Planning where to go on a round the world trip or gap year is harder than you think!
Perhaps you already know which countries you want to visit after spending years pouring over maps and day dreaming about your round the world trip.
However, you will find that once you start researching transport and accommodation – rather than dreaming of the destination itself – you will inevitably encounter problems with your dream, round the world trip itinerary (unless of course you have unlimited budget and time!
Or maybe a world map seems huge, you have no idea of which destinations to choose and don’t know where to start planning a trip around the world.
To help you, I have compiled this lists of things to consider before you start finalising your world trip.
(And at the end of the post, I have added what we did – and what mistakes we made)!
So grab a map, some paper and a pen – and let’s get planning!
Planning where to go on a round the world trip
Why are you planning a trip around the world?
This is THE most important thing to consider and should form the basis of all your destination planning.
And yet, in the midst of researching, budgeting and making bookings, the original reason why you wanted to travel in the first place can easily become blurred and compromised.
The opportunity to travel around the world does not present itself everyday, and for most people, not even in a lifetime. So make sure the destinations in your once in a lifetime travel plans reflect exactly why you want to travel and what you hope to gain from your travels.
Don’t be afraid to buck the trend and don’t suffer from a fear of missing out; if your desire is to see the natural world then don’t include big city destinations ‘because everyone goes there on a gap year.’ And, if coming from the UK, you just want guaranteed sunshine, then that too will affect your choice of where to go!
You will get destination advice from so many people – some of it may even be useful! But this is not their trip, it is yours.
There are no right or wrong places to go if they are the right places for you.
Grab your pen and paper and write a few sentences about why you want to travel and what you hope to gain from your trip.
When you eventually reach the booking stage, refer to these words and double check that your destinations are going to meet your goals for this trip.
What are your ‘must do’ sights and experiences?
If you don’t have any, scroll on!
But if you do have some must do’s, write them down now and cling on tight to them!
These are your reasons for travelling in the first place so don’t lose sight of them. You need to plan your destinations around your wish list in order to make them happen; your wish list won’t happen by accident.
Not all destinations you would like to visit will give you the opportunity you need to fulfil your list and, once you are travelling, it is easy to fall into the trap of budgeting so hard that you don’t detour to do the things that prompted you to travel in the first place.
You may have to be willing to sacrifice other aspects of your trip to fulfil your list as a budget blowing experience will affect the length of, and budget for, the rest of your trip.
But if you achieve what you set out to do, it will be worth it.
Look at your list; where in the world will give you the best chance of achieving these?
Mark places on your map that are must do’s for you.
Travelling with children will affect your destinations choices
Will your children need to visit more familiar countries or can they cope with more challenging locations? Of a mix of both?
Involve your children in planning where to go. Allowing your children to have some input and influence over your destinations gives them a sense of ownership of the trip and can help to allay any travel fears.
Consider including child friendly destinations to avoid travel fatigue in your children but do not ONLY plan to visit child friendly familiar destinations; after all, this is your trip too. A family trip is all about compromise. I did not want to visit Disneyworld but the kids loved it and the trade off was lots of long hikes in Patagonia.
Ask your children to add some destination ideas to your map.
And don’t do what we did and promise anything until you have researched how much it will cost. Disneyworld!!!!
What is your budget for your round the world trip?
Do you know your overall budget for your trip? If not, work it out now!
Working out how much you can afford to spend on your trip will undoubtedly influence where you choose to go. We reluctantly removed Antarctica from our wish list after discovering a ten day trip would cost half the money we had allocated for travel for a year.
Travel for a year (or less) will always cost more than you think so build a contingency fund into your budget, just in case.
Don’t forget to factor in pre trip costs
When working out your budget to travel around the world, don’t forget to allocate money NOW for pre trip costs; otherwise you may not get as far as hoped around the world!
Pre trip costs quickly (and insanely!) mount up and will eat into your spending fund and you may have to start planning where to visit all over again. We were about £5000 down on our budget before we even left home…
Preparing to leave home
Do you have a home that needs selling or renting? What fees will this incur? Will you have to decorate in order to get the best price? Do you need to store possessions? Or buy new items for travel?
If you travel to countries that do not require visas you will immediately save money.
Visa costs mount up quickly, particularly for a family. Visa costs are not just the visa fee but also the cost of photographs, postage costs, collating paperwork, transport costs to embassies and consulates, interview and application fees.
It is cheaper to visit countries that do not require vaccinations either as a condition of entry or as a travel precaution.
You can check your country’s health website for up to date, professional medical advice for which countries require vaccinations.
I always strongly recommend vaccinations yet many people skip potentially life saving jabs due to their cost. But when you consider the total expenditure on a round the world trip, skimping on your health is a drop in the ocean. It is just not worth it; an unexpected tropical illness is not a souvenir you want to bring home.
There are ways to save money on vaccinations though – read our experience at the end of this post to learn how.
I could rant for hours about the importance of travel insurance and how no traveller should leave home without a comprehensive travel insurance policy! A travel insurance policy is so much more than just medical cover.
Policies that include cover for North America (including Hawaii and Canada) are much more expensive than a ‘rest of the world’ policy. Don’t visit them and you will save money! However, we found a way round this – see below.
If there are any destinations you wish to discount due to visa, vaccination and insurance costs, cross them off your map now.
Budget benefits and drawbacks of proposed locations
Planning where to go on your round the world trip tied to your budget. Your money will go A LOT further in Africa and some parts of Asia than it will in Europe or North America.
But don’t immediately discard ‘more expensive countries’. Anywhere that is a popular tourist destination will have a competitive tourism industry so it is easier to secure deals on accommodation, transport and tours.
Plus, more developed countries have a greater tourist infrastructure that offers more choice for travellers. For example, camping and self catering is much easier in some countries than it is in others. New Zealand is often considered an expensive country to visit but we spent less in New Zealand than anywhere else on our trip. (How? Read our experience below)!
Consider the distances you need to travel to fully explore a potential destination and any associated costs. For example, countries in South America will have cheaper living costs than in Europe but the distances between the places you want to visit are vast. Journeys will be both costly and time consuming.
In contrast, Europe is an expensive destination to visit but it offers cheap bus companies, deals on train travel and budget airlines.
Finally, if you are planning to work during your trip, consider which destinations will offer you the best chance of finding your type of chosen work.
Add, or remove, locations on your map.
The topography of your proposed destinations will affect your budget
The more transport options there are, the cheaper travel will be. Less travelled international routes and trans oceanic flights are expensive whereas land locked, densely populated countries are easily (and cheaply) travelled by bus, train or budget airlines. Our most expensive flight from Hawaii to New Zealand – there is not a lot of competition on this route!
Similarly, travel by sea or island hopping costs more than land border crossings and crossing a mountain range such as the Andes will usually involve flying.
What is your preferred travel style?
Do you want to circumnavigate the globe, rack up as many countries as possible (country bagging) or focus on one particular continent, culture or language?
Will you move on a regular basis, incurring local transport and accommodation costs? Or would you prefer to ‘slow travel’ enabling you to cut down on transport costs and potentially arrange long term accommodation discounts and deals?
Look at your list. Does the number of destinations match your preferred travel style?
Non negotiable destinations
Are there friends and family you wish to visit on your travels around the world?
Or festivals or large events you cannot miss?
Add these destinations into your planning otherwise you may find any detours too expensive to consider.
Are there ‘no go’ destinations for you – or for right now?
Don’t go somewhere just because everyone else seems to be going there – if it doesn’t feel right for you, it isn’t.
When planning where to go on a round the world trip, it is ESSENTIAL to check your government website for up to date travel safety advice.
If you are a solo traveller, particularly a female, or from the LGBTQIA community, are there (sadly) destinations that pose more risk than others? Seek reviews and recommendations of different countries from online groups and other travellers.
For first time travellers, consider visiting more familiar countries first, at the start of your trip, leaving more challenging destinations till you have gained more travel experience and confidence.
Tick, or cross off, these destinations on your map.
One last thing to consider…
Allow for flexibility
When planning where to go on a round the world trip, always allow for some flexibility in your route.
You will inevitably pick up recommendations from other travellers during your trip and some countries that you initially discount may not appear as daunting once you have experience and confidence.
Plus, some countries you will decide to visit just because you find yourself nearby. Trust me, you will!
The next step…
So, after all of the above, look at your map/round the world trip planner.
Can you see a rough route emerging amongst the ticks and crosses?
Now you have a list of potential destinations is is time to refine it.
Research when is the best time to visit each country as weather extremes, busy holidays and national events will affect your budget and your enjoyment. You may find that some destinations will have to be removed from your list for it to ‘flow’ well.
Or you might be like us and just go where you want when you want to! But travelling in 42 degree August heat in China and below freezing temperatures in Canada in January was less than ideal…
Read our advice on when to travel here.
Find out basic transport and living costs in your chosen destinations. This will help you to whittle down your choices further.
And when you research whether to buy a round the world ticket, to travel on one way tickets (or a combination of both) you may find that some countries will just prove too expensive to get to.
But don’t forget to refer back to your why and must do list. A shorter trip full of what you want to do and see is better than a longer trip that achieves none of your wishes.
Good luck and enjoy the planning process!
BUT before you go -read our personal experience!!!!
How we planned where to go on our world trip
Why did we plan our round the world trip?
Our trip was always about our children.
We wanted to show our children that there is a world outside their village, to introduce them to flora, fauna and habitats we cannot see on our doorstep in the U.K.
We hoped to inspire them for future travels of their own, to create mini conservationists and to potentially influence future career choices.
This meant that my husband and I had to be prepared to revisit places we had been fortunate enough to travel to previously so we made sure to also include several ‘new’ countries for us.
What were our must do sights and experiences – and did we achieve them?
See ‘live’ lava (yes)
Swim with dolphins (saw and fed but didn’t swim with)
Visit Antarctica (sadly no)
See an orca (no but it wasn’t for want of trying!)
Hike in Patagonia and see the Moreno Glacier (yes and it exceeded expectations)
Visit a rainforest (yes)
Travel on the Trans Siberian (yes and it was well worth all the visa stress)
Snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef (yes)
Walk on the Great Wall of China (yes)
Swim with pigs (no; after researching this ‘experience’ we realised it was not a suitable for children or the pigs themselves)
Visit Legoland (yes)
Can you guess which wish belonged to who???
How travelling with children shaped our destination planning
We decided it would be good for the children to spend Christmas with family and, though this was the right decision for our family, it committed us to being at a certain place at a certain time. We did not commit to dates or places after this.
We planned to visit the U.S.A before South America to ‘iron out’ any family travel issues and to gain confidence. This worked really well. Hitting Argentina first would have been overwhelming. We needed time to fin our travel legs.
Our children constantly surprised us with their likes and dislikes and what they could cope with (or not).
For example, we thought the children would not cope with the heat in Costa Rica as they had struggled in the tropical temperatures in northern Argentina. But they loved everything about Costa Rica and the two weeks we had tentatively allocated before arrival wasn’t enough.
In contrast, by the time we arrived in China we thought the kids would sail through it. But they really struggled with the crowds of people, an unfamiliar diet, the 42 degree heat and constantly being stared at and asked for photos. It proved to be the most challenging location for them. And then we crossed the border into Mongolia expecting more challenges but they loved it?!
Visiting familiar countries in amongst more challenging environments definitely helped our children get their ‘travel legs’ and build their confidence. Plus, I think it also helped with avoiding travel fatigue as we frequently mixed up our experiences and climates.
However, this led to a zig zag route that was not the most logical or, undoubtedly, the cheapest!
Our pre trip costs
Preparing our home to rent it cost in the region of £1000. Unexpected costs ranged from purchasing landlord’s insurance, a different home insurance policy, mail redirection, pre renting decorating and improvements etc.
New purchases for the trip were mostly offset by selling possessions. Thankfully!
Storage costs were zero. We sold most of our possessions and divided the rest between helpful friends and family.
Visas were an eye watering £1000. We had to purchase visas for the U.S.A, Australia (with a very expensive extension in order to qualify for our Russia visa), China, Mongolia and Russia.
There were so many unforeseen costs. I remember my disbelief when I was charged 200 ASD for five sets of tiny passport photos! (We did bring some from home but the Chinese consulate said we had changed too much in six months…)
As we were applying for our Russian visa outside our home country, we each had to pay for an ‘interview’ with the Russian consulate. We paid nearly $400 ASD for less than five minutes of her time.
Vaccinations cost a whopping £2000 as we weren’t prepared to cut corners on our kids’ health.
Shop around for travel jabs, costs vary for exactly the same vaccination. We found vaccinations were significantly cheaper at a high street pharmacy than at our Doctor’s surgery or a specialised travel clinic.
Our travel insurance from True Traveller cost around £900.
One of the reason we chose True Traveller is that they allow you to start a policy from outside your home country. We saved several hundred pounds by buying two separate policies; the first policy covered North America (and Iceland) and our second policy covered the rest of the world. The second policy started the day we left Hawaii.
We eventually left home with a £5000+ hole in our travel budget. Along the way, something had to give.
How locations affected our travel planning
We had mixed ‘success’ when matching our budget expectations with reality.
Argentina is an incredible destination but unexpectedly cost a small fortune due to the distances we needed to travel (any aged bum on a seat is full price) and five sets of elevated ‘foreigner fees’ for attractions and national parks.
Plus, at the time of our visit, Argentina was ‘a cash is king’ country and significant daily ATM fees added up to hundreds of dollars over our two month visit. As a result, we had to cut back on our budget elsewhere.
But in contrast, we unexpectedly spent very little money in two months in New Zealand.
We toured New Zealand in a campervan, using relocation vehicles for as little as $5 a day. Plus, we stayed on freedom camping sites for free and we did not do any costly adventure adrenaline activities.
It was this saving that allowed us the budget to follow our dream and travel on the Trans Siberian Railway.
How topography affected our planning and budget
Flying over the Andes and over the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to New Zealand was not cheap! There is little competition on this route. However, we bizarrely saved hundreds of dollars by opting for a multi stop ticket that enabled us to have a two week layover in Samoa, which turned out to be one of our favourite destinations. I remember booking the flight (late at night in Canada) and the googling ‘where is Samoa.’
Anywhere that was a well travelled route was much cheaper. Finland to Estonia cost just 6 Euro, a month of European train travel cost approximately £500 using a Family Interail Pass (that brought us to our doorstep in the UK). Sydney to Hong Kong cost just 200 ASD due to the competitive nature of the route.
What was our preferred travel style?
We moved frequently. It was the choice we made in order to visit everywhere we wanted to go and to give our children a flavour of the planet’s diversity. We averaged 4 – 5 days per location unless on a road trip.
Our non negotiable destinations – and why
We had several ‘must’ destinations as we wanted to visit siblings and close friends in various countries.
I had malaria in my 20’s (despite taking malaria tablets) and my personal choice was not to travel to any country that had malaria.
We checked our government’s Foreign Office advice for up to date information on countries to avoid.
Did our planning allow flexibility?
When we left the U.K we only had the first two weeks booked!
We knew roughly the destinations we wanted to visit to achieve our wish list but we planned and booked one way tickets as we travelled. We were about as flexible as it gets!
This enabled us to zig zag all over the world in a rough westerly direction adding unexpected destinations such as Samoa, Costa Rica, Chile and Mongolia to our trip. Our travel around the world itinerary was not the most logical or the cheapest!
When we became fed up with flying, we were were able to radically change our plans as we were not committed to flights or bookings. So we decided to travel overland from Hong Kong to the U.K by train.
The downside of this ultimate flexibility was A LOT of time spent researching and planning whilst travelling. In hindsight, I would try to be a little more organised before leaving home.
So where did we go on our gap year around the world?
Departure point – London
Iceland – I did the ‘anywhere’ search on Skyscanner for our possible departure date and this was the cheapest destination!
Washington DC – the cheapest arrival point in the U.S.A from Iceland
Virginia – to see friends
Florida – Disney for the kids. Never again.
Argentina – the Moreno glacier, seeing orcas and hiking in Patagonia was on our bucket list but we ended up doing so much more in this incredible country
Chile – for Patagonia (and in the vain hope of finding a hugely discounted package to Antarctica)
Florida – for some sun and to swim with manatees
New York – because it was on the way to Boston
Boston – Xmas with family
Vermont and Buffalo – friends for New Year
Costa Rica – because our daughter was missing her UK school topic on rainforests so why not?
California, Arizona, Utah – friends and the National Parks
Seattle – because it was on the way to Canada
Canada (Vancouver and Vancouver Island) – to hike the West Coast Trail and see orcas
Hawaii – bucket list destination for ‘live’ lava
Samoa – because we got a great deal on flights
New Zealand – friends and family (and because we love it there)
Australia – friends and the Great Barrier Reef (though we ended up doing a fantastic six week Australian east coast road trip after discovering relocation vehicle travel)
Hong Kong – because we got an amazing deal on flights
China – bucket list walk on the Great Wall
Mongolia – we had to traverse it by train so why not stop off for a couple of weeks? Now added to our favourite country list.
Russia – bucket list experience, travelling on the Trans Siberian
Finland – we had to go through it anyway to get to Sweden so why not stay awhile?
Estonia – because we were nearby in Finland and it only cost 6 Euro to get there
Sweden – see friends
Denmark – we had to travel through it anyway so…
Germany – our daughter was learning German
Switzerland – because we wanted to spend time ‘relaxing’ before returning home so we decided to go hiking for ten days in the Swiss Alps
France – we had to travel through it to get back to the UK so…
Where are you planning to go on your round the world trip? I hope this post has helped you plan your round the world itinerary.