Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.Dwight D. Eisenhower
How We Planned Our Around The World Trip
Wondering where to start when planning an around-the-world trip? We used many online resources to help us find cheap flights, good lodging, itinerary ideas and visa information. We also read some informational travel books, but the internet usually had the most up-to-date information. Below you will find some of our favorite travel planning resources, as well as what we did for things like mail, cell phone plans, overseas banking, and insurance.
LODGING / AIRFARE / TRANSPORTATION / INSURANCE / MAIL
PACKING LISTS / CELL & DATA PLANS / BANKING / CREDIT CARDS
VACCINES & HEALTH / VISAS / TRAVEL APPS / FORUMS
AirBnB – Our go to site for lodging. It will allow you to avoid hotels and book people’s apartments or homes directly from them in other cities. It offers great deals for long term stays, especially for a month or more. AirBnB often comes out cheaper then two beds in a hostel, and is a far better way to experience actually living in a place like the locals. We have used it on every trip we’ve taken so far at least once, and have yet to encounter a problem.
Agoda – A travel fare aggregator website and travel metasearch engine. We have found it useful for last minute bookings and often the cheapest prices compared to similar sites. It seems to be most useful in Asia.
Skyscanner – This is a great search engine for finding cheap flights anywhere. They also have a fun function where you can pick your location and then pick “Everywhere” in your search. Skyscanner will then create a list of destinations along with prices of the flights departing from your city. Just note that it doesn’t always list the cheap European airlines like EasyJet or RyanAir, or US Airlines like Southwest.
Google Flights – The tried and trusted Google flight search lets you enter your departure airport and see flights all over the world in a map so you can see where the cheapest destination is. They also suggest different dates for cheaper flights within the period that you are searching.
Kiwi – I recently discovered this site and it may be my new favorite for finding the best flight routes. It’s really intuitive to use and is and you’re able to see a map of prices for any destination just like Skyscanner. Additionally, it is easy to create stop-overs when linking multiple destinations on the way to or from a main destination or home.
Rome2rio – This simple search engine lets you enter two cities and then shows you the costs and various modes of transportation between them. This includes trains, buses, ferries, planes and automobiles. For the traveler on a budget, it’s great to know what your cheapest option for transportation will be to get to your next city.
The Man in Seat 61 – The Man in Seat Sixty-One is a wonderful resource for transportation planning, particularly for train or ferry trips. The site will show you how to travel in a more rewarding and often less stressful way, comfortably and affordably where you might think that air was the only option.
Uber – Need a ride? Check out Uber and get locals to pick you and drop you off where you need to go. It’s almost always cheaper than a taxi and it tends to be less formal, the drivers are more inclined to interact with you and share what’s going on the area. The best part is you pay using the app so no money has to be exchanged following the ride, saving you from scams or ‘broken meters’ that you sometimes get when using a taxi.
We buy all of our travel insurance from World Nomads, with their policies, at least in the United States, underwritten by Nationwide Insurance. They have great customer service, competitive prices and in-depth coverage. We’ve been using them since we started our around the world adventure. A tip for those thinking about traveling long term- while you can purchase insurance up to a year at a time, we found that 6 month policies are the sweet spot. Less than or greater than 6 month policies end up costing more per month when you do the math. You can simply renew online once your policy is up.
Traveling Mailbox – Traveling Mailbox is how we chose to deal with our mail while we are traveling long term. It allows for you to have an online postal mailbox, mail forwarding anywhere in the world, and postal mail scanning for viewing mail without having it forwarded. They provide a real physical street address that is unique to you. When your mail arrives, they scan the outside of the envelope and then you tell them to scan the contents, forward the item, shred it, return it, or hold it.
PS, our mailing address is 2443 Fillmore St #380-8603 San Francisco, CA 94115 if you want to send us anything while we’re away. 🙂
COMMUNICATION & DATA PLANS
T-Mobile – (Marc) I will be trying out the T-Mobile Simple Choice plan when we begin our extended travels instead of buying a sim card in each country we pass through, it also means my phone number will stay the same. Individual plans are $50 per month and include unlimited international data roaming and texting in covered countries, which is currently over 140! If I do need to make a phone call then the rate is only .20 cents per minute, although I plan to use free wi-fi calling when able. Update 2/1/17: the Simple Choice plan is no longer offered, but the new T-Mobile One plan offers the same international benefits and is also contract free.
Project Fi – (Maggie) Project Fi is Google’s phone/text/data service. Works in 120 different countries seamlessly, the rates are really reasonable and you can pause and start service with the handy little app. (no contracts, yay!) I already tried it out in China and Taiwan without any issue!
This is an important one and took a lot of time and planning for us to refine. We tried to go as minimal as possible, taking just what is needed for 1-2 weeks of travel. Some of our clothes are made to be washed in the sink and to quickly dry, others are made to be extra light and packable. As you can imagine, it was a bit easier for him then it was for her. You can see what all we are traveling with here.
Banking overseas can involve a lot of fees, whether it’s from pulling money out of an ATM or paying to exchange money each time you land in a new destination. Thankfully we were able to eliminate all of the fees during our travels while getting the best exchange rates possible, saving us 100’s of dollars per month.
As U.S. residents, we opened up Charles Schwab checking accounts. Charles Schwab has no account fees while reimbursing all our ATM fees at the end of each month. This means that our ATM card can be used in any bank machine around the world, and we never have to pay for the convenience of it!
We did need to open a high-yield checking account in order to qualify, but there was no minimum deposit required and no monthly service fee. Everything can be done online too, which includes opening the account, requesting an ATM card, and transferring money into our new accounts from outside banks.
Another thing that it has allowed us to do is get the best exchange rate possible. We never have to go to one of those cash exchange counters, often found in airports, that are so far down the financial food chain they don’t have the clout to offer good rates. Instead, we are able to simply use our Charles Schwab card and pull money out of an ATM. The only better possible exchange rate offered is by using our credit cards, but that isn’t possible everywhere, and we always like to have some cash.
TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS
Travel credit cards offer a great opportunity for us to earn free points that can be redeemed for airfares, hotels or cold hard cash.
We’ve accumulated close to 500,000 points, allowing us to travel the world on the cheap. Below are some of things we looked for when choosing our cards.
A big sign-up bonus: This is what jump started our points accounts, getting us a free flight or two immediately. We won’t sign up for a card unless it offers a high sign-up bonus, going for cards with anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 point sign-up bonuses. We’ve held the Mileage Plus Explorer, Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve, and Ink Business Preferred cards at different times over the past couple of years. We usually downgrade the cards shortly after earning the bonuses to avoid paying the annual fee, but some we keep because of the spending bonuses and other perks that they offer.
Spending bonus: Most credit cards offer one point for every dollar spent. However, ee wanted the ability to get two or three points every time we spent a dollar. This would help us to earn points much more quickly. Our favorite card, the Sapphire Reserve, gives us three points per dollar on all restaurant and travel related spending, things like airfare, AirBnb’s, and Uber rides.
Special perks: All of our travel credit cards offer great perks. It’s not just about just getting miles; it’s about what else comes with the card that makes our life easier! Our Business Ink Preferred card gives us primary insurance on car rentals, meaning we don’t have to go through our personal insurance in case of an accident, and we get to decline the additional coverage offered that can significantly add to the costs of the rental. Our Sapphire Reserves give us free and unlimited Priority Club Lounge access, this has been a huge perk that’s allowed us to pass time in luxury on long lay-overs or get a good free meal before our flights.
No Foreign Transaction Fees: The majority of credit cards charge a 3% fee when you use them overseas. We always make sure the cards we pick up avoid this fee, which really hasn’t really been a problem as we have found that any decent card meeting the above requirement will not have an overseas fee either.
VISAS FOR U.S. CITIZENS
U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs – Make sure you have all the requirements met for your visa before you go. This website makes it easy to search for the country you’re visiting and the requirements for entry and exit. This has been helpful four our around-the-world trip , seeing what we needed in order to obtain a visa well ahead of time, (eg. extra passport photos, immunization records, necessary applications, costs, etc).
Wikipedia’s Visa Requirements for U.S. Citizens – Wikipedia isn’t anything near official, but if you’re planning a round-the-world trip like we are, having the information laid out as Wikipedia does is super helpful. It displays a color-coded map showing which countries are visa free, visa upon arrival, or visa required before arrival. Just be sure to double check Wikipedia’s information with the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs most up-to-date requirements.
VACCINATIONS & HEALTH
When you’re embarking on long-term travel, you accept that at some point you’re going to get sick on the road. However, while suffering a cold or minor injury is one thing, contracting a serious disease is definitely not on our list of things to do. We made sure to get as much information as we could, and then we made appointments to get the vaccinations necessary for our trip. The CDC is a good resource, allowing you to look up each country that you plan to visit and see the recommended vaccines, but it’s ultimately best to consult your physcian or to visit a travel clinic.
Vaccines we already had were Diptheria, Tetanus, Polio, MMR, and Hepatitus A & B; we decided that we needed Yellow Fever, Typhoid, and a Hepatitus A booster; and we chose to forgo, for now anyway, Rabies, Japanese encephalitis, and Malaria.
Besides vaccines to prevent major illness, we also want to keep ourselves generally healthy. Luckily, travel is actually very beneficial for ones overall health and fitness. You can find out the reasons why by checking out 8 Reasons Why Traveling is Good for Your Health from our friends at Positive Health Wellness.
To not get unnecessarily sick, the biggest tip is to always check if its safe to drink the tap water in the country or city that you are visiting. In the case of contaminated water, it would be best to eat only raw fruits & vegetabls that can be peeled, as raw produce is likely washed using the local water supply. Also, make sure to avoid ice in your drinks, unless you are sure it was made with clean water.
Ulmon CityMaps2Go and Maps.Me – An app that allows you to download offline maps is a must, and CityMaps2Go and Maps.Me are two of the best. Your phones GPS will work even when cell is switched off, so it doesn’t cost you a dime to use and you’ll always be able to find where you are. Simply download the city or country maps you plan to visit while connected to wifi, then always be able to use your GPS to look and see where you are while offline. You can drop pins to mark different locations, such as sites you want to visit or where you are staying for the night. Also great for tracking your taxi route and making sure you’re going the right way. The detail of the maps are even better then what downloading offline Google Maps offers.
TripIt – I’ve been using TripIt for several years now as it offers a unique service to travelers. It automatically connects to your email accounts, finds travel-confirmation emails, and turns them into neat and complete itineraries. If TripIt misses an important travel email, you can forward it along, and the service will either figure out what to do with info or stick it to the side until you can review and type in the details manually.
r/Travel – The travel community on Reddit is a great resource to ask questions, read about other’s trips and get inspiration for where to go next. We also recommend joining the sub-forums for the individual countries or cities you plan to visit, that way you can start to learn about the hot topics for the region and maybe get to know some of the locals before you even depart.
Thorn Tree Forum – Another forum where you can questions and get read others peoples thoughts and reviews for inspiration. Since 1996 the Lonely Planet community of independent travelers have been sharing trusted advice to help you get to the heart of a destination. Thorn Tree travel forum is by travelers, for travelers, and covers every place on the planet.
Trip Advisor Forums – Nothing is more helpful than a real person’s experience at a tourist destination. Whenever I’m considering a visit to certain spots or landmarks, forums on Trip Advisor helps me decide if it’s worth it or not. The forums also have answers to random questions like, “Is a ferry available at Lake Como if I arrive at 7 pm?” or “Can I get from Kyoto to Koyasan by train?” I usually just Google my question and include the keyword “Trip Advisor” and it will pull up the forums automatically. Chances are that someone else already asked the same question and others have posted the answers I’m looking for.
TRAVEL BLOGS & WEBSITES
Reading travel blogs and other websites dedicated to travel were what inspired us to take our own extended RTW journey. The ones below are some of our favorites.
Travel Independent – Travel Independent is a non-commercial site, by travelers for travelers, to encourage everyone to travel independently and give them the information they need to feel confident about it. No self-promotion, no sponsored content, unrealistic claims or e-books/tours for sale. Updated monthly, you’ll find balanced, comparative, simple advice for 100+ countries – everything important to get you ‘on the road’.
BootsnAll Travel – We highly recommend signing up for the e-course, for those looking for the ultimate checklist and planning guide for taking that long-awaited trip around the world. Their free 30-day guide will give you all the details you need to plan, save, and circumnavigate the globe on any time or budget.
Rick Steves – As an icon in travel, Rick Steve’s site is a wealth of information focusing specifically on the continent of Europe. Includes tips, a travel forum, and of course country guides that you can purchase and that are updated frequently.
Legal Nomads – Follow Jodi on her travels. Over those years, the site has morphed into a place where people can learn about how food shapes what we see and experience, and how it deepens knowledge about culture and history.
Our Big Fat Adventure – In March 2013 Amy & Andrea quit their jobs, left their home in London and said goodbye to everyone they know to travel the world indefinitely. A great source for detailed travel costs and planning.
Expert Vagabond – Follow Matthew Karsten, a full-time adventure travel blogger & photographer who’s been exploring the world for over 5 years. An extensive blog covering an assortment of travel topics.