10 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Round-the-World Travels
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:
BEFORE YOU LEAVE:
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
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.
On THE ROAD:
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
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.