When thinking about traveling for more than a few weeks, it can be daunting trying to plan your trip. Maybe you already have a few key countries, cities, or sights that you know you want to see, or maybe you just have a serious case of wanderlust and want to see everything. Either way, you can save a lot of time, money, and hassle if you spend some time planning a long trip.
I’ve already talked in more detail about why it is a good idea to plan your long-term trip, so now I want to talk about how to go about planning your trip.
Step 1: Figure Out Your Budget and Time
When you are thinking about traveling, even for a short amount of time, your first thought should be about money and time. In other words, how much time do you have to travel and how much money do you have?
These should be your first considerations for a few reasons. First, if you have a minimal budget, but want to travel for several months, you’ll need to pick countries and regions that are easier on the wallet, such as Southeast Asia or South America. It goes without saying that the cheaper the region, the longer you’ll be able to travel. If, on the other hand, you want to travel through Scandenavia or Japan on the same budget, you’ll have to travel for a shorter period of time.
You also need to consider how much time you want to travel for. If you have a few weeks, you don’t want to travel to ten different countries. On the flip side, if you have several months, you can really cover some ground if you want. For example, in around 6 months, I plan to travel overland from Singapore to Moscow. Some people like to stay in one country or city for several months, while others like to move around more. Either way, I wouldn’t recommend trying to see more than one major city for every five to seven days you plan to be on the road when traveling long-term. You’ll need a break every so often.
Step 2: Pick Your Starting City
Once you have figured out what your budget is and how much time you have to travel, the next step is to figure out where to start your trip. While some people just head to the city that they want to see the most, this isn’t always the most practical choice and can be costly.
Let me use my trip as an example. Before I left, I was very excited about visiting the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia; however, I didn’t schedule my trip to Siem Reap until over six weeks into my trip. While I could have flown non-stop to Siem Reap, Cambodia, if I had wanted to, It didn’t make sense logistically or monetarily. If I had done that, seeing the rest of Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia and Singapore, would have been more time consuming and costly.
Instead, look at all of the cities and countries in your target area. Is there one that is a bit more isolated that would make a good starting or ending point like Singapore was for me?
If your starting city doesn’t matter much, it is still a good plan to survey your options. It might be a lot cheaper to fly into or out of one city instead of another. Make sure to check multiple cities in a price search website like Kayak.com before you buy your tickets.
Step 3: Figure Out a Basic Route
While some people might disagree with me, I think that having a basic route for your trip is an important aspect of your pre-trip planning. That being said, the longer you plan to travel, the less focused your route planning needs to be. No matter what though, a basic route is a necessity for anyone planning a long trip with an end date.
When planning a basic route, you should think about two things: where you want to go and where you want to end up.
If you have already purchased your plane ticket home, then the second step is already figured out for you. If not, it isn’t always necessary to figure out where you want to end up. Some people travel until they run out of time or money and then fly home. If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine. Just keep in mind that airline tickets are generally cheaper a few months prior to your departure date.
For figuring out your route, take a look at a map and figure out what cities you want to see, then check on the internet or in a guide book for other interesting places to visit. Lastly, figure out what the best route is between the cities. Make sure to check out local festivals and holidays as those can be important days that will affect your plans.
Step 4: Look Into Visas, Travel Warnings, Etc.
Before you travel, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations regarding travel in the countries you will be traveling to. If you need a visa to visit a country, make sure that you get it before you go or figure out where you can get it while on the road. Just because you are visiting a city with an embassy for a particular country does not mean that you can get a visa there. Look before you leave home to avoid disappointment and difficulties.
It is also a good idea to check into the travel warnings issued by your home country about the region you are going to. Bear in mind that these warnings are usually overly cautious, so don’t take too much to heart. It’s good to know if there is an issue, though.
It’s also important to make sure that you are up to date on your immunizations and to discuss with a doctor what shots are necessary or recommended for a particular location.
Step 5: Have Fun
Once you take care of some basics, the most important thing to remember is to have fun. Some people, myself included, like to scour through guide books and internet searches looking for ideas for their travel. Other people prefer to go to a city and figure it out when you get there. Either way, do what is comfortable and enjoyable for you.
After all, this is your trip; don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong.
Jim Cheney is the creator of Tripologist.com. Having traveled extensively in North America, Europe, and Asia, Jim enjoys sharing his love of travel and some of his favorite places to visit around the world. He lives in Pennsylvania, USA, with his wife and two kids.