We planned to travel for a year, starting in June 2016. As it turns out, we’re still going! (with some stops along the way).
If you’re planning to travel long-term, how do you plan? How much should you plan? With lots of time comes a lot of options, so the choices can be overwhelming. Here are some ideas on where to start:
Step 1: Expectations and a very rough plan
So, you know you want to travel. You know roughly how long. You might have some ideas of what you want to do or see. Now is a good time to get together with your travel companions and set some broad expectations for the trip.
What are your must-do, bucket-list items?
What is your ideal comfort level?
What is your ballpark budget?
Any other constraints or requirements? (work, wifi, visas, residency, health care, etc).
With the info above, start making a rough list of countries you might want to visit, and highlight activities you absolutely want to do there.
Step 2: Monthly plan and rough budget
Now that you have your wish-list, it’s time to start working out how realistic the plan will be given your time and budget constraints. Sure, a year is a really long time- but the world is a big place, and once you start planning you might realize you’d rather focus on just a few areas to have more time to relax and explore.
At this stage, I made a quick spreadsheet, starting with country, # of days, and daily budget per person.
See my other budgeting posts for more details on daily budgets, but for now it’s safe to say [accomodation cost] x 2 = daily budget. Use Airbnb or Hostelworld to find rough accommodation costs for each city or country you plan to visit.
In my spreadsheet, I also add lines for insurance, transportation, special activities (scuba diving, mountain climbing, jumping out of an airplane….) and any extra costs you might have while you’re gone, like rent, gifts for your cat-sitter, or a storage space.
I divide transportation into 2 categories:
- one called “big flights”, say when I fly between continents and know the flight will cost several hundred dollars
- I estimate the cost for these using Google Flights or Skyscanner and adding 30-50% as a buffer
- one called “inter-city transit”, which is for trains, buses or cheaper flights between cities and countries.
- I make a monthly budget for this, say $200 per month. This cost will vary depending on how often you change cities and how/where you travel. Try to imagine a slow-paced month in one of the cheaper countries you’ll visit, and then a fast-paced month in one of the more expensive countries you’ll visit, and work out an average based on those two scenarios.
Step 3: Sanity check
Now that you have a rough plan and started working out where you’ll go and how much it will cost, I wouldn’t be surprised if you have sticker shock. That’s ok! I did the first time too!
Chances are, you’re realizing one or more of these things:
- it’s a lot more expensive than I thought
- if we see and do everything on my list, we’ll be packing up and changing cities every few days
- one-way flights cost a fortune
- a week in Paris can cost more than a month in Bali
So, it’s time to think back to your priorities for the trip. In our case, what we originally planned as a round-the-world trip turned into two round-trip tickets ($2000 in airfare instead of $5000+). We decided to skip some more expensive, far-away destinations (Australia, Hawaii) in order to spend more time in more exotic destinations grouped closer together. (Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia)
At this stage, you might feel some FOMO, but rest assured: we were really happy with our decision to cut out some destinations that were beyond our reach for this trip.
The world is a big place, the more you visit the more you realize you still need to see.
There will always be more places on your to-visit list, and that’s a great excuse to plan future trips! (We’re planning our visit to Australia and Hawaii now…)
Step 4: Turning dreams into action
This is where it all gets real.
You set a budget goal and start saving for it.
You set a departure date.
You start planning which cities you want to see, and which foods you want to eat.
You start (keep) drooling over travel blogs on the internet.
Step 5: Bookings!
As your trip gets closer, it starts becoming real. You have your rough plan, but should you book everything in advance? That depends on you.
Once you’re sure you’ll be leaving and which dates, I would book the biggest flights and your accommodation in the first destination, and anything else you need in order to get any visas you’ll need before you go.
Beyond that, it’s really up to you. I would also book major events like a festival or a multi-day trek that you really want to do, or flights for meetups with friends who have fixed vacation dates. If you’re travelling somewhere during peak season, I would book that ahead (Christian countries around Easter, Europe in July or August, Southern Spain during Easter…).
Beyond that, for a long-term trip I like to book accommodation and transit 1-2 cities ahead of time and leave the rest open to change.
Step 6: Drop everything…
You never know who you’ll meet, or when a friend will tell you about their last-minute vacation. Maybe you’ll love a particular city and want to stay, or hear about a great beach town nearby and decide to leave early.
We made plenty of changes to our original plan, and just made them work within our original budget. Swap one city for another, if you spend a few extra days in an expensive place you can extend your stay in the cheaper place next week…
A French couple we met diving told us about this remote island they had visited in Palawan… next thing we know, we’re in a ten-passenger plane headed to Coron… it was one of the most spectacular places we visited!
Just because our plan changed, doesn’t mean it was useless to have a plan in the first place! In fact, it’s the opposite- because we knew exactly what we had available, we were able to make changes without ending up broke and confused 😀
The best part of travel is the unexpected!