In 2008, I left for 11 months of to travel and volunteer around the world — half of my travels were solo while I shared the other half with friends and family. In the years since that initial trip, I have continued traveling solo and I also added a tween-aged child to the mix in 2011. Over the years and along the way I have learned a lot that has shaped and changed the nature of who and am I how I travel. Below I have interwoven my first-hand advice about how I prepped and planned for my initial one-year trip so you can adjust from there, and I also give a broader perspective of links, resources and advice from throughout the travel and volunteer communities.
If you’re looking to work and travel (by freelancing, becoming an expat, or travel blogging) this is a separate and thorough resource page intended for digital nomads and those hoping to work and travel the world: How to Become a Freelancer & Digital Nomad.
Navigate this monster page by topic, or grab a coffee and start at the top and read through. I also offer a small section with details on my specific travels (my packing list, budget, etc).
Planning: Before You Leave
Deciding to Leave
RTW Trip Budgets
How Save Money for Travel
Best Credit Cards for Travel
Planning Destinations & Picking a Route
Should you Buy a Round the World Ticket?
US Mail Services
Purging Your Stuff
Your Period and Women’s Issues
Packing Lists and Tips
Electronics and Backup Options
Anti-RSI Ergonomic Travel System
Picking a Travel Camera
Keep Electronics Safe
Picking the Right Backpack
Purses and Day-Packs
On the Road: Practicalities
Staying Healthy/Travel Sickness
Staying Occupied on Long Travel Days
How to Start a Travel Blog
How to Handle US Taxes
Planning: Before You Leave
The planning stage of travel is overwhelming at best, intensely stressful at worst. I’ve been there—I had a panic attack three-days before I left to travel for a year due to the overwhelm and stress. This is everything I wish I had known before I left, here, for you.
Specifics on my Travels
My full travel route compiles where I traveled on that first year-long round the world trip and how I picked my countries while my packing list shares what I took along for a year living out of one 52L backpack. Once I returned from my trip, I published a complete budget breakdown — every cent I spent over the one-year trip, broken down into categories and countries. This budget remains one of my most popular posts on A Little Adrift.
For wanderlust, head to my photo site, with my photos from all over the world and I hand-picked my best narrative and most useful posts on the A Little Adrift “Best of” Travel Stories page. You might also wonder what I do and how I work from the road. And if I haven’t covered details about my travels you’d still like to know, head to the frequently asked questions section.
Cultural Research and Travel Inspiration
There is simply nothing like good travel literature to transport you to another place. For all pre-trip wanderlusters, I suggest you start your journey with some of these travel stories. And if you have a country in mind, use my travel books by country resource page to find country-specific novels, memoirs, and historical books. Or head over to my book reviews page to find full reviews on popular and new books, as well as my monthly book giveaway.
- The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World (Kindle) by Eric Weiner: This is a wonderful book and I recommend you start here if you purchase just one book this month. A former NPR foreign correspondent, the author travels around the world throughout each country looking for the origins of happiness.
- Humans of New York: While not technically a travel book, the way that HONY shares the stories of people and places as changed the way I think about the world. Highly recommend this for travel writers looking to better understand how to engage readers on the human stories behind travel.
- On the Road (Kindle) by Jack Kerouac: Top notch inspirational reading if you’re thinking of heading out on a trip. It contains autobiographical stories from a range of vagabond travelers on their journeys–diverse perspectives on long-term travel.
- A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East (Kindle) by Tiziano Terzani: A round the world overland memoir with a focus on the human experiences and cultural discoveries from the author – both parts enjoyable and humorous.
- Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (Kindle) by Jared Diamond: A thinky read taking a global look at the geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern world.
- Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (Kindle) by Robert Kaplan: A look at how the geopolitical focus of the world in the 21st Century will shift away from the West and toward the countries on the Indian Ocean.
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy: A beautiful and lyrical novel set in India and weaving culture, intrigue, and politics. This book is a must read even if you never plan to travel in India.
- Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers (Kindle) by Nancy Pearl: Wonderful fiction and non-fiction book recommendations from a librarian–surprisingly great resource!
- National Geographic Simply Beautiful Photographs by Annie Griffiths: For a dose of photo inspiration, this coffee-table book is stunning and paging through this will spark new ideas on places to travel or volunteer.
How Much Should You Budget for RTW Travel?
Oh the question of budgeting, that’s a biggie and a valid concern—you certainly don’t want to plan for a year and then run out of funds in month eight! My round the world travel budget tracked my expenses up until 2009 and can be used as a rough guide for expenses in the developing world versus developed world travel so you get a rough idea what daily costs you’re facing once you hit the road. You could likely get by with as little as US $12,000 per year if you stick to one region (for example overland for a year from Mexico to Argentina, or overland through China, Southeast Asia and India). That price jumps as high as US $25,000 for moderate budget travel, flights to new regions and traveling rather rapidly. If you’re against hostels, up the price by as much as another $10,000 if you’re feeling more cash flush and prone to splurging on expensive extras like helicopter rides, diving, and adventure activities. Other considerations:
- Your Route and Speed Around the World: This is the single biggest indicator of how much you will spend. Minimize the number of flights you need to take by traveling overland and slowly and to fewer places. Seriously, we all have a dream list, but if you’re on a limited trip (as opposed to open-ticket, no planned return RTW travels) then you’ve likely over-packed your route. The best advice I received on my RTW was to cut out 5 of the 17 planned countries–reflecting back on it, I can’t even imagine where they would have fit?!
- Which Countries You Visit: If you add in developed countries like Europe, the United States, and Australia you will see your daily budget more than double (instead of $30/day in SEA and India, you’re looking at $75-$100/day in the UK, and Western Europe). Weight your trip heavily in favor of developing regions of the world – there’s a lot you’re already going to miss as you travel through, and I guarantee you won’t be bored spending a few extra months going more slowly. 100 % guarantee.
- Eat Local Food, Street Foods, and Shop in Markets: How you eat on your travels impacts the bottom line; eat locally and at the street food stalls when you find them (rampant throughout Southeast Asia, India, Central America, etc)—they’re perfectly safe as long as you find the food stalls the locals are using too! Western food is more expensive and rarely actually tastes good anyhow. Local food is a window into the culture, so dig deep and eat like the locals, asking the vendors questions and learning more about each country’s food peculiarities. Also, when traveling in Western countries, shop for groceries and cook at the hostel at least two meals per day to limit costs! For more food travel tips, check out the Food Traveler’s Handbook one my my good travel friends wrote about safe, cheap street eats.
Also consider these handful of other budget post from RTW travelers who have tracked their expenses, and shared their tips!
- How to Estimate the Costs: From saving for the trip to estimating the exact costs of your round the world travel, this guide covers all the details with practical tips and advice to successfully save and afford a long-term trip.
- Budgets for Destinations All Over the World: Jodi collected all the RTW travel budgets from bloggers and travelers and lists them out by country—so useful!
- Budget Travel Hacking Guide: Another traveler did a great job rounding up a lot of resources related to planning and budgeting for your trip.
- A Couple Budget-Style RTW Budget: Nat and Rob offer a comprehensive breakdown of their expenses for a joint round the world trip.
How to Save Money for Travel
This is a question I get asked a lot, and there is no easy answer because we all have different skills, different existing monetary commitments, etc — but at the core is the notion of saving money, and there I do have some tips. It’s also important to note that I did not save the entire USD $19 thousand that I needed to travel, instead I saved about $7K and worked on the road for the rest.
Tips for Saving Money So You Can Hit the Road
- Open a separate savings account. It’s important to keep your new travel fund very separate from your day-to-day expenses, and even your emergency fund, Christmas money etc. Designate a travel account and deposit all your new savings that you are doing for this reason directly into this account.
- Purge. Step one should be purging all the things you don’t need and have stored in corners; when done correctly you can jump-start your travel nest-egg nicely by selling things in a garage sale, Craigslist, and eBay. Seeing a jump in your savings is heartening and a good way to start the process!
- Cut your spending. Some tips I’ve read talk about halving your extras by 50%, and it’s solid advice because if you go too hard-core you end up miserable and unable to commit to a savings goal (that mentality of “okay, I will never eat out again”). Instead, simply begin to decrease the number of lattes you drink and restaurant trips, then each week transfer that amount over into your separate travel savings account (you have that separate savings account, right?).
- Assess your debt. Debt is a burden, and you have to sort out not only if you will still be paying your debt as you travel, but which debt is reasonably okay, and which should be paid off as soon as possible. Student loan debt is a very different beast than a defaulted credit card payment, although all of it is, at the end of the day, debt. This topic is covered well on here about the debt avalanche technique, and here about finding balance. I’ll note that I chose to prioritize paying off all my credit card debt before traveling, but I maintained payments on my small student loan debt for several years of my trip.
- Increase your income. If you have a job that comfortably floats your expenses, then consider adding on a part-time job or freelance work — all this money can then go directly into your travel account!
- Stay focused and motivated. Don’t give up, some people have a situation that allows them to save up a large sum in just a handful of months (often those who can move in with parents for a while), and others will need to take several years of slow and incremental savings, figure out what camp you are in and then stick to it. Allow yourself splurges in your life, but never from your travel savings account!
My guide to saving and budgeting for long-term travel is the internet’s most comprehensive treatise on the topic. Many travelers have shared their tips on saving, but I found little information sharing advice on how to save for travel that is based on the actual research about strong personal finance and the psychology of effective savings. For several years, I ghost-blogged at a financial planning site. During those years, I consolidated my knowledge about the most sound savings principles and paired it with my 8+ years of travel experience.
The result is a comprehensive guide that will allow you to:
- Develop a clear understanding of your current debt and savings situation.
- Have a functional and practical budget designed to allow you to save for your dream trip.
- Learn how to increase the amount of money you’re saving for travel each month.
- Plan a route around the world that best opitimizes your travel goals with a realistic budget tailored to your goals and savings abilities.
- Understand how your travel style impacts your budget, as well as ideas on what that travel style will buy you in locations around the world.
- Have an exact estimate for the cost of your dream trip.
The guide is priced low so that there you have no obstacle to starting — right now — with your dream of world travel. It’s available on Kindle, PDF or ePub. Download the guide to savings and budgeting here for Amazon’s Kindle, or here for PDF and ePub files.
Travel Insurance Options
One of the most important pre-trip planning decisions is which travel insurance best meets your needs. I get this question a lot from soon-to-been round the world backpackers and volunteers. I covered the post in depth last year in the Picking Travel Insurance post if you’re interested, otherwise I’ll summarize it here.
Since 2008, I have consistently maintained travel insurance whenever I am outside of the United States, and I risked having no insurance while I was back home for a few weeks/months at a time. Travel insurance is one of my biggest safeguards, and though some people claim healthcare in developing countries is cheap enough not to justify insurance, I feel that the insurance actually your just-in-case major backup. Like if you need a medivac (in a medical helicopter) home or in case you need the repatriation of your remains. And for all the smaller things too like severe traveler’s diarrhea, transportation accidents, evacuations, etc. I also carry a separate policy for gear/property insurance, which I outline below separately.
I found both types of travelers and gear insurance far more affordable than I had anticipated and all of the companies now have very easy online interfaces. I have two main travel insurance recommendations, all recommendations are only from my personal research and experience, please read your policies and be aware of what is covered:
- World Nomads: When I left to travel in 2008 as a solo backpacker, this was the best option on the market for my style of travel, my needs for an online interface, and a company that just works hard to treat the travel community right. That holds as true years later as it did then and I use World Nomads whenever I travel solo abroad. Of note, if you are leaving for a year, it’s significantly cheaper for most World Nomads plans to buy six months and renew in six months — no clue why, but check both options.
- IMG Patriot: When I took my nieces and nephews traveling (with my niece to Asia for more than six months in 2011/2012, with my nephews to Mexico in 2015) I felt like a family plan from IMG was the best option for the two of us.
I have never made a claim with either company, but with both insurance companies, I loved how quickly and seamlessly I was able to ask questions online and then secure the policies in the weeks before we left. I have many travel friends who have used both IMG and World Nomads and everyone who has made claims generally speaks highly of these two as some of the best options on the market.
I carry a separate gear insurance that covers the expensive electronics I carry on the road. If you plan to travel with expensive gear, I highly recommend that you take out a property insurance policy that is separate from your travel insurance. I use Clements Worldwide. They are intended for expats, so you will need to choose an address overseas. For travelers, one idea is to use a guesthouse from somewhere early in your travels — they will know you and you will only need to use their address if something goes wrong. Another option is to choose an address in the region you will spend the longest. Policies are annual, but I found it far more affordable than I had anticipated.
If you read the plan details in your general travel insurance, they are really aimed at keeping you healthy and safe; I’ve not yet found one with a policy that adequately covers my gear to the level I need with my camera, lenses, laptop, smartphone, etc. I don’t get a commission from them, I just really believe in protecting your gear. I recommend you at least get a quote.
Which Credit Cards are Best for Traveling?
Credit and debit cards are yet one more concern when you’re traveling. What if you lose one? And which cards have the best international withdrawal rates?
These questions differ drastically depending on your home country, but my “What’s in Your Travel Wallet Post” is full resource for North Americans (read through the comments for suggestions from other travelers) traveling outside North America for any length of time.
Your quick five considerations for picking a travel debit and credit card:
- The Transaction Fees – When used as a credit card, most debit and credit card companies tack on a 1% to 3% foreign transaction fee.
- Withdrawal Fees – The cost of withdrawing cash from your debit bank account.
- Are any countries blocked? – Some countries are flagged as “highly likely for fraudulent activity.”
- Online Banking – Can you access your account balance abroad?
- Carry different brands – Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted and yes, you need one of each.
Also, my father is on my bank account and handles any surprising issues that crop up for me (and he deposits any rogue paychecks that come in). I am very thankful I put my dad on my account because when my debit card got money stolen from it they wanted someone in person and he was able to easily handle all of that in my name. I recommend having a trusted family member or friend who can work on your behalf if necessary.
How do I Plan My Travel Destinations and RTW Route?
If you’re at the inspiration phase of planning, read up on potential destinations with my guide to the best travel books by destination. And if you’re closer to leaving, consider my Mini Travel Guide section. Rather than an exhaustive option with too many choices and decisions, I recommend the guest-houses I loved, experiences taking you deeper into the culture, as well as the iconic sites worth your time. Also included are vegetarian tips within each country, an internet quality assessment, and tons of other personalized extras. Round the world and long-term travelers have some extra considerations, and while my mini Travel Guide is great once you’re on the ground, choosing is a whole other feat; consider these RTW route-planning tips:
- Pick one direction for your round the world trip: You’re either going east to west, or west to east. Backtracking is expensive, causes more jetlag, and is bad for the environment.
- Find creative overland routes: Local transportation is way more fun than flying, you’ll see more and have richer experiences. Pick clusters of countries to visit that share borders so you can easily cross through (also look up visa restrictions for your nationality, this can make a tough decision easier since you need to apply in advance for some countries.
- Fulfill your bucket list: This is your opportunity to cross of a lot of your bucket list items—those places and activities you’ve only dreamed of experiencing. Pick them out, plot them on a map and watch how this easily shapes your route.
- Research festivals: I adore epic, huge festivals, they’re amazingly full of life and people. The worst feeling in the world is missing a huge festival by just a week or two, so plan accordingly. Consider these festivals to throw into the mix: La Tomatina in Spain every late August. Holi the Festival of Colors in India takes place generally in March, while Thailand’s Songkran Water Festival often falls within April.
- Plot out weather trends: I planned my trip chasing summer around the world—I despise the cold and this was ideal for my preferences. Do what feels good for you, and research destinations ahead of time. Islands can be un-enjoyable during monsoon season, as can India. Australia is ideal during North American winter, but surprisingly cold and snowy during the winter if you haven’t done your research! My friends compiled a really amazing chart of the weather and when to visit South and Southeast Asia, so start there if you plan to stop in this part of the world!
- Consider RTW Tickets & Low-Cost Airlines: I cover this in more depth just below since it’s such a popular question. I work online and have no fixed timetables so I prefer to purchase one-way tickets and travel with absolute openness and flexibility. That’s not the best choice for all travelers, and if you know the exact date of return, RTW tickets can price out similarly or lower-priced than buying ticket-by-ticket. This is an ah-mazing list of low-cost airline routes.
As in previous advice, there is no wrong answer here you will love some places, feel mediocre toward others, and perhaps even leave early from a few if they just don’t jive. That’s okay; until you visit for yourself you’ll never know what it’s like and moving around from country to country is infinitely easier than I thought it was pre-RTW.
Should You Buy a RTW Ticket?
Good question! And you’re not alone in making this decision. I did not purchase one, but that’s for many reasons, including I worked from the road and didn’t have the money upfront…though I probably still wouldn’t have anyway.
Because this is such a stressful question (I thought long and hard too) I covered it in a full pro and con debate style post: Should You Buy a RTW or Book as You Go?
If you’re in a hurry, here’s the core five points within the “Buy RTW Ticket” debate:
- Flexibility: Locked into a firm route versus book as you go and accept those prices.
- Type of Flights: Airline Alliances on a RTW and budget-low-cost-no-frills on book as you go.
- Planning Stress: You either face the stress at internet cafes on the road or in your RTW prep madness at home
- Cost Comparison: How do the costs really stack up at the end of a trip?
- Choosing a RTW Tickets and budget airlines: Which one offer the best all around – service, cost, and product.
What Vaccinations do You Need?
I find this question is best answered my your nearest travel clinic. If you want an outline of the recommended shots, The Center for Disease Control is the best source on the internet for the vaccination-inclined.
As for costs, these can stack up if you use a travel clinic in the United States; consider that a travel blogging family managed to save about $1,000 by getting their shots at the beginning of their RTW trip at a very reputable travel clinic in Thailand: Cut the Cost of Travel Vaccinations. I traveled with my niece in 2011 and was responsible for choosing her vaccinations and in that post I listed out concerns for parents and the shots she got for our travels in Southeast Asia. For me, these are the shots I have right now—some are standard childhood ones, others usually just for travelers are marked with an asterisk*:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
- Tetanus/Diphtheria (Td)* (get a booster before you leave)
- Yellow Fever* (is a proof-required vaccine for several countries)
I do not have these vaccines, but some other travelers do:
- Japanese Encephalitis
- Chicken pox booster if you’ve never had it/only had the vaccine
Visas? Can I get Visas as I travel, or in Advance?
This is going to take some research on your part, because every single country on earth has different visa requirements depending on your nationality. Your government may list out each country, (for fellow Americans the government has a dense resource for visas and travel warnings), and that is a launching point. Also check the official site for country you’re visiting for more details.
In some cases you can receive a visa on arrival, others can take a week or more (India, China…) and you have to pay. In nearly every case you must adhere to very strict specifications on the length of time you are allowed to stay in the country and leave before then or face hefty fines and penalties!
Also check to ensure you are allowed to obtain the visa from an embassy in a foreign country (you can easily get a Vietnamese visa from the consulate in Thailand but it is next to impossible to get a Russian visa outside your home country). This is one of the trickier parts of traveling so do your research!
- Project Visa: Handy and visual list that allows you to drill down into specific visa requirements for every country—the information is basic, and really gives you a general yes/no on if you need a visa, with further resources..
- Visa Hunter: Easily sorted information for each country and each type of visa you might require (tourist, transit, business, etc). This is the first to go if you need to know about the need for advance or visa-on-arrival.
- Visa Mapper: Love this visual guide that maps out where you’ll need to apply in advance, apply online, or visa-on-arrival. Just select your home-country at the top and it changes the color-coded map!
How Do I Get Rid of My Stuff?
Purging for long-term travel is necessary, I was fortunate that my storage location was on the exact opposite side of the country (Los Angeles to Florida) so I sold every single possession that wouldn’t fit in my car (and subsequently my parent’s closet).
Even if you have the room and luxury of not purging before your next trip, consider stripping yourself down: minimalism is the new pink. There are a good number of online resources. This post from Zen Habits is a great start, and this one has some other great ideas. My friends Warren and Betsy wrote a great guide about purging before a trip, Getting Rid of It and then there is always this highly rated but kinda wacky Japanese approach to decluttering, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
How Should I Handle My Period on the Road?
I love the Diva Cup with every fiber of my being. It’s a reusable, medical-grade silicone menstrual cup that I fully reviewed just after my RTW finished. It’s sanitary, you never have to buy tampons on the road, and it’s ideal for remote travel when can’t dispose of trash. This is not a sexy topic, and one that embarrasses a lot of people, but in the review I give a frank overview of why you should consider going with a Diva cup rather than dealing with the hassle of hunting down tampons in a tiny town in Laos.
If you’re concerned about hygiene, check out the health section of this post for more on dealing with toilet issues, health, and illness.
US Mail Services for Travelers and Expats
What to do with your US mail is a tough call for some travelers who do not feel comfortable having a family member take care of their postal mail while they are traveling or living abroad. My parents are very good about processing my mail, and my father regularly sorts, opens, and scans anything important. That being said, there are options perhaps even better than a family member if you anticipate more than junk mail coming to your address (and if you will be gone for several months.
Earth Class Mail is a good option I according to other travelers — they scan your mail and allow you to sort what you would like them to do with it via an online interface. You can trash it, forward to yourself (anywhere in the world), forward to a family member for handling, or view the scanned image of the mail and deal with it when you return!
St Brendan’s Isle: This is highly rated in the forums and does a roaring business with the cruisers and snow-birds who leave the country for some time each year. Affordable services and good online reviews.
Packing and Gear
Packing Lists and Ideas
I don’t even want to talk about how much stress I allowed to form over packing for my RTW trip. A lot. I debated, I was sure there was a right and wrong answer. There isn’t. There is no right and wrong answer and you can buy nearly everything you’d want while you’re traveling.I promise, they have stores abroad to replace your cotton-tees, and even legitimate fancy-outdoors stores like Columbia and North Face in the big cities (Dehli, Bangkok, Quito etc). I also share sample packing list from other male, female, family, and RTW travelers. Electronics and gear is covered in the next section. And an initial general packing tip—packing cubes rock (I use the Eagle Creek packing cubes, but have also heard good things from traveler’s who are more the drawstring mesh bag type).
So, what should you pack? Fancy super-tech clothes that wick moisture and block out UV rays or should you opt for your favorite, comfortable clothes? You’re likely going to want a few dry-fit super clothes if you plan for adventure activities, but other than that, generally stick with clothes you like to wear that are good fabrics and easily layer. Before my RTW I went overboard sent many things home. I now carry and/or recommend you consider:
- An SPF shirt for handy hiking/diving/snorkeling. My women’s Under Armor shirt was amazingly durable (men’s version). Six+ years later and it still looks new.
- A pair of quick dry adjustable pants. My Columbia hiking pants still look great years later. I also have a very functional/comfortable pair of Northface hiking pants, but the Columbia brand pants are far more stylish.
- Hiking socks; these are no joke, take care of your feet. I love SmartWool socks; they are worth the investment (one will do, or two if you’re super outdoorsy).
- A good wool jacket a thermal or shirt underneath. Icebreaker’s merino wool hoodies are pricey, but they are warm, compact, and very travel-friendly. I find the cost worth it.
- A thermal undershirt like this Under Armor one makes a great base layer if you’re traveling in cold weather. I was desperately happy for this when I visited China in the winter.
- Really good shoes. I brought these New Balance walking shoes and a pair of Chaco sandals. I have varied it up since then, adding a pair of good Havaianas instead of the Chacos, and lightweight running shoes instead of the hiking weight boots unless I know I will be hiking, since I am not doing a lot of the outdoorsy. But given the nature of my RTW, I still would have opted for the versatile chacos and hiking shoes.
That takes care of the super-clothes and shoes. Unless you are accustomed to this type of clothing, and you wear it on a regular basis anyway, there is no reason to transform your entire travel wardrobe into expensive travel clothing.
So, the pressing question, should you bring jeans and cotton shirts? Other than the handful of expensive, special travel-clothing items, I add to my backpack my favorite cotton tee of the moment, some other t-shirts, one long-sleeve shirt, a tank top, two skirts of varying lengths, and a pair of capri pants and my jeans. Some long-term travelers would tack me to a dart-board for this advice, but I do actually travel with a pair of jeans and I wouldn’t stop for the world. Yes, they take ages to dry, they smell bad if they’re wet for too long, and they are heavy. But I’m used to them, they’re super comfortable, they’re good in cold weather and for going out.
Toiletries and Personal Items
My kit is pretty streamlined and simple. I use this Lewis N. Clark toiletry bag—it’s the perfect size and I like the handle on one end so I can hang it from a hook if needed. The bag is also thin and pliable, so it squishes into tight spots. And I use these carry-on compatible squeeze containers for shampoos and soap. A few other personal things I find convenient:
- Diva Cup: For the ladies, an alternative to pads/tampons. I highly recommend you at least read my review and see if it’s a good fit for you.
- Wrinkle releaser: Totally not necessary on most RTW trips, but I always have this in my bag now since I usually couple a backpacking trip with business and conferences too.
Other things to consider:
- Microfiber travel towel: They fold up small and dry quickly
- Silk-blend sleep sheet: A must for hostels, and good for long-term travel in particular.
- Headlamp flashlight: So handy! Power is not a guarantee in many places, this is a must.
- Mini set of eating utensils: Small enough you won’t notice it until you desperately need a spoon-fork-knife!
- Travel adapter set: Necessary. I always carry a big one like this 4-in-1 from Lewis N. Clark to ensure I can always charge my laptop, and then a few stray smaller ones usually float around my bag since I have a lot of electronics to charge.
- Belkin power strip: Ideal if you are very technology heavy; you can easily charge many items and then just need one adapter.
- Door stop and safety whistle: Though I didn’t take these on my RTW, many solo female friends swear by both these items for giving them more piece of mind on the road. The door stop is a basic precaution in hotel rooms where the door might not latch correctly, and though the simple one is cheap, this high-tech one would do a much better job.
- What Not to Pack, a round-up post of tips and ideas by a variety of travelers.
- Solo female: Devon shares an amazingly detailed breakdown of her packing list.
- Solo female: Very well done and interactive tabs and detailed lists.
- Couples: Skott and Shawna share a couples RTW packing list.
- Solo male: Dave from Go Backpacking shares his male RTW packing list, as does Gerard from GQ Trippin.
- Family: With 2 Kids in Tow share family packing list for two toddler age children.
- Family: Away Together share their comprehensive gear for travel and homeschooling too.
- Family: Great list from a road-trip long-term traveling family.
- WWOOFing: Beers & Beans have a great list and description for packing if you plan to work on organic farms.
Electronics & Backup Solutions
After a couple years on the road, the weird positions of working from the road caught up with me. In addition to the gear listed here, I have a complete ergonomic travel system with a laptop stand and friendly tech that prevents carpal tunnel and RSI injuries. If you’re keen on that, I have listed out The Best Ergonomic and Portable Travel Gear.
Computer: I always carry a laptop since I work from the road (more on that here) and after 4+ years of travel it’s never been stolen (knock on wood for me, will ya). In the past I used a PacSafe in sketchy areas. There is also the option of packing a cheap netbook too if you’re not working on the road. And really, a tablet could do the trick in that case too. Read Should I Bring my Laptop for an in depth discussion as other travelers weigh in on the options.
Camera: I carry a Panasonic GX7 Micro Four-Thirds. For me, I consider micro four thirds cameras the ultimate travel cameras and my review of my Panasonic shares why. And in 2014 my camera was named a top travel camera by NatGeo magazine too. These cameras are fantastic. Basically, it’s almost to the level of a DSLR (with detachable lenses and everything) but at least half the size and weight of traditional DSLR and far nicer photos than a point and shoot. Nothing wrong with a point and shoot though (a friend captures great ones with the Cannon Powershot deluxe point and shoot) and it’s what I used for the first two years traveling.
iPhone/Smartphone: I adore my unlocked iPhone with every fiber of my being; if you unlock your smartphone you can buy cheap SIM cards (about $2) and plans for well less than $10 a month to use on the road. This helps when meeting up with other travelers and calling guesthouses to book ahead. Also, the cameras and social sharing features are fantastic and mean you don’t always have to carry your bigger camera when your little one takes 5 mega-pixel photos! If you are heading to SEA, my techie friends put together a great list of SIM card advice for Southeast Asia.
Water Purification: Consider a SteriPen, which uses a UV light to sterilize unsafe water in about a minute. I used this extensively throughout India, also Laos, and other really undeveloped countries where filtered, clean water is harder to come by. The SteriPen Traveler is now a great priced option (it’s less expensive but as awesome as the one I used and reviewed) and you can check out the reviews on Amazon for the SteriPen. I pair this with my Klean Kanteen water-bottle and save money and the environment (fewer plastic bottles!). I have seen the LifeStraw in action too, and it looks like a great all-in-one option.
Kindle or eBook Reader: The Kindle book reader is an amazing device and though I resisted it, this electronic readers transformed the way I consume books and internet content.I expect these will be a standard travel accessory for all travelers soon. Major pros include: battery life (20+ hours), WiFi, hundreds of books at your fingertips but no extra weight in your bag. The one con is carrying yet another piece of electronics! Consider the Kindle, Nook, or an iPad.
Rechargeable Battery Pack: I carry a very small backup battery supply that gives me two extra charges on my cell phone, a charge on my Kindle and the nicer ones can even give tablets nearly full charge of stored backup power (really anything that charges by USB). My has been indefensible on long bus-train-plane rides. Tech mags have rated the Innergie charger quite high but it’s more expensive than one like the model I carry, an Anker Astro, which will also does the trick.
Depending on your travel situation, you should bring a backup hard drive (I use the Western Digital passports and they are compact and easily hold a terabyte now), and/or extra memory sticks. Also consider online data backup programs. I use CrashPlan, but Mozy or Carbonite also well-regarded backup options.
This is also a great Lifehacker piece with ideas on how to store and organize your travel photos. I use SmugMug to run my site, and I like knowing they are there. I also backup my iPhone to Google Drive. And then I use a backup hard drive for immediate backup and for storing the many gigs of travel photos I take every month.
Read my detailed post: How a Long-Term Traveler Backs Up Heaps of Data
How To Keep Electronics Safe
This is a tough question and one that every traveler handles differently. On my end, I left on my RTW trip with enough money budgeted in for a brand new computer and with the assumption that it would get stolen at some point and I would need an immediate replacement. That never happened, but it is still how I think about the situation and as a freelancer I plan for this to happen and have my contingency fund in place.
Though on my first RTW trip I did not carry insurance on my electronics, I carry annual insurance on my valuables from Clements Insurance (though have never had to make a claim, thankfully!). It’s really affordable and I recommend it for peace of mind.
For safety, I carried a PacSafe mesh backpack net with me and it covered backpack and my gear and then could be affixed to a solid object. It’s an expensive device and I used it perhaps six times the whole trip, but when I did use it I was so grateful to have that extra layer of protection. Other people have carried one and claim it’s heavy (it is) and a waste of space (it is if you don’t ever use it…) so it’s really a personal preference! I think if you are a super budget traveler you may use it more than mid-range or higher budgets because of the types of guesthouses/hostels you are using.
There have been days I went sightseeing all over a new city with a heavy computer strapped on and causing sweat to drip down my back … but I knew it was the cost of bringing my job on the road with me and was willing to take the discomfort for the peace of mind that I still had my computer (and thus a way to make money) at the end of the day. This is not often the case, but it will happen if you’re at a guest house or hostel that just doesn’t seem very safe.
As far as visibility, I used mine at coffee shops and that sort of thing, but I did keep in mind the situation and if it was appropriate to bring it out in public (like I wouldn’t show it at the beginning of a 16 hour train ride in India if I planned to sleep at some point).
Netbooks and tablets are a good compromise for backpackers who want the convenience of a laptop without the stress of an expensive device! For freelancers it comes down to just being one of the sacrifices you make to travel.
How to Pick the Right RTW Backpack?
We cover choosing the right RTW backpack in depth on a page all it’s own since it’s such an important part to enjoying a happy trip. But in case you’re in a hurry, here are five super-quick backpack picking tips:
- Go as light as you think you need: I have never yet met a backpacker who wishes they opted for the larger pack. This will be carried up hills, racing for trains, and all over the world – keep extra weight out of your pack by picking just the right sized pack!
- Comfort over style: Cannot stress this one enough. Spend some time in your outdoors store, ask them for weights, and carry the weighted down backpack around the store for at least 10-minutes. Then go home and think about it. An ill-fitting backpack is exceedingly uncomfortable at best and can permanently injure your back at worst.
- Carry-on size or you pay extra!: The US is not the only place you pay extra for luggage. Low-cost airlines all over the world charge for luggage. If you can meet the carry-on size guidelines, and pack the right sized liquids and all of that, it’s may be worth saving money each time you fly low-cost airlines.
- Consider your backpack and investment: Backpacks are not cheap. Most run in the US $150-$250 range, which means this is a serious investment for your trip. The good news is these packs are built to last, my Eagle Creek backpack lasted in pristine condition for three years before one minor compression buckle broke (easily replaced in Asia) and is still kickin’.
- Properly adjust your pack: Buying a well-fitting backpack is only half the battle – now you have to ensure it’s adjusted properly. I have, no joke, readjusted the packs of at least two dozen backpackers over the past several years as their pained expressions on their faces tell me straps are misplaced, too tight, torso too short, etc. Take the time to fit it perfectly to your torso size.
Purses and Day-Packs
Your main RTW backpack is likely the one that causes you the most stress when you’re planning your trip, and the smaller packs are secondary. But in the long-run, the pack or purse you carry with your day in and day out as you sightsee is nearly as important as your main backpack. I researched ruthlessly over the past seven years. And I’ve carried dozens of different day-packs/purses.
- In 2008, I left with a North Face Surge laptop bag, it’s sturdy and, more than 50 countries later, my bag looks as nice today as it did when I left. Now though, I usually only use the Surge on weekend US trips.
- In 2014, I slimmed down my electronics bag to a smaller bag to fit my slim Macbook Air, my camera gear, and a hoodie. My Timbuk2 bag does that well and I recommend their bags.
- The harder piece of the puzzle was my purse … I have looked for years for a cross-body purse that holds a lot, is well-made, and yet attractive. That was a tall order. This Baggallini Everywhere Travel bag is the closest I have found. It hits on everything you need in a travel purse. My favorite aspects: the side-pockets easily hold small water bottles, it’s very roomy inside (holds my camera during day-trips), easily wipes clean, and comes in pretty colors. Add to that a wide, very comfortable strap and a lot of pockets and it’s a solid place to start if you like cross-shoulder bags. This post outlines some alternatives if this purse isn’t quite what you want.
- Now, not all women travelers carry a purse, and if you don’t like carrying a purse in your daily life, there’s a good chance you won’t when you travel either? Instead consider a very small day-pack (my best friend carried a very small Camelbak pack without the water sack and it worked wonderfully).
- I also dig the hobo sack-like bags that you can purchase in the markets all over the developing world (and replace since it will rip easily).
- In 2015, depending on the type of trip I use these tiny fold-away bags too. I still carry my Timbuk2 bag on travel days, but I use this ChicoBag for exploring the city with an extra lense and a bottle of water. This one looks good too.
Through it all though, consider these key factors when you are picking a purse and/or day-pack:
- Sturdy fabrics and zippers: A quality bag, fabric, and zipper gives the bag the best chance of making it through your entire trip. And it could foil pick-pocketing or someone trying to razor the bottom of your purse.
- Pockets: This is an essential component to a great bag in my opinion; I like to have everything from my passport to my chap-stick with its own pocket.
- Flaps, zippers, velco, or snaps: Pickpockets are clever, and a good thief can work around any type of purse closure, but the zipper and very strong velcro (or hooks) are the best deterrents.
- Cushion for electronics: If your day-bag will carry your laptop, consider one with a cushioned compartment.
- Easily fits a water bottle: Both your purse and your laptop bag should have pockets and the ability to easily carry water since there will be many places you must solely rely on bottled water, and it helps to have an easy way to carry it!
I wrote a book on volunteering! And while I think that’s the best place to start, if you’re keen to begin your research right now through the interwebs I point you to these resources and articles.
- How to Ethically Volunteer Anywhere in the World: A guest post I wrote with a detailed breakdown on first steps for volunteering internationally.
- Resources for Understanding the Developing World: Great articles and posts to get you started on understanding development and aid issues.
- Questions to Ask Your Volunteer Organization: A full list of questions to ask before you volunteer.
- Check Out Grassroots Volunteering: A small, growing resource of free and low-cost organizations and social enterprises all over the world. I launched this site in 2011 as a personal passion project.
Let me be upfront in saying that I am far from the homeschooling authority, but having homeschooled my niece for a year and a half, much of that from the Southeast Asia, I will have found that traveling parents are looking for information on this topi , and in the international community information is still pretty scarce.
My master homeschooling resource page is the best place to start, it aggregates all the posts and information from around the web related to unschooling, homeschooling, and educating youngsters from the road.
A running series on the site take place on the first Tuesday of every month and addresses some of the fears and obstacles travelers face in deciding to travel around the world. These are the very detailed posts (some are 4000+ words) in this series:
- Fear, Vulnerablity, and the Less Sexy Side of Travel (introduction post)
- Why I Decided to Travel the World
- On Safety and Solo Female Travel
- Yes, Sometimes Travel is Lonely
- Health and Travel Sickness
Safety and Solo Female Travel
This topic is best addressed in a long and detailed post I wrote about the subject of safety, which outlines which safety fears are misguided (or perhaps unfortunately guided by the media rather than fact) and which are informed fears. It also provides practical ways to tell between the two.
Eight Tips for Solo Female Travelers (each described in detail in the post).
- Understand local cultural norms.
- Involve others in your safety.
- Carry a doorstop and safety whistle.
- Stay aware.
- Stay sober.
- Know basic self-defense.
- Carry travel insurance.
- Pay for your safety (even if that means a paying a bit more for a cab or hotel).
Posts worth reading on the subject of safety
- An Honest Look at Fears, Safety and Solo Female Travel
- How to Develop the Situational Awareness of Jason Bourne (a great piece)
- Revisiting the solo female travel experience
- The Women Traveling Solo Question
- The Danger Map of the World: Fear vs. Awareness
Safely Find Street Eats and New Food Experiences
Many first-time travelers fear the local foods in new places. It’s natural to have some trepidation where food is concerned, and some caution is certainly healthy since food-borne illnesses are a top cause of travel sickness. That being said, you’ll miss a wonderful part of your experience if you stick to the perceived “safe” foods listed in popular guidebooks, or just to the tourist-sanctioned restaurants.
With a few tips in hand you can happily enjoy street foods, local cuisine, fascinating markets, dinners with locals, and new flavors—even if you’re a vegetarian traveler (I am too!).
- Eat your food piping hot and fresh; lukewarm food can harbor bacteria.
- Focus on fresh, cooked to order.
- Find the busy restaurants and street stalls, others have already vetted them with their tummies!
- Drink clean water (that can mean: tap, bottled, filtered, or cleaned with devices like the SteriPen).
- Eat at appropriate times of the day (some cultures eat the biggest meal of the day at lunch, so follow suit and align your eating habits to the local culture).
- Avoid porous fresh fruits and veggies. In more developed countries you’re fine eating uncooked foods, but in places with poor water sanitation consider unpeeled apples, grapes, lettuce, and tomatoes off-limits from street stalls and often even restaurants.
When you’re looking for new flavors and foods, search Wikipedia (Wikipedia.org) for local cuisine basics, as well as travel blogs to further research fun new foods to try in your chosen country. And if you want a food-focused trip, use the Food Traveler’s Handbook to find cheap and safe eats anywhere in the world — the author also has this handy and dense guide to safely eating street food anywhere in the world.
Alternative Eating Options
I love eating street eats in in many countries, but that’s just one type of food experience. In addition to shopping in the markets and sampling the street carts, there are other ways to share a meal in an authentic and local way. Consider adding these options into your next trip to round out the types of food experiences you have in each new place.
- Come Cook and Eat: A self-described “intercultural culinary exchange project located in people’s homes all around the world.” Sounds awesome and I am looking for an opportunity to try it out on future travels.
- EatWith: A brilliant site with a global community that allows you to pay to dine with local hosts in their homes. They are growing rapidly so if they don’t have an experience in your next city, check back for the next city!
- Couchsurfing: You can use this site to find meetups with locals and other expats in the area. It’s a great way to make connections in a new city and they often make for a much better social eating experience.
- Take a cooking class: Cooking classes are fun, the good ones add in some history, and you learn how to prepare a handful of dishes directly from a local. You can ask heaps of questions, experiment with the flavors, and generally delve deeper into the region’s food culture.
- Find a market: Using the safe street eating tips above, head to a local market and sample away! If you are genuinely curious and open you can find some neat new foods and dishes.
Should I Stay in Hostels, Hotels, or Free Options?
One fear cropping up in some emails I receive concerns lodging. How do I find places to stay on the road and how do know they’re safe. What about those free options like Couchsurfing and WWOOFing? I use a combination of resources and it really depends on which country I visit – some places truly don’t require advanced booking! While others are sold out weeks in advance.
Staying Occupied on Long Travel Days
So, you’re hitting the road and staring straight into the face of an 18-hour bus ride. Or a 12-hour train. Or a 14-hour flight. It can be brutal, but you’re likely carrying some gadgets so there are a lot of options for your long travel days.
- Use a Kindle: There are heaps of great travel reads; I list out country-specific book recs here if you’re keen to load up on books for your trip.
- Listen to Audiobooks: If you get sick when you read on transport, you’ll want to invest in a good set of earphones and an Audible subscription. I love making my way through local reads via audiobook.
- Stock Your Phone with Podcasts: This post shares my favorite free resources for learning nearly anything, and there’s an entire section for awesome podcasts. You could find a destination-specific podcast, or download a bunch of ones that always deliver: RadioLab, This American Life, 99% Invisible.
Laundry on the Road?
Don’t fret about this! There are places to do laundry in every country and if I am trekking or really can’t find something I hand-wash it (this is often the case with underwear if I run out I just hand wash a few!). Laundry can be really cheap to have someone wash and dry it for you, and if you’re in a pinch then you’ll need to hand wash.
When I volunteered in Nepal I had to handwash my own clothes because we were outside of the tourist areas, but most locals and guest house owners will provide you with a couple buckets and you can make quick work of it. Though it’s not glamorous, learning how to really get your clothes clean on the road is a bit of a rite of passage for long-term travelers ;-)
What’s the Deal with Sunscreen?
I used to be surprised by how often this question crops up … but now I get it, fellow pasty white Westerners are concerned about all of the adventure activities and staying sun-safe.
So, yes, I wear oodles of sunscreen when I am out sight-seeing. I also bring one fancy SPF shirt and use if for diving/snorkeling/hiking/on a very long sightseeing day. This really does wonders for keeping a sunburn away.
Also, pack a wide-brimmed floppy hat and then actually wear it!
The last consideration is bringing the sunscreen with you. In Asia most of the sun creams and face washes have tons of extra “whitening chemicals” so I bring a decent amount of my favorite sunscreen (Neutrogena) to get me through. But if I run out, it’s easy to restock over there if (get the children’s sunscreen to avoid the whitening chemicals!).
Handling US Taxes While You Travel
Let’s start upfront by noting that I am not a tax accountant so take this all with a grain of salt; it’s my personal experience with taxes from the road.
I have an accountant in the United States who does my taxes, I went this route about five years ago when I started writing off expenses related to freelancing and running myself as a business—I feel that using an accountant saves me money in the end because he knows all of the extra discounts as well as the specifics so I don’t mistakenly file something incorrectly! Also though, because I never travel for a full year anymore, I tend to have him file an extension for me and then I do my taxes when I come home. This works for me but might not if you’re out of the country from April through October (when the extensions must be filed). In that case, get everything in order before you leave.
My parents handle mailing in any of my W2s to my accountant and the rest is taken care of by my accountant. I am not particularly meticulous and really suck at organization but yet somehow to easily file each year. I prefer Paypal payments when possible because they are easy to track and convenient.
I keep a Google Spreadsheet to log all of my incoming money, then I log expenses (like internet on the road, any extra room costs for internet on the road/a desk in the room, etc) as well in various categories with the date, country, expense in local currency and expense in international currency. This is where I keep track of anything extra that crops up that you might forget later down the line—log it in the spreadsheet and then send to your account for magical wonders because all you need to send in are the category totals and they put the deductions in the proper spots! :)
If you’re gone for a while and/or living abroad, consider combing through this site for advice: Taxes for Expats.com
Working, Traveling, Blogging, & Digital Nomads
This entire section now lives on a separate page dedicated to the unique issues facing working travelers. This new page covers all the major issues you might face:
- How to Find Freelance Work
- Teaching English Overseas
- Find an Overseas Job
- Travel Blogging & Making Money
- Freelance Travel Writing
- Becoming a Travel Photographer
Let me know if you have any other questions or something I can help you with; I am happy to lend an ear or help you find the resources you need to plan your own world travels. I look forward to chatting! :)
Other places you can find me:
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