How to Take a Year Off and Travel the World

I talk to so many people about this.  They all “wish” they could do it.

I don’t know if they honestly do.  Such assertions are inevitably followed up by an excuse, a reason as to why they can’t go.

The excuses never make sense – to me anyway.

There will never be a perfect time to go, or do most things in life.

For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. “Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct course along the way.” – Tim Ferriss

If you want to go, just do it.

Go.

Make it happen.

Capitalise on the present, when you’re relatively young and healthy. It will only get harder as you grow older, and your health can always take a surprising turn for the worst. Make the most of the opportunity you have now.

Trust me it’s simple, if you’ve always wanted to take some time out and travel the world, this is all you need to do:

1. Decide Where You Want To Go

Brainstorm

This is the fun part. If money was not an issue, where would you visit?  What experiences would you have?

You don’t have to me a millionaire to have memorable experiences.  What gets you excited?

What places have the power to encourage you to save money?  You need to design a trip that will inspire you!

Write it all down. Let yourself dream. You need to motivate yourself to put in the hard work of making this happen. It’s easier to motivate yourself when you’re looking forward to a Grand Six Month Adventure, not so much when you’re looking at ten days in Tenerife.

Prioritise.

Is there anywhere you’ve always dreamed of visiting? Anywhere that’s on your bucket list?  If it’s a child hood dream to go on safari, then make it happen.

If you are aiming to travel at a certain time of year, you might want to consider the weather, or any festivals you might want to attend (or avoid) – Oktoberfest in Germany, running with the bulls in Pamplona, Carnival in Rio etc.

We tried to prioritise active pursuits like hiking, camping and backpacking. Mainly because I’m guessing that sleeping on the ground, staying in hostels, or hiking for days might be harder for us to do when we are 50-70.

If you are aiming to have children you might want to prioritise experiences that might not be so good with children, such as, a romantic week in Venice and Lake Gada, city breaks spent sipping coffee in cafes and traipsing around art galleries, or relaxing at luxury adults-only resorts.

Itinerarise (optional)

The idea is to get a rough idea of where you want to go, although you don’t need to do this at all.

You could just book a flight to one city and work it out when you get there, vagabonding styley.  It all depends on how comfortable you are with going with the flow.  If you’re laid back about money, what you will do, or where you will go, you can easily do this.

Unfortunately, I’m a maximiser and often get obsessed with wanting to use my time on earth well.  It’s not healthy. The thought of spending precious unpaid time not pursuing a long held travel goal would cause a lot of anxiety.  I had so many places that I was burning to see, so many things I couldn’t wait to do. Thankfully, I’m more laid back now when it comes to travel.

It can also be helpful when budgeting to know roughly how long you want to stay in a country or city or region. Or, to know any experiences or day trips that you have your heart set on, such as trekking with gorillas, a residential Spanish course, or getting your PADI. These experiences are often expensive and you might need to budget specifically for them, timewise too.

Look at various tour company itineraries and get inspired. Dragoman is awesome for overland trips. Intrepid also have some great itineraries, as do Audley.

Check out Lonely Planet’s websites and country guides.  You can usually download a sample to the country guides from Amazon on to your Kindle. The samples usually include the top ten sights of each country or region which can be useful.

The books are also good for suggesting itineraries and giving you an idea of how long you might want to spend in each place.

There are heaps of travel blogs and forums out there.  Travel Independent was one of my favourite resources.  Other travel blogs I read regularly include Wandering Earl, The Everywhereist, Legal Nomads, and Nomadic Matt.

2. Figure Out How Much It Will Cost

The easiest way to record all this is in a spreadsheet.  But again, if you’re laid back or don’t have to worry about money, then you might not want to bother.

For me, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. Over-estimate is better than under-estimating. If you’re coming under budget or spending less than you thought you would, that’s awesome. It can get stressful if you’re spending a lot more than you anticipated.

Transport

Flight prices are easy to search for on SkyScanner, Kayak or Opodo.

Buying flights with points is well worth getting into. You can also use points for hotels and car hire. Chris Guillebeau is the best person to turn to for advice on this kind of thing, especially if you live in the US.

You can get round the world packages but I am yet to find one that worked out cheaper than paying for one way, (or sometimes return), tickets.  You also have to spend time talking to agents and reviewing the terms and conditions which can be time consuming. Still, they are worth considering, especially if you are flexible on where you are going.

Rough estimates for fuel or bus or train journeys can be found on Rail Europe, or Rome2Rio.  Rome2Rio and Google Maps can also be useful for estimating how long it takes to get from place to place.

Accommodation

Booking.com, TripAdvisor and AirBnB can help you figure out your accommodation costs.

Meals

Budget Your Trip and Lonely Planet are great resources for finding out how much you should budget for meals and alcohol.

Activities and Day Trips

If you really want to go hand gliding in Rio, or sky diving in New Zealand, look up tour companies who offer such trips on TripAdvisor (usually listed under the “activities” section in Rio) and get some quotes.

Working

Are there any countries in which you could potentially pick up work for a while to finance your trip?  Australia and Canada have pretty good working holiday visas if you’re under a specific age or have a certain profession. Other schemes like teaching English in South Korea can be pretty lucrative if that’s what you want to do.

Stuff You Need to Buy

This is also the time to consider whether you’re going to need to buy any special clothing or equipment which you don’t have already and might not be able to rent or borrow. You might need to buy a decent rucksack for example, or a sleeping bag. Figure out how much that would cost.

We didn’t really consider how much gear might cost when we planned our Kilimanjaro trip.  We had no proper hiking stuff at the time. The cost of all the clothes and equipment we had to buy cost a small fortune!

Ongoing Financial Commitments

This is when you should also take into account any ongoing financial commitments you might have, such as loan or mortgage repayments.  Figure out if you can minimise or get rid of these commitments.

Can you talk to your bank and get a few months holiday on paying back the loan, or can you pay it all back before you leave?  Can you rent out your house for a few months while you are away, or are you going to sell your property before your leave?

Do you have any bank fees or any other bills (such as storage costs), you might have to continue paying while you are travelling?

Savings on Your Return

Is there any chance of negotiating a sabbatical with your employer so that you have a job to go back to, or do you want to start again?  In which case, how much savings will you need on your return? Where will you stay and how much will it cost?

It’s never wise to stretch yourself completely.  How much savings do you want to keep from being spent on travel?

3. Research When To Go

You don’t want to be in India during the monsoon season. Yes it’s cheaper, but it can also be pretty miserable – trust me I’ve been there.

Visiting these places is ultimately pretty expensive, make the most of your money by going at decent times, (that’s the maximiser in me talking again…).

Also, bear in mind that some countries have seasons that affect various parts of the country at different times.  For example, the monsoon affects various parts of India, Malaysia and Indonesia at different times of the year – it might be raining in the south but okay in the north.  Do your research.

The same applies to any activities you might want to do.  The Inca Trail is shut in February for example, while snow makes trekking in some areas impossible in winter.

Also – check out what local festivals may be on, and what the impact may be on the places you are hoping to visit.  You might not want to be in Dubai or Morocco during Ramadan for example.  Easter sounds good in Europe, but many places are often closed and pretty quiet. Carnival would be amazing in Rio but you will have to pay peak prices for a minimum stay of a week wherever you go. New Year sounds like a fun time to visit, but many places shut down during public holidays – you might be better off visiting another time.

4. Research Visas ASAP

This might be boring and can be a logistical nightmare, but you will save yourself much heartache if you figure this out in advance.

Are visas available on arrival or do you need them in advance?

Find out ASAP if you need to apply for any visas in advance and if so, whether you need to apply while you are still in your home country.

As a British national, the FCO website was my bible for this.  I think most countries have an equivalent website.

We spent ages, (AGES I tell you!), crafting these elaborate round the world itineraries, only to have to start all over again when we found out that we would need to get visas in advance for India and China while still in the UK.  (We could potentially have got our Chinese visa in Hong Kong but couldn’t afford to fly there first.)

Find out whether you can apply for a visa elsewhere e.g. you can easily apply for a Burmese visa from the Myanmar Consulate in Bangkok.  However, we had no choice but to apply for our Indian visas while were still in London.

When do you need to enter the country? 

Most advance visas are issued with a clock that starts ticking as soon as they are put in your passport.  There is then a time limit within which you have to enter that country.

We had to enter China within three months of the visa being granted, and India within five months.

How much time are tourists usually given?

There’s no point planning a six month continuous trip around Indonesia if you’re only likely to be given 30-60 days as a tourist. You might want to re-consider your trip or plan on taking periodic flights out of the country.

Check the cost

Some visas cost a small fortune e.g. Indian and Russian visas for UK citizens, (I’m sure they cost us over £100 each).

Applications vary too. Some are simple, some like the Russian and Chinese visa forms for British nationals are time consuming, and require sourcing an array of supporting documents.

5. Research Vaccinations and the Tablets You Might Need

It’s worth going to see a travel doctor that can advise you on vaccinations and any tablets you might need.

Some vaccinations require several injections which need to be administered over a certain period of time so it’s worth getting the ball rolling on this ASAP.

I used the NHS’ Fit for Travel website to figure out what vaccinations or malaria tablets we might need. Some injections are expensive so be sure to budget for these too.

The brand of malaria tablets with the least side effects is Malarone but the brand is expensive. I took Doxycycline for over 6 months as it was cheaper – I wouldn’t recommend it if you can afford anything better!

Also, don’t forget about travel insurance, which can also cost a bit depending on what you are planning on doing and going. Shop around.

5. Book It

By now, you should have an idea of what you want to do and how much it will all cost.

Unless you’re lucky, you probably won’t have the time and money to do everything you want to do.

Also, planning is all well and good, but until you get to your destination, you’re not going to know how much you are actually going to spend.  I’ve known people who’ve budgeted for a 12 months round the world trip, only to end up going home after 3 months having spent all their money in Oz.

Add a good contingency to your budget if you have one – go for 10-20%.  This will also give you some comfort if you have to go home in a hurry.

You will never feel like you will have enough money. It will never be the right time at work, for your family, or your friends.

Unless you’re eliciting travel advice, don’t discuss your plans with friends and family until you’re well and truly booked.  In my experience, they might dissuade you.  They’re reaction might unnerve you and make you re-think the whole thing. Don’t do it.

Check your notice period at work, any dates of events you might not want to miss, and figure out how long you need to save and get the ball rolling on any vaccinations or visa applications.

Pick your departure date and book your first flight, or section of the trip if e.g. it’s an organised tour.

The trick is to commit. You can do this in a matter of minutes. You’ll then be forced to save, forced to make it happen. Don’t think too much about it, or you’ll paralyse yourself and do nothing. You need to make a decision and just do it.

You can figure everything else out along the way.

Enjoy your adventure.

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