How to Plan a Trip Around the World: Timing Is Everything

Disclaimer: This post most specifically pertains to U.S. passport holders. Since travel requirements differ greatly between citizens of different countries, I cannot effectively speak to the requirements of individual countries.

Everything I suggested in the previous segment, How to Plan a Trip Around the World: Money Matters, is designed to save money and stretch our savings to help us make it around the world. But time is also an essential commodity when tackling such an endeavor as this. So, Angela and I have made adjustments there as well, slowly shifting not only our spending habits but also our schedule to become better prepared for this adventure.

Procrastination is not an option as multiple elements of this plan involve events that can only be described as prerequisite for the following steps. We have had to identify those prerequisites as early as possible in order to have everything done before we leave.

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So, here is a list of tasks to be completed, presented as chronologically as possible.

  1. Decide you want to travel around the world. (Duh, but you have to want it!)
  2. Establish a timeframe (departure and return dates) and a loose schedule for when you hope to be where (e.g. Europe from June to August, Middle East from August to October, etc.). But keep it really loose at the beginning. Prices, weather, and visa concerns will force you to tighten the timeframe up soon enough.
  3. Identify passport, visa, and vaccination requirements. All three of these take time to get scheduled and invariably involve a third party that can seldom be rushed to meet your deadlines. And, especially when it comes to the visa requirements, they can get complex. Get them out of the way, or you’ll be agonizing over priority package delivery in the days before you depart.
  4. Apply for mileage-earning credit cards if you don’t already own them. I detailed the benefits of three cards in the Money Matters post and talked about how you get bonuses for certain amounts spent within the first three months. Get the cards before you start booking flights and accommodations so you can hit your bonuses, pay your balances, and redeem earned miles for later portions of the trip.
  5. Ask for a leave of absence from work if it’s available to you. In most cases, you can set this date far into the future, but this varies with every employer. I would, however, recommend that you convey the value of having such a well-traveled employee on staff. You might be surprised at how receptive they will be.
  6. Start tracking flights. I use Google Flights for the planning portion, but Kiwi and Skyscanner (among others) have their merits. Whatever site you use, set up automatic notifications to alert you when prices change, look at historical data for best times and days to fly, and compare ticket prices to nearby airports to get the best deal. But don’t book untracked flights unless you are cool with throwing money away.
  7. Establish “can’t miss” destinations. If you want to go to Italy, for example, that’s great! But what, exactly, do you want to see while you’re there? If you’re more interested in the Dolomites than you are in Vatican City, then your time in Italy will be dictated by that preference. Decide what you absolutely can’t do without, and make those stops your priorities.
  8. Renew your primary passport. If your passport will not be valid for at least six months after your final destination, or if you are running out of room for immigration stamps, go ahead and renew your passport. You are required to enter your passport number for most visas and airfares, and the number will change if you renew. You don’t want to get into a situation of entering the old number for a flight only to need to contact the airlines again after you get a new passport number. Additionally, if you do need to renew your passport and are planning to visit dozens of countries on your trip around the world, request the “big book.” With 52 pages at no extra cost to you, it can accommodate most itineraries.
  9. Start booking flights. Airplane seats tend to fill up faster than any other form of transportation, and there is typically a window where flights will be the least expensive. You want to find those windows and book those flights, even if it means you aren’t booking flights in chronological order. For example, I made the island of Zanzibar a priority on this trip and found a great flight departing the island. So I went ahead and booked it even though the flight that would get us to the island had not yet become available.
  10. Establish if you will need a second U.S. passport. Details for this process will be explained in the next segment, Getting Documented. For our purposes here, however, this involves establishing whether or not you will be traveling to multiple countries that are currently in conflict with each other. Examples include Israel and several Muslim countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia and Georgia, India and Pakistan, etc. Again, more details to follow, but you need to decide if this applies to your travel plans.
  11. Apply for visas that require you to submit your passport. Certain countries will require proof of travel before they issue visas. Russia and China in particular will need both entry and exit airline tickets as well as proof of accommodation. So, before you can begin the complex visa process for either country, you will need to book flights. If you apply for either visa before you book flights to and from, you will be simply be denied. Moreover, both countries require you to submit your passport for the process. Get these out of the way early.
  12. Get vaccinated. While most vaccines will be available through your general practitioner, you may have to visit a regional health clinic for others. And the health clinic may have to special order vaccines for you, which means you might have to wait. In particular, I’m talking about Yellow Fever and Japanese Encephalitis. Details of this will be explained in the upcoming segment: Staying Safe and Healthy.
  13. Start booking accommodations. Angela and I prefer to stay with locals through Airbnb, and the best deals and locations will often fill up quickly, especially if you are visiting during peak tourist season. If there is an Airbnb perfectly suited to our travel goals, I will book it immediately after reserving transportation. That said, we will occasionally gamble with where to stay and, especially during a driving loop, leave the night’s lodging to chance and happenstance.
  14. Start booking ground transportation. Rental cars and trains will be more plentiful and more flexible. Additionally the tickets for ground travel will typically not be available until closer to a departure date, so you can usually afford to wait.
  15. Apply for e-visas or establish a timeframe for these applications. Many countries are now switching to an online visa process, which means you don’t have to submit  your physical passport to a foreign entity. That’s definitely a plus, but with it comes a typically reduced window of validity for the visa. There are some country visas for which we will not be applying until we have already left on this trip. And that’s not a big deal as long as the visa is issued entirely online, printed, and accompanies us through immigration.
  16. Rinse and repeat. As much as I would like to insist that this process is linear, you will need to constantly revisit each of the items above. For a trip around the world that could involve twelve months of travel, political circumstances could make you reevaluate “can’t miss” destinations (I’m looking at you, Myanmar). Or you may be denied a visa during the process and forced to change your plans. Be flexible. Be patient. And know that regimes rise and fall. If not this time, then perhaps things will have stabilized during your next trip around the world.

Next up — How to Plan a Trip Around the World: Getting Documented