When planning a 300-day trip across 5 continents and 20 countries, you come across several moments that make you go, “Huh!” We wanted to list a few of those to help anyone who may also be considering a similar trip avoid some missteps and/or figure out how they, too, can enjoy a trip like this.
1. How can we afford a 10 month trip around the world? We have been planning and saving for this trip for a couple of years. We researched ways to save money. There are several websites out there with tips to travel even more cheaply than we are planning. We live below our means. We don’t have expensive hobbies like boats, ATV’s, snowmobiles, drinking, gambling, smoking, etc. We drive inexpensive vehicles that are 8 and 14 years old. Our biggest vice is travelling. Even with all of that, we were only comfortable with the cost of the trip once we sold our home. Not having to pay a mortgage, property taxes, insurance, water and sewer bills, cable/internet/phone bills, and electric/gas/fuel oil bills saves us thousands of dollars every month. Plus, we were able to put most of the money from the home sale into a CD which will earn several thousands of dollars while we are gone. We took some of the money from the sale to use for the trip rather than dipping into our retirement savings. This saves us from having to pay income taxes on those funds until we are in a lower tax bracket when we come back and are retired. This money, plus a small pension, should cover all of the expected costs for the trip.
2. Research how to get visas. Of the 20 countries we are planning to visit, 12 of them require some sort of visa or travel authorization. We started going to the “Official” visa sites online. Many countries contract out their visa services, but these contracted companies charge a high premium. For instance, the “Official Visa Service” for New Zealand charges USD$96 for each travel authorization. However, you can also get the same authorization for New Zealand from their travel app or directly from the government for USD$27. That’s almost $140 difference for the both of us. Australia is the same way, as are many countries. Go to the US State Department website to find each country’s governmental site (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages.html) and save a lot of dough!
3. Research how you will get from country to country. We did some research and had decided on going with the Star Alliance for our flights. The Star Alliance (United and their partners) offers a “Round the World” ticket that can be good for some people. We were going to go with them because it allows a lot of flexibility in when you arrive and depart each country. You basically get vouchers for open-ended tickets and can show up at the airport whenever you want and ask to be placed on the next available flight to your next destination. Pretty cool, right? If you really like a country, stay longer. If you don’t, you can leave sooner. However, the Star Alliance has a lot of rules. You can only travel in one direction, always going east or west. You have to start and end in the same country. You are limited in the number of segments and/or miles that you can fly. If the flight from one country to another includes a layover in another city, that counts as 2 segments. That required us to purchase separate add-on flights to areas we also wanted to visit and required us to backtrack a lot back to the city we flew into. Enter AirTreks! AirTreks (www.airtreks.com) is a company that specializes in finding flights for a complex trip. They have no rules – you can fly anywhere that commercial airlines fly. They use major carriers – no budget airlines. When we looked into it, we could book all of our flights, including the add-ons, for $6000 less than what the Star Alliance wanted for just the main flights. That is more flights for 6 grand less – and that doesn’t even factor in the costs of the add-on flights. Plus, we could avoid a lot of backtracking. This opened up more possibilities (for instance, we added Egypt to our itinerary because we would be in Kenya and would not have to pay to backtrack to South Africa for our next flight) and cut down on flight times since we did not have to backtrack and then fly back past the country we had been in.
4. Test your equipment We researched what to take on our trip. Everything from how to carry it to what to put in our luggage. We decided on backpacks since they can be carried over any type of terrain. Having luggage on wheels is great until you have to traverse 1/2 mile of cobblestone streets in Germany or one mile of dirt roads in Peru. The backpacks also force us to be thoughtful on what we bring. Limited space and having to carry everything you need for 10-months makes you think about every ounce you carry. Dave is an emergency preparedness planner (and Eagle Scout!) and had to suppress his instincts to “be prepared” with redundancies and backups for everything. We are taking only what we need and what we may need as a backup IN AN EMERGENCY! We don’t need batteries for 10 months, just one spare in for when our toothbrush battery dies at 10 PM. We are bringing wicking clothing that will dry quickly and can be easily washed in a sink if we have to. We are bring one week’s worth of clothes only. Then, once you have everything you think you need, give it a real-world test. We spent a week in Salt Lake City visiting family and friends and brought only what we are planning on bringing on our RTW trip – and everything we plan to bring. That way, we can feel what it was like to carry that weight. Is it too much? Did we need everything? Did everything work as planned? We found that one battery pack for our phones did not work, so it was replaced. We are constantly evaluating what we will be taking.
5. Research your countries ahead of time. We created Country Info pages that list places we would like to visit or thing we would like to do. It also contains information about the country such as the capitol city, what languages they speak, what religions they profess, what is their currency, etc. We included information on where the US Embassies are located and what are their emergency phone numbers. We also included information from the US State Department on how to be safe, what the dangers may be, what illnesses are present, what scams may we encounter, etc. The CDC has great information on vaccinations that may be needed and ways to stay healthy on the trip. Also, each country has their own holidays and festivals. When looking at renting a campervan in New Zealand, we found we were going to be charged an extra $100 for picking up the campervan on Thursday February 6! Why? It turns out February 6 is the New Zealand version of our July 4th. Waiting one day for the campervan saved us a hundred bucks. When we started looking at other countries, we found we are flying into Australia on the Labor Day weekend and flying out on Easter Monday. On the calendar while planning the trip, these just looked like normal dates. We should have researched this before booking our flights. Hope the airports aren’t too crazy!
6. We expect things to go wrong. We will be spending enough time in each country to enjoy them at a leisurely pace. This also allows us to slow down if we are getting tired. We expect to get sick somewhere along the way, and that is okay. We’ll take some time to get well. We also expect some things will not work as we want, some travel plans will go awry. Things will be more expensive than we thought. We will have grumpy days. We will keep in mind that we are still getting to experience something awesome and we are very lucky to be able to do so. No matter what happens, it is still better than most days at the office!