What I wish I knew BEFORE my RTW trip 35

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It is a bit funny that I finally think I might know enough to put together a well-thought out round-the-world (RTW) trip….. now that I’ve already done one. The basic things I know now, and didn’t before, give me a chuckle when I think about them.

In the hopes of encouraging more people to do more long-term travel and also compile a good list of helpful tools for such travel, I thought I’d write this post.

The things I know now…. that I wish I’d known before.

(1) Join Twitter and Facebook long before you go. Both are incredibly helpful for entirely different reasons. You are going to meet dozens, if not hundreds, of people all around the world. There is no good way to keep track of all their email addresses — and you are going to want to talk to a lot of them again, if only to pick their brains on travel ideas during your trip. Facebook is the best way of keeping up with people. It is also the best and easiest way for people back home. Quick status updates on where you are. Uploading pictures you have taken. And so forth.

As to Twitter, I now realize there is a huge number of experienced travelers (at every price level of travel) that are out there as resources at a click of a mouse. Meet hundreds of travelers on Travelers’ Night In. Going RTW? Try the #rtwsoon or #rtwnow hastag and meet others doing the same thing. The Twitter community is incredibly helpful on tips, suggestions, useful blogs, and other resources for your journey.

(2) The internet is everywhere. I was amazed at how relatively easy it is to get internet access almost everywhere in the world, though certainly there were a lot of spots in Africa that weren’t great. I took my laptop with me because I was going to write on the trip, but I’d suggest everyone bring some laptop of little netbook with them. It makes it much easier to edit and upload photos of your trip and you can get wireless at the vast majority of places you are going to stay on your trip.

Speaking of which, here is a big pet peeve of mine. I’ve stayed at $200+ night hotels that charge for internet and tons of $10 a night hostels that offer free wifi. Get a clue Major Hotel Chains — you are making plenty on your rooms — try offering travelers free wireless when they stay at your fancy place.

(3) Stay flexible. I didn’t order this tips in order of importance, but probably should have put this at the top of my list. It is inevitable that you are going to learn a lot more about what you want to do/see/experience when you get where you are going. Other people traveling are going to give you a tip about places to go (the only reason I found Cabo Polonio, Uruguay was that I was drinking on a rooftop bar with some Germans and they were going on and on about this great little beach town without electricity. I never would have had it on my route. It was one of the highlights of the trip. If you have a dead-set plan of being in place A one such and such day, then place B three days later, you are going to miss out on some great opportunities.

(4) Anywhere is a good destination. I hit 44 countries on my trip. I had interesting and good memories in all of them, even countries you would never think of as tourist destinations. While seeing some of the great sights in the world (e.g. Angkor Wat, Kilimanjaro, Manchupicchu, the Pyramids, Doubtful Sound) are wonderful and incredible and some of the best sightseeing experiences you will ever have, you are going to also find that meeting cool and interesting people, where ever you are, makes for a good destination. In most cases, the people you meet make or break your trip.

(5) Obviously, I didn’t fly at all on my RTW trip, but there are some great resources out there for cheap flights. There is a good debate on whether to buy a RTW airline ticket (and tie yourself in somewhat to a more set schedule), but going back to my Twitter tip above, I sent out a request for blogs on finding cheap airfare on got an immediate reply. Go check out Fox Nomad’s Guide to Airfare for a good start on how to save some money on that front.

(6) Take time to rest. I never got sick during my 16 month trip, aside from one bout of traveler’s belly for about 5-6 days in Egypt. Obviously that is a large bit of luck (I also eat tons of local food and drink the water most everywhere I go), but I think part of the reason I managed to keep my health was that I took plenty of time to just chill out and rest. It helps that one of my favorite activities is simply having a drink at an outdoor cafe and reading, but a good number of the travelers that I met that got sick frequently seemed to be the ones that had a burning desire to “do something, all the time.” Always running around seeing the next sight. And depleting their energy levels and making them more susceptible to illness. Take it with a grain of salt, I don’t even play a doctor on TV.

(7) Skype. There is really only one great way to keep in touch with people back home and this is it Skype home page. If you don’t have it, download it. If you don’t use it, you are throwing away money. Free Skype to Skype computer calls anywhere in the world, including video chat. Incredibly low prices to call any mobile phone or landline from Skype. Just do it — you won’t look back.

(8) Accept that you are going to get ripped off (a lot) and robbed (hopefully not as frequently). Look, it is just going to happen. Cabbies, food vendors, people selling you anything — they are going to rip you off. Bargain hard, be willing to walk away (the best negotiating tool, in my opinion), stand up for yourself, ask the people working at the hostel what things should cost before you go get them…. but don’t let getting charged $4, instead of $1.5 for a cab ruin your day. You laugh now, reading this, but you will be SERIOUSLY pissed off. There is just something about being ripped off, no matter the money involved, that annoys the crap out of almost everyone I know, including me. Dave and I get ripped off in Egypt

As to getting robbed, it happens. It happens on trips to New York City. It happens on trips to Memphis. It happens everywhere. Don’t avoid visiting countries/cities (with some exceptions, obviously) based on a fear that you are going to get robbed. Take regular precautions: take taxis if your hostel or hotel people say it isn’t safe to walk around, never carry anything on you that you can’t get stolen (don’t carry your passport around with you), walk to the other side of the street or back in teh opposite direction if you see folks you get a bad vibe from, don’t walk around with your nice SLR camera dangling around your neck, and don’t walk around drunk at 3 a.m., which seems to be the one that most people fall prey to in the stories I hear.

(9) Eat the local food. You are trying out a new culture. Try the food. You might find some of your new favorites, even if the ingredients, or appearance, aren’t things you normally would think you’d like. And try some street food. They normally cook it right in front of you, which actually makes it safer to eat in my book — since you know it actually IS cooked. Who knows, you could become as addicted to dumplings, or ceviche, or droewors as I became!

(10) Try a hostel. You might think you are too old (you aren’t). You might think they are too loud (they can be). You might think they aren’t clean enough (it’s fine). They are an interesting part of the entire long-travel experience. First, unless you are loaded — and likely not reading my blog — you can’t stay at nice hotels every night on a long time. It just blows your money away and frankly, you can’t always find them in all the place you are hopefully going to go to. If you don’t want the dorm rule experience, you can usually get a single or double room in most hostels. They are great ways to meet fellow travelers — how many people have you ever met at a Hilton or a Hyatt? Try it at least a few times, Just make sure you read the hostel/dorm rules before you go

(11) Try to not have too many expectations. Many of the countries that I never thought I’d like were some of my favorites. Some of the countries I had the highest expectations of fell short and were disappointing. Once I realized that I just needed to temper my preconceived notions and go with the flow a bit more, I tended to enjoy every location even more. It is similar to going to see the incredibly hyped new movie that just came out – how many times do you walk out disappointed?

Have fun. And just do it. Long travel is one of the greatest things I’ve done in my lifetime. It obviously isn’t for everyone, but I think anyone with an open mind and a sense of wonder and adventure would love it. I certainly do — and I’m ready for more next month.

Would love for folks to add their suggestions down below in the comments section. This is by now means the full list of mine — just some stuff I jotted off. Add your tips/suggestions for everyone else. Thanks.

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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

35 thoughts on “What I wish I knew BEFORE my RTW trip

  • Caz Makepeace

    These are all great tips. Funny how when I first started facebook, twitter, wireless and skype were something you never had to think about! I totally agree about getting the lots of rest and how beneficial it is for your health. Travel allows you to just relax into life, and that is so good for you! Stress is a silent killer.I would also add try camping. We camped for four months through East and South AFrica. We camped in places for as little as a $1 a night and they were superb spots to pitch our tent.

  • Sally

    I love the tip about resting. In fact, I think I may rest a bit too much. My tips would be to email everyone you know who has ever traveled abroad/lived abroad/worked internationally/has international friends/etc. where you are going & when. It's amazing how many of my friends were able to hook me up with people to hang out with and even people to stay with while I've been traveling. Also, if you're doing any volunteering, know that you don't have to PAY to do it. There are plenty of volunteer directories (WWOOF, HelpX, etc) which can help you find volunteer gigs that you can actually do for free rather than shelling out thousands of dollars. Oh, and be prepared to have bed bugs (not fun) and bad haircuts (maybe even less fun).

  • Malaysia Expat

    All great advices. For me, number three and number eleven hit the nail on the head. I find that expectations often come from anticipating and preparing a lot for something. Sometimes it's great because you can do a lot more with preparation, but more often than not you'll end up missing on the experience because you'd have planned your trip a bit too much or expect a certain thing. Also, great comment from Sally, as usual 🙂

  • Adventurous Kate

    Excellent post!Regarding sleep and rest: I completely agree with you. I find that lack of sleep depletes my health on so many different levels, most obviously exhibited when I come home from Vegas.And of course — Couchsurfing! Meet up with people all over the world! 😀

  • Adventurous Kate

    Excellent post!

    Regarding sleep and rest: I completely agree with you. I find that lack of sleep depletes my health on so many different levels, most obviously exhibited when I come home from Vegas.

    And of course — Couchsurfing! Meet up with people all over the world! 😀

  • Sherry Ott

    Supurb list! Love #8 – sometimes that's really hard to accept. I finally learned to accept it while living in Vietnam for a year; else I would've gone mad!The one thing I would add is try Couchsurfing!! I've been traveling for 4 years now and just this month I tried it for the first time am kicking myself for not trying it earlier!

  • Sherry Ott

    Supurb list! Love #8 – sometimes that's really hard to accept. I finally learned to accept it while living in Vietnam for a year; else I would've gone mad!
    The one thing I would add is try Couchsurfing!! I've been traveling for 4 years now and just this month I tried it for the first time am kicking myself for not trying it earlier!

  • Matt

    Great tips! It's amazing the role the internet and social media plays in the lives of all travelers and tourists, from RTW types to people like me who just get a couple of weeks a year to travel. When I first backpacked after college, none of these resources were available. I had to call (with a phone) ahead to hostels to book rooms and was very dependent on information from other travelers.Flexibility is also key for everyone, as is experiential travel. Anyone can go to Paris, but it's how YOU interpret the city and what you do there that makes it special.

  • Ayngelina

    Number 1 is crucial. I got on Twitter a few months before I left but I wish it had been much earlier.

  • LeslieTravel

    Great tips! As a former RTW traveler I can relate. My regret would be not bringing a small netbook. I relied on Internet cafes and the connection was so slow- frustrating for a blogger! Glad you enjoyed your RTW experience 🙂

  • Abby

    If you read this beforehand, would you have followed it? I'd give anything to have been on Twitter for the year before my trip, and I tell all potential expats/travelers who reach out to me via my blog to join… And none of them do! It's strange. The rest of your tips: excellent. You must've been a great traveler!

  • Jaime

    Great post. I am glad I am learning all this stuff before I head off to my RTW trip. I still have a year before take off. I have already started my blog & i have also already started networking with twitter. I am learning so much from the travel community it is amazing. Im gonna keep these in mind as I prepare for my trip!

  • Suzy Guese

    Nice tips I think any traveler could put into place, round the world trip or 3 months abroad. While I haven't done a RTW (would love to), I would say sleep is important while traveling. I have been wearing myself thin lately, taking on too much. I think it is important to travel slower. You see more and are not prone to getting sick/being fatigued.

  • Connie

    Great tips! I try to travel in this way as best I can and I have absolutely no regrets at all during my ongoing 2 years of continuous travel. I second the couchsurfing mention. It's a fabulous resource, not only to get a local feel for a new city/country but also to enrich your travel experiences! I made many a great friend through couchsurfing with my travels, many of whom I still stay in regular contact with!

  • Stephanie

    This is such a great read for me as I'm just 4 weeks away from leaving for my own RTW! I've been following a lot of your tips and trying to get myself in the mindset you describe, so hopefully my trip will go as well as yours has!

  • SoloTraveler

    wow — many thanks everyone. Really, really love to see comments, especially those with additional tips and ideas.Connie and Kate — I agree on couchsurfing. I was moving really fast on my trip (since I never flew), so it was really hard to couchsurf because of the short time lag I had in making plans before getting places. Did it once and it was great. Looking forward to doing a lot more in the future.Thanks everyone!!

  • Andrea

    Hey, I Stumbled Upon your blog, great to see that you made it.I have a great photo of you smoking cigars in Panama, which I always thought was a shame you didn't have. If you want a copy let me know!

  • Andrea


    I Stumbled Upon your blog, great to see that you made it.

    I have a great photo of you smoking cigars in Panama, which I always thought was a shame you didn't have. If you want a copy let me know!

  • Norbert

    Wow, these are great tips. I'm in the planning process of my first RTW, so, definitely will have these in mind. Especially the "taking a rest". I have consistently traveled at a fast pace but now I'm starting to slow down a bit and give myself more time to "settle and experience" the place. These tips are great also for non RTW trips and anyone can easily implement them.

  • Lindsday

    How could you NOT get sick in 16 months time!? That’s amazing!
    (and you’re right about expectations, they can really change your view of somewhere).

  • Michael Hodson

    Norbert, if you need any help with your RTW plans, don`t hesitate to email me. And if you are on Twitter, there area number of really, really informed travelers there that are ready to help at the drop of a hat.

    Lindsay, I’m thanking you for commenting on a bunch of posts. Consider this my universal “thank you!” for checking out the blog.

  • Camels & Chocolate

    I’d recognize that photo from Oktoberfest anywhere! One of the best times I’ve had of all my travels. Love Munich.

  • Matt | YearAroundTheWorld

    Rest is key for me. Sometimes I get strange looks from people when I tell them I plan to spend the day not doing anything, but it keeps me balanced on long trips.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      It is the single biggest tip I give to any long-term travelers, especially the young ones that think they are invincible. Thanks for the comment.

  • Adam

    Great tips as always. Getting ripped off is sooooooooooooooooo frustrating, but you’re so right in that you just have to accept it sometimes. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you can to get a fair price, but don’t let the fact that you spent an extra $2 on something ruin your day.

    One major thing I can suggest is to NOT save the most difficult country for last. We went to India the last 6 weeks of a year-long trip, and that was a mistake for us. By that time we were getting burnt out and just tired, and being tired of travel while in India is not a good combination. It was so intense, and while we thought we’d be “trained” for it after a year on the road, we just simply didn’t want to have to deal with the headaches of traveling in India anymore. We wanted something more simple and less crazy. Visiting India halfway through would have been great.

    That being said, India, while probably the country I disliked most while traveling, is the one I’m most looking forward to returning to. I want a mulligan.

    Great tips!

  • Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World

    Great tips. My husband and I are heading out on our RTW trip next year… Glad to hear that internet is everywhere. And we’ll definitely check Skype out.

  • 1Dad1Kid

    Great tips! Definitely agree with so much you put here. I esp agree with not rushing and buzzing through everything. Yes, there are things to see, but you’ll get the real cultural experience so much more if you can just spend some time sitting down and chilling. One of my fav times in Peru was when two brothers sat at my table in a crowded restaurant. They were fascinated with learning if the America they saw on TV was really how it was, we compared things, talked about life in general. I learned more about Peru from that 1 hour spent chatting than I had in 5 days of travel.

  • Evi

    Great post! Here’s another yay vote for the sleep/rest point. We’ve been hunkering down in my uncle’s (vacant right now) apartment in Budapest and the combination of free accommodation, free wireless, freezing snowy weather and cheap fabulous food market down the street has led to more than a couple days where we haven’t left the apartment at all. And it’s been fabulous. I like to tell myself we’re just storing up energy for India, where we will be heading in a couple weeks. Oh, and ditto on the twitter. I just joined now – 2 months into the trip – and couldn’t kick myself harder about it. Okay, I’ll stop rambling. I actually meant to add a couple tips myself.

    First, pack everything you think you’ll need. Then take out about half of each item of clothing (packed 6 t-shirts? take 3), and drop nearly all the toiletries. Take a real hard look at everything else. No “nice” clothes for going out. No multiple shoes. The less you have to lug around, the more flexible you are, the better places you end up finding to stay, for cheaper. There are very few places you go where you can’t buy essentials.

    Second, photocopy your passport/essential docs and email them to yourself!

    Third, don’t let getting ripped off/robbed cause you to stop trying to talk to local people. A nice healthy skepticism is enough – you can still make wonderful friends and get terrific advice by trusting the people who live where you visit. (And yeah, I was furious after an absolutely cliched rip off I experienced in Fez, Morocco a few weeks ago. Still fuming a bit, but have also started to appreciate the skill it took to pull it off. I just wish it was only $4 for a $1.50 cab ride!)

    • Evi

      “The twitter!” See, I told you I just joined … I sound like my grandma. “You kids and your twitterbookface thingy.”

  • Monica

    Great post. I have a list as long as my arm about things I wish I knew before. I wish I’d set my blog up long before I left because I just didn’t have time to work on it for hours while I was away. I also wish I’d known how easy travel is. I know there are sometimes downsides but on the whole, travel isn’t as difficult as it seems from home. I was worried when I couldn’t find bus timetables or accommodation on the internet but its all so much easier when you arrive.

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