Planning a RTW Trip

I cannot believe that I am now less than two days away from departing for my Round the World trip. I depart on Thursday for New Zealand, with an overnight layover that night in Honolulu. I am tentatively planning a little over 3 weeks in New Zealand, followed by Australia, Japan, and South Korea, which will take me into early June. For the rest of June I will see whether I want to stay longer in Korea before heading to Thailand and Cambodia. Then my plans are to end my trip with Ireland and Scotland for the entire month of July.

It’s been quite a process just planning this trip. You don’t quite realize all of the things you have to think about until you get into the planning process. There are a ton of detailed resources on the web on every single aspect of planning a RTW trip, but I’ve summarized here all of the major aspects of my specific plans.

Flights

While initially I thought that I would buy a round the world ticket, I eventually decided to buy one way tickets as I go. Because I have the luxury of time, I am allowing myself the flexibility to stay at destinations longer or shorter than initially planned. Thus, I’ve used American Airlines miles from my past life as a consultant to get myself to my first major destination, New Zealand. For the rest of the trip I will use miles where I can, and use my new favorite flight search engine Skyscanner for the rest.

Visas and Entry Requirements

I think most folks know that you should confirm whether a visa is required for any of your destinations. I was actually surprised to find out that Australia requires a visa, though the process of signing up for their electronic visa online was fast and easy.  However, the second consideration to keep in mind are the entry requirements for each country. This is particularly important when flying on one way tickets like I am doing. For example New Zealand requires that you show proof of onward travel out of New Zealand before they will allow you to enter the country. This can also be requested by the airline you are flying on before you even board the flight to that country.

While some countries like New Zealand need proof of an actual purchased ticket, it sounds like immigration officials in other countries may want some evidence that you have the financial means to depart the country. For this I will be traveling with a copy of my latest bank balance, as well as the credit lines on my two major credit cards.

Travel Insurance

An extended trip of any kind should include travel insurance. This will cover any trip cancellations and delays, but also cover any activities along the way. With the hiking, snorkeling, and other activities I have planned, travel insurance was a must. The company that I chose to go with, World Nomads includes coverage for damage to any rental cars as well. Total cost for 5 months for my plan came out to $405. I think $50/month is pretty good for peace of mind!

International Drivers Permit

While many countries will honor your Drivers License from your home country, I decided to go ahead and get an International Drivers Permit because some locations require both the IDP and your regular Drivers License. Getting it from an AAA office was incredibly easy and fast. It only cost $15 plus two passport size photos, which you can bring yourself or pay them extra to take. Now I have to just mentally prepare myself for driving on the left side of the road in New Zealand…

Health/Vaccinations

I made an appointment at a travel clinic and given the countries that I am going to, ended up getting vaccinated for Hepatitis A, typhoid fever and TDAP (Adult Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis). I also got prescriptions for altitude sickness in the event I end up in high altitude like on my last trip to Peru, antibiotics for upset stomach/traveler’s diarrhea, and motion sickness (specifically for any boats I may end up on). Yes, I am taking along some other items in my first aid kit, particularly since I am doing the 5 day Milford Track hike. But things like cold medication do not make the list, since they do actually get colds abroad.

Gear

Backpack:

One of the hardest decisions for me throughout this entire planning process was what kind and size bag to take. Now taking one of those huge 70-80L backpacks was never even a consideration. Those bags are nearly as tall as I am! As hard as it was, I knew that I had to limit myself to one carry one sized bag. I felt that I really need to be as mobile as possible on the road. I need to be able to walk around for a decent amount of time with my backpack on.

So initially I looked at the Switchback, a wheeled backpack by Eagle Creek, but ultimately decided that the addition of the wheels might be too heavy and cumbersome. Plus, I worried about comfort and ease of walking around and whether the wheels would be hitting my lower back. After a lot more searching, ultimately I settled on the Osprey Farpoint 40. What sold me was the panel access to the main compartment and the fact that the bag is carry on compliant.

Now since I got the Small/Medium size (given my height and length of my torso), my bag is technically only 38 liters. So yes, I will be traveling the world for 5 months with a 38 liter bag and a small crossbody carry on bag. Getting everything into this one bag has required at least 5 packing dry runs with many reassessments of what I really need. I have to remind myself that I don’t need everything that I could possibly need. It’s crazy but they actually have clothes and socks and toiletries in New Zealand or Japan or Thailand. Thus, I’m taking only what I absolutely need and will buy things along the way.

Some other items on my packing list:

There are so many great sites out there with extensive, detailed packing lists like here and here. Perhaps I’ll eventually put together a full packing list. But just a couple of highlights. I am a huge fan of Keen shoes so I am wearing my Keen trail shoes and taking along with my Keen sandals. I am also squishing in a pair of black ballet flats for when I want to look halfway decent. And while some sites say that jeans are too heavy and hard to wash on the road, I don’t think I could imagine being without mine, so will be wearing my jeans on the flight to NZ. For my hostel stays, this Sea to Summit liner is the smallest liner I’ve come across and takes up the least amount of room in my pack and I believe that this Shandali towel is the best travel towel out there.

Finally since I have picked up a bit of an interest in photography and have so many amazing places to photograph on my trip, I have decided to take along a small portable tripod. This Joby tripod is about a foot long, weights 8.5 ounces and fits along one side of my pack. I will start the trip with it and see if I really end up using it, otherwise I will discard along the way to make room for other things.

Technology

Laptop: For me it was an easy decision to leave my MacBook Pro at home due to its size, weight, and value. I honestly don’t even think it would fit in my backpack. Plus, I would be pretty upset if anything were to happen to it on the road, so I decided to buy a cheap Windows netbook off Amazon for $350. All I needed was email/internet capabilities plus the ability to run the software for my Camera along with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

Phone: Given the number of really useful travel apps out there (more below), I knew that I wanted to take a smart phone with me. However international plans on existing cell phone plans are ridiculously expensive. Even though I was eligible for an upgrade to the iPhone 6, I decided to just get my iPhone 5 unlocked and will be buying SIM cards in each country for use in my current phone. I figured I didn’t need the extra worry of having a brand new phone lost, stolen, or broken. If I wasn’t able to get my phone unlocked, I would have still chosen to buy a cheaper unlocked phone of some sort.

Photo Storage: I am taking along a small portable external hard drive, and have set up cloud storage options like Dropbox. Turns out an Amazon prime membership also comes with Prime Photos, which is free storage in Amazon cloud drive for your photos. I am planning on backing up my photos as I go along, since I would be pretty upset if I were to lose my photos for any reason.

Apps

SkyScanner – Flights

WhatsApp – Texting via the internet

Maps.me – Download maps for use offline

Lodging:

Jetsetter – For when I want to splurge and treat myself to more expensive hotel stays at a deal

Kayak and Airbnb – For regular hotel stays

HotelTonight – For last minute hotel stays/deals

Hostelworld – For hostel stays

Financial:

Trail Wallet – To keep track of daily expenses, which can be summarized by country or by time period

XE Currency – Currency conversion

Security

There are a number of steps I’m taking to ensure security. The countries that I am going to are not really on the risky side, other than potentially some areas of Southeast Asia. But people get their money and wallets stolen every day, here in the US as well, and having that happen while you’re on the road would just be a pain to manage. So what am I doing?

The first is that I am taking a dummy wallet. What’s in this dummy wallet? A number of old credit cards that are expired or have previous account numbers from when my current credit card companies had to change the number due to a potential security breach. So for most of my travels, my day bag will contain this dummy wallet along with some small petty cash. This is my way of saying “Haha, screw you” to anyone who may hold me up or swipe this wallet.

So where will my real cash and credit cards be? I am making hidden pockets for the pants that I am taking on the road. I just don’t find money belts very comfortable and easy to get stuff in and out of. So instead I have sewed secret pockets on the inside of my pants that will hold my passport, my real credit cards/ATM cards, and larger bills. I’ve decided not to take my infinity scarf with me, but if I had, I would have probably added a hidden pocket in the infinity scarf as well. You can buy a SpeakEasy Scarf on Etsy, though since I sew a bit, I probably would have made one myself.

As is typically recommended for all travels, I have physical and electronic copies of my passport, as well as information about my travel insurance and international contact numbers for my bank and credit cards emailed to myself. I also have some emergency cash hidden in a spot or two. I’ve found a hidden compartment in my backpack where a small empty prescription bottle makes a perfect vehicle to hide some extra US cash.

Finally, given that I will be staying in some hostels along the way, a lock with a cable is a must. Some sites recommend carrying a whistle. I don’t think the whistle will be needed so much from a security standpoint as much as for safety during my hiking. So I have a small light whistle/thermometer/compass contraption that I will take. Others recommend that solo female travelers pack doorstops for their rooms, though I ended up having to cut that due to space limitations. Again, this is where possibly needing something vs realistically using something comes into play.

Whew, I think that’s it for the major aspects of planning this RTW trip! I honestly had no idea there was so much to consider. And as you might have noticed from my links, the UPS and FedEx guy and I have become very well acquainted as most everything I got for this trip was from Amazon. At one point last week, I think I got a package every day.

Now here’s to actually starting this trip! I’m curious to see how my thoughts and plans will change once I’m actually traveling!

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