How to Plan a Round-the-World Trip Itinerary

To plan a round the world itinerary can be a daunting task even if you're an experienced traveler. How did we decide where to go and how long to stay?

Round the World Itinerary - A "Choose Your Own Adventure" Book

"The world is a book and those who don't travel read only a page."

You've probably seen this St. Augustine quote if you’ve ever read any travel blog or searched through travel-inspired images on Pinterest.

Growing up I loved reading the Goosebumps books…but only the ones with the sparkly covers.  Why favor the bling?  The Goosebumps books with the sparkly covers indicated that they were a “Choose Your Own Adventure Novel”.  The reader was able to decide the outcome of the story.

"Harry walked closer to the creaky oak door.  The handle was rusted.  He reached out his hand...  Turn to page 117 to open the door.  Turn to page 56 to go to the neighbor's house."

Reading this type of book, I got to choose the outcome of the story.  I chose where the journey began and where it would end.

 costs per day: Germany = Oktoberfest; Turkey = Paragliding, Hot air ballooning.  You can certainly do some of these countries on much less than what you see here.

Plan the Itinerary

Planning for our RTW adventure, I've spent hours and hours...days?  Months... thinking of places, dreaming of destinations and scoping experiences online.  I call this daydreaming.  I look at picture, make “favorite” destinations to add to our bucket list and read trips other people have done.We both had a relatively good idea of the various places we wanted to go, so I created an excel spreadsheet and wrote them all down.  After all the research I had done I knew, for the most part, what length of time would be appropriate for each destination.

Plan your Budget

rtw budget itineraryThat's the fun part.  Now, to put the plan in action.  There are tons of online resources to help you predict the average cost per day in traveling in the regions you want to visit.  Just like the image here, create yourself a spreadsheet with different locations, days you expect to visit, and cost per day.  You can then add up total costs not only for each location but for your entire trip!  This certainly won't be perfect but it will do a decent job of getting you to a closer expected budget for your specific itinerary than any one else's blog post can tell you. (The estimated costs per day in the image are what we used for 2 people combined. It was WAY cheaper in Bali and Vietnam than we listed and we also didn't even visit lots of countries on this list, hah!) 

What goes in to the decision?

Logistics, timing, weather and holidays/festivals were key ingredients in putting together the list of destinations. We'll want to be in Hoi An, Vietnam for the Lantern Fesitval, we have plans with friends in the Philippines in November, etc.  Sure, change and disruption to the plan is inevitable; the unwritten footnotes of the story; but that’s the excitement!  Those are the parts of the book you don’t realize were even in there until you turn the page.  After a bit of research and jotting down a few numbers on a page you have now written the chapters of your book!

The final itinerary:

1. A rough budget

  • Spending 3 months in New Zealand vs. 3 weeks changes the overall budget for the entire year. Play around with length of time in certain locations to meet your budget needs.
  • Shorten the length of time in expensive countries or look for cheaper alternatives - ex. Free Camping in Norway instead of hostels.

2. A continent-driven outline

  • SAVE MONEY: Long-haul, intercontinental flights are expensive no matter if you're paying cash or using miles (those still have value, ya know).  Limiting the number of long flights between continents significantly changes the final cost of the trip
  • SAVE TIME: We are scheduling Europe and Asia/Pacific in the one year.  I can't even imagine trying to cram-in another continent like Africa or South America!  Once you can identify your "must-have" destinations, you'll know - we need at least 2 weeks for southern Italy.  All the numbers start to add up and you'll realize you don't want to shorten the length of time in your favorite places just to hit a new continent.

3. A Time-sensitive itinerary

  • You can sit around all day and whimsically say "oh, a week in Spain would be magical!"  While a week in Spain WOULD be magical, if you think you can see more that just Barcelona in that amount of time you may have underestimated your time-budget.
  • Once you start to research a location you'll start to learn what length of time is appropriate...even if you're short on time.  Some resources may say "you'll need at least 4 days, but I promise you won't get bored even after 2 weeks!"  After using multiple sources you can then determine what's right for you.

Giving yourself a rough itinerary is, of course, step one.  From this day-dreaming stage there are several more details to put into place!


8 Months after writing this post - we still haven't even left yet, but so much has changed.  It is need to see how one idea morphs and take different shapes.  I'm sure the most laughable part will be after the year-long trip how inevitably DIFFERENT it will be from the list we created here. :)

Edit again:

After our year-long trip around the world it's funny looking back on all of these destinations.  We didn't go to a lot of these places... but we also went to a lot of places that aren't on here.  You never know where the cheapest flight will take you!  One thing is for sure though: throughout our year around the world this planning technique always helped us make the best decisions on where to visit and for how long!