Planning & Preparation > Pre-Trip Planning

Pre-Trip Planning

When I first started thinking about planning for a world trip lasting an entire year I was initially overwhelmed. I knew we wanted to go around the world, but where would we go and how would we get there. I knew developing a budget would be critical to ensure we could successfully pay for a trip without going into major debt, but what would the daily costs be and all the activities and sites we wanted to see. Also, what would we do with our house, how would we handle our finances, determine safety issues and the other hundred or so things swirling around in my mind. I had been on two extended trips to Central America and Southeast Asia in the past, but that was twenty years ago and without kids and Therese. Therefore, I spent about one month developing a method to plan for this extended trip. This was difficult and at one point I was not sure we could pull it off. Then one day I came across a website of a family who just completed an around the world trip. When I saw this site I knew through work and planning we would soon be flying to exotic destinations. Throughout this page I will attempt to explain our planning process and development of pre-trip and trip budgets, notes and thoughts.  I put about 8 months of preparation work into this process.

Determining our goal

Our goal was very simple. We wanted to travel extensively overseas with our entire family. We knew this meant going beyond the normal 3 week vacation and would require lots of research and soul searching. We felt one year was a doable goal.

Self Analysis of extended international travel

The first question we asked ourselves is why do we want to go on an extended trip. Please read each of our Pre-trip reflections. Given our goal, we wanted to make sure our passion for travel and dedication of precious financial resources and the burdens of leaving jobs to pursue this trip was a top priority for our entire family.

We also had several fears which made us anxious about this trip and we wanted to ensure each was addressed during the planning process. High on the list was safety. This ranged from is the country safe to travel in (i.e. Iraq) and how would we determine this to daily behavior and decision making in every country. Also, maintaining health throughout this trip, language barriers, not knowing from day to day where would we sleep and maintaining the kids school work were discussed. This discussion was key to our youngest son who had real fears about African wildlife and sharks.

We also talked about how we felt about leaving our home and our pets for an entire year. Our kids talked about what it would be like leaving their friends, sports activities and pets and what they could do to maintain contact (e-mail, postcards). We also knew that we could not go on this trip without renting out our house for the entire year and finding a place for our pets.

We also talked extensively about how we would travel. We knew from the amount of money we saved we could not be flying everywhere and staying and eating in the best hotels and restaurants. I believe that travel is predicated by time and money. And in my experience, very few people have considerable amounts of both. The scenario is either I have money, or can borrow it, but have no time (two or three weeks of vacation/year); or I have time, but I have no money (student, unemployed). In our case, we created the time (I'm independently employed and Therese applied for a leave of absence but ultimately had to quit her job.) and consciously saved and cultivated a modest, but limited, nest egg for this enterprise. Therefore, we decided to travel in the style known as the Independent Traveler. An Independent Traveler (IA) is on a tight budget and attempts to prolong the travel time through prudent decisions regarding airfare, accommodations, meals, and tours. We will be performing much of our own research and utilizing travel agents or tour guides only when absolutely necessary. We will utilize backpacks to carry our worldly possessions, use local transportation to get between destinations, experience local restaurants, shop at local grocery stores and prepare food when we're able, and use local guides to show us natural and cultural wonders. I am also a believer in supporting national parks and when possible, we plan to prolong our visits to these parks. Our goal is to stay in an area for 4-5 days to see the sites that our research or local people have suggested and take care of any needed daily business (laundry, banking, web work, relaxation, health), then hop on another bus and go to the next destination and hopefully the bus rides between regions will be no more than 1 day of travel. In most cases, our accommodations will be local and simple but clean, such as cabanas, bungalows, hostels or family-run budget hotels with two double beds and shared baths. Yes, there will be times that we will splurge on a nicer beachside hotel, but this will be the exception. Also, we have developed many contacts in numerous destinations and we plan to meet up with with these local people, have them show us the sights, and in many cases stay with them.

Phase 1 of the Planning Process

The first phase of my planning process had two components that I researched simultaneously: create regional itineraries and routes for Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Japan, South Pacific, Southeast Asia, India, Africa, Oceania and Europe. As I created these routes I tried to estimate a per day budget for each country we would travel to.

Note: Before developing budgets and itineraries, create a pre-trip "To Do" list and keep this list visible.  A multitude of tasks will begin to surface during the planning process.  Maintaining this list is vital to minimize migraine headaches and sleepless nights trying to think of all the things that need to be done.  especially, when you have two weeks left before you fly away from home for a year.

Developing our itinerary

Determining Destinations

For myself, this was the most exciting part or the entire planning process.  Reading travel books and web material about exotic destinations, tropical beaches and wildlife viewing opportunities provided me all the incentive I needed to continue my pursuit of turing this dream into a reality. Assembling all the resource material for destination determination and dividing off a section of our living room was the first step.  By assembling all research material in the living room, everyone had access to material and provided daily reminders of our trip. My initial research was one region at a time with an accordin folder holding all relevent notes from my research. After all my research was accomplished, I complied a document for each country highlighting activites, costs, special interest areas, weather patterns and high/low tourist seasons. Below is the resources I utilized:

World Map: I hung a world map in our living room for reference, creating possible routes with yarn and as the center piece your any travel discussions.

The local library: My regional research always started with the local library. Basically, I would head straight to the travel section and check out all the most up to date books of each country. Each night, when everyone was in bed, I spent several hours reading every book and taking notes about safety, special activites, weather patterns, costs, etc. This exercise provided a bulk of my information. I kept all these books spread out and asked each family member to look at them.

Travel Websites: Travel websites were extremely valuable for up to date and specialized information. Please click here for useful links. Travel websites were varied from people documenting their trip to understanding international airfare language to websites dedicated to helping and supporting global travellers to governmental and private website dedicated to safety, health and security. Once again, any relevent information went into my according folder.

The first family meeting

After several months of compiling information I presented all the information by region to the family, so they could hear and provided feedback about the type of activites I was concentrating on and the areas.  Each person provided me some basic feedback - I like beaches and seeing wildlife.  I gave each person an information packet with a map, breakdown of countries and activities in each region and questions about our trip. Each person was to bring this packet to all meetings and keep notes about what they want out of this trip and any concerns they have. In this meeting, each person provided me with activities they wanted to pursue during this trip. I called these focus areas, which included hiking, beach time, cultural sites, ruins, meeting friends and families, mountains, rainforests, seeing wildlife, etc. In addition, each person described any country they wanted to visit and why.

When to go and which way to travel spreadsheet

Next I researched and developed a spreadsheet by country that included attributes of high, shoulder and low tourist seasons; weather patterns (i.e... avoiding the monsoon on the islands of south Thailand); and any regional specific activities (i.e.. wildlife migration). This sheet was critical in helping me determine a cost effective route based on minimal air travel, avoiding high season prices (i.e Europe in the summer) and trying to stay as dry as possible. Click When_to_go.xls to access the final copy of this spreadsheet.

Developing a macro itinerary for each of the 8 regions

The last part of my first phase of planning the itinerary was to develop a macro view itinerary for each of the possible 8 regions we were considering: Europe, Africa, India/Nepal, southeast asia, south pacific, Central america, South america and the Caribbean. Because our initial goal was to travel around the world I decided that we would stay no longer than 3 months in one region. Therefore, I used the 3 month timeline in developing an initial itinerary. In this spreadsheet I also added what the focus activities were for the region.  Please see this link.

Go to Phase 2 of the planning process

Developing our trip budget

I developed two budgets: a pre-trip and a trip budget to determine total costs of the trip.

Pre-Trip Budget

My pre-trip budget consisted of: Trip Insurance, Vaccinations, Travel Equipment and gear, Visas needed before arrival, passports, photo/electronic gear, house preparation and return home transition/emergency fund.

In developing the pre-trip budget, I confronted several areas of research and decision making.

1. Trip Insurance costs varied dramatically between carriers.  After researching numerous plans, we decided upon World Nomad (through Lonely Planet), which fit our needs of stolen equipment, international coverage, evacuation, doctor and hospital visits and trip cancellation insurance.  

2. We were surprised about the costs of vaccinations. We utilized several websites and contacted a local expert in international travel (please see health and safety page) to determine are needs.  We did get all our vaccinations and 3 months of malarial meds before we left.  However, we did find out that getting certain vaccinations and malarial meds will save you money. For example, Bangkok has excellent medical facilities at a fraction of the cost and would have been a great place to get our Yellow Fever (Africa requirement) vaccinations.

3. Travel equipment and gear.  Needs vary greatly depending on individual focus.  Please see our equipment list and discussion under (Equipment). 

4. Visas.  I developed a spreadsheet of all countries we were planning to visit and documented the visa policies and costs according to the consulates.  I also documented if we could obtain visas on arrival (VOA) or we needed to have visas in hand before arrival. Also, check for any onward ticket requirements.

5. Photographic and other electronics. This area can also be a big ticket expense depending upon personal preference. My children decided to bring iPods for those long bus or train rides, after much debate we decided to bring a small laptop computer because of schoolwork, maintaining photo and travelogs, and various other items. Also, I went digital on my photographic equipment. Please see the discussion under (digital electronics).

6. As part of pre-trip budget, we knew we needed money set aside for an emergency and for making the transition back after our trip. We wanted a full 4 months of house expenses covered after our trip to provide us time to secure work. We knew we did not have enough resources to pay for our trip and have this emergency fund. Having just started working in the tax preparation industry I knew our income would be minimal over the next two years (We would work 6 months each year). Therefore, I calculated what our tax returns would be based on earnings estimate. In addition, we researched the rental market for our house and realized we could gain needed resources from renting our house at current market levels. Given these two strategies, hopefully, will provided the needed financial resources for our transition back home.

Trip Budget

The second part in determining overall estimate trip costs was to develop a trip budget. This consisted of 3 components:

1. Per day average costs estimates (combined hotel, meals, local transportation, tours, other);

2. Extras. This category included long distance or expensive transportation estimated expenses, visas, and any big ticket activity (i.e. 4 day African Safari);

3. International Airfare

In developing and determining the above costs took several months of research. For per day average costs I utilized various travel guides and (look up info regarding individual countries) and individual and couples website who had travelled in a similar method as we were anticipating. I never did find accurate information for a family of 4. Therefore, I took single/double motel beds and single/couple food expenses and extrapolated for 4 people. Look under ongoing trip budget to see how successful I was. I performed this analysis immediately, because I need this information to help form our itinerary.

Extras information was saved until the last. In looking over possible activities I realized that our African safari would be expenses, so I felt this deserved its own line item. For estimating long distance travel I was able to look up regional transportation companies described in Travel books and go to their website for current information. I did make a mistake and not putting in every visa cost for each country. I only did India, because of the expensive visa. On the road I distributed visa costs over the number of days in the country and placed into the other category.

International Flights. Since I estimated this expense would take over a third of our budget, much thought and research went into this topic. Hint: A good wall map and several colors of yarn and tacks makes decision making easier. After developing a macro view of our itinerary, a big question needed to be answered: Do we buy an Around the World (RTW) ticket from one of the many web travel agents, or do I buy a series of oneway tickets as we go? Each has its strength and weakness and I feel there is no clear answer. RTWs, especially through Star Alliance or One World, are much more convenient and are able to offer some adaptability at a cost, but does the ticket go to the places you want to go to. Also, there are always specials which may decrease the cost. A series of oneways does provide maximum flexibility and I feel with some research will decrease costs overall. We decided to purchase oneway tickets during our trip for maximum flexibility. Also, we made sure we utilized "Gateway" cities in choosing arrival/departure places. Gateway cities (Bangkok, LA, New York, London, Delhi) tend to have greater airfare discounts due to volume. Lastly, look into "open Jaw" tickets to reduce travel time and save some money. We recently flew into Cancun, Mexico from Los Angeles and flew back to Los Angeles from San Jose, Costa Rica for the same price as a round trip ticket to Cancun.

Phase 2 of the Planning Process

Linking potential itineraries to budget estimates to determine what is possible.

After developing a 8 macro level regional itinerary, I placed this information on a spreadsheet and started to plug in the average daily costs into each country and the extras category. I then estimated how many days we would be in each country to fulfill the activities (focus areas) we desired. This gave me a good estimate of costs for the region. Then I designed a one way route from region to region and looked up airfares from 4 different web travel sites, which provided me a rough international airfare estimate costs. FYI. With 8 regional routes planned and airfare between each area our trip would be 442 days and $15,000USD over the amount of money we had saved. (Click Trip_Budget.xlsl ink for our final trip budget. The format is the same I just had more regional areas)

The Second Family Meeting(This was a critical component in finalizing our budget and itinerary)

After 4 months of research and data collection I had lots of information and several spreadsheets to share with the family, plus the realities that our dream trip was more then we could afford. I needed a meeting for more input from the family which would be critical in eliminating several regional routes in developing a final trip budget we could afford. I described each regional itinerary and highlighted the main focus areas and activities. I described that going south of the equator several times (Africa, South Pacific and South America) added to the international airfare costs. This was important because we did want to see family and friends in Europe and Southeast Asia. With map on the wall and several potential itineraries outlined in colored yarn I asked each person to write down their top 6 regions out of the researched 8 on a piece of paper. We tallied up the regions and this exercise became our final regional destinations. Next I would determine how long we would stay in each region based on cost of the region and activities.

Preparing the final budget and itinerary

First, based on these voted on regions, I took my when to go spreadsheet, my map, some yarn and my computer and started the decision process of the most economic route around the world. The criteria for this task was to minimize or eliminate any backtracking between regions, go overland as much as possible, avoid the high costs of Europe in the summer, the monsoons and high heat of India and southeast Asia, and try to visit the "shoulder" tourist seasons of each country as best as I could (We knew the bargains and negotiating for rooms and tours would help our costs).  I had also read a very good article, see link, about international airfare and how utilizing the "Gateway" cities of Bangkok, Los Angeles, London, Delhi and Nairobi would reduce airfare.  I then started plugging in one way airfare searches into Travelocity and Airfare Consolidators web search engines to get airfare ticket prices.  Based on airfare and our criteria, our current route was selected.


Next, I reviewed a couple of transportation website within each country to determine what some of the long, interregional transportation costs would be. I focused on local trains and bus lines and found all the websites I needed through Lonely Planets regional travel books. I knew this figure would be a rough estimate, but I needed something for the extras of transportation.  I was surprised how quickly this task went by. On most websites I was able to plug in my from and to destinations, pick a random date and the search engine would calculate a fare.


On the visas I plugged in India's visa costs into the extras line and decided that on all other visa I would divide the visa amount by the number of days in country and put that figure in the "other" column of the country budget.  I have felt this was not a good decision, because it does inflate daily costs, but has proven to be very accurate of the true, overall country costs.


Lastly, after extra transportation costs and international airfare estimates were plugged in, I went back to my budget spreadsheet, which had the average daily cost for each country, and started to put in the number of days we would stay in each country until the total added to near 365 days.  This was mainly decided upon the extent of the itinerary within the region and the cost of the region. For example, even though Japan was selected, so we could see some very dear students who had lived with us, we could only stay one week based on the average daily price.  Staying 3 months would have broken our budget and not allowed us to take an entire year off.  This back and forth decision making was exhausting and time consuming, but felt very satisfied with the results given our what our goal was.         

Here is our final itinerary.

Here is our final budgetTrip_Budget.xls