and allowed for a few months of coverage when I came back to the U.S. The times I went to a doctor I paid out of pocket because it was so cheap and not worth submitting (under $25). If you have a major pre-existing condition that will prevent you from getting insurance when you get back because of a break in coverage beware (most travel insurance does not count as "credible coverage" and you'll have a gap.) I'm holding my breath until the new health insurance laws go into effect in 2014. Ideally this won't be an issue for you but until the laws are in place I wouldn't count on it.

I put my electronics on a home insurance ryder instead of expecting a travel insurance policy to cover them. The ones that do have very restrictive rules about getting reimbursed for stolen property.

(b) Technology - Don't forget that in addition to every piece of equipment you'll also have the weight/space of the chargers and plugs. This really adds up when you're backpacking. Keep in mind that your day pack will need to be big enough to carry-on all of your electronics on a plane/bus/train instead of checking.

(c) Plane Tickets - I have always bought one-way tickets. The idea of a RTW ticket is nice, but most only fly into hubs, limiting your routes and direction. Why not price it out both ways? Have you seen Boots n' All's new flight planner?

(d) When to go where - I haven't found a good site to tell you this. Make a spreadsheet of each country and fill in the high, low and shoulder seasons and see what matches up.

(e) Where to stay - You'll be fine in hostels. Read reviews online to avoid party hostels if that's not your thing. Some parts of the world don't have hostels as much as guest houses (single rooms) anyway.

(f) What to pack - Do not bring camping gear. Even a sleeping bag will probably take up too much room. The only real issue will be Nepal if you plan on going hiking and need boots or a heavier coat. I'll add that although you can buy new clothes on the road I had a very hard time finding things that fit even though I'd say I'm average American size but chesty. Clothes are sized for Europeans or Asians so you can't be picky when looking for new clothes on the road if you're a big guy.

(g) Visas - Russia seems to be the biggest one I'd worry about unless you're heading to Central Asia (you mention former Soviet countries).

(h) Medicine - Depending on your route I'd get these outside the US. It's amazingly less expensive everywhere else, even other "Western" countries.

(i) Storage - I stored everything at my parent's house. Many people go through their storage units when they come back and say "why did I keep this junk?" but a friend just returned from a 14 month trip and was really upset she'd sold most of her furniture and little things (like a coffee maker) because she had to go out and buy it all again.

Other things to think about:
* How will you back up your devices/data/photos?

* Are you using digital guidebooks on an iPad? I like books so I can tear out a page and carry it around with me and not be a theft target.

* Your budget sounds way high to me, but Russia and Australia are pricey and Africa is more expensive than you'd think. Good on you for having so much savings, you don't need to spend it all.

* How will you keep in touch with people back home? Will you post your photos somewhere?

* I always encourage people to disengage from media/internet/society back home for a time on their trip i.e., enjoy being where you are instead of tweeting about it.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:20 AM on February 26, 2013

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