10 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Round-the-World Travels

What you should know before you head out on the road to spend an extended amount of time traveling around the world.  

Related To:

Australia's Ayers Rock

Australia's Ayers Rock

This monolithic table rock structure is known as Uluru, or Ayers Rock. Located inside the Uluru-Kata Tju National Park, this massive rock structure is known to be a sacred space for the indigenous peoples of Australia. 

One of the most rewarding – and overwhelming – things you can do in this life is quit your job, grab a backpack, and travel around the world. I know this because in 2010 I quit a rather fabulous job (disclaimer: I worked for the Travel Channel), to do exactly that.

The months before I hit the open road were spent taking care of what felt like a million little details, and I frantically tried to stay organized while preparing for the trip of a lifetime. Once on the road, from Istanbul to New Delhi, and Hanoi to Sydney and beyond, adventure lurked around every corner.

Of course, not everything went as planned, and I learned what felt like a lifetime worth of lessons over the course of that journey. Here are the top things I wish I knew before I set out on the road:


Buddhist Monks on a Bridge in Cambodia

Buddhist Monks on a Bridge in Cambodia

Buddhist monks take in their nation's beauty on a bridge in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. 

Photo by: Valerie Conners

Valerie Conners

1) Plan Your Itinerary … But Not Too Closely 

If you don't know how long you'll stay on the road, purchase a 1-way airline ticket, but if you do have a sense of how long you'll be gone, it can pay to purchase an around the world airline ticket. Doing so will give your trip a semblance of structure, and still allows for plenty of freedom in between flights to set off on unplanned excursions and visit destinations that weren't initially on your radar.

2) Takin' Care of Business: Visas, Passports, Vaccinations, and more 

First, make sure your passport is valid and not going to expire anytime soon. If you're even considering travel to certain countries which require obtaining visas in advance, like India or Vietnam, make sure to get them prior to your departure. Plus, if you think you'll visit countries where vaccinations are necessary, head to the nearest travel medicine clinic and get caught up on all your immunizations.

Make sure you've obtained travel insurance and made copies of all important documents, like your passport, visas, driver's license, birth certificate, and credit cards. Keep physical, as well as digital copies. Pro tip: call your credit card company to let them know you'll be traveling overseas.

3) Don't Overpack

Varanasi, India

Varanasi, India

Featured in this photo is the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Varanasi, India.

Photo by: Valerie Conners

Valerie Conners

The lighter you travel when lugging a backpack around the globe, the better. Remember that unless you're planning some serious off-the-grid travel, chances are if you forget or run out of something you'll be able to replace it.

You will, however, absolutely want to pack: earplugs, a sleep mask, and plenty of cash. Hostels and airplanes are noisy, bright places, and you never know when you'll find yourself without access to an ATM.

4) Plan Your Budget, But Save Room for Splurges 

Only you know how much you can comfortably spend per day and not wind up in debt. Create a daily budget that stays safely within your limits, but also give yourself enough wiggle room for occasional splurges. Upgrading to a hotel from a hostel, or booking a Great Barrier Reef dive tour will be totally worth it.


Balinese Women Depict Ramayana

Balinese Women Depict Ramayana

Experience the traditional culture of Bali as these Balinese women participate in the dramatic depiction of the Hindu epic of Ramayana. 

Photo by: Valerie Conners

Valerie Conners

5) Stay in Fewer Places Longer 

My original trip plan involved visiting 13 different countries across 5 continents. In the end, I shaved it down to 10 countries across 4 continents, a decision I am so grateful I made. When you set out to see the world, it's understandable to want to pack as much travel in as possible. If you do, you will only graze over many destinations. Plan to see less and experience more. You'll never regret having more time to get to know the people and culture of a place.

6) Things Will Always Go Wrong 

No trip will ever be perfect. You will get sick. You will get lost. Flights will be cancelled or missed. How you handle these things will determine how much you enjoy your trip. Find your Zen place, and accept that you-know-what happens. Stay in flow and know that these are the stories you'll laugh over when you tell your very envious friends and family back home.

7) Eat Locally, But Carefully

Vietnamese Street Food

Vietnamese Street Food

The only way to experience Vietnamese food is from street vendors. This scrumptious, traditional Vietnamese meal comes from a vendor on the streets of Hanoi. 

Photo by: Valerie Conners

Valerie Conners

It's tempting to pull an Andrew Zimmern in a small village some far-flung destination. By all means, try the local fare, but pay attention to what you're ordering and from where. If you're in a location with untreated water, don't (for goodness sake) drink it, or use ice cubes, or eat raw veggies. When you stumble across a street food vendor, take a look around -- is there raw sewage running under his cart? Does he have clean water to wash utensils or his hands? Use your smarts before chowing down.

8) Write. It. Down. 

Whether you take messy notes, journal daily, or start a blog, above all -- document your trip. You will be so grateful you recorded your memories, adventures, and hilarious stories. Memories fade unnervingly fast and little details don't always lurk behind photos. They will however, remain in the pages of your journal or blog.

9) Get Out of Your Comfort Zone (Safely) 

On a daily basis during your RTW travels, you face people, places, events, and experiences that would never otherwise cross your path. This can be enlightening and occasionally frightening. I am terrified of heights and swimming, but after 8 months on the road became an expert snorkeler, and hiked my fair share of steep and slippery mountains. Make an effort to step out of your comfort zone. Of course, do so within reason: if a situation could put your safety in danger, stay away.

10) Get Off the Backpacker Circuit 

It's comforting to realize that there is a well-trodden backpacker path in seemingly remote destinations like Southeast Asia or Australia. While this can prove heartening, it can also make certain places feel homogeneous. Make it a point to stray from the road well-traveled, and experience smaller, but no less magical towns and other off-the-beaten path destinations. Say “hi” to a local and ask them where they think you should visit, or what you should eat. Chances are, their suggestions will make your trip more memorable.

Next Up

10 In-Flight Beauty Tricks

Learn how to travel in style with a little help from the Transportation Security Administration.

Top 10 Worst-Case Travel Scenarios

Even the best vacation can be derailed by a travel emergency. Here are our top 10 worst-case travel scenarios and tips for how to recover and carry on with an unforgettable vacation.

Bedbugs Bite Back

Check out 10 things you need to know about bedbugs. Be on the lookout and don't let bedbugs hitch a ride with you.

3 Ways to Reuse Travel Maps

See how to reuse a travel map as art or jewelry.

Tips for Earthquake and Tsunami Preparedness

Get Travel Channel's tips on how to prepare for an earthquake and tsunami.

Travel Tales: Thoughts on Egypt

Thoughts and comments on the situation in Egypt.

Flash Flood Safety: 5 Must-Ask Questions

Get Travel Channel's tips on how to stay safe from flash floods.

Top 5 Ways Not to Be an Idiot Traveler

Let’s face it: Despite your high IQ and extreme self-confidence, you can be a little forgetful and clumsy when traveling. We’ve all been there. But for those times when you find yourself in a moment straight out of An Idiot Abroad, here are some helpful tips.

Facebook Favorites

The Travel Channel Facebook community's top picks.

Top 10 Bedbug Infestation Spots

Check out the top 10 places to accidentally pick up bedbugs.

More from:

Travel Tips

More Creepy Content

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss Travel Channel in your favorite social media feeds.