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How to travel around the world for a year (2011) (alexmaccaw.com)
180 points by hpagey on Nov 28, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments

I've taken 4 gap years, where I would travel the world for a year, in the last 14 years of my career since leaving High School. It is the best thing I have ever done. I would thoroughly recommend it to everybody - after high school, between jobs, etc.

Go travel for a year, discover the world, discover yourself, discover interesting people

My only tip would be to not cross too much of the globe at the same time. Let one part of the world sink in for a good few months.

I don't like the type of tourism where you rush to one tourist destination, take a photo of said landmark, and then rush to the next. All the while you are surrounded by people who are the same as you. I prefer sinking into cities. It doesn't even have to be off the beaten track, most times the local sites are mere meters from the tourist sites (this is true in Sydney and London).

For eg. I spent 12 months in Eastern Europe and ended up getting citizenship in Bosnia (via ancestry) and got to really, really know the place - to the point of having long-term friends, paying for things as a local, voting in elections, telling people to keep quiet when the news comes on, playing cards, smoking (still got it), drinking (stopped that one) etc. There are a lot of things you don't pick up when you spend 2-3 days, or a week there.

I used that experience to travel out to the rest of East Europe, and I knew my way around much better because of it (I got out of being arrested in Hungary on visa violations by bribing my way out to a guard who could speak Serbian).

I have now done Asia, although only parts of it and lived in London for years - part of that was a 6-month gap where I travelled Western Europe. I lived in South Africa and have been through a lot of Africa. Same with North America. I would next like to go and stay in either Argentina or in China.

As for planning, I try not to plan anything. My first 'gap year' started as a one month summer holiday to visit family. I didn't return to Australia until 10 years later. The only thing you gotta get good at is opening multiple bank accounts and backups and moving money between banks and knowing how hard/easy it is between different countries. Usually you can't beat cash.

My current plan is to live in the great cities of the world, 3 months at a time. Since 3 months is what you can usually get for a visa. So far I stayed in London which was fantastic, for 5 months, and have been in Paris for 4 months, which has been great for learning french and getting lots of work done.

Last year I was just working in my home city, doing the same sort of stuff. This year has been a lot more exciting, met great people, and worked with some exciting startups in London. Fantastic.

I should have added something about the Visa situation. If you have a parent or grandparent born in a European country, take your birth certificate with you and try and get local citizenship along with a passport. Almost everybody I had met while travelling had done this.

Check the websites for the various consulates, embassies and travel advice from your home country to find out what you can and can't do. Also remember that in many second and third world countries the written rules and the real rules are two different things - this is how I came to get a third passport in Serbia for $10 which I used to get into Hungary (legally, this time) in the summer season.

There are also special type of visa, for eg. with an Australian passport you can easily (meaning, just an application) get a 2 year working holiday visa in the UK

For everywhere else where you have Visa waivers, what I would do is use it as an excuse to get away to another country and come back in. I did this in order to stay in South Africa for 2+ years. Never had any problems getting the visa renewed each time.

It all depends on which passport you carry. I am fortunate enough to have an Australian passport, but there are other western passports that are good with Visa issues.

Flights in Europe and Asia are very cheap, lots of established low cost carriers.

The other tip is that even in the most expensive cities in the world you can find shared accommodation with enough space for a bed, desk and internet connection for a few hundred dollars a week. Just ask around. That type of accommodation is usually clustered around suburbs, for eg. Acton and Shepherds Bush in London.

I really should do what Alex has done here and write some blog posts with tips and experiences.

>It all depends on which passport you carry. I am fortunate enough to have an Australian passport, but there are other western passports that are good with Visa issues.

I'm pretty sure there are a bunch of special advantages to having a Commonwealth passport in a Commonwealth country but I can't remember any off the top of my head.

How would the finances for travels like this work? I'd love to travel after college and take a year off at a time between jobs etc, but just wondering how financially feasible this is. Do you work while travelling? And if so what type of work?

For my first trip I had a money saved up from part-time consulting and took out a credit card. I also sold my car. I really didn't care about the debt or how much money I would spend, I just wanted to stay out and away.

Of those first 12 months, I spent around 2 of them total working - spread out across that time. Most of it contract work.

I found some interesting work in Bosnia installing POS software and accounting software. There was a new consumption tax coming in and the government required electronic logging and submission, and nobody there in the IT industry had any experience with how to handle this.

The entire country was migrating from old physical paper based systems to electronic systems with internet based tax collecting overnight. I met a number of people in local IT and software businesses and helped them out. Despite the local average salary being $300 per month, I was paid well for the time I spent explaining open source and other commercial accounting packages to them and helping them out on the larger rollouts.

There is always an opportunity like that wherever you go - there is a gap in knowledge between the western world and the skills available in the second and third worlds, and you can exploit that.

Otherwise you can work for US or western based clients while living wherever you are. Most of the work I did in South Africa was for London based clients.

Register a business and open a bank account in a low regulation neutral nation, such as the Channel Islands, so you can do business from anywhere to anybody and not have to be tied up in a ton of regulation. Just don't forget to pay taxes on any income your bring into any country where you are a resident for tax purposes (usually 180+ days in a single year).

I work/travel 50% of the time. In 6 months I earn around $30-40k, and in that time can save around $15-25k. I am spendthrift and buy whatever want. I also return lots of merchandise (just "rented" an Xbox for my last month of work). I usually don't buy anything that:

-Can't fit in a backpack

-Isn't returnable

-Isn't either the cheapest option or the best option

This doesn't have much to do with travel finances, but I usually either buy the best/smallest/lightest or the cheapest/most disposable.

For example, I have $200 earbuds, a $40 safety razor (that takes 5ยข blades), a few pairs for $70 merino wool tshirts, a store bought $700 unlocked iPhone, but for shoes I have a pair of flip flops and an $8 pair of shoes that are getting thrown away on my flight out of the country. I buy $1000, 20 year old cars and sell them at a loss when I leave the country.

The totality of what I own and keep is around $5000 worth of stuff that all fits into a 40L backpack and a largish box that I mail to and from my family's house when I'm going to be working. The box has winter clothes, work equipment and outdoor gear, as I like to go backcountry camping here in the US. The $5000 includes my laptop ('11 MBA) and about $2000 of top shelf camping gear.

My gf and I have been together for a few years. She works full time min wage jobs to keep busy while I work. I support her while working and traveling. In 6 months of balls out travel in 3rd world countries we spend around $10-15k including everything.

I love this lifestyle and at this point get anxiety at the thought of staying on one place longer than 5 months.

When traveling I usually stay in each destination from 1-4 weeks. So in 6 months we'll usually see around 15-20 different places and get to know them reasonably well.

We generally make zero plans besides those broad and vague: ie "lets go to Mexico and then Cuba, and then maybe South America or Central America" or "let's go to the beach. how about Southeast Asia?"

Everyone needs to do this.

Amazing lifestyle!! Thanks for the detailed response!

Work for a year. Travel for a year.

At least at first, that will get you off the ground. I did a modified version where I spent the first five years after school working mostly full time, then started doing 3 month contracts once a year and travelling the rest of the time.

That works better, since you need to put in some time to bring your contract rate up to something where you can take most of the year off and still manage to put away some good savings even after travel expenses.

We're finally getting to the point where it's possible to work at full capacity from the road. I do that these days since I need to stay connected to run my business anyway, but I'd still recommend just saving a pile of cash and going out on the road with no distractions.

See you on the road!

We worked for three years out of college to pay off school loans, get established (and then sell everything), and save 60k for our trip.

I spent only $27k in two years driving from Alaska to Argentina.[1] It was an absolutely like changing experience.

For anyone interested in this kind of self directed travel Overland, checkout WikiOverland[2] for all the information you'll need



Like the article. Some excellent advice however, I'd like to add a couple things. First, some background - my wife and I have been on the road for 6 months through South America and splurged on a trip to Antarctica. We're moving to Europe tomorrow.

Organizing Flights: Cheap flights abound and we've travelled almost only by bus once on a continent. Bus is cheap, I can't say that I find it particularly enjoyable. I'd argue against the RTW ticket, it seem superfluous. I just booked tickets 2 days ago from Buenos Aires to Rome for $940, I like the price and flexibility.

Packing: Smaller is better, to a point. My wife and I have 40L packs, I'd recommend 45L or 50L. If you travel with fewer electronics than we do, a 40L pack would be fine. (http://orofino.me/daniels-rtw-packing-list/)

Accommodations: I'd add Airbnb to that list, we're getting higher quality accommodations for the price of dorm beds (2 people) in Europe. Hostels have been great in South America though. Plus you get to stay with a local who can show you good restaurants.

Cash and Electronics: Americans, get a Capital One card, zero international fees. I agree on electronics, don't show them off everywhere and you should be fine. In the poorest of countries in South America we didn't have any issues. We travel with a travel power strip, I recommend it so you only need one travel adapter.

Companions: Travelling with my wife is awesome... most of the time. At the start we argued way more than we did at home. I chalk this up to the stress of new environments and of living something you've been dreaming about for 5 years. After a month, we settled down into a groove and are loving every minute.

Lifestyle: Please, never stay anywhere for less than 3 nights. It helps you get a feel for the city. We occasionally stay for a week or a bit more in places so that we can get a real feel for it.

How was Antarctica? Would you recommend it? Any tips for how to arrange the trip?

It was amazing, though the cost is nothing to scoff at. If you've got the spare cash it is absolutely worth it.

I just wrote up our experience yesterday. http://orofino.me/antarctica-the-genesis-2/

One quibble:

> "no point giving commission to a travel-agent when you can plan it yourself."

Travel agents often purchase in bulk and can get discounts that you can't get via 'do it yourself' flight tools. I recently travelled to Vancouver and Helsinki from New Zealand (effectively a round-world ticket) that worked out about $NZ 700 cheaper via an agent than online.

Good agents are also adept at 'working the system' - ie, knowing when and where cheap flights are available, upcoming deals, etc. It would pay to check whether your agent can do a better deal before booking online.

Further more, in some countries a local broker may get you a far better deal than you would ever get online. It is just that online tools penetration is not quite there for the smaller tour/lodge/travel operators in 3rd world countries.

One example:From Lima to Cuzco (on your way to Machu Pichu) Flight via regular airline ~$300. Overnight bus on a 1st class seat/bed (Very comfy!) ~$30! (You sleep most of the way, so you save 1 night hotel and adjust to the high altitude while on the road)

From what I have heard, that bus ride is pretty hairy. Not sure if this was in first class or not but a friend who recently went there opted for the flight. Then again he was only there for a few weeks and time was probably a bigger factor than budget.

One in-between option is to front $25-50 and ask FlightFox (http://flightfox.com/) users to come up with an itinerary. They can't access bulk deals or anything of that sort, but they tend to be pretty good at the "working the system" angle imo, finding public but obscure booking options that I probably wouldn't have found.

I believe some of the FlightFox users are travel agents, so they probably can take advantage of special deals.

Travel agents don't always have the best options. I traveled on 5 continents this year, taking 30 flights total. My total cost of flights was also about 7k, compared to the author's same cost for half the flights. I booked everything separately, using Kayak, Hipmunk, and local airline offices in Nepal, Fiji, and Jordan. If you research travel hacking and follow those tips, you can find great deals.

The main bonus for me was the freedom to fly where I chose, rather than where the airline offering the RTW ticket.

No, but its important not to rule it out entirely, which is attitude I used to have, which I have since changed. Agents often allow full flexibility by cancelling flights and crediting them to a new flight, allowing a lot more freedom than the independent route. I know I saved a lot of money and was able to double my time in South America purely because I booked through an agent. It costs an extra $100 USD at the time but I changed the flights 4 separate times to extend dates, change destinations.. well worth it in that regard

I remember reading this last time it came through. The only thing I'd differ with is the RTW ticket. Don't do that.

I always book a single one-way flight to start my trip. Bangkok, Cape Town, Cartagena, etc. Just get to one end of a continent and plan on spending as much time as you need moving across it.

Dates on the calendar are the biggest source of unhappiness when you're on the road. There's nothing worse than having to leave a place you're really enjoying because you have a flight to catch two countries away next week. You'll never expect to spend six months in the place you end up spending six months in. If you book ahead of time you're guaranteed to have to either blow off your expensive ticket or miss out on what would have been the best part of your trip.

Definitely agree with the RTW ticket. We bought a one-way flight from Sydney to Buenos Aires, never looked back. It's an incredible amount of freedom not knowing which port will be your way home, or whether your trip will turn from 3 months into a year. Never lock yourself in to something that can't be altered, changed or cancelled without a massive hit to your finances.

RTW ticket may be cheaper but it also limits the direction you can go. Buying a one way ticket gives you the ultimate flexible.

Also, working with a travel agent allows you to get "fake" return tickets which many visa's applications require.

I've heard people can get turned away for not having a return ticket, is that true?

I've had it happen to me twice.

On landing in Cape Town, the only other ticket I had booked was from Nairobi to Cairo. Evidently, they figured I'd be able to do that without ever leaving South Africa, so it wasn't sufficient proof. In the end, all they did was cut my 3 month visa-on-arrival down to one month.

Another time, checking in for a SEA-BKK flight, I was stopped at the counter for only having a one-way ticket. So I booked a full fare, refundable, return flight on the spot, then found the airline office in Bangkok the next day and refunded it.

Most places, it's not an actual issue. Scary places like Russia and the USA are exceptions.

Yes, but I recently had a rather curious experience at the Thai consulate in the US. Their web site states you need to show tickets in and out and a bank statement. I printed these out, but the receptionist handed back these documents before sending me to the visa window, so they were never considered. Perhaps the requirement was dropped and the website not updated. I do know that if you overstay your welcome, you will be fined per day you are late leaving the country.

Yes. One time I had to buy a one-way ticket back at the airport. Now I paid by credit card and cancelled my ticket as soon as I could and got most of my money back, but it was still a bit of a PITA, and reinforced in me the importance of always having a decent buffer on an emergency credit card.

Yes, seen it happen but you can often talk your way out of it, or print a fake bus ticket. Other times you'll be less lucky, it really depends on how you get on the desk. Technically its the law in a lot of countries but often not enforced.. up to you whether its worth the risk!

Yes, but just book a fully-flexible return, the refund it after you've entered the country. Quite a stupid rule given it can be so easily circumvented.

Good article I especially like the perspective about one months income to one years travel.

If your thinking about doing this one thing I would recommend is a much smaller backpack. With a 90L pack you are lugging it around everywhere, you will also look like a tourist everywhere you go.

See http://tynan.com/2010gear, Tim Ferris also has a post on light packing I believe. A 22l can be done (although prob not with an SLR).

An added benefit is you will not need to check luggage for flights.

Yes, a 90L pack is quite big, and the thing about backpacking is you almost always fill whatever size bag you use. I have a 50L bag that is perfect. In my younger days I did 6 weeks with a 30L (include an SLR), but it really wasn't worth the hassle of packing it so full. The zipper actually broke towards the end of the trip.

I agree that there is such a thing a too small, something the backpacker community seems to eschew [see Tynan article above]. We've been travelling for 6 months with 40L packs, we're consistently wishing they were about 5-10L larger.

However, we make due and are always grateful when we see a fellow backpacker with an enormous bag.

Figure a weight < 15kgs as well, but your volume @ ~40-50L is about right, IMHO.

It's a nitpick, but what kind of consulting pays $22k after tax from one month's work? Does Ruby/JS consulting really pay $500k a year in the US?

Depends on your country's tax system, but one of the advantages of only working one month a year is that you usually fall below most minimum tax brackets. Or at least only get lightly taxed and can reclaim most of it.

It's not uncommon for a Ruby or JS (i.e. specializing in Backbone) developer to charge $200+ an hour, which fulltime could bring in just north of $30k a month.

If you reduce your mobility and spend longer periods of time in places you can drastically reduce costs. You may also find that you get a better experience and understanding of a place by staying there for longer. I completely agree about travelling by land rather than air! This is a great tip!

I did my trip last year. 21k and not a booking (not even planes). My only advice is: do not plan things that much.

Traveling is not a job. It is not about filling up a to do list. Of course there are specific things you want to see, but you should not turn your trip into a real-world travelling salesman problem. We all know it is NP-hard.

Travelling is about living experiences, meeting people that move you in some weird way. Be flexible. Be open. Forget travel agents. It is a life changing experience. Good luck everyone.

couldn't agree more, the things you book up front you will regret and wish you'd waited to arrange when you got there. 6 months in south america and the one thing I booked (machu picchu trek) was a constant annoyance to plan around. dont entirely rule out travel agents, they can offer even more flexibility in terms of flight changes, but stay well away from booking things in advance

I've been thinking about this and I have one major question.

I'm not a particularly nervous person and I'm comfortable in a lot of situations, but I'm not very good at being pushy and as a younger chick, not going to intimidate anyone. I'm not saying I fear for my physical safety, but even as a target to hustle into buying things.

I'm really not sure: should there be any concerns for a girl traveling alone on a non-tourist-beaten track?

There are a few things I'd take issue with in this post. I'm currently 5 months in to a South American trip, and developing along the way (frontend dev).

Firstly, a 90L is absurd and far, far too large. My girlfriend and I carry 38L Deuter packs that do the job perfectly, without breaking our backs.

If you're American, travel in South America can be difficult as visa's are required for almost every country. USA, Canada and Australia are forced to be between $80 and $150 when arriving by air in to Buenos Aires or Santiago. Australians also need a proper Brazilian visa to enter the country, and a flight out of Brazil.

It is definitely possible to work while you travel, but the added stress of having expensive pieces of hardware (MBP, iPad etc) with you while you're in these places can sometimes not be worth it.

I would highly recommend working your butt off and saving minimum $10k, potentially $15 / $20k and then leaving your tools at home and getting out there with the least amount of tech as you can manage. Still jump online, network, Twitter, meet folk along the way but focus on what's important; travel.

Brazil requires Americans to have a visa but it's the only country in South America to do so. Others charge a reciprocity fee - Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and possibly others. But you can pay it when you land and they don't always charge it depending on whether you enter in a big city or a small border town.

Regarding your issues, I have issues (well, issue): Travel in South America does not require visas for an American. It is very easy to travel here, we've had no problem for the last 6 months.

Bolivia charges a reciprocity fee upon entry for all Americans. Other than that we haven't paid anywhere else. That said, we've done land border crossings since Colombia. Brazil, Argentina, and Chile WILL charge a fee when you fly into them internationally.

We've also travelled for 5 months through the poorest countries of South American with an iPad, MBA, 2 iPhones, 2 Kindles, and $2,000 in camera gear. This doesn't cause stress, you just don't flaunt these things openly in public.

I however agree with the sentiment of not working while travelling.

That's great to hear about traveling here as an American. I was only going off what other Americans had told us, they had said it was harder than it needed to be. We have just about the same gear you're traveling with, and I totally agree; just don't flaunt it around in public and you're fine. We haven't had any problems at all (so far!) with that.

As a matter of interest, which hardware (specifically laptop) did you take along? I'm about to do a trip and am unsure whether to take a MBA on the road with me.

I've got a 13" 2009 MBP w/ 2x internal hard drives. Also have a 3rd gen iPad. We sync everything to DropBox, but had major problems getting our SLR shots and my work synced while we were in Bolivia, the internet there was terrible. Argentina, Chile and Brazil have damn good internet.

I usually work for 6-9 months contracting and then set about an area of the world to travel, this year I've done Australia and Central America. Come April next year my plan is to start off in NYC, travel the states for 6 weeks and then spend 6 or so weeks trying to promote my startup in SF.

As an added extra I would suggest checking out flightfox.com (no association), I recently plugged in an 8 stop trip and managed to get really good prices from their agents. The advice they gave though about where and when to book for the best discounts by airline was probably more useful.

A great tip other posters have noted, take the advice and book a single outbound flight then use other carriers when you have chosen your next destination.

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts is a very good book for more information on world traveling on the cheap.


"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." - Mark Twain

I really dislike this quote since is so obviously false. If you read Twain (e.g. Innocents Abroad) you've got to believe he was being ironic when he said this.

If you plan on traveling around the World for a year, I highly recommend couchsurfing, which Alex did not mention. You'll save a lot of money and get to know places a lot better through it. If you haven't tried it yet and want to know more about it, check out the recently released full length documentary One Couch at a Time

(disclaimer: my girlfriend made the documentary, but even if she wasn't my girlfriend, I would recommend it to others interested in traveling the world.)

Just bought it, thanks for the recommendation!

I'd really like to do this sort of thing. But given my current income (1k $ per month) and living expenses (about half goes to rent, food, etc.), I'm not sure I would be able save enough for a month of backpacking to neighbouring countries, let alone another continent :(

One of my good friend is starting his travel around the world in January. He's writing a "hacker / dev / traveller blog" at http://www.maximebf.com

My goal is to travel around the world one day but for now I have a goal of competing in the 2016 Olympics so that kind of takes up full time.

With my job I also can't just quit it... but when I am done I will do a trip like this, go for a year and see where I go. Start up here in Canada, work my way down through the US, through Mexico, down through South America (quick trip to Antartica) - hope over to Africa travel up the eastern side, through the middle east, India, Asia, down through New Zealand and Australia before going home.

glad to hear there's many like us in the community. I have been managing my business online and travelling for 11 years now. My own RTW: http://www.tripfoto.com/roundtheworld/ (excuse the horrible website, here's better http://www.tripfoto.com). Greetings from Riga.

Beautiful pictures!

My partner and I squeezed in a 10 day Mediterranean cruise during our 3 month backpacking trip. It was a great way to get back on budget (cost about $40/person/day for room and board + 3 meals) and it was pleasantly fun to get dumped at a new port every morning.

OT: $22k for one month consultancy is pretty nice. I can only dream charging that in my country.

If I had enough money to travel the world, I won't do it in only one year...

cost of travelling is relative, it costs suprisingly little to travel in a lot of places (south east asia, south / central america). only barrier is flights and these are very cheap these days

East/west africa are also very cheap. have been away for 4 months and spent close to $500 a month in Rwanda, Kenya and Sierra Leone. Only costs are flights really.

Off topic design comment.

The site is defaulting to FreeSerif on my Linux machine (tested w/ Chrome, Firefox, Opera) and the kerning is absolutely terrible: http://i.imgur.com/iQyq0.png

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