Ever since I took my first trip around the world more than two decades ago, I’ve watched the choices and access to information mushroom. As we’ve all learned in a lot of areas though, more choices and more information do not necessarily lead to better outcomes, the paradox of choice often leads to paralysis more than better analysis.
When you start searching on information on round-the-world backpacking trips, you’ll find 1,000 blogs, 10,000 articles, and a whole slew of books on the subject. More countries are open to travelers than ever before. More places within those countries have hotels and someone who speaks English than ever before. The possibilities seem endless.
And that’s part of the problem.
The mistake I see travelers make the most now is the same one they made 20 years ago: trying to cram too much travel into a limited time frame. One year sounds like a long time, but it’s only 365 days, and if you spent a week in each place that’s only 52 places total. So trying to strike 100 off a list is setting yourself up for failure.
Here’s the scaled-down, curated list you should go by in planning this right without getting lost in a rabbit hole.
Buy Three Books
You should be spending a lot of time at home so you can save money instead of going out all the time and going through a whole day’s living expenses on one cocktail or main dish. So you should have plenty of time to read. Get The World’s Cheapest Destinations, Vagabonding, and How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. If you read all three of these from start to finish, you will have more quality knowledge already than most people do when they’re starting out and you’ll be able to approach your planning without making a lot of dumb mistakes.
If you want to keep soaking up more info though, here are some other suggestions.
Poke Around on Indie/BootsnAll
Indie is the round-the-world trip planning section of BootsnAll, which has been serving up articles and a forum for long-term travelers for ages. You can use the flight planning part to get an idea of what it will cost you to fly around the world. You’ll soon find that trying to cram in everything on your bucket list is a very expensive idea. In a general sense the fewer stops you make the better, but in my opinion that’s the best strategy anyway because you can often go overland or find a cheaper short-hop flight locally and be more flexible after arrival. There are certain cheap clusters of countries in the world so if you can fly to the cluster and then go overland, you’ll be in good shape budget-wise.
The informational part of BootsnAll is crammed with terrific articles on circling the globe, from general itinerary planning to very specific advice on specific countries. If you want one website that can tell you most of what you need to know, this is it. They even have a free 30-day course on planning your trip, with four alternate versions for families and other specific groups.
Follow Blogs That Resonate With You
When I go to the TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) convention each year, there are usually between 600 and 900 others there. And those are just the ones who are serious enough to go to a convention on the subject. So at this point any specific advice I would give you on which blogs are “best” to read would be very unfair.
You can search “most popular blogs” and find a few lists out there of the ones with the most traffic (including the blog you’re reading now). So you could start there. Most likely you’ll find ones not on that list that you like better, maybe from people on their first trip around the world themselves. Start surfing and follow the ones you like regularly. Probably that will then lead to others you like as well.
Hit the Thorn Tree
If you still have questions after absorbing all this great information, the best place to get them answered is on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree message board. It’s probably not as active as it was when the company had a bigger staff a few owners ago and guidebooks were more essential, but it’s still lively and useful. Just don’t go on there the first day you start planning and ask questions answered 10 times already. You’ll annoy people and get derided for it. Then your feelings might get hurt and you’ll leave.
After all this you should have a rough idea of your itinerary based on what you can really afford, how much time you have, and what you really care about the most. Now’s the time to dig into information on specific places. There’s this thing called a “library” that’s filled with great books on them, both fiction and non-fiction, and it probably has guidebooks you can check out and read so you don’t have to go buy a bunch.
You can find an infinite number of photos through articles, Instagram, Pinterest, and other means that may help you narrow down the must-go places.
Acquire Credit Cards That Get You Something
I’ve written a fair bit about travel hacking and getting flights for free by using the right credit cards. You’re entering an ideal time where you’re going to be spending a bunch of money in flights and gear, so make sure you’re putting those purchases on a card that’s going to give you travel benefits. One hurdle is often the up-front spending requirement, as in “Spend $3,000 in three months and get a 50,000 mile bonus.” In regular life that can be tough, but if you’re about to put a bunch of purchases on your card anyway and pay them off, no big deal.
The best ones where you can transfer between multiple categories and companies are Chase Sapphire Preferred and Starwood American Express. But the airline and hotel ones often give bigger sign-up bonuses. Linked in that post above is an article I wrote earlier this year for Global Traveler on the subject and some people quoted in there have good blogs to follow for current promotions.