RTW Planning Guide: How to Choose a Route / by Shane Henderson

Planning the route for an around the world trip is undoubtedly one of the most exciting parts of trip preparation, but it can also be one of the most challenging. The world is a big place. With so many incredible destinations to choose from, how does one go about narrowing it down to a reasonable number? And even once you do narrow it down, how do you decide the starting point and the order?

In the last year we have we have planned and re-planned our route countless times. Adding stops, removing stops, adding time… we even ended up totally reversing the direction that we will be going around the globe! During this process there have been a number of factors that helped with our eventual decision. If you are planning your own trip, we highly recommend taking these points into account as you think about your itinerary!

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Length of Trip

A good starting point for creating your plan is coming up with an estimated length of trip. Are you going to be gone for 3 months? 6 months? 10 years? The length of your trip totally depends on your situation and your budget. Budgeting your trip is a separate issue and we will dedicate an entire post to that later on, but for now lets imagine you have an estimated timeline in mind. Maybe you only have enough money to last you a few months. Or maybe you work remotely and are planning to live that digital nomad life, traveling indefinitely.

For our trip we estimate that we have enough money saved up for at least a year of travel.  If we end up working remotely during the trip, and can supplement our savings, we will probably be able to keep travelling for longer, that is up in the air. But we know we are planning for at least one year!

Speed of Travel

Once you have an estimate length of trip, a good thing to consider is how fast you plan to travel! This will decide how many destinations you can realistically cram into your timeline. If you only stay places for three days at a time, you are going to be able to fit a lot more destinations in then if you stay for weeks or even months at a time.  Keep in mind that in general, the faster you travel, the more it will cost.  We have always wanted to take things pretty slow for our trip. We decided early on that we want to stay in each city we visit for at least a month and really get to know it… learn some of the language, have time to explore the city, and "live like a local" as they say.  The slow timeline helps out with our budget as well. We can get better deals on Airbnb’s if we stay longer, and having access to a kitchen will allow us to cook meals for ourselves.

Prioritize Destinations

If I had to make a wish list of all the places I want to visit, it would probably include most of the countries on the planet. For two people on a budget and traveling slowly, visiting all of the destinations on my list would be pretty much impossible. So, Anna and I decided to each pick one region that was our priority for the trip.  For me, that was Asia, and for Anna it was Europe.  This was the biggest factor in determining our route and timeline. Originally we had talked about starting in South America and working our way east around the globe. But as soon as we talked about our priorities we realized that was the opposite of what we wanted to do. Instead, starting in Hawaii and heading west meant that we would be sure to reach both of our priority regions in the first year, before we potentially run out of money.

Weather

Another important factor to consider when planning a route is the seasonal weather in each of the planned destinations. Anna and I both prefer warm weather to cold and we tried to plan our route accordingly. Knowing that we will be leaving in September. We looked at the average temperature and rainfall by month of each of the countries we wanted to visit, and tried to time out our route so that we stay in relatively warm weather. Of course its tricky to make this work out perfectly, and we are probably in for some pretty chilly weather when we spend December in China… but for the most part we will be enjoying moderate temps everywhere we go. One added benefit is that we will be able to pack lighter if we don’t have to bring heavy winter jackets!

Stay Flexible

One final suggestion would be to make sure you stay flexible with your plans. Part of the fun of a long-term trip is the ability to change your itinerary along the way! Yes it makes sense financially to book some flights and lodging ahead of time, but try not to book and plan every single minute of your trip. We have the spine of a route planned, but we know that could easily change if we decide we want to spend an extra week in Hong Kong, or if we meet some friends and decide to take a detour with them to Lithuania. Our plan is to avoid booking anything more than 6-8 weeks ahead of time, allowing us to change our plans as we go.