Last Updated on July 20, 2021
You’re planning an around the world trip itinerary. Congrats! My one-year trip turned into a decade of wandering and it transformed my life. My own one-year trip itinerary took me through 15 countries and countless experiences—but narrowing down my dream countries to just 15 was hard.
After so many years on the road—and after several round the world trips since that first one—I have some hard learned advice for anyone planning their own route. If you’re planning a RTW trip, it’s usually a long-term route of at least a few months and up to a year around the world, or more. These are eight ideas—eight steps really—that will help you narrow your travel itinerary down to those stops along your route that will fit your budget, highlight the most memorable places to you, and make sense for the trip you’ve always dreamed of taking.
1. Make an itinerary bucket list for the entire world.
The inspiration phase of planning your round the world trip is one of the most fun. Maybe you already have a laundry list of places you hope to cram into your trip itinerary. Or perhaps you’ve nailed down a few key experiences but you’re open to more inspiration. You should absolutely start with a long bucket list of locations all over the world, because weather and route might automatically strike a few off the list for you.
If you’re curious for more travel ideas, browse the best travel books sorted by destination, or search for long-reads and podcast recommendations on my Destination Travel Guides. Use these books and resources for inspiration on not only places to add to your round the world route, but activities, too. Perhaps you read The Devil’s Picnic and subsequently add Paris to your list for that stinky but toothsome Époisses de Bourgogne cheese, or you add in Bhutan because of its intriguing portrayal in The Geography of Bliss (that’s what has it on the itinerary for my next RTW trip!). Books and podcasts are a phenomenal way to expand your idea of what is possible on your trip.
Once you have a list of dream destinations for your travel itinerary, highlight up to five that are your absolute priorities—these will become the bedrock of your around the world itinerary. The rest of the places on your list will slot in around those stops based on timing, weather, and more. How granularly you plan is personal—some travelers leave with a precise list of destinations and timelines, while others plan the first couple of months.
My three key travel destinations:
For my first year, I had three key activities on my list. The first was diving the Great Barrier Reef—that’s why my trip started in Australia. The second was meeting my cousin in India and backpacking north from Mumbai together for two months before ending our time together at a volunteer placement in Nepal. The third was time-sensitive as I had always dreamed of attending the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which takes place every August in Scotland.
Later, when I traveled with my 11-year-old niece for six months in Southeast Asia, I led her through some basic Google searches so that she could see what was on offer. We planned our joint RTW itinerary together centered around her three biggies: an ethical elephant encounter, ziplining somewhere, and visiting Angkor Wat.
2. Pick a direction around the world.
From your home country, your travel itinerary will take you either east to west, or west to east around the world. Backtracking is not ideal—it’s expensive, causes more jet lag, and is bad for the environment. Use this strategy whether you use a round the world ticket (which requires this stipulation) or if you book flights as you travel.
Pros and cons of traveling east:
- Science says this direction is harder on your body and produces more jet lag. The short of it is because you are losing time when you fly through time several zones, but your body actually prefers cycles slightly longer than 24 hours, not shorter.
- You’ll need to become a pro at minimizing jet lag so you don’t lose several days to it in each new location.
- If you’re planning a very long RTW trip, perhaps 18 months or more, and your itinerary creeps around the world, then you will likely not notice the difference much.
Pros and cons of traveling west:
- As noted, your body actually prefers days that run longer than 24 hours, so your internal clock has a much easier time adding hours into your day. This means fewer nights adjusting and staring at the hotel ceiling at 3am.
- Your body can do at least two hours of time zone jumping in this direction without having a noticeable effect on you, so it’s ideal to slowly hop west around the world. And if you’re crossing the Pacific from the U.S., your largest time zone change will likely occur at the beginning of your trip, so you can then enjoy more relaxing travel for the many months afterwards.
How I decided my RTW itinerary direction:
I was lucky that two of my key experiences could bookend my trip. Scotland and Australia are not close, so it was easy to plan many of my other dream destinations to fill the space between these countries. Since I planned to leave the U.S. in November, it was easy to surmise that starting my trip in Australia, which was entering summer, made the most sense. Then I would make my way west toward Scotland for Edinburgh Fringe, handily skirting both winter in Europe and summer in Asia.
3. Find creative overland routes.
Whew, you now have a list of dream destinations and a direction of travel. Now it’s time to fill in the space in your world trip itinerary. And you’ll do that by using local transportation, which is a lot more fun than flying—you’ll see more of the country and culture, and you’ll have richer travel experiences.
Go back now to those handful of key destinations from your bucket list that. These are the foundational bedrocks of your RTW itinerary. These dots on the map should lend a rough overview of a route. If they don’t, if one is just an outlier that makes it hard to see logical jumps, narrow your list down to four, and see if that helps—if you truly love the idea of an experience, but it doesn’t fit this trip it might make a great trip on its own in a couple years time.
Now, your itinerary needs the details, and those usually come from visiting clusters of bordering countries—you’ll be crossing overland among many of these destinations. (For that to work, however, check visa restrictions for your nationality as some countries require visas in advance, or don’t allow crossings at certain borders). Popular routes (backpacking Southeast Asia, for example), have only a few restrictions and those are easily handled online, or in the days before your border crossing.
Start dotting the map with the countries that are very close to your bedrock destinations. That looks like this: If trekking in Nepal is a bedrock item, and India’s Golden Triangle and Sri Lanka were both on your dream list, then it makes sense to add them into your route, since you’ll definitely be in the region.
My creative overland routes:
As I planned my itinerary, a dear friend announced she wanted to meet me in Florence, Italy in June. That became another bedrock item with a firm date, so I now had a time I had to leave South Asia and head to Eastern Europe. Nearby Croatia was on my tentative list, and I had a friend in Bosnia, so both of those became stops on my itinerary that helped give it shape. Prague hadn’t been on my list, but I decided to move north through Eastern Europe after leaving Bosnia, and I filled in adventurous stops that would take me from my friend in Italy in June to Scotland in August—plenty of time for rafting in Slovenia, finding charming towns in Czech Republic, biking Amsterdam like a local, and walking through the Lake District of England first!
4. Research festivals in your favored locations.
Local festivals around the world are amazingly full of life, culture, and fun. It’s a huge letdown when you learn too late that you missed a major religious and celebratory festival by just a few days. And it’s also a shock if you arrive thinking it’s shoulder season but you really arrived during Brazil’s carnival.
Plan your route to coincide with the dates of festivals that seem most fun for you (this is especially important for trips with kids, because they love the excitement, colors, and foods at these types of events. You’ll need to book accommodation early depending on the event, so that may take some flexibility from your world travel route, but it’s worth it.
Here are a few favorite annual festivals that many travelers plan around: La Tomatina in Spain in late August; Holi the Festival of Colors in India around early March; Thailand’s Songkran Water Festival often falls within April and its Loy Krathong Lantern Festival falls in late October or early November.
Festivals around the world I sought out:
When my cousin told me should could only meet in India in February, and I knew we’d be there for two months, I went into planning mode to decide where we should celebrate Holi the Festival of Colors. It was a real highlight of my trip and I am so glad our world travel itinerary allowed us to experience this incredible Indian festival. Then, of course, was the Fringe Festival—that was one of my bedrock destinations.
5. Play Tetris with locations to fit your travel budget.
I stuck to an amazing year-long world travel budget that came in under $20,000. The only way I could do that was by carefully planning my time to favor budget-friendly countries, and then add in high-cost countries in smaller supply.
Research each of your dream destinations ahead of time because some places you might assume are budget actually cost more than you imagine (a safari in Africa is not cheap, nor is accommodation in much of Africa, but visiting a dream destination on the continent is worth it). Japan may be in Asia, but it’s pricey, too. Central America and Mexico are easy on your budget, as are parts of South America.
How I made my RTW travel budget work:
Australia, England, Scotland, and Ireland were mega expensive and represented three of my eleven months on the road. India and Nepal were, by far, the cheapest places (even cheaper than backpacking Southeast Asia), and it was actually difficult to go over budget during the three-and-a-half months that I backpacked South Asia. I spent the other months in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, two regions that are in the discount to mid-range. All told, I was able to easily average $50 a day, even though some days in Europe topped $100.
6. Plan around weather trends.
On your trip, research destinations ahead of time and plan according to your own weather preferences. While it’s not likely you will hit every destination in your preferred season, you should know when monsoon season makes the islands un-enjoyable, or when blizzards will thwart a planned ski trip. To jumpstart your research, my friends compiled an amazing chart of weather trends across South and Southeast Asia. You can also research using this great rundown of shoulder season locations around the world, and this European shoulder season list, and this very cool map of a a sample round the itinerary featuring perfect weather in every location.
Why I chased summer around the world:
I planned my trip itinerary to chase summer around the world. As a native Floridian, my tolerance for heat is higher than most others, and I deeply enjoy warmth. A year of summer was lovely. And it’s also way easier to pack for long-term travel when you can leave behind thick jackets and boots.
7. Consider how you will fly.
When planning your itinerary, you have to consider more than just major long-haul flights. On my travels, I research local budget airlines too, and I always have a good idea of which regions of the world offer affordable puddle-jumper flights. If you’re considering buying round the world tickets, read my insider tips and advice first!
Southeast Asia has AirAsia and Vietjet, among others. Europe has many budget carriers: Vueling, Ryan Air, and EasyJet. And JetStar has good flight deals in South Asia. By checking for budget airline routes, I know that I can easily visit more countries in a region if there are sub $100 flights around the area. (Tip: this is an amazing interactive map of low-cost airline routes).
My transportation choices:
I priced out my year on the road and found it was cheaper to combine overland travel with local carriers than it would have been to buy a RTW ticket up front. I also have a guide to how I find good flight deals, since I never buy round the world airfare. Generally, flights are likely necessary unless you plan an entirely overland route around the world, but flights are harmful if you solely rely on this form of transportation, so truly consider how you can incorporate other options, such as buying a Eurorail ticket in Europe, or a Greyhound bus ticket to travel down the east coast of Australia.
8. Remove some destinations from your trip itinerary.
There is no wrong way to plan your route around the world, and there is no perfect number of places that you can visit in a year—it all depends on what you’re looking for on your trip. And no matter how carefully you plan, you will love some places, feel mediocre toward others, and perhaps even leave early from a few. You won’t know until you set out which type of places and experiences best fit your long-term travel style.
But please keep in mind that the pace of short-term travels is very different from a multi-month trip. Create a route that travels slowly, avoids the dreaded travel-fatigue, and includes destinations you have long dreamed of visiting. To do that, you now need to take a critical eye to your trip and trim the fat. Is there something you added it because it seemed fun and was moderately close, but it wasn’t a bedrock item? Or perhaps it’s a location you love the idea of so much that you know you will plan a trip there in the future if you skip it now. Snip those from your world travel itinerary right now and you will be shooting me an email of thanks once you’re on the road.
The countries I cut from my itinerary:
The best advice other travelers gave me when I asked for itinerary advice in a travel forum was to remove an entire leg of the trip. I had hoped to backpack Scandinavia between my time in the Czech Republic and Amsterdam, but long-term travelers assured me that I would be grateful for wiggle room in my itinerary by that stage of my trip (nine months into it). Plus, they accurately pointed out that I just couldn’t swing these very expensive countries on my limited travel budget. Turns out that I burned out a month before reaching Czech Republic and camped out in Slovenia for an extra two weeks—if I had been dead-set on Scandinavia, I would have never had time to do that while still making it to Edinburgh Fringe in time! (And let’s not even think about what Scandinavia would have done to my travel budget!).
If you’re overwhelmed about planning the nitty-gritty details on a months-long trip around the world, know that a rough route suffices. All you truly need before you leave home is logistics for the first couple of weeks—you can easily sort out the rest on the road. I promise.
Really, I promise. It seems scary but I swear to you that you will be grateful for flexibility once you land, and that it’s completely possible to plan the smaller details as you go. Moving between countries and regions was infinitely easier than I had anticipated before my first round the world.
Your Next Steps for Planning a Round the World Itinerary
Research places around the world and assemble a dream list of locations. That’s really the first step and should be a lot of fun.
While my travel books selections are a starting point, you can also peruse guidebooks for inspiration. I always buy a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide for my first planned destination (and then I swap it along the way for each new country), and before my first round the world trip I checked out a stack of 25 guidebooks from my library. Do your research and dream big before you even begin selecting an itinerary and paring down your list of destinations.
This is my core page compiling resources on How to Travel the World and here are a few other pages sharing advice specifically for long-term travel planning.
- How Much Does it Cost to Travel the World
- How to Save for Travel
- Free Destination Travel Guides
- Best Credit and Debit Cards for Travel
- How to Pack for Long-Term Travel
- How to Pick the Right Travel Insurance