How to Plan a Round the World Trip

Planning your around the world trip

Planning a trip around the world is a pretty intensive process, but at this point you’ve already made the hardest decision you’re going to face: the choice to overcome your perceived obstacles and travel.

It’s easy to get extremely overwhelmed when it comes down to the actual process of preparing and planning out your trip, but it’s also important to keep the process in perspective, outline your goals for what you just “have” to finish before you depart, and work backwards from there.

Some of the top hurdles to overcome in the planning process include: handling your material possessions, travel insurance and vaccines, finances on the road, and planning the route.

Material Possessions: Eliminate the “Stuff” in Your Life

Purging personal possessions is one of the toughest obstacles you may encounter because let’s face it, Western society likes “stuff.” Clothes, books, knickknacks, electronics – these are all of the easy purges. That’s not to say that you necessarily want to get rid of them, but storage fees can be pricey and leaving on a RTW journey is the perfect opportunity to streamline your life.
You’ll want to start the purging process early and sometimes it helps to call in a friend or family member to help you assess those possessions that are really worth keeping. Two key possessions that take a lot of consideration are the car and the house. While I normally advocate traveling with as few possessions back home as possible, the current economy has made selling a non-prospect for many travelers, especially those planning a year or less on the road.

If you choose to keep your house you have several options: rent it out, hire a house-sitter, or close down the house. All three of these will mean taking time out of your travels to field phone calls from back home, handle paperwork, and deal with any house-related issues. Talk to family members and close friends about the roles they might be willing to play in helping you manage renters, safely close down and monitor the property, or see if they’re willing to house-sit for a reasonable fee (an ideal option if you have pets).

***Tip: Have a massive yard-sale (or organize a neighborhood sale) and use to effectively purge your possessions. Whatever doesn’t sell goes to your favorite charity – get a receipt and it’s a tax write-off! Whatever you make boosts your travel fund!

Health: Pick an insurance plan and choose your vaccines

You’ve got your yard sale piles formed, you’re purging like a champ, and now it’s time to make an appointment with your local travel clinic. Travel vaccines can be pricey but shop around and find out what your general practitioner can handle instead of the clinic. Although your GP is a great choice for getting some shots covered on your current health insurance, travel clinics are up-to-date on all of the latest information from the CDC.

Do your own research at the CDC Web site and write out a full list of your planned destinations – if you’re winging it and only have a rough plan, list each region and they’ll help you decide which vaccines maximize your safety.

Getting vaccines before you leave and filling recommended prescriptions are great ways to ensure that you are as healthy as possible on the road, but just these precautions do not preclude the need for good travel insurance. Even if you have insurance in your home country you must purchase travel insurance.

I’m not even going to say that you need to, it’s a must. Make sure that your travel insurance provider includes these essentials: med-evac back to your home country, repatriation of your remains (you’re not going to die, but if you do this is an important one for your family), and coverage for any of your planned adventure activities. It’s also great to have theft coverage on your electronics and money if your luggage is lost by an airline, but really it’s the first three that are the most important travel insurance considerations.

***Tip: No matter how much they cost splurge for the all-purpose antibiotic and travel medicines that your travel doctor recommends, they very well could save your life in areas with limited hospitals and health care.

Finances: Choose the cards and prep your taxes

Two of the most important considerations in the finance stage of planning your RTW trip are choosing your credit cards and prepping your taxes. Find out current foreign withdrawal and transaction fees for all of your current cards; most major credit cards charge between 1% and 3% so if you don’t like what you hear, shop around.

If you’re carrying a bank card with a Visa logo on it then consider a MasterCard credit card. Not all places accept both cards and it is really imperative actually that you have both of these on you.  

Taxes are inevitable and it’s best to face the issue head-on if you’re going to be on the road when the tax deadline comes around. Consider filing for an extension if you’ll be back not long after the tax deadline; otherwise, gather all of your tax documents into one location and talk to your tax accountant about how best to get all of the documents and forms in on time.

***Tip: Nearly every market has at least one credit card company willing to charge 0% foreign transaction fees (in the US it’s currently Capital One…this could change so ask first though!). Also, don’t forget to notify each bank and credit card company that you’re leaving the country!

Planning the Route: Book as you go and take recommendations

Slow down and don’t over plan; while I acknowledge that there are people who only feel comfortable traveling if they have all of their time and activities plotted out, RTW travel is different. You have the time to figure it out along the way.

As you’re plotting your route and dreaming about all of the places you’d love to visit, remember that each of these countries is not a “notch on the belt.” When you’re considering your route look into estimated costs for each country; spending additional time in the cheaper countries allows you the freedom and breathing room to indulge in a lot more local activities. My RTW trip budget is a good starting place for researching country costs and will give you a rough expectation for daily budgets.

Your flights are a serious consideration; buying a series of one-way flights versus the RTW ticket takes research. The costs often work out very closely if not in favor of the RTW ticket, but you do lose some spontaneity if you book your entire route in advance. All of the major RTW ticketing companies offer free consultations and one-way ticket prices can be researched at the major online booking services.

***Tip: I far prefer to traveling on local airlines with one-way tickets so that I can stay longer in the places I love more than I expected and leave those that didn’t live up to my expectations. Remember to research and make sure that you can enter the next country without an outbound ticket, some countries are quite particular.

A few last considerations for planning your RTW trip:

  • Pack lightly! They sell more toiletries and clothes in every place you’re visiting.
  • Bring at least 8 passport sized photos and several photocopies of your passport.
  • Make a list of your must-visit sites in each country and leave the rest up to whimsy.

My parting thoughts: go slowly and absorb the stories and culture, you’re likely going to visit a lot of temples and ancient sites all over the world but it’s the people you meet along the way who you’ll most remember!


Have you traveled around the world? Share your tips!

About Shannon O'Donnell 2 Articles

Shannon O'Donnell recently finished a yearlong backpacking trip around the world that took her from diving in Australia on the Great Barrier Reef to teaching English to monks in Nepal.

Her travel blog, A Little Adrift, shares stories, pictures and videos of the places she saw and the people she met along the way. 

Although her former life as an actress in LA is calling to her, she plans to stay on the road for several more years with breaks back to her home state of Florida to visit family.

Catch up with Shannon at her Blog:
Follow Shannon on Twitter:


    • I’m delighted to have you share this with us! I have longed dreamed of making a round the world trip, so I’m grateful for the advice, and I LOVE the budget spreadsheet you did. It’s wonderful that you make it available to the rest of us to help with our own planning!

  1. Great post and overview of trip planning. I am working on planning a RTW trip right now and it can be very daunting. Thank you for giving me some starting points!

    • Just know that you *can* do it if it’s something you ever decide you do dream of doing – it’s affordable and there’s a global network of backpackers eager to help you on your way! :-)

  2. Great advice Shannon!

    There are so many things to consider while planning for a RTW trip, that it makes sense to have a list of “basics” to come back to.

    We used Nico @ Airtreks to book our series of one-way tickets; it would have been impossible (both in terms of timing and cost) to do on our own. These types of complex trips are best left to professionals!

    The only other “basic” I would recommend is a mosquito net; It came in too handy too often! :-)

    • Great extra tips there Jennifer, thanks for sharing – there were times in Nepal and India where my mosquito net was the only thing that allowed me a malaria-free decent night’s sleep!

      As for the tickets, I’ve heard great things about Airtreks so it’s nice to have it confirmed first hand! There is definitely a value to booking RTW tickets booking if you have a specific time schedule and a precise route :-)

      • Well, I have to chime in! First, thanks for the recognition Jennifer. It is always nice to see feedback coming in from whatever forum happens to work. I’m glad you had a good experience!

        And Shannon, thanks so much for posting about this subject. I’ve been with AirTreks for about 4 years and am surprised every day how many people are interested in the RTW trip. The Europe-and-back-again is just so 90s!

        And your right, Jennifer. I think people understand the more complicated the trip, the more professional assistance that’s required to make it come off smoothly. The last thing people want is a problem with their tickets in the middle of China.

        I think people feel good having someone on their side when it comes to planning and booking complicated trips. Travel, unlike many other industries, seems to be lagging in the DIY category. Sure once you’re on the road things become very hands-on, but in the booking stages it’s still so hard to know what’s best out there.

        I encourage all the readers to take at least one round-the-world trip in their lifetime. It can give you a new perspective on the world you live in, and that, I think, is the best reason to do it.

        I actually wrote a piece on the benefits of RTW travel. It can be found here:

        Thanks and happy traveling!


  3. Glad to see you mentioned Capital One for the no-foreign fees feature. I used them for my RTW trip as a back-up card which I needed when my ETrade debit card was stolen in Spain. I also started putting flights on there as well.

    I did, however, run into a lot of frustration once I started using it online. I must’ve gotten locked out of it for security concerns 3-4 different times. Which might not be annoying at home, in a familiar environment, but when you’ve just been robbed, and have little cash, and littler desire to pay exorbitant cash advance fees, it’s another story.

    Oh, and trying to call from internet cafes with good Skype-worthy headsets while tackling a time difference didn’t help.

    Sorry to vent!

    Capital One is a good back-up, but I’d rather recommend E*Trade debit cards for daily use (1% ATM fees – worked in every country at 99% of the ATM’s/banks).

    • Thanks for the extra tips Dave – I haven’t heard of the ETrade debit card, so I will have to look into that!

      I loved my CapOne card though the whole trip through – they DID have a lot of authentication steps to go through nearly every time I logged in from a new country though, I’ll admit; that was surely a pain! Off to research ETrade! :-)

  4. I am freshly “back” from a year living abroad with my family (husband and two daughters, 7 and 10.) While we didn’t go RTW (this time,) we went through many of the processes you mentioned. Other considerations for us that took much time and planning were visas and schools.

    Regarding credit/debit cards and fees, Schwab offers no ATM fees worldwide. We found so many places outside the US are “cash” based that being able to get cash without fees was great for traveling.

    Thanks for the great post.

    • The school issue was pretty tricky I imagine! Not having kids yet myself I hadn’t even considered, did you end up homeschooling for the year?

      Thanks for the tip on Scwab, another bank I hadn’t heard of but no ATM fees is something that really would come in handy because you’re right, it’s so cash based in Asia and many other countries!

Sorry, Commenting is automatically closed on all Posts older than two years.

Some links on this page do earn us a small amount of money if you click on them and make a purchase. Not much, maybe enough for a cup of coffee or a beer, but we would never recommend any item if we didn't believe in it's value to you. Plus, every little bit helps keep this site going and helps us continue to provide you with great information.  We appreciate your support!