During and after our trip, we received dozens of questions from readers of this blog. Below, we’ve tried to respond to the most frequently asked questions. If you have additional questions, please feel free to e-mail us by clicking HERE.
How much does traveling around the world for a year cost?
How can I afford a trip like this?
How did you deal with your daily finances while traveling?
How did you guys deal with your bills and taxes while abroad?
What kind of camera equipment did you use?
How did you capture the videos?
Did you carry a laptop with you? Wasn’t that a huge inconvenience?
How did you set up your website?
How much time did you spend working on the blog?
How did you back up your digital photos?
How far in advance did you plan each part of your trip?
How did you get your travel information?
Considering you’re only carrying backpacks, were you able to buy souvenirs?
What are some of your favorite places?
Did you guys ever get bored?
Packing for a trip around the world is incredibly difficult. We spent countless hours thinking about, researching and shopping for the right items to bring. While you can make do by throwing a few clothes and a toothbrush into your backpack and heading down the road (many people do just that), you can greatly heighten the experience by carefully choosing the items that go into your backpack.
When packing, you should think hard about the climates of the destinations you’ll be visiting. If the climates will vary greatly (warm beaches one month, cold mountains the next), packing will be a greater challenge.
You should also follow the cardinal travel rule of packing lightly. This is insanely important. You will have backpacks on your back often, and carrying lots of items that you really don’t need will make things very difficult at times. Make sure you do a practice run several weeks before you leave. Pack everything you will take with you in your backpack and test it out. This test-run will in many cases convince you that you really don’t need to bring that curling iron around the world. (During our first test run, Shanna realized that, if she took the backpack she was planning to take, she wouldn’t be able to bring any shoes. At all.)
To help you with your planning (or if you’re just curious), we’ve attached a detailed packing list that includes everything we brought with us. For many of the items, we’ve given some commentary on why we brought a particular item and/or how it held up during the trip.
To download the Packing List (a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet), click HERE.
We didn’t. Before we left for the trip, we had booked our first ticket to Southeast Asia using a free frequent flyer ticket (with a free 4-day stopover in Paris). We had also purchased a few plane tickets for the first 4 weeks of the trip in Southeast Asia since we found some amazingly cheap deals before we left (e.g., one of the plane tickets was actually FREE due to a special promotion). After that, we purchased plane tickets as we traveled; luckily, we were able to find some great deals on our flights.
We opted for this approach because it provided maximum flexibility. A round-the-world (RTW) ticket typically has several restrictions (e.g., have to keep flying in one direction around the world) and generally requires you to have a fairly set itinerary (although you can usually make some changes to the ticket as you travel). Since we didn’t really know where all we were traveling and we definitely weren’t traveling in the same direction around the world, these tickets didn’t make sense. For many travelers, however, RTW tickets can be great deals.
This is everyone’s favorite question and a hard one to answer because costs can vary drastically depending on many factors, including (1) where you travel; (2) where you stay; (3) where and what you eat; (4) what you do; (5) how you travel and (6) when you travel.
Where You Travel
Certain parts of the world are MUCH cheaper than others. In general, Asia is the mecca for budget travelers, and Europe is dreadfully expensive. You can literally spend a month (and maybe even two months) in Asia for the same price that you’d spend in a week in Western Europe. So if you’re nervous about your budget, stay away from first-world countries and head to less developed parts of the globe (which, in many cases, are much more interesting than their modern counterparts).
Where You Stay
Over a year, your biggest cost will most likely be accommodation. However, you can lower your costs significantly if you’re prepared to stay in budget places. Virtually anywhere in the world (with Western Europe being the only real exception), you can find very cheap places to stay, from $5-15 dorm beds in hostels to $10-20 bungalows on the beach. You’d be shocked at how affordable accommodation can be. The cheaper places can actually be the best places to stay because you’ll meet lots of other like-minded travelers and receive invaluable travel advice.
Outside the budget accommodation world, prices can increase to whatever you’d like to spend. If you always need hotels that look and feel like the ones back home, be prepared to substantially increase your budget.
Where and What You Eat
If you want to save money, you can eat very cheaply around the world. By avoiding fancy restaurants, sticking to cheaper venues (e.g., by avoiding the cafes in the heart of the most touristy areas) and occasionally cooking your own meals (many budget hotels have kitchens you can use), you can spend much less on food than you would back home. On the other hand, if you love food (and there’s so much good food to sample on this planet) and want to eat at nice restaurants, your budget will need to increase.
We’ve found a couple of ways to save money on food. First off, we try never to miss a free hotel breakfast (and we often negotiate for a free one if it’s not automatically included in the price of the room). We also try to carry snacks when we can; they make for cheap on-the-go lunches. Oh, and we almost always carry our own water. (We have Nalgenes that scream to the world, “Yes, I am an American.”) We’ve found that you can drink the tap water in pretty much every place we’ve been outside of Asia, and by doing so, we’ve saved both a lot of money and, hopefully, some space in landfills.
What You Do
Your costs will be driven a great deal by what activities you do on the trip. If you scuba dive, take guided tours and visit lots of museums, your costs will increase. If, on the other hand, you’re happy lying on the beach for weeks at a time, you can get by on a few dollars a day.
How You Travel
Your mode of transportation will affect your costs greatly. Many budget travelers traverse the globe taking very few flights, relying on trains, buses or boats. Not only do these journeys typically prove more interesting, they save a lot of money. If you’re willing to use local transportation and avoid flights unless absolutely necessary, you can travel much more cheaply.
When You Travel
Carefully choose the time of year you visit places. If you travel to popular places during the high season, prices (mainly hotel prices) will be greatly escalated, often twice what they’d be in the off-season. If you can time your visits with the low season or the shoulder season, you can often negotiate substantial discounts on prices of hotels and many activities. Just make sure you don’t go to a place during a low season that’s the low season for a good reason (e.g., monsoons, heavy snow, unbearable heat).
If you’re prepared to travel on a relatively tight budget and choose your destinations carefully, you can travel around the world for a year for $15,000 – $20,000 per person (costs go down for couples since some costs can be shared). Many people find that hard to believe, but lots of people do this every year.
If, however, you’re not prepared for complete budget travel, you can still travel at a reasonable cost. Most of the couples we’ve met who travel similarly to the way we travel budget between $45,000-$85,000 for the year per couple. On the lower end of this range, you are still mostly traveling as a budget traveler but have funds to stay at nicer places and eat better meals on occasion. On the higher end of this scale, you can travel very well taking advantage of nice hotels and nice restaurants on a fairly regular basis.
On our trip, we’ve stayed in all kinds of accommodation at a wide range of prices; we have a general rule, however, that we avoid dorm beds and stay at places with a bathroom/shower in the room. Most of the places we’ve stayed cost in the range of $40 – $80 per night, but we’ve stayed in lots of places costing much less than $40 and several places that have cost well over $100 a night (especially in Western Europe, where budget accommodations are scarce). We LOVE food, so we’ve generally not limited ourselves greatly on our food costs, spending much more on food than the average traveler. We also scuba dive and do more activities than the regular globetrotter, so this makes our trip more expensive.
Due to this style of travel, our trip cost will most likely end up near the higher end of the $45,000-$85,000 range noted above. It’s the best money we’ve ever spent!
For most Americans, a trip around the world is quite possible if you make it a priority in your life. Thousands of people of all budgets, occupations and means are currently backpacking somewhere on the globe at this very minute. Those people made major adjustments in their daily expenses, often spending months, years and even decades saving the necessary amount to hit the road. As noted above, a trip around the world can be amazingly affordable if you’re willing to travel cheaply. Just think–instead of buying a $20,000 car, you could take off for a year and finance a life-changing journey around this beautiful planet.
One tip to help with the financing: if you’re getting married, why not register for parts of your trip instead of for, say, dishes? We used a site (www.travelersjoy.com) that allowed us to enter various activities (say, scuba diving in Thailand) and the dollar amounts that went with them. Our family and friends could then select those activities as gifts for us. We think they really liked having the opportunity to contribute to our trip instead of to our kitchen cupboards, and the money they contributed on the site allowed us to splurge when we otherwise may not have been able to.
When we traveled years ago, we would arrive in a new country with lots of dollars (usually in the form of traveler’s checks) that we would exchange at the airport or a bank. While this ensured that we would receive local currency upon arrival, there were usually fees charged by the exchange agent, and the exchange rate was sometimes well off the market rate. Luckily, the days of traveling with lots of cash and traveler’s checks are over.
In most parts of the world, ATMs (which provide you with the best exchange rate) are abundant. With a few exceptions, we’ve been able to withdraw cash from virtually every ATM we’ve come across using the international networks of either Cirrus or Plus. Before you leave home, make sure your ATM card has at least one of these symbols on the back of the card.
When we made ATM withdrawals, we usually withdrew several hundred dollars at a time in order to minimize our visits to the ATMs and to minimize the fees we have to pay, as there is a usually a fee for every withdrawal charged by the local bank. (Note: most American banks charge a 1% fee for overseas withdrawals; we tried—and failed—to find a bank that wouldn’t charge this. However, we believe they do exist.)
We went to a few places where ATMs don’t exist (mostly on small islands and in really remote places). Happily, we knew that in advance (the Lonely Planet or other guide books usually warn you) and made sure to take a lot of cash with us.
We also tended to charge hotels and restaurant bills to our credit card whenever possible. You typically get the best exchange rate by using a credit card. The trick is finding a card that has low (or, better yet, no) charges on foreign transactions. Many banks that issue credit cards tack on a fee of 2%-3% to foreign transactions. After much research, we found that Capital One issues credit cards with no fees on foreign transactions. Plus, you earn miles on every purchase!
Note: Before you leave the country, make sure you call your bank and your credit card company and let them know where you’ll be traveling. If you don’t do this, their fraud departments will be suspect of foreign withdrawals/charges and suspend your access. Even though we told our credit card company about our itinerary, we constantly got e-mails/phone calls questioning our charges.
With the beauty of the Internet, we were able to pay virtually all of our bills online. For those few expenses we had back home that can’t be paid electronically and for all the other administrative needs we’ve encountered while away, Derek’s dad (who deserves massive accolades and was awarded a huge steak dinner at the restaurant of his choice upon our return) was able to write checks and otherwise deal with any and all matters while we were away.
As far as our taxes, our parents scanned and e-mailed the necessary tax info and Derek was able to complete and file our taxes online.
The Canon EOS is a SLR camera that produces great photos and – while not small – is a manageable size and weight. If you’re into photography, it would be hard to do a trip like this without carrying a SLR camera and some high-quality lenses (as discussed below).
The Canon SD750 is tiny (it easily fits into your pocket) and the picture quality is fantastic considering its size and price. Without it, we’d have to carry the rather bulky Canon EOS with us even when we’re simply going out for dinner. We never left our hotel room without taking the Canon SD750 with us.
We carried two lenses for the Canon EOS for the duration of our trip. Our everyday lens was a 28-135mm Canon lens. Its quality and range is excellent. If we were to carry just one lens on our trip, this would be it. We also had a wide-angle 10-22mm Canon lens. Considering all the amazing landscapes we saw on the trip, we’re so glad that we decided to carry this one along. We used it much more than we expected.
In addition to the two lenses above, we bought a 100-400mm super-zoom Canon lens that we used on our safari in Tanzania. The pictures we got with this lens are some of our favorites of the trip. However, we wouldn’t recommend taking this lens with you every day (it’s huge and weighs a ton).
We have UV filters (a must to protect from UV rays and from scratches to the lens) and polarizing filters (great for water shots and sunny days) for each lens.
This may come as a surprise, but all our videos were shot on our compact Canon SD750. The camera has an excellent video function that is simple to use. The quality is more than sufficient for our purposes (mainly to upload and share the videos on the Internet); in fact, the videos you see on the website have been massively compressed so we could more easily upload them to the website (the original videos on our computer have a much higher resolution). Just make sure you buy a large memory card for the camera (we have a 4 GB card; they’re very cheap these days).
We debated hard on whether or not to carry a separate video camera. We’re glad we didn’t. The size of the files made by a higher-end video camera would be unwieldy, and it would be a huge pain to have to carry an extra piece of equipment with you whenever you go out of your hotel.
While we debated carrying a laptop for awhile, we can’t imagine traveling without it. It’s a compact Toshiba laptop with a few features that are great for this kind of trip, including anti-shock protection for the hard drive and a water-resistant keyboard. With it, we were able to prepare photos, videos and blog entries offline (in our hotel rooms, on planes, trains and buses and even on the beach…). Without it, we would have spent hours in Internet cafes, many of which are cramped, hot and generally uncomfortable. As an extra bonus, many hotels and restaurants now offer free wireless Internet.
The website was been a labor of love for Derek. Before he started on the website, he had zero experience in creating or maintaining a website. He spent countless hours before we left creating the site, running into many hurdles that were very frustrating at times. Despite all the hard work, it has been great having a site that is unique and has the specific functions we wanted. If you don’t think you’re up for creating your own site, there are lots of blogging sites (including sites designed specifically for travel blogs) available where you can share your trip with others.
The website is run using a free, web-based blogging software called WordPress (www.wordpress.org). WordPress allows you to use and modify many different types of templates to change the look and feel of the site. Derek started with one of these templates and changed it dramatically to come up with what you see. To complement WordPress, there are web developers around the world that create plug-ins to WordPress that allow you to add functions to the site (such as photos, videos, the clock function and the countdown function). There are many plug-ins to choose from; some are great, and some don’t work at all, so there is a lot of trial and error.
The host of the website is Dreamhost (www.dreamhost.com). They charge about $10 a month. We’ve been pleased with them (mainly because the site hasn’t crashed).
Our photos that we share on the site were uploaded to Flickr (www.flickr.com) , an excellent online photo-sharing site. We highly recommend it.
To upload videos, we used Google Video. We tried several different web-based video sites including YouTube, but found that Google Video was the easiest to use for us. There is a great uploading tool for Google Video that is incredibly fast (from our experience, much faster than YouTube).
We estimate that we spent between 15 to 20 hours each week working on the site. The bulk of the time was devoted to writing the blog entries, picking and editing the photos we shared and making the videos. Once done, we were able to upload everything to the website very quickly.
While 15 to 20 hours a week is a lot of time to devote to the site, we are so glad that we did it! For the rest of our lives, the memories of this amazing trip will only be a few clicks away; plus, we hope it is a great resource for future travelers.
We had periodic nightmares about losing all the photos we took on the trip. With this in mind, we tried to create several methods of backing them up.
First, carrying a laptop with us allowed us to empty our camera’s memory card every couple of days and store the photos on the hard drive.
Second, we carried a high-capacity iPod. Every couple of weeks, we backed up the pictures on the iPod. In the event the laptop was damaged, lost or stolen (and the iPod survives), this would have been our first source of recovery.
Third, we’ve signed up with an online storage service called Mozy (www.mozy.com). For about $50 a year, you can back up your hard drive online. The one catch is that it takes a long time to upload your files. Thus, you have to have a fast Internet connection and an ample amount of time online. This doesn’t happen too often when you are traveling. When it does, you have to act fast and hope that everything uploads in the time you have available. Luckily, we were able to use this service on multiple occasions on our trip, so all of our photos were backed up online. This helped us sleep better at night.
Note: Many travelers burn their files to a DVD (most Internet cafes provide this service) and mail the DVD home. Once someone back home gets the DVD and confirms the files are there, they know they have a good back-up and are able to delete the files on their memory cards or laptops if necessary. This is great back-up method if you don’t have a high-capacity iPod or don’t want to use an online service.
We bought an insurance policy through a company called World Nomads (www.worldnomads.com). You can buy it online in just a few minutes at a reasonable price. Luckily, we didn’t make any claims on the policy, so we can’t provide any feedback. There are other companies, namely AIG, that also sell policies geared toward travelers.
These types of policies are meant to cover real emergencies, as opposed to routine procedures or doctor visits, and should cover medical evacuation expenses (i.e., if you have to be transported to a hospital back home or in a nearby country). Without additional coverage, any routine procedures or doctor visits would have to be paid out of your own pocket. If you have a history of health problems, are an older traveler or are generally risk averse, we would recommend trying to find a policy that has more extensive coverage for overseas travel. (Note: be sure to read the fine print because most policies have serious limitations on overseas coverage.)
Contrary to what many Americans probably think, there are excellent medical facilities and doctors in most parts of the world, usually providing services at a fraction of the cost you’d pay back home. During our year abroad, we’ve had a few relatively minor health problems on our trip, requiring trips to dentists (in India and Chile), an eye doctor (in India) and an ear doctor (in South Africa). Our experiences were generally great and the costs much less than what they would be at home.
We’ve received a whole host of immunizations, including Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, typhoid, polio, tetanus and yellow fever (recommended, and sometimes required, for travel to certain parts of Africa). Once you have a list of countries you’ll be visiting, your doctor or the local travel clinic can easily identify what immunizations you’ll need. Be prepared because the immunizations can be very expensive. Also, make sure you start getting the immunizations well in advance of your trip since some of the immunizations require several doses over an extended period of time.
On a trip like this, you can’t plan too much in advance; it would be exhausting and would inhibit the spontaneity that is the real beauty of long-term travel. In most cases, our travel planning was done a day or two in advance. However, it was often done on the fly; we would arrive in a place and start looking for accommodation using our guide book. (Assuming that it’s not the high-season in the place we were visiting, this last-minute approach, while at times trying and stressful, usually yields the best results because we were able to see the hotel room before we stayed there and were often able to negotiate cheaper rates in person.) Once settled, we would consult our guidebook, the Internet or–by far the best source–locals and fellow travelers for information on where to eat and what to do while in a particular place.
In rare cases (e.g., when we’ve met up with friends or family or if there’s a difficult-to- book place where we know we want to stay), we made definitive plans a couple of weeks in advance.
We used a variety of sources, including guidebooks, online information and – the best source of all – advice from locals and other travelers.
For guidebooks, the granddaddy for backpackers is Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com). Lonely Planet’s guidebooks are fantastic when it comes to logistics (e.g., how to catch a bus from one city to another), maps and finding budget accommodations and restaurants. They are also generally pretty good at describing a country’s history and the main attractions of a particular place. (This is especially true of the country-specific guidebooks. If you get a guidebook covering a huge area, such as Southeast Asia or South America, the descriptions are understandably short and you’ll miss out on a lot.)
If you’re really into food or want to stay in nicer places, Frommer’s makes a pretty good addition to Lonely Planet. Frommer’s has helped us find a lot of restaurants we’d otherwise miss, but their hotel suggestions are often ridiculous ($200-a-night hotels in the budget category!?!). Most of the relevant information in the Frommer’s guidebooks is provided online, so you can probably get by without carrying an additional book.
You’ll find an incredible amount of information online from www.wikitravel.org, www.frommers.com, www.tripadvisor.com (great for nicer hotels) and just a general Google search. One amazing resource is the Thorntree forum on Lonely Planet – http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/index.jspa. At any one time, there are thousands of current and former backpackers online who are ready and willing to answer pretty much any travel question you have. Just try it and you’ll be amazed. We posted dozens of questions during our trip and typically had multiple, very helpful responses within an hour or two.
This is a difficult part of long-term travel. There are so many things to buy, but limited space to carry them. Our backpacks came with a small duffle bag that folds up into nothing (and also acts as a cover for the pack, used to protect from damage while being handled at airports and used to protect the pack when it rains). We’ve were able to put souvenirs in this bag and carry it as we traveled. Periodically, we either (1) mailed the souvenirs back home or (2) had friends or family whom we met up with take souvenirs back home with them. It worked out great.
See Our Favorites for several categories of our favorite things, including our favorite places.
The simple answer is no. Boredom is the least of our worries! In addition to the numerous things to see and do in the places we’ve visited, we had plenty of other distractions to fill our time, including writing the blog entries, managing all the photos we took, making videos, updating the site, reading books and watching movies on our laptop.
Believe it or not, lots of families travel around the world. In fact, we’ve met some of these families while on our trip. Although a trip with kids has some unique challenges and will obviously be very different from a solo trip or a trip with a friend/significant other, it would also be incredibly rewarding. One such family that left on a RTW trip in July 2008 is posting a travel blog at www.thewidewideworld.com.
Yes, yes, yes, as long as you’re smart about it. We’ve met lots of single, female travelers on our trip, and quite a few of Shanna’s single friends have traveled on their own and loved it. We have heard not a single horror story about this during our time on the road. Of course, like at home, you have to be smart. In many places, you shouldn’t walk alone at night. Hitchhiking on your own is another no-no. But most of these things are common sense.
There are a couple of things that any single traveler, male or female, may want to do if he/she wants to meet other travelers (which we’d highly recommend, at least on occasion). First off, know that lots of others travelers are on their own and want to meet people during their time on the road. If you want company, it’s out there!
Staying in hostels (as opposed to hotels) is key. That’s where most independent travelers stay, and they tend to have common areas where everyone hangs out, as opposed to just heading right to their rooms like people in hotels usually do. Hostels also coordinate lots of group activities, from day trips to nighttime dinners. These are another great way to meet people.