Inside: The ultimate guide to planning a dream vacation around the world, from RTW tickets to choosing your Bucket List itinerary.
Let’s face it, 2020 was a punch to the gut for travel lovers around the world.
Never did I think I’d see a day when I couldn’t just bebop onto a transatlantic flight. Or just, say, leave my own home. But here we are.
I literally had to dust off my passport recently. It was borderline soul crushing.
But fear not dear globetrotters, there is hope. With vaccinations now underway, a light looms at the end of this very dark tunnel. And with it, the hope that world travel will again be a reality.
So now what?
You’ve got some lost time to make up for, that’s what.
And there’s no better way to do it than with a life-changing, Bucket-List-crushing, dream vacation around the world.
Take my word for it…I’ve done it 10 times, visiting more than 175 countries on all 7 continents along the way. And you can, too.
But I probably don’t need to waste my time selling you on the idea of a trip around the world. You found this site. I suspect you’re on board.
So let’s start with the basics.
What is a Round the World Trip?
Simply put, a Round the World (RTW) trip is a circumnavigation of the globe, either in an eastward or westward direction. Start in one city and continue east or west until you get back to it. That’s all there is to it!
Tip: West is best for combatting jetlag, while east saves time and hotel nights ($$) with overnight flights. (I’m cheap and usually short on time, I fly east.)
Of course, while the concept of round the world travel is simple, the variables are far more complex.
For example, you may be wondering…
How many days do I need for a RTW trip?
What you’ve probably seen on YouTube and Instagram from round the world travelers is true.
Most quit their jobs, sell their possessions, and hit the road for a year or more with big dramatic flair. Of course, that kind of nomadic commitment is not for everyone.
And I’m living proof that there are other options.
My first 9 RTW trips were approximately 30 days each. The lone exception was RTW #10, my honeymoon, which clocked in at a pretty incredible 3 months.
I’ve also done 30-day trips focused on various regions of the world like Europe, Central America, Oceania, the Balkans, and the Himalayas (a great option if there’s a specific part of the world that interests you or you just hate jetlag).
For me, a month is the ideal amount of time to travel.
Long enough to truly disconnect and explore. Yet short enough that I’m unlikely to throw my carry-on (we’ll get to that) suitcase out the nearest train window because I’ve tired of everything in it.
There’s no right answer to how long your round the world trip should take. I know someone who went around the world in 5 days (zero stars, do not recommend) and someone else who started 10 years ago and is still going strong.
So, two weeks, a month, or even 6 months to travel around the world? It’s totally up to you.
The bottom line: Take as much time as you can, anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months will do. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you never know if you’ll have the chance to do it again.
A trip around the world sounds amazing, but how do I get the time off?
When I wrote the first edition of The Grown-Up’s Guide to Globetrotting 8 years ago, this topic was a central focus and the largest hurdle to taking a career-friendly trip around the world. After all, most Americans are stuck with a measly 2 weeks of annual vacation leave (the horror!).
So, how do you travel the world without tanking your career?
Amazingly, on this front, the COVID-19 pandemic has gifted us with one gleaming silver lining:
WORK. FROM. HOME.
Yes, even the stuffiest of Fortune 500 corporations have finally come around to the idea that work from home can (and does) work – with the right employee.
This revelation is especially thrilling to me as someone who has been working from home (combined with business travel) for nearly 20 years.
In fact, my friends will tell you that my life mantra has always been:
If you can work from home, you can work from Rome.Jenny McIver Brocious
Or Paris. Or Bangkok. Or wherever floats your boat. You get the idea.
There’s a lot more to making this work successfully from exotic locales – time zone challenges, reliable internet, etc. (I go into that in detail in the book) – but I can assure you, it can be done. And it beats the pants off working from your dining room table.
The bottom line: You can use the WFH option to increase your available time for travel. Add days or weeks onto your trip or schedule a trip just to work from somewhere inspiring.
What’s on your Bucket List?
And now we come to the fun part. This is where the magic happens.
Where in the world do you want to go?
I speak from experience when I say that there are few things more thrilling than sitting down in front of a giant foldout map of the world and plotting out your dream vacation.
Maybe you already have a dozen exotic destinations in mind. Or maybe there are places in the world you never considered visiting because they always seemed too far away.
The beauty of going around the world is that the entire world becomes just a short flight away.
How many destinations should I choose?
The answer will directly correlate to how much time you plan to take. My month-long trips have ranged from an uber-ambitious 15 stops on Round the World #1 to a more relaxed pace with 8 stops on Round the World #2.
Here’s a simple, 3-step plan to crafting your round the world itinerary:
- Make your wish list.
- Compare it to the number of days you have to travel.
- Adjust accordingly.
Critically evaluate how long you actually need to see each place on your wish list.
For some (like me), 2-3 days per destination can be a good rule of thumb. Devote more time to your “Top 5” must-see destinations and maybe just spend one day exploring the city you only added to the itinerary because it was right there and you couldn’t just skip it (you laugh, but I guarantee a few of these stops will sneak their way onto your itinerary!).
Remember that a short-term round the world trip, however incredible, is not going to be an in-depth cultural experience at every stop. Think more Amazing Race and less Under the Tuscan Sun.
It IS, however, a terrific way to get a taste of new and exciting places and start building a new wish list for future trips.
Depending on your interest level, you may not need a week to see the Pyramids, I did it in an afternoon and it was magnificent. A full day at the Taj Mahal and a morning walk along the Great Wall of China were enough to fulfill my dream of seeing those world wonders.
But that’s me. And I’ve been told I can be a little, ah, overly-energetic when I travel. You do you.
Need some destination inspiration? Here are 30 of my favorite travel experiences around the world: Around the World in 30 Extraordinary Travel Experiences
Flights: The RTW Ticket (your new best friend)
I am fortunate that my years of excessive business travel had one nifty little side benefit, I have a crap ton of airline miles.
So when I discovered the magical world of “Round the World airline tickets” 15 years ago, those Delta miles not only afforded me the opportunity to take that first RTW trip but to take it in first class with Delta’s Skyteam Alliance.
Sadly, the days of booking a RTW ticket with miles went the way of the dodo bird in 2015. I won’t lie to you, I wept openly when Delta first announced it (followed quickly by United and American).
But all is not lost if you’ve been hoarding miles like pandemic toilet paper. All major US airlines now allow one-way award booking. Meaning you can still use your miles to route yourself around the world, one one-way flight at a time!
And honestly, the old mileage RTW tickets were a deal but they were a BEAR to book and had zero flexibility. One-way award booking gives you a ton more flexibility plus the option to mix economy and business class legs (for longer flights) on your journey. This is a BIG perk.
Here are a few more tips for you “Up in the Air” business travelers out there with miles & points to burn: How to Use Points & Miles to Redeem Your RTW Dream
No miles, no problem
All three major airline alliances do still offer paid RTW ticket options. It’s not cheap and you’ll spend extra time connecting through hub cities but you can earn a ton of miles as you travel. If that option interests you, start here:
- Skyteam – Round the World Planner (Delta)
- Oneworld – World Travel (American, Alaska)
- Star Alliance – Round the World (United)
The affordable RTW ticket…
If redeeming (or earning) miles isn’t your jam and you truly just want the most affordable way to see the world, skip the airline alliances and head straight to:
Unlike the airline alliances, these two round the world airfare specialists utilize all airlines to create your dream itinerary. This will often yield both the best price and the most direct routing for your trip.
WARNING: Once you start playing around with the trip planners on these two sites, you may become addicted to the global possibilities.
Tip: You guessed it, I’ve covered all the ins and outs of booking RTW tickets in the book.
Hotels vs. Airbnb – Where to stay?
Once again business travel rewards can be handy when planning a round the world trip.
My Marriott and Hilton points have been offsetting the costs of my round the world trips for years. Not to mention affording me swank rooms at hotels and resorts that were WAY outside of my round the world budget, like these:
But if you don’t have points, not to worry! I am a firm believer that a quality, affordable hotel can always be found, even in the most expensive destinations. My go-to hotel site (when I’m not using points) is Booking.com.
Tip: If you’re not a member of any hotel frequent guest programs, sign up for all of them before you go. It’s free and you’ll earn points as you travel. Many offer perks during your stay, just for being a member.
If you’re not a fan of chain hotels or if you’re going to be in one spot for more than 3 or 4 days, I’d highly recommend an apartment rental. They can be considerably cheaper than even the most economical hotel and having a kitchen can be a tremendous cost-saver as well. Not to mention it’s just fun to live more like a local!
One of my favorite apartment rental sites is Airbnb. I’ve booked with them all over the world (including the Tuscan villa we used for our wedding – below!). If you haven’t yet rented through Airbnb, click here for my discount code. You’ll get $40 off your first rental and, when you book, I’ll get $20 off my next rental…that’s a win-win!
Who should I travel around the world with?
If you’re married, it would probably be rude to go without your spouse (try it at your own marital peril).
But if you’re single, this is a question that deserves serious consideration. If you’ve never traveled solo, your gut instinct may be to find a friend or family member to travel with.
But before you do that, consider this…
A solo trip around the world is perhaps the best gift you can ever give yourself, especially for women. It’s empowering, it’s safe and it just might be the best travel experience of your life.
No matter what you decide, choose carefully.
How to pack (carry on only!) for a round the world trip
Yes, you read that right. I just casually floated the idea of traveling around the world for a month or longer with nothing but a carry-on bag.
If you’re a guy, you were probably not at all alarmed by the previous paragraph and thought, “Couple of t-shirts, some shorts, underwear, got it.” You can scroll down to the next topic, this section is not about you.
Now, for my globetrotting ladies. I’m going to ask you to trust me on this one (we’ve known each other for 10 or 15 minutes now and I feel like you get me).
With so many flights involved in a RTW trip, carry-on is truly the only option.
Reuniting with a lost bag can quickly become a logistical nightmare when you’re changing cities every few days. (And I can assure you that no one at the lost baggage desk understands what “RTW ticket” means.)
If you don’t believe me you can read all about the one time I broke my own rule and ended up spending an entire day at baggage claim in Paris on Round the World #4. (Actually, don’t. It’s mind-numbing reading and definitely not my best work.)
You can do this. You don’t need all the “stuff” you think you do!
I have traveled for as long as 3 months out of just a carry-on (and in case I forgot to mention it, I’m a girl!). I do freely admit, however, that I was over just about every item of clothing in that suitcase by the end. I also confess I checked a bag to Antarctica. Because Antarctica.
How do I do it? This excerpt from “The Grown-Up’s Guide to Globetrotting” is guaranteed to help you overcome your RTW packing challenges:
What else do I need to know for a RTW trip?
We’ve covered the big-ticket items – how long to travel, how many places to visit, with who, how to find RTW tickets, where to stay, and what to pack. So what’s left?
Well, a LOT actually. But hey, that’s where my book comes in (insert shameless plug here).
I’ll end with a hit list of other tips, tricks and things to consider when planning your once-in-a-lifetime (or maybe more!) round the world trip:
- Apps: For currency conversion, I like Oanda. And Google translate is also incredibly handy to have around.
- Thoroughly research entry requirements for ALL countries you plan to visit well in advance. Almost all visa applications can now be completed online.
- A good universal power adapter & converter is a must. More than one is a plus if you have lots of devices.
- Check with your doctor for any immunizations you may need for your destinations. I got the works before my first trip and haven’t had to worry about it since (other than the occasional prescription for malaria pills). I would imagine a COVID-19 vaccination will also become the norm for international travel.
- Consider purchasing travel insurance, for a trip of this magnitude, it’s a must! Here’s a good independent review of the benefits of travel insurance and the options available: 10 Best Travel Insurance Companies of 2021
- Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your planned date of return because all countries have different requirements on this.
Get the Book!
For more comprehensive advice on planning your route, booking RTW tickets and everything else you ever wanted to know about traveling around the world, get the ultimate resource guide to planning a RTW trip (without quitting your job!):
Now get out there and start planning the trip of your dreams!
As Phil Keoghan says at the start of every season of the Amazing Race,
“The world is waiting for you!”