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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.

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