Friday, April 16, 2010

How To Plan A World Tour


Dear Sarah Von,
So I'm just sorta starting to plan a MEGA TRIP, my first mega trip,actually, and thus far its looking like I'm going to be travelling on my own. Which, I'm fine with, but the thought of planning such a megatrip seems like such a gargantuan task, that I just don't know where to start! I was hoping that you might have a couple of handy hints?

Save A Lot of Money And Then Establish A Budget
I know I'm blowing your mind here, right? Wow, saving money for a big trip? Sarah Von, you financial wizard, you!

There's no hard and fast formula that will help you calculate how much money you need to save for a big trip. Obviously, your spending habits, the countries you're traveling through, where you're staying and how long you're staying there all effect the bottom line, right? I traveled for five months in 2007 and it cost me around $7,000 - flights included. However! I traveled through really cheap countries (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia) volunteered in exchange for lodging (Greece) worked (Italy) and stayed with friends (Germany, Scotland, Wales, NYC).

However much money you think you'll need? It's probably a good idea to save at least 20% more than that. One of the cardinal rules of travel is that everything takes longer and costs more than you planned. Best to be prepared, eh? Here's a post I wrote about saving up for big ticket items.

Though I don't do this, I know many travelers establish a daily budget and don't stray from it. I traveled with a couple in Bolivia who did this and got by on $30 US a day between the two of them. They survived mostly on hostel dorm rooms and street vendor food, but it worked for them!

Figure Out Where You Want To Go
This sounds rather elementary, no? But there are different ways to approach a 'mega trip.' If you're just looking to get the eff out of dodge and see a bit of world, your best bet might be a ready-made world ticket, with the itinerary already in tact.

Here's one for San Francisco – Hong Kong – Bangkok – Bombay / Mumbai – Bangalore – Singapore – San Francisco starting at $1,600. And here's one for New York – Frankfurt – Cape Town – Kuala Lumpur – Bali (Denpasar) – Singapore – Bangkok – Hong Kong – New York starting at $2,000. There are heaps of world ticket booking companies that sell these pre-designed trips and they're usually the cheapest option.

Of course, you can also design a world ticket on your own. It's usually more expensive, but that way you'll surely be able to see the World Cup, Angkor Wat aaaannnnd the inside of your Aunt Josie's suburban McMansion. I used TripPlanner to book my last world ticket and was quite impressed with them.

Other things that you should consider when choosing countries to visit: What's the exchange rate? How safe is it? Will you like the food? How will the locals react to someone of your race/gender/sexual preference/faith? How's the weather? Do you know anybody there? Do you speak their language? What percentage of them speak your language? Is it easy to get around?

Sort Out Visas
In the event that you don't know, a visa is not just a type of credit card. It's also a document that some governments require travelers to have in order to enter a country. (Though, really! How confusing is it that a credit card company has the same name?!)

Visa requirements vary from country to country and depend largely on your home country's relationship with the country you're visiting. When I was traveling through Bolivia, I had to pay $120 for a visa - but none of the Canadians or Japanese travelers had to. Sometimes you can get a visa at the border. Sometimes you have to organize it in advance. Sometimes the expiration on your visa starts ticking as soon as it's issued, sometimes it's not activated till your passport is stamped at the border. Make sure you understand the rules and regulations affiliated with all of your visas when you're applying for them! Obviously, this can be especially hard when you're traveling through many countries. But maybe not as hard as trying to make hiking boots work with every outfit.

Getting visas is a bit of a pain, can be expensive and involve a lot of paper work. Just google "tourist visa (country your going to)" and you should find that country's immigration website which will detail the visa application process.

Get The Immunizations
Yes, really. It's super important and despite what everyone says, Yellow Fever isn't sexy. This website can tell you which countries require which immunizations. It's also a good idea to carry copies of your immunization records with you, or scan them and store them online. You might need them at border crossings.

Familiarize Yourself With The Language

If you're traveling through Europe or Southeast Asia, you can get by on English. But South America? Well, most people speak Spanish. Do a bit of research on the countries that you're visiting and if one of them has a noted lack of English speakers, do your best to brush up on "Where is the_____?" "How much is this?" "Thank you" etc in the native language. You can even learn languages for free on this BBC website!

Of course, if all else fails, most people speak the international language of "smiling and nodding."

Figure Out What You Want To Do When You Get There

As tempting as it is compulsively schedule every minute of your trip, resist the urge, friends. It's only going to send in blisters and tears. Read up on the countries that you're going to and choose a few absolutely-can't-miss things that you simply must do and see. When I went to Peru and Bolivia for three months I had a list of twelve things I wanted to do and see.

This miiiiiggght strike you as an overly laid-back approach to travel, but whoever said that famous thing about the journey vs. the destination wasn't pulling your leg. Once you're back in your first world condo, some of your fondest memories of your trip will probably be relatively mundane things - sitting by The Perfume River and drinking Vietnamese coffee, or eating Cheetos topless on a beach in Greece, or riding on the back of a motorbike through Bangkok. And you might remember The Louvre, too.

Over scheduling will stress you out, wind you up and exhaust your resources. Buying tickets, navigating public transport, reading maps, waiting in line - all these things take a lot of time and a lot of patience. I would recommend limiting yourself to two sites/outings/adventures per day. And make sure you allow yourself the occasional day of hanging out in the air conditioned hostel, watching DVDs and skyping!

Create A Packing List
Of course, what you pack will vary hugely, depending on where you're going. The weather, culture, your planned activities will all effect what's inside that backpack. Here's my comprehensive packing list (for long-term, slightly adventurous travel). Here's a packing list for a beach vacation and here's one for a cold weather trip. Here's an excellent article on packing for India which would be helpful for anyone going to a conservative, hot, developing country.

Be Realistic
You are going to have so much fun. So much fun! I promise.

However.

You will also eat things that disgust you. You'll spend too much money. You will be over charged. You will sleep poorly in dorm rooms because people are constantly going through their bags/drunkenly turning on the light at 3 am/crawling into each others bunk beds and making out.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves when we're traveling to have The Best Time Ever. And you will! But it's not going to be like that every minute of every day. Many days it'll just be "So. I'm in Vietnam. Yup." That's okay! But you'll be better emotionally prepared if you realize this. You need to practice some Travel Zen!

Have any of you ever traveled for long periods of time? Any more advice for our friend?
Got the travel bug?  Check out my ebooks and podcasts on making long-term travel a reality!  Only $15 forpetessake!

19 comments

  1. Great advice! I'm planning a major holiday at the moment and need all the advice I can get :D

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  2. @stacyvanwickler4/16/10, 7:00 AM

    Me too! I just now googled "how to plan a world tour" and found this excellent post. Is everybody up at this hour on this day thinking the same thing? Weird. And cool!

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  3. Pack in advance!
    The night before I left for my six week trip to Switzerland, me (being a genious), decided to pack literally right before I went to bed. I had to leave early the next morning. Do not procrastinate packing like I did, or you will be kicking yourself when you get there for leaving something important behind!

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  4. Bill Chapman4/16/10, 8:40 AM

    May I make a suggestion? You might benefit in making local contacts if you learn Esperanto. There are plenty of networks of people delighted to meet an Esperanto-speaking foreigner. There's also a free accommodation programme called Pasporta Servo.

    Esperanto has certainly helped me on my travels. I would have been totally lost in Milan, Berlin, Prague and so on without it.

    Try www.lernu.net

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  5. OH Sarah, this stirs up ghosts for me. This time last year I was in South Island, New Zealand - as part of a 9-month trip round the world. Top advice - don't just talk about it, DO IT! I couldn't get a career break so lost my job, it was absolutely exhausting and there are always traumas, but I wouldn't have missed seeing the world for... erm... the world.
    More tips: get health insurance, read up on your destinations to get the best of the experience and be open-minded.
    Best advice I had: lay out everything you couldn't possibly go without, halve it. Pack the rest and walk around with the pack on for a few hours. Remove half of the stuff and go with that.

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  6. That last bit of advice is soooo true! Without realising it I'd put so much pressure on myself to "have the best time ever!, see everything! DO Everything!" Things got a lot better once I learned to accept that it was impossible to be having the time of my life, every single day..
    I'd definitely recommend doing courses as you go along...the one day cookery course I took in Vietnam was such a highlight, now I can have steamed spring rolls whenever I want :)
    Have fun!

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  7. Oh I wish I could go on a world tour right now. Darn lack of funds!

    I'd recommend scouting around for travel packages to include within your trip, like the Interail system in Europe. You could travel around Asia for example, and then use a separate Interail ticket for when you reached Europe. A friend of mine and her boyfriend did just that and apparently saved a fortune.

    Oh this post has given me itchy feet :(

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  8. So much good advice!

    The last bit about not having the "Best Time Ever" every minute is especially helpful. I'm studying abroad in Holland now and my last two weekend trips were really frustrating and upsetting, but if I had just lowered my expectations (not in a bad way!) I think I would've had much more fun.

    Also, the extra 20% rule is golden! I honestly thought I could get by with on 50 pounds in spending money for SIX DAYS in London. Yeah. Right.

    http://lesadventuresdulorax.blogspot.com

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  9. Yes yes yes yes yesyesyesyesYESYES, SO EXCITED!

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  10. If traveling with someone else, make sure they are FUN, POSITIVE, ADVENTUROUS, and NOT clingy!

    When I went to France when I was 10 (we were only there for a couple of days) the only thing I remember was running into the ocean with my clothes on, even though my parents said not to. Best memory ever. Worth being in trouble.
    Memories like this are what make travel awesome. I don't like itineraries. I agree to have a few specific things you want to do, but nothing laid out in stone. In Australia, the one thing I wanted to do for sure was swim with whale sharks. I did. In Hawaii, I wanted to see Pipeline, snorkel at Hanuama Bay, and surf Waikiki. I did.
    Yay!

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  11. Ah thank you so much! This was such a help!

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  12. Awesome!

    I'm doing a research trip to Tanzania this summer and I am already planning a round-the-world four month extravaganza a year and a half from now. This couldn't have come at a better time!

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  13. This is awesome! But coming from India, I thought I would give you me 2 cents worth of advice:

    1)Always drink bottled water! You are not meant to drink from the tap, even the locals dont!
    2)Try to avoid uncooked food on the street. Stick to the cooked and deep-fried :)
    3)Medicines are readily available in India for very cheap and without prescription. Just note down the chemical names and you can get it all! If you dont have it, the pharmacist can usually listen to your symptoms and suggest something.
    4)India mosquito repellant called odomos is way better than western ones. They are made for the condition and is the only one that worked for me even in Samoa!
    5)All personal care items are readily available in all cities.
    6) Pants/jeans with t-shirts are acceptable in all parts of India, including villages, just make sure it doesnt have a deep neck or is tight. They wont mind it but why get unwanted attention.
    7) Buying some indian clothes is a good idea as they are made for the conditions, cheap and dry fast as they are cotton.

    I love travelling in India and hope you enjoy it too!

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  14. oh Lorra's advice is so true.
    Avoid people you have to drag conversation out of, people who can't make decisions, people who frequently say 'I don't know, what do you want to do?' and people that don't like staying up too late, getting too dirty, or getting their hair wet.

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  15. I'm so excited thinking about this - Matt & I are wanting to do a, err, Scandinavian tour? Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, over about a month. The InterRail tip another commenter posted is such a great idea, I was totally unaware of it! We're planning on flying into Germany and flying out of Norway, and just kind of meandering around as we like - we need to do a bit more research but don't have any set plans. I am SO excited! And your tips are great, Sarah. :)

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  16. thank you, I needed this....I'm going on a trip in may, and I might study abroad a year from now!

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  17. Hi Sarah,
    This is great advice. Did you ever go to a place where women's status was different than in your home county? How did you deal with that? How did that change your level of mobility?

    I'd love you to become a member of www.PinkPangea.com, a new community for women travelers to get real travel information geared specifically to women.

    It would be great if you could post about your travels around the world, providing anecdotes and photos from your time abroad. You might also want to provide tips for women travelers who also want to get out there.

    I look forward to hearing more about your experiences abroad!

    Hope to hear from you soon,

    Rachel
    rachel@pinkpangea.com
    www.PinkPangea.com

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  18. Awesome information, As I am planning a world tour my self, but in my car and by land, starting Montreal and heading west through Russia, Asia, East Europe to Scotland :)
    It was always my dream ;)

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  19. Thanks for all the awesome tips!!

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