How to Plan a Trip Around the World

by wheretheroadforks

Planning a trip around the world can feel overwhelming at first. Hours of research and thought go into making a trip like this a reality. You must consider visas, your route, your budget, transportation, activities, accommodation, and on and on. This guide is designed to give you an outline to follow to help you plan a round the world trip. It also includes useful tips and advice to make your journey a little smoother, safer, and more affordable.

Table of Contents- How to Plan a Trip Around the World

What is a Round the World Trip?

To make a round the world trip, you simply start traveling in an eastward or westward direction and continue your travels in that direction until you return to your origin. Most round the world travelers choose destinations on 3-6 continents.

Round the World Route Planning: Deciding Where You Want to Go

This is the most exciting part of the round the world trip planning process. You need to know where you’re going in order to calculate costs and plan activities, accommodation, and transportation. At this point, let your imagination run wild.

I recommend you start by researching the various regions of the world that interest you and make a list of potential destinations. While making your list, you may want to consider:

  • Cities- Are there any major world cities that you’ve always wanted to see? Maybe you’ve always dreamed of visiting London, New York, or Tokyo.
  • Countries- Maybe there’s a particular country that you’ve always dreamed of visiting. For me, I knew I had to include India in my itinerary.
  • Sights- Do you care to see any of the world’s major tourist sites? For example, maybe you’ve always dreamed of visiting the great pyramids of Giza, Angkor Wat, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, Macchu Picchu. One of my bucket list activities was going on an African safari. I ended up visiting the Serengeti and Maasai Mara parks.
  • Foods- Consider your favorite cuisines. Maybe you really like Italian or Thai food and want to taste the authentic flavors.
  • Activities- What do you like to do? Hiking? Laying on the beach? Dancing? Going to museums? Extreme sports?
  • People- Do you have family or friends in another country? Your round the world trip is an excellent opportunity for you to stop in for a visit.
  • Culture- Maybe you’ve always wanted to experience a particular cultural activity. For example, maybe you want to travel to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day.
  • Parties, festivals, and concerts- Another valid reason to choose a destination. Maybe you’ve always wanted to attend a particular music festival, for example. Maybe you’ve always wanted to visit Rio de Janeiro for Carnival.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

How to Make a Rough Around the World Itinerary

After making your list of potential destinations, it’s time to put together a rough round the world itinerary. Keep in mind that this itinerary will probably change multiple times throughout the planning and research process.

This is just a rough draft so you have something to start with for budgeting purposes. You can always add or remove destinations. You can even change plans mid trip. Nothing is set in stone.

  1. Prioritize your list- Chances are, you can’t hit every destination in one trip. Move the ‘can not miss’ destinations to the top of your list and place the lower priority destinations toward the bottom.
  2. Pull up at a world map- Look at the location of each destination in relation to the others. Even if you’re good with geography, a map makes your itinerary much easier to visualize.
  3. Look at your starting point on the map and find the closest ‘can not miss’ destination either to the East or West- That will be the first region that you visit on your round the world trip. From your starting point, you want to travel East or West and continue traveling in that direction for the duration of the trip.
  4. Look at the surrounding cities and countries- Are there any nearby destinations that are on your list? If there are, plan them into this leg of your itinerary. If there aren’t, research nearby points of interest and activities. You want to visit all of your desired destinations on each continent before moving on. For example, maybe you’re starting in New York and your first destination is Amsterdam. This means you’re traveling eastward for your trip. From there, maybe you want to take a train to Paris or Berlin.
  5. Find the next closest ‘can not miss’ destination in the same direction of travel- Ideally, it will be on another continent or region. This is the second leg of your journey. Research the region and look for activities, events, and points of interest.
  6. Continue plotting a general route either going East or West around the world- Avoid backtracking too much in your travels. It’s inefficient. If you can travel between two destinations overland by bus or train, consider it as it will save you money. As you go, research each destination to find potential activities. The number of stops that you make depends on your budget and the amount of time that you can travel.

By now, you should have a rough itinerary for your round the world trip. Each of the following sections of this guide will assist you to further refine that itinerary and plan your trip.

In the following section, budgeting, you may find that a particular activity is too expensive and choose to remove it from your itinerary. Later, you may find that a visa is too difficult to obtain and choose to remove that country from your trip. That’s fine. Continue refining your itinerary as you plan your round the world trip.

Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City

How I Planned my First Round the World Trip

I found it really helpful to study the world map. I had a big one hung up on the wall in my room. Even though I’m pretty good with geography, looking at the map made it much easier for me to plot out my travel path.

Budgeting: How Much Does a Round the World Trip Cost?

Before you start calculating how much the trip will actually cost, you need to know how much money you have to work with. Most travelers don’t have an unlimited budget. Look at your finances and calculate how much money you want to spend. You should consider:

  • Your occupation- Can you easily find work once you return? Can you earn money while you travel?
  • Your age- If you’re in your 20s like most long term travelers, you can get away with spending a decent chunk of your savings. You have time to financially recover.
  • Your savings- If you already have a sizable retirement account, you can probably afford to spend a chunk of cash traveling. It’s a good idea to leave yourself at least a few thousand dollars to get reestablished when you return home.
  • Your income- If you make minimum wage, you’ll want to limit your budget. It will take more time to earn back the money that you spend on your trip.

Costs to Consider When Planning a Round the World Trip

In this section, I’ll give a brief outline of each of the major costs associated with a round the world trip. This will help you form a rough idea of your total budget. Further on in this guide, I outline each section of the budget more in-depth to allow you to create a more accurate plan.

Flights

When you travel from one region to the next, you’ll probably want to fly. This cost depends on the number of flights you plant to take, the countries and cities you plan to fly into, and when you plant to fly. To purchase round the world flights, you have two options:

  1. Book your flights individually- This is the cheaper option because you can take advantage of budget airlines. It’s slightly less convenient because you must do all of your own planning and booking. This is probably the best option for those traveling for over a year or booking simple itineraries. I always book my own airfare due to the cost savings.
  2. Buy a round the world plane ticket- This option is slightly more expensive because these tickets offer more flexibility. You can generally change the date of departure without an extra charge on round the world tickets. You can also change the airports but there will be an extra charge. Some travelers find this option more convenient. Particularly for trips that are shorter than one year or trips with many stops.

a flight landing

Most travelers who book flights individually spend $1500-$2500 on airfare for a simple round the world trip stopping on 2-3 continents. This includes 3-4 international flights.

Travelers who book a round the world ticket typically spend $2500-$5000 on airfare. This includes 3-4 stops on 3-4 continents. You can spend up to $15,000 or more on round the world ticket if you want to make more stop, fly into smaller airports, or fly first class.

Accommodation

This is probably the biggest expense of your trip. If you plan to stay in budget accommodation like hostels, guesthouses, and campgrounds, you can expect to spend $25-$30 per night in expensive countries and $5-$15 per night in cheap countries.

If you prefer to stay in private accommodation like hotels or Airbnb, you can expect to spend $20-$40 per night in inexpensive countries and $60-$150 per night in expensive countries.

To more accurately estimate your accommodation budget, I recommend you go to your favorite booking site like Booking.com or Hostelworld.com and price out hotels and hostels at your destination.

A hostel dorm room

Take note of the prices and consider the number of nights you plan to stay at each destination. Multiply the price by the number of nights and add them all up. This will give you a pretty good idea of what you’ll be spending on accommodation.

I recognize that this is a pretty big job as you’ll be staying in quite a few places during a round the world trip. This is a pretty important step to creating an accurate budget.

Food

Another major expense. If you plan to cook your own meals at your hostel or in your hotel room and eat the occasional street food meal, you can get away with budgeting $5-$10 per day. You can get by on this budget pretty much anywhere if you’re frugal.

If you plan to eat out at restaurants for each meal, you can plan to spend $15-$30 per day in inexpensive countries and $30-$50 per day in expensive countries.

I have found $10 per day to be a pretty comfortable food budget. This assumes that I prepare most of my own meals with the occasional restaurant meal.

Activities

This cost depends on where you travel and personal preference. To calculate your activities budget, it’s best to price each activity individually. Prices vary widely. You could spend as little as $5 to rent a snorkel for the afternoon. You could spend several thousand on a week-long African safari. I recommend you price each major activity that you cannot miss individually and add them up.

Ground Transportation

Most round the world travelers only take flights for the long-distance or overseas sections of their itinerary. You can cut costs significantly by taking the bus or train for regional sections.

The best way to calculate this cost is to simply research each journey that you plan to take and add them up. Generally, a full day bus ride between two major cities costs $25-$60 depending on the region and distance. In the developing world, expect to spend $1-$2 per hour of travel. In the developed world expect to spend around $5-$10 per hour of travel.

You must also consider the cost of intercity travel. Depending on the city, you may have a choice between taking a taxi, Uber, public bus, metro, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, or walking.

This cost is difficult to estimate. Generally, a one-way public transit ticket or rickshaw ride costs $1-$3. In cheaper countries, a taxi or Uber ride across the city costs $5-$10. Consider the sights that you plan to visit in each city to determine how many intercity rides you’ll have to take.

For more help budgeting help, check out my guide: How to Create an Accurate Budget for Long Term Travel.

Visas

This is one budget item that many travelers forget to consider. Visa costs vary depending on the country that you’re visiting and your nationality. They can really add up in some regions.

The best way to calculate this cost is to simply look up the visa requirements for each country that you plan to visit and add up the visa prices for your nationality.

Visa costs vary widely. Many are free. If there is a charge, the average visa runs in the $20-$50 range. There are a handful that cost upwards of $300.

For most trips, your visa costs will be minimal. In some instances, the costs can be substantial. For example, while traveling through East and Southern Africa, I spent over $600 on visas.

Travel Vaccinations

This is another cost that’s easy to forget. For many destinations, you’ll need a couple of travel vaccinations to protect yourself from various diseases that aren’t common in your home country. You may also need malaria prophylaxis.

This cost depends on which vaccines you need and where you live. To calculate this cost, find a local clinic that offers travel vaccines and malaria consultations. They probably have a price list online.

Add up the cost of all of the vaccines and prescriptions that you’ll need to buy. For most round the world trips, expect to spend $100-$400 on travel vaccines and malaria tablets.

Factors that Determine your Total Round the World Trip Budget

  • How long you plan to travel- Every day, you must at least pay for food and accommodation. Your cost per day will decrease the longer you travel because you’ll be spending less per day on activities and transport.
  • The number of destinations you plan to visit- The more stops you plan, the more your trip will cost due to the additional cost of transportation. Airfare is one of the most expensive parts of the trip.
  • Where you travel- Some regions are more expensive than others. If you plan to visit expensive places like Western Europe, Australia, Japan, etc, you’ll spend a lot more than you will if you visit cheaper regions like Southeast Asia, Central America, Eastern Europe.
  • When you travel- Many destinations are seasonal. Prices are higher during the busy season. You can save money by traveling off-season.
  • The transportation that you choose- Do you plan to fly everywhere or are you comfortable taking buses? Will you take taxis around the city or walk?
  • The type of accommodation that you choose- Do you plan to stay in budget accommodation like hostels, guesthouses, and campgrounds or do you plan to stay in hotels and resorts?
  • The foods that you eat- Will you cook for yourself and eat street food or do you plan to go to a restaurant for each meal?
  • The activities that you participate in- You’ll spend more if you plan to ski, dive, rent sporting equipment, take tours, etc.

How Long are you Traveling?

After determining how much you have to spend and learning about the costs associated with a round the world trip, you must consider time. How long do you want to travel? Time affects your costs. The longer you travel, the higher the total cost of your trip will be. Time also determines your itinerary. The longer you travel, the more destinations you can visit.

When deciding how long you want to travel, consider:

  • Future obligations- Do you need to return home by a specific date?
  • Your ability to find employment when you return home- Remember, a multi-year gap in your resume can be problematic in some industries.
  • Family and friends- If you travel too long, their lives can move on without you.
  • How often you are able to travel- If this is your one big gap year trip, make it as long and epic as possible.

Another thing to remember while planning how long you want to travel is the fact that your daily cost generally decreases the longer you travel. This happens because the cost of expensive items like airfare and tours are divided over more days.

For example, if you spend $2000 on airfare and travel for 90 days, you spend $22.22 per day on airfare. If you spend $2000 on airfare and travel for 180 days, you spend just $11.11 per day on airfare. The same thing happens to other one time costs like tours, visas, vaccines, and travel gear.

In my experience, 3-6 months is the ideal amount of time for a round the world trip. Anything less will feel rushed. Longer trips of 1-2 years are great but you will notice diminishing returns. After 6 months of travel, you may begin taking things for granted and get sick of sightseeing.

What is the Total Cost of a Round the World Trip?

The average round the world trip costs somewhere between $1500-$2500 per month or $18,000-$30,000 per year. This includes airfare, accommodation, food, drinks, activities, tours, and ground transport. Basically all costs associated with the trip.

Of course, your budget can be significantly lower or higher than this depending on the style of travel that you prefer and the level of comfort that you require.

For example, if you’re on a shoestring budget, you can travel around the world for as little as $300-$500 per month or $3600-$6000 per year. In this case, you’ll be camping, hitchhiking, and cooking all of your own meals.

If you prefer to travel in luxury, the sky is the limit. A round the world trip could easily exceed $100,000 for a year of travel. In this case, you would be staying in luxury hotels and resorts, traveling in business or first class, and eating in restaurants for every meal.

Havana, Cuba

Updating your Itinerary to Fit Your Budget

At this point, you may have found that your desired initial itinerary goes over your budget. Take some time to re-evaluate your plan. Ways you can cut costs include:

  • Substitute expensive countries for cheaper countries- For example, instead of going to Japan, go to the Philippines. Your money will go much further.
  • Eliminate expensive activities- Skip the SCUBA lessons and just go snorkeling.
  • Reduce the number of flights by traveling some sections overland- Take a bus or train across a country instead of flying.
  • Reduce the total trip time- Cut a month off of your trip. That will save you $1000-$3000.

For help reducing your budget further, check out my guide to ultra low budget travel.

Visas, Travel Documents, and Entry Requirements For a Round the World Trip

The next step in the planning process is to research the entry requirements for each country that you plan to visit. Continue refining your itinerary through this process. Items you need to research include:

Visa Availability

Look up the visa requirements for each country that you plan to visit during your round the world trip. Remember to look at the requirements for your specific nationality. Also, consider any countries that you are transiting through. Occasionally, a transit visa is required. If you need a visa:

  1. Find out if you can get the visa on arrival or if you must you obtain it in advance- If the visa is available on arrival, make sure that it is available at the port of entry that you plan to use. Some countries only issue visas on arrival at international airports and not at land borders. For example, Ethiopia has this policy. I ended up flying in so I wouldn’t have to bother with arranging a visa at the embassy.
  2. If you must obtain a visa in advance, find out if you can get it in a neighboring country or if you must get it in your home country- If you can get it at a neighboring country, I recommend you wait and do it there. The process is usually easier and cheaper.
  3. If you must get a visa in your home country, consider the logistics- Find out how long the visa takes to get and how long it is valid. You may need to shift your itinerary. Some visas are only valid for 3 months beginning on the date of issue. Some expire after 3 months if they are not used.

passports and visas

While researching visas, take note of the amount of time the visa takes to obtain. Sometimes you may have to wait up to a couple of weeks for an embassy to process the visa. You also have to account for shipping time if you must mail your passport to an embassy for a visa.

Proof of Onward Travel

Some countries require that you have a confirmed ticket to prove that you have plans to leave the country. This ticket can be back to your home country or to a third country. It can be a flight, bus, or train ticket. Sometimes the airline checks before they allow you to board. Sometimes immigration checks this before allowing you to enter the country.

Proof of onward travel is often a problem for those traveling long term or those planning to exit a country overland. Sometimes, it’s impossible to buy bus tickets in advance. Sometimes you don’t have a confirmed booking when you enter a country.

Luckily, there are several solutions to this problem. Some are free and some have a minimal cost. To learn more, check out my guide How to Provide Proof of Onward Travel: 8 Options Including the Fake Ticket Method.

Vaccine Requirements

A handful of countries require that you have a Yellow Fever vaccine in order to enter. This is a common entry requirement in many African countries. All you need is proof that you have been vaccinated in the form of a Yellow Fever certificate.

If you have been traveling in an area where Yellow fever is a risk, you may be required to show your vaccine certificate in order to enter another country. For example, when I flew from Nairobi to Bangkok, I had to show my Yellow Fever vaccine certificate in order to enter Thailand.

Financial Requirements

A few countries require you to show proof that you have enough money to sustain yourself for the duration of your stay in that country. They do this to make sure that you don’t plan to stay and work illegally.

A bank statement works fine for this. Countries that have this requirement usually expect you to have at least $5000 in your account. This is a common requirement for those who plan to travel on a working holiday visa in Australia or New Zealand, for example.

A Note on Border Crossings

Be sure to research the entry requirements of the exact border crossing that you plan to use. There are a few instances of borders between two countries being closed due to a conflict between those two countries. For example, you can’t cross between Armenia and Azerbaijan. You must transit through Georgia if you plant to visit those two countries.

Occasionally, borders are only open for locals. Sometimes visas on arrival aren’t available at smaller border crossings. Some border crossings are notorious for bribes or scams and should be avoided if possible. Some are simply hectic. Research each border that you plan to cross to make sure that it is open and crossable without too much hassle.

Updating your Itinerary

After researching entry requirements, you may have found that some visas are overly complicated or just not possible logistically with your itinerary. At this point, revisit your itinerary and re-evaluate your plans.

Consider changing the order of the countries that you plan to visit. You could also substitute countries with other nearby countries with visas that are easier to obtain.

While planning my round the world trip, I really wanted to visit Russia. I found that the visa was too expensive and time-consuming to get. After researching, I decided to visit St. Petersburg by ferry because a visa wasn’t required. I then visited the Baltic countries instead of traveling around Russia.

airplane waiting at the gate

Transportation: Round the World Flights and Ground Transportation

By this time, you should have a pretty good idea of your itinerary. Now it’s time to begin researching flights. When it comes to arranging your flights, you have two options. You can buy a round the world ticket or you can buy your flights separately. In this section, I’ll outline each option and list the pros and cons of each to help you decide which works best for your itinerary.

Round the World Tickets

In this case, you book all of your flights before you leave home. A round the world flight ticket is essentially a flight pass with one of the major airline alliances. The main three are:

Each ticketing company has slightly different terms and conditions. If you choose the round the world ticket route, you can only fly airlines in the alliance that you choose.

Generally, tickets are sold in terms of miles or segments. If you’re buying a ticket based on miles, you can choose from 26000, 29000, or 39000 miles for economy tickets. Each ticket has a maximum number of stopovers that you can make.

If you buy a ticket based on segments, 1 flight=1 segment. If your flight includes a stopover, that counts as 2 segments. In this case, miles aren’t counted. You can maximize the utility of your ticket by using each segment for the longest possible flight.

Pros of Round the World Tickets

  • Saves time- You don’t have to spend time shopping around for each flight on your journey. You can easily book everything with one company.
  • Can be cheaper- If you choose the right ticket for your trip and you’re smart with your booking, you can save around 25% by buying a round the world ticket. This is particularly true if you visit a lot of obscure or less popular destinations.
  • More convenient- You book all of your flights before you leave home. It’s one less thing to worry about while you’re on the road.
  • You can make changes without a charge- Generally, you can change the date of travel for free on round the world tickets. If you want to fly out of a different airport or change your destination, you’ll be charged a fee of around $150 or so.
  • You earn points- You can rack up a decent amount of points and gain some nice perks by making so many flights with the same airlines.

Cons of Round the World Tickets

  • Can be more expensive- If you buy the wrong ticket or you use flight segments for shorter trips, you can end up spending more than if you had just bought your tickets separately. This is particularly true if you fly between major hubs where flights are inexpensive.
  • You can only fly certain airlines- When you buy a round the world flight ticket, you’re committing yourself to only flying the airlines in the alliance that you choose to buy your round the world ticket from.
  • You can’t fly budget airlines- None of the major budget airlines belong to any of the alliances. When buying a round the world ticket, you can’t take advantage of low fares on Ryanair, Air Asia, Southwest, or Tiger, for example.
  • You need to have a plan- You won’t know which round the world ticket to buy if you don’t have a pretty solid itinerary planned out. This means you can’t be as spontaneous.
  • You must start and end your trip in the same country- Most round the world flights have this rule. You can usually start and end in a different city, but it they must be in the same country. For this reason, you can’t really buy a round the world ticket if you’re already traveling.
  • Not ideal for those traveling longer than a year- Most round the world tickets have a maximum validity of one year.
  • You can only make a limited number of stops in each country- The maximum is usually 3.
  • You can’t backtrack in some cases- The rules usually state that you can only backtrack on continents. Backtracking over an ocean usually isn’t permitted. 

Remember, the exact rules depend on the round the world ticket that you choose. Some of the above points may not apply. You’ll need to do a bit of research in order to choose the ideal round the world ticket for your particular itinerary.

Buying your Flights Separately

In this case, you simply book each flight of your journey by yourself. You can book as you go or book them all before you leave. You can fly any airline that you wish.

Pros of Booking Flights Separately

  • You can fly any airline- You don’t have to stick to the members of one alliance.
  • You can fly with budget airlines- Most budget airlines don’t belong to an alliance.
  • Usually cheaper- Most travelers save money by booking their own tickets. The reason is that you can wait for discounts and deals. Taking advantage of budget airlines also helps cut costs.
  • You don’t need a set plan- If you’re the kind of traveler who likes to keep their plans open, you’re better off booking as you go. You can be as spontaneous as you want.
  • More freedom- You can fly wherever you want, whenever you want. There are no restrictions in terms of the number of stops, the amount of time you travel, backtracking, where you start or end your trip, etc.

Cons of Booking Flights Separately

  • More time consuming- You must shop around for each flight that you want to book. I’ve spent hours trying to find the right flight.
  • Can be more expensive- If you’re traveling to unpopular or obscure destinations, flights can be expensive. In this case, you may end up spending more if you book your own flights.
  • You’ll be charged for any changes- If you want to change the dates or destination, you’ll end up paying a fee. I was once charged $250 to change the date of a flight.

Shopping for Tickets for Your Trip Around the World

Whether you book a round the world ticket or book your own really comes down to the type of traveler that you are and your itinerary. To determine which option is best for your itinerary, I recommend you price out both options. You’ll also want to consider flight times, durations, layovers, and the airlines you fly with.

Spend some time shopping around on Google flights or Kayak for each of the flights that you plan to take. Remember that flight prices vary depending on the season and how far in advance you book. Add up the cost.

Next, price out round the world tickets. You can buy them from a major airline like United or American Airlines. Alternatively, you can also buy them through a booking company like AirTreks or STA travel.

You may also want to consider playing around with your itinerary a little bit. Maybe you can save some money or take better flights by making a minor adjustment. For example, you may have better flight options if you fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo rather than from Seattle to Tokyo. After shopping around for a bit, you should have a pretty good idea of which tickets offer the best value for your specific itinerary.

Tip: Consider making a stopover to break up long journeys

This is a good opportunity to visit some places that you otherwise might not get to see. It’s also nice to rest between long flights. For example, when I flew home from Australia, I made a stopover in Beijing. I visited the Great Wall and enjoyed some incredible food in a place that wasn’t even in my original itinerary. I made a similar stopover in Dubai while flying from Europe to India. In this case, I saved some money by booking two separate flights.

For more info, check out my list: 17 free stopover options and how to make them.

Ground Transport During Your Round the World Trip

At this point, we want to begin planning overland transportation between destinations. This includes transportation within cities and transportation between cities. Ground transport can mean buses, trains, taxis, rickshaws, shared minibus, on foot, etc.

A Guatemalan chicken bus

Transportation Between Cities

When planning your ground transportation, the most important thing to do is to verify that some form of transportation actually exists between each of your destinations. For the most part, buses or shared taxis go almost everywhere.

Sometimes you encounter a route that doesn’t offer direct transportation. In this case, you may have to make a couple of transfers. You don’t need to know the exact route. You just want to find out if your desired route is possible. For example, there is no direct bus between Addis Ababa and Nairobi. While traveling this route, I had to make about 4 transfers.

Occasionally, you’ll run into a route where transportation isn’t offered every day. Maybe a bus only passes through once per week. In this case, you’ll want to plan your itinerary accordingly or find a different way to your destination. For example, while traveling from Maun, Botswana to Windhoek, Namibia, a bus wasn’t available for part of the journey. My buddy and I ended up hitchhiking through the Kalahari.

The bus I took from Moyale to Nairobi

You may find that some routes aren’t possible during a particular season. Maybe a road floods during the rainy season. Maybe heavy snow causes a road to close during the winter. Take the season into consideration when planning your route.

During your round the world trip, you’ll probably visit dozens of different cities. You don’t have to waste time researching and planning transport for every leg before you leave. Just make sure that each leg is possible and not prohibitively expensive.

If you encounter a leg that’s just not doable for whatever reason, adjust your itinerary accordingly. Maybe you can make a detour and transit through a third city. Maybe you can fly that section.

Some legs you don’t even have to bother researching. It’s pretty safe to assume that you can easily travel between any two major cities in any particular country. For example, you don’t need to bother researching transport between Berlin and Munich until you’re ready to make the trip.

Travel tip: Consider traveling by night if possible. This way, you save money on a night of accommodation and you wake up to a full day in a new destination. You aren’t wasting an entire day on a bus or train. As an added bonus, you often arrive at your destination faster because traffic is lighter and borders are less busy during the middle of the night.

Transportation Within Cities

You don’t need to put much time into planning intracity transport. It’s safe to assume that you can easily travel anywhere in the city by bus, metro, tuk-tuk, or on foot.

A tuk tuk in Southeast Asia

Consider researching transport between your accommodation and your arrival and departure point as well as any major sites that you want to see. You may also want to research transport options from the airport into the city and back.

Accommodation

By this time in the round the world trip planning process, your itinerary should be pretty well set. Now, it’s time to start considering where you will sleep. Your options include:

  • Hostels- Every budget traveler’s favorite. As a long term traveler, you’re probably going to stay in quite a few hostels. For help deciding where to stay, check out my guide: How to Choose the Best Hostel.
  • Hotels- In smaller towns, hotels are often your only accommodation option. Be sure to shop around and negotiate. Sometimes budget hostels are cheaper than hostels.
  • Airbnbs- If you’re staying in one place for longer than a week, you can often score a nice long term discount. Sometimes Airbnb is your cheapest accommodation option.
  • Couchsurfing- Staying with a local host is a great way to get to know a city and make new friends. You can also save a chunk of money by Couchsurfing.
  • Camping- Camping really opens up your options in terms of where you can sleep. You can wild camp, stay in campgrounds, and even find free camping in some destinations. I recommend you always travel with a tent.

I recommend you briefly research your accommodation options in each of your destinations so you know what to expect in terms of price and facilities.

The only accommodation that you need to book before your trip is the first night or two at your first destination. There are two reasons for this. First, immigration will probably ask you where you’re staying. You need to have an answer to avoid any hassles. Second, you’ll probably be exhausted, jetlagged, and possibly not thinking right after a long flight. It’s nice to have a place to go after you arrive at the beginning of your trip.

During your trip, I recommend you book accommodation as you go. Just plan ahead a few nights or whatever you’re comfortable with. Most of the time, you can just show up and find a place to stay.

The exception to this is if you’re headed to a particularly busy destination. For example, if you’re traveling during peak season or attending a large event. In this case, you may need to book a month or more in advance to secure a decent room. Plan ahead.

If you plan to couch surf, you’ll want to start looking for a host at least a week in advance so you can be sure to find a place to stay. Good Airbnbs tend to be booked up early as well. You may wish to make reservations a bit further in advance.

While crossing borders, you should always at least have the address and phone number of a hotel or hostel where you plan to stay that night. One of the questions that immigration forms and officials usually ask is ‘where are you staying?’ You need to have an answer to avoid looking suspicious. You don’t want to give them any reason to deny you entry.

A typical hostel dorm room

Travel tip: Whenever you check into a new room, do a quick check for bed bugs. Check out my guide How to Avoid Bed Bugs While Traveling to help you out. 

Travel Vaccinations and Medications for Round the World Travel

Before you leave home, you want to make sure that you have all of the proper vaccinations and medications to keep you healthy during your round the world trip.

Start by researching the recommended travel vaccines for each of the regions that you plan to visit. To help you determine which vaccines you need, check out this guide from the CDC.

Travel Vaccines You May Need for a Round the World Trip Include:

  • Typhoid- This potentially deadly disease spreads through contaminated food or water. A vaccine is recommended for almost all international travel. Particularly trips in Asia and Africa. The vaccine is available in an oral version which lasts for 5 years. An injectable version is also available which lasts for 2 years.
  • Hepatitis A and B- These are liver infections. Hep A is transmitted through contaminated food and water. It is common in travelers. Hep B spreads through bodily fluids. All travelers should be vaccinated against both. The vaccine requires three injections. The series takes 6 months. Plan accordingly.
  • Yellow Fever- This vaccine is required for entry to many African countries and is recommended for travel to much of Central and South America. Research vaccine requirements before your trip to see if Yellow Fever is a risk at your destinations. Make sure you carry your certificate to prove that you have been vaccinated.
  • Polio- Most people receive this vaccination during childhood. Check your vaccine history to make sure.
  • Cholera- This disease is spread through unclean food and water. It is pretty rare amongst travelers. If you are traveling to a region where cholera transmissions are known to occur, consider getting the vaccine.
  • Rabies- This disease is usually transmitted to humans through bites from dogs, bats, and several other mammals. Consider getting the vaccine if you plan to spend time in rural regions participating in outdoor activities or if you plan to work with animals during your trip.
  • Influenza- Make sure your flu shot is up to date.
  • Measles- Most people receive this vaccine during childhood. Make sure yours is up to date before you leave home.
  • Other routine vaccines- Make sure that your standard vaccines such as you measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine are up to date.

Malaria

This potentially deadly disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. If you’re traveling to a region where malaria is common, consider taking prophylaxis. The three most common are doxycycline, atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone), and mefloquine (Lariam).

To help you decide whether you need to take malaria prophylaxis or not, visit a travel clinic before your trip for a malaria consultation. To help get you started, you can check out my travelers’ guide to malaria prevention, treatment, and tablets.

While deciding which vaccines and medications you need, consider:

  • How long you plan to stay- Some vaccines are only recommended if you plan an extended stay in a particular destination.
  • If you’re visiting cities or rural areas- Some diseases only exist in rural regions. If you’re not leaving the city you can skip some vaccines.
  • The types of activities you plan to participate in- Some activities expose you to more diseases than others. For example, if you’re volunteering on a farm in Ghana, you’ll need more vaccine coverage than if you’re hiking in Alaska.
  • You’re level of risk- Some diseases are incredibly rare. If you want to save money, you can consider skipping some of the less important vaccines.

After researching the vaccines and malaria medications, make yourself an appointment at a travel clinic. I recommend you look for a government-run clinic rather than a private clinic. Prices are usually better.

Make sure you give yourself enough time to get all of your vaccines. They often take a bit of time to become effective. For example, the Yellow Fever vaccine takes around 10 days.

Money-saving tip: If travel vaccines are particularly expensive in your country, consider getting them during your trip if possible. Maybe vaccines are cheaper at your first destination. You don’t want to wait too long and go unprotected, of course.

I did this with the Yellow Fever vaccine. In the US, it costs around $200. I got the vaccine at the airport in Lima, Peru for about $10. To me, the savings was worth the minimal risk.

money in various currencies

Money for Round the World Travel

Before you set off on your trip, you want to make sure that you always have access to your money. The best way to go about this is to carry several backup cards. If one is lost, stolen, or eaten by an ATM, you always have a spare.

I like to travel with 2 debit cards and 2 credit cards. To read about my recommend cards, check out my guide: The Best Debit and Credit Cards for International Travel.

Before opening a new account, shop around for cards that are designed for travel. These generally don’t charge foreign transaction fees. You can save a nice chunk of money by avoiding these fees.

Make sure that you do all of your banking before setting off on your trip. Some banks require that you show up in person in order to open an account. Many won’t ship credit or debit cards internationally.

Before your trip, you must also call your bank and credit card company to let them know that you will be using your card abroad. They will put a travel advisory on your account. They need to know the general dates that you plan to travel and the countries where you will be using the card.

If you don’t notify your bank, a fraud detection system may shut off your card when you try to use it. When this happens, you have to call the bank and ask them to turn the card back on.

If you don’t know all of the dates and countries that you plan to visit, that’s fine. You can always call the bank and update the travel advisory during your trip. Just make sure that you can use your card whenever you arrive in a new country so you can withdraw cash from the ATM.

I also recommend you carry some cash. I usually carry around $300-$500. That’s enough to sustain me for at least a week pretty much anywhere in the world. That gives me enough time to sort out any problems that may arise with my cards or banking.

You want to carry a currency that you can easily exchange everywhere. US dollars are the best. Euros and British Pounds work fine as well. Carry bills in denominations of 20,50, or 100 that are new and in good condition.

Packing and Travel Gear for a Round the World Trip

If you’ve traveled for an extended period before this trip, you probably have all of the gear that you need. This is your first big trip, you may need to buy a couple of items in preparation. Travel gear that you may need includes:

  • A hiking or travel backpack- Make sure you buy a quality one as you’ll be putting it through a lot of abuse. For a round the world trip, you’ll probably want a pack in the 40-65 liter range depending on how much clothing and gear you like to pack. If you pack camping gear and a lot of electronics. I have traveled with my Osprey Talon 44 hiking backpack for about 8 years and am really happy with it. Read my full review here.
  • Outlet converters- These allow you to plug your electronics into the various types of outlets found around the world. I recommend you only pack electronics that can be used in 120-240v outlets so you can avoid carrying a heavy voltage converter.
  • Good shoes and sandals- You’ll be walking a lot. Probably multiple miles per day on average. Buy quality footwear before this trip.
  • Money belt- This is a hidden pocket that you wear around your waist. The idea is to hide your cash, cards, passport, and other valuables from pickpockets and muggers. I use the Eagle Creek Silk Undercover money belt. Read my full review here.

If you forget anything, it’s not that big of a deal. You can buy pretty much whatever you need at your destination. Most things, you can live without. You don’t really need much gear to travel.

Try to pack a week or so before you set off on your round the world trip. I recommend that you live out of your travel backpack during that time. This way, you’ll notice if anything is missing. Anything that you didn’t use after that week, you can most likely leave at home.

Try to stick to a carry-on bag only. This can be a challenge for some travelers but it makes the trip go much smoother. Being able to carry your bag on a plane, bus, or train saves time, money, and is more secure. When you want to walk long distance with your backpack, you’ll be happy that you packed light as well.

For more help packing, check out my Ultralight Travel Packing List. Here, I outline everything you need to pack for a long term trip. The guide includes info on clothing, toiletries, electronics, camping gear, backpacks, and more.

Sample Round the World Trip Itinerary

If you already have a solid itinerary picked out, skip this section. If you’re inexperienced with travel or are just completely lost and undecided, I’ll try to outline a basic itinerary in this section to help you get started.

A basic round the world itinerary includes stops in North America, South America, Asia, and Europe. Many travelers choose to skip their home continent because they’ve probably already spent a bit of time traveling there.

The itinerary that I’m about to outline starts on the West Coast of the US and travels east around the world. This itinerary starts here simply because that’s where I live. You can pick up this itinerary wherever you live and adapt it to make it work for you.

When flying between continents, choose the largest possible cities to fly into and out of. These tend to have the most available and affordable flights.

North America

Fly into a Coastal city in North America like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver, New York, Miami, or Washington DC. From your starting point travel North or South along the Coast.

After traveling the coast start traveling across the country toward the other Coast. I recommend you travel overland by bus or train. You could also buy a car and road trip across the continent. Stop in cities that interest you along the way. You can stop in Las Vegas, St. Louis, Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, etc.

Las Vegas, Nevada

From a large coastal city, fly to South America. Where you fly depends on how much time you have and what you want to see.

South America

Most round the world travelers choose a region of the continent to travel. For example, If you have the time and money, you can travel the whole continent.

If you prefer to visit northern South America, fly into Colombia, travel through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.

If you prefer to visit southern South America, fly into Buenos Aires, Santiago, or Rio de Janeiro and visit Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay.

The best way to get around in South America is by bus. You can also fly longer distance sections if you choose. From a large South American city, catch a flight to Europe

Europe

Choose a large European city to fly into like London, Paris, or Frankfurt. Next, choose a region of the continent to travel.

An example of a decent Europe itinerary would be to fly into London then travel to Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Prague, Krakow, Budapest, the Croatian Coast, Venice, Rome. From a large city, fly to your next continent, Asia.

Asia

Most first time visitors to Asia choose to visit Southeast Asia. From a large European city, choose a large Southeast Asian city to fly into. Bangkok or Singapore are good choices.

An example itinerary would be to fly into Singapore then travel overland to Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. From there, you could fly to the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, or travel overland to China.

Africa

For whatever reason, most round the world itineraries skip my favorite continent, Africa. If you decide to include Africa in your round the world itinerary, a decent itinerary would be to fly into Nairobi then travel overland to Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania. From Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar, you could fly to your next continent. You could also make a loop back to Nairobi and fly on from there.

For more help planning an Africa leg for your round the world trip, check out my guide to planning a Cairo to Cape Town trip. Also, check out my other Africa guides for more inspiration.

Safari in the Maasai Mara in Kenya

My Round the World Trips

I made my first round the world trip in 2013. During the trip, I traveled for around 6 months and visited 15 countries. I started at home in Southern California and traveled East. My Itinerary was as follows:

  • Los Angeles to Reykjavik, Iceland- I made a 4 day free stopover by flying IcelandAir.
    Reykjavik to Helsinki- I continued my flight and spent a few days exploring Helsinki.
    Helsinki to St. Petersburg- I caught the ferry to St. Petersburg and took advantage of the 72 hour visa free visit program.
  • St. Petersburg to Tallinn, Estonia- I returned to Helsinki then caught a ferry to Tallinn on the same day.
  • Tallinn to Riga- Bus to Riga
  • Riga to Dubai– I made a 3 day free stopover in Dubai.
  • Dubai to Delhi- I continued my flight on to Delhi
  • Train travel through India- I spent about a month exploring the country
  • Mumbai to Bangkok- I caught a flight to Southeast Asia and explored Thailand for a month.
  • Bangkok to Siem Reap- I caught a minibus to Cambodia and spent a few weeks exploring the country.
  • Sihanoukville, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam- I caught a bus to Vietnam.
  • Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi- I bought a motorcycle and rode the length of Vietnam.
  • Hanoi to Luang Prabang Laos- I took a bus to Laos and explored the country fro a few weeks.
  • Laos to Thailand- I returned to Thailand by bus and traveled there for a couple of weeks.
  • Thailand to Malaysia- I took the bus to Malaysia and spent a couple of weeks there.
  • Malaysia to Singapore- I caught a bus and spent a few days exploring Singapore.
  • Singapore to Melbourne, Australia- I caught a flight to Melbourne and spent a month traveling up the East Coast of Australia until I reached Cairns.
  • Australia to Beijing- I made a free stopover in Beijing while flying Air China.
  • Beijing to Los Angeles- I flew home from Beijing.

I completed my second round the world trip in 2017. This one just focused on Africa. Basically I flew from Los Angeles to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and traveled overland until I reached Cape Town, South Africa. From Cape Town, I flew to Bangkok where I relaxed for about 10 days. I then caught a flight back to Los Angeles, making a stopover in Seoul on the way.

Final Thoughts: How to Plan a Round the World Trip

The best advice that I can give while planning your own round the world trip is to travel where you want to go. Don’t listen to your friends and family who claim that a particular destination is too dangerous. Do your own research to determine if a destination is safe enough for your risk tolerance. Don’t feel bad about visiting touristy places or participating in cheesy activities. Don’t travel somewhere just because you feel like you have to go because it’s popular. It’s your trip. You are spending your own time and money. Do whatever you want to do. The best part of travel is the absolute freedom that it gives you.

Also, avoid counting countries. I have met quite a few travelers who like to brag about the number of countries that they have visited on their trips. Most of the time, these people don’t really get to see or experience much of anything in the countries that they visit. They’re always in a rush. I used to be like this. Now I travel slowly and enjoy each destination so much more.

Are you currently planning a round the world trip? Share your itinerary in the comments below!

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2 comments

mahmoud salah January 6, 2020 - 4:32 pm

What a guide!! Very informative thank you,
im planning on doing cape town to cairo early 2021

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wheretheroadforks January 6, 2020 - 10:05 pm

Glad you found it useful! Check out my Cairo to Cape Town guide as well if you get the chance. I think you’ll find some good info in there to help you plan the trip.

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