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.