The further out you can start planning, the better. In our case, it was a dream that we worked into our financial and personal planning long before we thought we’d do it. Worst case, we’d have a pile of savings to put toward other things.
Bookmark this page, because I’ll come back to it every now and then with updates as I learn the hard lessons…
Major Planning Categories
Here are the things we had to think about and take care of prior to the trip. The preparations were a full-time job for awhile there…the list makes it sound simpler than it actually was. We found it useful to start an Excel document work plan and Gantt Chart schedule as soon as we thought about doing the trip. As time went by and we thought of or heard about preparation requirements, we’d update the plan. This ensured that we didn’t drop any balls. Some tasks we could start years in advance (like decluttering, organizing, research and collecting credit card bonus and spending points); other tasks couldn’t happen until the last minute.
HOUSE AND PET
- Home maintenance and decluttering in prep for renting
- Expense tracking for rental home “business” taxes and adjusted insurance
- Getting our stuff culled, packed, moved and stored
- Renting out the house
- Pet foster-care arrangements
- General itinerary and tickets
- Passports, Visas, International drivers’ permits
- Reservations where needed in advance (e.g., Galapagos or rendezvous with friends)
- Shots and physicals
- Travel Insurance – medical and travel
- Phone, electronics, security and file access strategy
- Backup paperwork and official docs to scan/carry
- State Dept registration
- Grade Level Standards List
- Coordinating with the district
- Obtaining necessary workbooks/online resources/remote tutors
- Plan for when we return
FINANCES AND MAIL
- Trip budget and cash needs
- Auto bill pay where possible
- Mail forwarding, reduce paper mail
- Tax returns for current year
- Minimize expenses
- Set up accounts for travel (bank, savings and credit)
- Be set with cash and budget
PREP FOR OUR RETURN
- School plan
- Home logistics plan
- Easy access to priority files and possessions upon return
Early on, read as much as you can. You’ll get inspired and get great advice. Some blogs we found especially useful with advice we won’t repeat here:
A Little Adrift – Another amazing resource full of practical advice. It also covers the full spectrum of what you need to consider and do.
Wanderlust – This offers a good overview without as much detail as the above two sites, so maybe it’s even a place to start.
If you Google “RTW planning,” you’ll get some additional useful resources.
You’ll quickly learn that there are three basic approaches to booking your flights. The sites above and other sources can give you pros and cons of each, and I’ve added a few things below that I didn’t see elsewhere:
- Buy an RTW ticket through a global alliance of airlines – We found this option to be equally or possibly more costly with less flexibility; but if you want to treat yourself to business class, this is the most economical way to do it – waaaaaay less expensive than a la carte. We decided to try to use points to fly business class on the long hauls and buy cheap economy tickets for the shorter flights. We’re learning the hard way that this may not be such a good strategy after all. Our U.S.-based frequent flier programs are making it tough to use points for international flights that don’t start/end in the U.S., and their partners often don’t offer reward tickets to partner customers for business class or at all.
- Have an RTW travel specialist book for you – This is economical, and they can work across various airlines, optimize the schedule, avoid certain airlines that aren’t as safe, etc. Most of all you get their expertise. I recommend Glenn Talken at AirTreks – He’s fabulous and incredibly knowledgeable, able to suggest destinations you would not have thought of. We wanted to use him for all of our ticketing, but that fell apart when we decided to use points for some of the long-haul flights. He isn’t allowed to book you into a country or region (e.g., Europe) without booking you out as well – the country wants to know you’re not planning to stay indefinitely. He can always do this with a fully refundable ticket, if you’re not ready to carve an itinerary in stone. But he couldn’t help us with our rewards tickets. Do be sure to work with him on which type of tickets you buy (see note re checked baggage below).
- Do it yourself – Sites like Boots ‘N All’s Indie booking service are very helpful, and you can buy the tickets through them or just use it to plot the optimal route. Because we want to use points along the way, we’ve ended up doing our own research and bookings so far, using sites like Kayak and sometimes the airlines directly. What I love about Kayak is the feature that lets you pick “anywhere” as your destination – it can help you identify which cities are the cheapest to fly into or out of when you’re flexible. And it helps you look at schedules across various airlines. But we’re going back to Glenn as soon as it makes sense. Doing it ourselves is a huge time suck, and we’ve already made tons of expensive rookie mistakes before even starting our trip. For example, who knew it would be so hard and expensive to get from Dublin to Bergen, Norway? In hindsight, we should have flown Dublin-London-Bergen instead of London-Dublin-Bergen. Well, Glenn would have known that.
$$ Important Tip $$ Make sure you buy mid-economy tickets (many low-cost airlines offer 3-4 pricing levels) that include a checked bag rather than the cheapest tickets available, which don’t allow a checked bag. Many airlines’ weight restrictions for carry-ons are so light (20 lbs or even less) that it’s impractical for an RTW traveler carrying a year’s worth of gear to meet the weight limit. And if you buy an ultra-economy (super cheap) ticket and then have to check a bag unexpectedly, you’re going to pay through the nose – far more than the difference between an ultra-cheap and mid-economy ticket. They really ding you.
$$Important Tip$$ Upon arrival at border control, most countries will want to see evidence of your departure (e.g., your flight out of the country). If you aren’t sure when you want to leave, book a fully refundable ticket, show it upon arrival, and then cancel it once you are in the country. Just be sure you won’t get hit with any cancellation or nonrefundable booking fees that some sites charge. It may be best to book directly with the airline rather than through a discount service. Also make sure you’ve researched and arranged for visas in advance when required. Some are more complicated to obtain than others.
One thing that is really restricting us with flights is our unwillingness to fly during super early or super late time periods, because of the kids. We don’t want to torture them anymore than necessary. And the price we pay when they’re overtired is much higher than a little extra for sane flight times.
We’re finding that Airbnb, VRBO, and Homeaway offer great and economical options, more so than hotels in most cases, especially once you add on hotel taxes and fees for having four people in the room. Just be sure to read the fine print, even in Airbnb.
$$ Important Tips $$
- DON’T use Booking.com – It’s deceptive in that it will bring up a nonrefundable price without telling you right away that it’s nonrefundable. Their site design makes it easy to miss the fine print on that important fact until it’s too late or if you don’t scroll down far enough. I made this mistake ($800), and the hotel and booking.com pointed fingers at each other, but both declined to cut me a break, even though I had booked five months in advance for high-season dates when they always sell out. I even called the hotel manager to appeal to him directly, and he was so nasty about it that I’m going to call out the hotel below. I ended up asking my credit card company to appeal it and am still waiting to hear what happens.
- DO use Hotels.com – We’ve been really happy with the site, prices and offerings. And for every 10 nights you pay for a hotel room through them, you get one night free! Just still be careful about accidentally booking nonrefundable rooms.
- DON’T stay at the Ole Bull Hotel in Bergen, Norway. There are lots of other great options in Bergen with more friendly management, plus lots of Airbnb options.
- BE CAREFUL about book any nonrefundable accommodations, including on Airbnb. Plans change. With Airbnb, the refund policy varies by property, so read the fine print. Sometimes owners will cut you a break during slow periods, if you write to them.
- ALWAYS book flights before booking accommodations. Flight options are a lot more restrictive than accommodation options, so go for the flight first. Even a with a refundable Airbnb reservation, the Airbnb fee itself is nonrefundable.
- ALWAYS look to see how many people are included in the rate they’re quoting you. Often there is an extra fee for extra people, like with our family of four. So what may appear to be a cheaper room ends up being more expensive than other options. This is true on Airbnb as well.
- ALWAYS get a car rental price quote that includes all taxes and fees.
- ALWAYS investigate the insurance situation in advance, including what is/isn’t covered by your credit card. Despite our credit card and insurance from home, we got hit with “mandatory” local insurance in Munich that almost tripled the cost of our car.
This is a GREAT way to build up travel points, and you’ll find some good tips by Googling “best RTW credit cards.” Our mistake was in not focusing on this as soon as we decided we might take a trip like this. We could have had so many more travel points by now, even though we already had some really good cards. After a big analysis we decided on the following, and learned good lessons in the process.
Just to give you a sense of what’s possible, our cards gave us 350,000 bonus points/airline miles for signing up, plus another 200,000-300,000 points/miles just in the few months before we left town, plus several years of point accumulation in the prior years. They are generally worth about 1-2 cents per point. Just in the last few months before leaving, we effortlessly earned over $20,000 in free travel, plus what we earned over the years and what’s still to come while we’re on the road. You get your best bang for your point buck using them as miles for business- or first-class airline tickets.
So go get some cards and keep an eye out for big bonus-point offers. Just be sure you understand how to protect your credit score when getting new cards.
You’ll find out from reading that there is also a security component to your credit card and bank account strategy. Some cards should stay at home and be set on autopay for certain bills/expenses while others you carry around and risk losing. Ditto for the bank accounts. Get one that is just for the trip, so that if it gets compromised while accessing it online from afar, you don’t put the rest of your money at risk. Set up two-factor authentication on your online bank and credit card accounts – meaning the bank sends you a code by text or email each time you try to log on that you have to retrieve and enter. You can usually easily set this up in just a couple minutes online in your account security settings.
Our credit card strategy:
- Two Chase Sapphire Card Accounts – Best all-around card, benefits and travel points. We’ll be able to convert points to United miles when we want. (Lots of other websites will tell you why it’s the best RTW card.) We got an insane 100,000 travel points for each card during a special promotion, which will buy some nice plane tickets.
- One for personal expenses while traveling
- One for business expenses while traveling
- Barclays Arrival-Plus Chip-and-Pin – for when we need a chip-and-pin card (some overseas merchants require it)
- Delta Platinum Amex – Delta is our favorite US airline these days, and it earns us Delta miles, plus other benefits. We’ll book any Delta and Airbnb travel with it (has a deal for points with Airbnb).
- Two United Mileage Plus Explorer Card accounts – One will come with us and the other will stay at home to pay bills. We got some nice bonus points for signing up and now also earn United miles with them. United isn’t our favorite airline, but it has more plentiful international routes for where we’re going.
Phones were essential to us for both security, communication and taking photos. We found that mobile phone/text/data service around the globe was quite reasonably priced and easy to obtain (once we got over some rocky aspects of the learning curve).
Whats App: Some RTW travelers purely use WhatsApp for chat, text, etc. It’s widely used around the world, and many of our Airbnb hosts and other contacts preferred to communicate that way. For safety, we also wanted mobile service, so we could track each other down and have service when not on wifi. And we didn’t want random people all over the world having our regular mobile numbers from home or give our address books to WhatsApp, so we used WhatsApp with whatever local number we happened to have and just updated it whenever needed.
Short-term travel: T-Mobile has a great and affordable global plan.
Long-term travel: We did the following for 2017-18. It was a kluge, so there may be easier ways by the time this post gets a little dated. Contact if you need specific instructions or advice. We’re happy to share some other hard lessons learned.
- Ported our regular mobile numbers to Google Voice and used that for texting – anyone using our “old” numbers could reach us
- Associated our numbers with Skype, so that if we called via Skype, our “old” mobile numbers popped up as the CallerID
- Got local, pre-paid SIM cards wherever we were
- Europe was easy: They have European roaming now, so just be sure whatever carrier you use will offer that – you can travel the continent with one SIM card; the only issue we ran into was that our London-based carrier didn’t accept US credit cards for online top-ups, so check into that in advance
- China: Be sure you get nationwide roaming
- Australia: Not only did the SIM card work across Australia, but texts and calls to/from the US and many other countries were billed like local ones
- New Zealand: Vodaphone worked nationwide, and we could buy it at the airport before we even passed through border control
- South America: You have to buy them in each country you visit, but they’re very easy to get, and we found that top-up machines were ubiquitous