How To Plan a Round-the-World (RTW) Trip

Adventure Travel, Air, Backpacking & Trekking, Blogging Your Trip, Budget Travel, Dispatches from the Road, Finances & Savings, Getting There Deals, Leaving & Coming Home, Packing & Wardrobe, Staying There, Tours & Attractions, Travel Philosophy, Websites and Blogs, Working Abroad — By on March 9, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Okay, so the title of this post is a little bit of a misnomer. No matter how much advance thought you put into it-how many guidebooks you read, excel charts you create or the number of seasoned traveler whose brains you pick-it’s all but impossible to plot out your entire adventure while sitting at home. The vast majority of the travel decisions on a RTW trip will be made on the fly, on the road: you’ll be amazed at how easily you’ll jet off to your next country with out so much as a name of a local friend or a hostel where you can grab a decent night’s sleep.

That said, a journey of 1,000 miles (or 30,000 miles) has to begin somewhere, and so Legal Nomad Jodi Ettenburg has complied a comprehensive “get-started” guide. Here, she takes you through seven of the most important questions you should ask yourself when contemplating a longer trip, and provides a list of online resources to give you a toe-hold in the planning process. Feel free to send your travel queries to us at Lost Girls World, and we’ll try to answer them in a future post…

How To Plan a Round-the-World (RTW) Trip
by Jodi Ettenberg

1. Where do I want to go?

The destinations you choose will inform your budget, and your budget necessarily affects the amount of time you can travel. I’ve found that the best way to dive into an itinerary is to ask yourself a million and one questions and write down your answers. Do you want more mountains than beaches? Do you want a physically grueling/challenging trip full of treks or a balance of lazy days and physically daunting days? Do you like to go off the beaten path or are you more comfortable with groups of people? Do you want to volunteer whilst you are abroad? Is there a theme you’d like to explore – e.g. a wine in every country? Chocolate from every city? Once you’ve got a substantial list of what you want to see, check out the resources below for the general places that best fit your goals. There’s no real point in pinning down every single destination; being flexible about where you are headed just means you are open to having more fun along the way!


2. What’s the weather like in my destination?

You don’t want to arrive in Hanoi in January thinking it is as warm as Bangkok (it’s not!) nor try and summit Kilimanjaro in April (their rainy season). There will always be a pleasant place somewhere in the world during any given month, it’s just about avoiding monsoon season along the way if you can help it!


3. How much can I afford to spend?

Budgetary advice is particular difficult to give because it often depends on how each person is willing to travel. I’ve met people who will only stay in hotels or B&Bs and others who insisted on using a tent at any possible point in their travels. It really does depend on what you want from a comfort perspective. In addition, food plays a big role as (outside of most South American hostels) you will rarely cook your own dinner. I tend to opt for street food all the time because it is cheaper, turnover is faster and thus the food is often fresher and it tends to be delicious and varied. For those who prefer restaurants, the food budget will necessarily increase.

In swapping budget goals with other travelers, most have opted for $30-$50 a day, with allowances for big budget fun (skydiving, multi-day treks, rafting trips, etc) and with the understanding that you will strain the high end of that budget in Australia or NZ but rarely even come close to $30 a day in Thailand. The biggest costs tend to be long-haul transportation (see the last number, below), which I added in as a rough lump sum when planning my budget for the trip.


4. Do I need a visa to get there?

Many countries do not need a visa for tourist travel, but sometimes you will find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place. Case in point: trying to get a Chinese visa just after the Olympics. I had to go back to Canada in order to get it, since I was planning on entering China via Mongolia. Certain countries (Russia, China) are generally more stringent when it comes to visas, and others (Thailand, Malaysia) automatically give tourist visas at the point of arrival. The best thing is to check out whether you need visas in advance at your Department of Foreign Affairs (or the equivalent) and – more importantly – make sure you can obtain your visa in a 3rd party country. Several travelers emailed to say they couldn’t get into China at all because they were arriving from abroad and the Embassies were not issuing visas in 3rd party countries proximate to the Olympics.


5. What kind of insurance do I need?

When taking out policies, you can end up with travel medical insurance, general travel insurance (to insure your belongings in the event of theft, or your tickets if there is a cancellation, etc.) or both. I ended up forgoing the travel insurance and taking out a medical insurance plan only. I went with IMG (they underwrite Patriot America’s plan) and was happy that I did when my bout of bronchitis turned into something nastier. Most of my friends got the World Nomads plan, which was considerably cheaper but with less coverage than the IMG plan. In the end, it is a matter of looking at the deductibles for each plan and deciding what you are comfortable handling as excess. In addition, be sure to ask after any additional riders if you plan on engaging in more extreme activities such as skydiving, heli-skiing or paragliding.


6. How can I protect myself from getting sick?

Almost everyone will need a round of travel shots–and a trip to the pharmacist–before taking off. Some vaccines are country-specific (like Japanese encephalitis, and Yellow Fever), but the basis boosters are not. Some doctors will urge the full gamut of vaccines, while others might be more sensitive to your budget and the breadth of travel. I opted to avoid the Japanese encephalitis and rabies vaccines, each of which were extremely expensive, but met many travelers who had obtained both.

My vaccines were: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Meningitis, Yellow Fever, Tetanus booster, Typhoid/Diphtheria, MMR booster (measles, mumps and rubella), Polio and Cholera (not available in the USA). I brought Malarone for the cerebral malaria zones in Africa (Tanzania, Zanzibar) and have purchased Doxycycline in Bangkok when heading to a more malarial place in Southeast Asia.


7. Should I buy a RTW Ticket?

This remains the mother of all questions for RTW travelers, and the subject of much vitriol on many of the travel forums. People seem vehemently for or against a round-the-world ticket, with little room in between.

RTW Ticket: a lot of people do opt for the round-the-world ticket, essentially purchasing a fairly set itinerary of destinations, with some room for modification on the road. Most of the RTW options are valid for one year, with a set fee for date changes. Destination changes are often subject to a much higher fee. For those people who feel more comfortable knowing the general route and schedule in advance, this is a perfect option and generally cheaper than the pay-as-you-go ticket buying, below. Conversely, the downside to these types of tickets is a lack of flexibility in destinations and mode of transportation, as well as the limit of 12 months.

Star Alliance Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, bmi, EgyptAir, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Spanair, SWISS, TAP Portugal, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines, United, US Airways. RTW ticket is based on mileage (and not “stops”). Overland mileage between destinations counts toward your total.

One World Aer Lingus, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, JAL, Iberia, Lan and Qantas, offering either of a Global explorer or a oneworld explorer, depending on the amount of continents and stops you want to include in your trip. Good for South America due to the inclusion of LAN in the OneWorld alliance.

SkyTeam Alliance Aeroflot, Aeromexico, Air France, Alitalia, China Southern Airlines, Continental Airlines, CSA Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Korean Air, Northwest Airlines, Air Europa, Copa Airlines, Kenya Airways.

Airtreks RTW ticket options, used by The Lost Girls and many others for their trip.

As-you-Go Flying: For many travelers, the idea of a RTW trip often includes freeing themselves from whatever routine or life they have been living and giving themselves up to the unknown. If this feeling/goal is more important than knowing where are heading next, opting against a RTW ticket might be better for you. As-you-go flying means taking advantage of the budget airline options out there, as well as any other modes of transportation between countries (trains, buses, motorbikes, etc). It also means that you might decide to change your itinerary entirely upon meeting people headed in a different direction, and that you need to do a lot less pre-trip destination planning since you could inevitably end up somewhere entirely unexpected.

What did I do? When planning my RTW, I opted for a combo of the two options, using AirTreks to book some long-haul options (NYC – Santiago on April 1; Buenos Aires – Cape Town several months later), and leaving the rest to my own devices. I felt good leaving my job having a series of flights in the next few months, but was excited that I had nothing planned after that. I have had a great time meeting fellow travelers and heading somewhere new and different, or opting against airfare entirely and taking long distance train rides or overnight buses. For me, it was more important to have the flexibility and freedom of being able to change my plans on a whim, than it was to calculate the aggregate savings of a RTW ticket. I am sure a RTW ticket would have run me less in terms of bare costs, but I’d like to think that the fun I’ve had in being wholly spontaneous was a fair opportunity cost for those savings.

Check out Jodi’s killer post “How to Pack for a Year Away” on Lost Girl.

About Jodi:
My family jokes that I inherited my mother’s love of travel in the womb, and 29 years later it shows no signs of abating. Growing up in Montreal, I dreamed of doing a RTW trip one day and after 5 years saving up as corporate lawyer in NYC, I quit my job and left for my trip on April 1, 2008. People often ask what made me quit my job and decide to travel, but it was actually the other way around: I took the job in order to save faster so that I could travel. In the end, my priority was seeing the world, and I’m thrilled to be on my journey now. You can follow my travels at

My favorite place thus far: 5 days in the Gobi desert with a nomadic family

Worse moment: food poisoning and diarrhea during a 4 day Salar de Uyuni trip – in a 4×4 on bumpy roads. Ugh.

Mascot: “Potato”, a conch shell from Key West engraved with the word Potato (background post here), who has his own tag on my blog.

Please feel free to send any questions to



  • JARichards says:

    What a superb blog! I’m at the opposit end of the age scale 🙂 ,but have spent a total of 6 years on 3 separate occasions wandering around the world with my backpack on. And I’m planning my next for when I ‘retire’ in 12 months.

    Your blog is not only interesting (I’m about to subscribe) it’s also one of the best planning resources I’ve seen in a long time!

    Well done Gals!!


  • travelandtrips says:

    Nice blog..
    ☆ Martinha ☆

  • Sebastian says:

    Great Blog!

    We help a lot of Airtreks’ clients research and book excursions and accommodations for their RTWs.

    Global Basecamps

  • Brooke says:

    I just found your blog in the nick of time!!!

    This is amazing, and I’m definitely going to peruse all the posts for information to help plan my upcoming Europe backpacking trip.

  • IrvsLuggage says:

    Great post! It’s true that it’s impossible to really plan for an around the world trip, but having a little peace of mind before you go, and knowing what to expect goes a long way.
    Well done, and happy travels!

  • Amanda says:

    Thanks for your feedback! @brooke: We’re thrilled that Jodi’s post can help you get started on your Europe planning!

  • RZ says:

    Hi! I’m new to blogger. I just wanted to say that I think what you guys are doing is awesome. Your posts are so interesting. I wish I had the money to go on a trip like that lol.

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