4 Things to Consider When Planning Long Term Travel

A year ago today I had a new resolution on my New Year’s list.  For once it wasn’t to cook better meals for my family, or to exercise more.  This resolution was one I was determined to make happen…

Travel Around the World

Just a few years ago I had all but given up my dream for our family to travel around the world together.  I thought this type of adventure was reserved for 20-something backpackers or well-heeled retirees.

Then, I met Annie.

Exactly two years ago, we were waiting for a flight in the Bangkok airport when I spotted Annie and her family a few rows over.  They were the only other Americans around; we were carrying identical red Osprey backpacks; and they were headed to the exact same hotel in Chiang Mai.  I knew it was a sign.

Then I learned they weren’t just traveling over the Christmas break; they were traveling for a whole year!  From that moment on, I knew I’d never be satisfied with two week vacations again.  Annie had opened my eyes to the possibility of around-the-world (RTW) family travel.

Dale and I became determined to make it happen, but we had so many questions about so many different things. I read a lot of other family travel blogs and surfed dozens of forums to try and sort out the best answers for us.

Questions to consider before your RTW trip:

1.  Backpack or roller luggage?

Do a google search and this is probably THE most debated topic on long term travel.  I’ve traveled both ways and they each have their pros and cons.  We used backpacks when we traveled around Europe on our honeymoon.  I was in my 20’s, and it was great.  Two years ago, I used a backpack to travel around Thailand and Cambodia.  I was in my early-40’s, and it was miserable.

For us, the best combination is a ~25” roller suitcase for clothes and toiletries, and a daypack to carry travel documents, electronics, and medications. The daypack with travel docs and electronics is heavy enough by itself. I can’t imagine the weight of my clothes and toiletries on top of that. Besides, we are not trekking the Himalayas, we are mostly flying or training from point to point.  In our scenario, wheels are your friends.

When purchasing luggage there are two main considerations: size and weight. Many of the European, Asian, and Australian low cost airlines have very restrictive carry on allowances, meaning you will most likely check your luggage anyway. The checked baggage fees are determined by the weight of your bag, so every ounce matters. It’s important to buy the lightest suitcase you can find, or else you will rack up hefty baggage fees.

We are using IT suitcases. They are super lightweight, and very reasonably priced if you can find them at TJMaxx.

My daypack is the Kelty Babs in teal.  I love it!  It has padded sleeves for the Macbook Air and iPad, cord organizing compartments, a fleece lined pocket for the camera, water bottle holders, and more. It is my favorite daypack ever.

Verdict: Roller bag with day pack

2.  Where do we go and how long do we stay? Deep and narrow? Or shallow and wide?

What I mean by this is: are you planning to travel slowly, stay in places longer and really get to know an area; or are you skipping your way around the world?

Deep and Narrow:

PROS: Learn more about the culture and customs of the places visited; less expensive; less tiring

CONS: See fewer places; can become boring if you have itchy feet

Shallow and Wide:

PROS: See more places; experience more things

CONS: More expensive; more planning involved

Verdict: We are definitely skipping.  However, it is important to us to show our girls as much of the world as we can.  Besides, we each had different places on our wish list to visit and they just happened to be on three different continents.  

3.  Book in advance or on the road?

This is another hotly debated topic. Do you pre-plan your journey and miss out on the spontaneity of letting a journey unfold? Or do you spend time planning while traveling?

We ended up doing both. Since we were going to be in Australia and New Zealand during their peak season (Christmas AND summer), we pre-planned five weeks.  Otherwise, we’ve been figuring it out along the way.

Based on the counsel of RTW veterans, we opted to buy point-to-point tickets rather than a RTW ticket. This has given us much greater freedom in planning our journey. So far, this has worked out very well.

PRO: We’ve been able to take advantage of regional low cost carriers and are currently significantly under budget for flights.

CON: Since we don’t know where we’re going next, we end up spending a lot of time researching airfares and lodging rather than enjoying where we are at the moment.

Verdict: It depends.

4.  Which electronics to bring? How much is too much?

Our electronics list:

1 Macbook Air laptop (for homeschool)

1 Acer netbook (for homeschool)

4 iPad/iPad mini/tablet (one per person)

1 iPhone 5 (suspended cell service; can use international SIM cards or WIFI)

1 Panasonic Lumix compact camera

1 international adapter

1 3-outlet plug

1 GPS (for New Zealand)

chargers and cords

In the beginning, I thought we were electronics heavy. However, this has turned out to be the perfect mix of electronics.

The biggest issue we have in the electronics arena is that one of the computers is fabulous (Macbook Air) and one is awful (Acer).

Verdict: The only other items I would add to the electronics list would be an additional adapter and 3-outlet plug. With eight items requiring daily charging, an additional adapter would be helpful.

Once you decide to embark on a long term journey, you’ll quickly find yourself asking these four questions, plus many others.  For most of these questions there are no right or wrong answers.  Every traveler has his own opinion.

Ultimately, you’ll be the one pulling or carrying the luggage, and planning and paying for the trip; so do what works best for you.

Finally, if your Bucket List includes RTW travel, I hope I can be your Annie!

For more Frequently Asked Questions, please visit our FAQs page.

12 thoughts

  1. I’m Annie’s sim-card-searching-husband and one of the interesting things we found was just how easy, and mostly inexpensive, it is to get local cell service. Often, we would have a SIM card handed to us at airports with free data. Really made me realize what poor and overpriced service we have in the US. I had an “unlocked” phone from AT&T but it wasn’t really easy until I bought a truly unlocked phone while traveling. That phone worked everywhere. Sure is nice to have data and Google maps when first arriving someplace.

    We carried power adaptors, but that was one thing that was often pretty easy to find once in a new city. What I did find really useful was a small power strip to charge multiple devices. A room with only one electrical outlet was not uncommon and the long cord on the power strip really helped as well.

    Even after a year of traveling I’m still not sure on the roller bag vs. backpack debate. And I say that being in my mid-fifties. Getting by with smaller bags is probably the best advice. Our kids lived out of day packs for a year. (Helps if you are always in a warm climate!) Our Osprey bags contained fewer and fewer items as our year progressed.

    Having one bag per person helped keep track of things on travel days. We did have a small, very light-weight day pack we used for our daily outings. But, that was one thing we left (and later retrieved) at the New Delhi airport. I thought about a separate bag for our valuable things — but then it just seemed like a target. No perfect solution.

    1. Great advice on the SIM card. We haven’t bought one yet. We are in country #8 and have been surviving on free WIFI so far. However, we just arrived in New Zealand, and there is no free WIFI here. It is dreadfully expensive, so I’ll have to check into the SIM card with data options.

      Yes, I was very impressed with how little your family traveled with! Definitely sticking with warm climates helps. We have clothes for all climates, and we’ve been leaving clothes along the way too!

  2. Wow, I’m quite the inspiration…

    One thing we did with the electronics is unlock our phones. Bill spent a whole day with my iPhone jailbreaking it and had bought a phone in the States already unlocked. Every where we went we put in a new SIM card. We have numbers from all over the world. And save oodles of money on phone calls and data. We laughed every time we arrived in a new country and watched Bill head to a phone store to negotiate in a new language.

  3. Hi K-Rae, Loved the post. RTW would be great if I could get Mom away from the Telly! Your Aussie friends sound great. Can’t wait to see all the pics. My piece of garbage (Acer) works just fine – thank you very much! Be safe. Love y’all. Dad

    1. Dad, you bring up an excellent point. I’m sure Acer does make some good computers. In all fairness to the Acer, I should disclose that the Acer cost $200 and the Mac cost 5x that amount. For the price difference there better be a difference in performance!
      Love you!

  4. Hi y’all! I hope Sydney is treating you well, and I hope New Years was the sydney highlight. I think that your plan of travel with your family is incredible, think 20 years from now, and you will still be talking about it! Love, and all the best, Zofia xx

    1. Hi Zofia! I’m so glad the use of “y’all” is catching on Down Under. We’re depending on you to educate all of your mates about this wonderful southern U.S. pronoun.

      We are so delighted that we met the coolest Aussie family in Vietnam. Thank you for a fantastic evening at your spectacular home (with spectacular toilet) on beautiful Bronte beach. It has been one of the highlights of our RTW adventure.

      Love to you and your sweet family!

      P.S. Please tell your mom that we’d like her recipe for the pavlova. Delaney wanted a third piece but thought that would be rude! We are still talking about it.

  5. So much incredible information! I love the writings and images. Are you taking much video?

    Blessings and Happy New Year!

    1. Being the video genius that you are, it will probably give you heartburn to know that I haven’t taken any video. I wish I had you in my backpack creating something fabulous for us!

  6. Kellie-Love this journey you are on! My only question is about the camera. I love to take my large camera on trips and I know that you also love to take great photos. What type of camera do you use on this type of trip, and has it been sufficient as far as quality goes? The photos on your blog look great, so as far as quality goes I think I answered my own question. Stay safe and have fun! Danica

    1. Great question, Danica. I’m going to update the page with that info. I use a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 compact camera. I’ve been pretty happy with it overall. It takes good photos for a point-and-shoot. It would probably take even better pictures if my photography skill set was a bit more advanced. I just use the automatic setting or scenes, but it can be adjusted manually by someone who knows what she’s doing. 😉

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