Travel Tips: 10 Most Common RTW Planning Mistakes

12 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]1: Booking a RTW Ticket
If you’re following a fixed route through expensive cities and your time is very limited, RTW tickets can work out cost-effective. In general? Most longterm or budget travellers are better off piecing together a route using cheap airlines, last minute deals, online specials and local travel agents.

RTW (round-the-world) tickets expire after a year, often cost extortionate fees to change, and are, generally, much, much more of a commercial proposition for agent and airline than the bargain they at first appear. Doubt me? Check out AirAsia’s advance fares on the big transcontinental routes.

2: Ignoring Travel Time
Hmmm…. You want three days in Chiang Mai. Then three days in Phuket. They’re in the same country, right? It’ll be just like hopping on the bus. Err… No. If you believe in itineraries (and that’s a whole other story), at least allow for the travelling time between destinations. And in some parts of the world, that’s a WHOLE lot of time. Research it online, if you’re thorough. If not allow at least a day, more often two. Most of us don’t want to get straight off a plane and hit the sights. And after an 18 hour bus journey? Fuggedaboutit.

3: Getting the Seasons Wrong
Finland in January? Sure. Provided you know it can get to thirty below quite easily. Cambodia during the rainy season? Well, the Mekong looks great and the weather’s dramatic, but the roads will be like soup. Egypt in high summer? Only for the brave, or those travelling in fleets of A/C vehicles. When you’re planning where you’ll be when, use a site like BBC World Weather Country Guides to check temperatures, rainfall and more.

4: Leaving No Free Time
You might be able to plan a two-week holiday like a cultural route march through must-see sites. Try that for more than a month and you’ll be miserable and exhausted. You lose the opportunity to take spontaneous trips to places you’ve never heard of, hook up with people you meet along the way — and you have no leeway when transport connections take longer than expected.

5: Hitting the High Season
One of the great bonuses of longterm travel is being able to avoid, to a large degree, the hordes of tourists and fellow travellers who descend on wherever you want to see during high season. Aim to be in popular spots when other people, in general, aren’t. That means missing the Western summer, Easter and winter holidays, and researching local holidays too: religious, national and, importantly, school.

6: Missing the Natural Big Event
Whale sharks in Honduras? Nesting turtles off Borneo? The great surf breaks of Bali? The ski runs of Chamonix? They all have their natural high points. Go at the wrong time of year and they, quite simply, won’t be there. Whoops.

7: Same Old, Same Old
After a few weeks of desert island bliss or hilltop heavens, most of us are gagging for the city. When you think about where you’re going, mix it up a little. Go from mountains to jungle, from glaciers to cities, from deserted islands to cultural sights, and you’ll get the balance that’s right for you.

8: Racing through Cities
From the transport to the street life, big cities take time to get a handle on. They just, well, do. And there’s much more to cities than the sights. Allow yourself a day for a city and you’ll spend most of your time blundering around or sitting in taxis. Give yourself long enough to appreciate the heartbeat of a city and experience its rhythms. A lot of the time that means, well, not doing very much at all.

9: Prebooking Tours
Many things are cheaper online. Organised tours of countries or regions are not among them. When you get to where you’re going, you’ll most likely feel perfectly competent to arrange your activities yourself. And, if not, there’ll be tours on offer there. And if you’ve just paid five times the rate of your new friends in town for a boat trip up the river, or weeks in a minibus with a bunch of folk you’ve never met, you’ll regret it. Bigtime.

10: Doing Too Much
Six months or a year might feel like a long time. When you’re on the road, it flies by. Try and cover five continents in a year and your experience will be superficial at best, and you’ll most likely be exhausted within months. Almost everyone who abandons their longterm travel plans and comes home early — which happens more often than you’d think — has tried to do too much. Slow travel is cheaper and better than speeding round the sights.

Are you travelling longterm? Have you travelled longterm? Are you planning longterm travel? What mistakes did you make planning? What are your top tips for people embarking on the same?

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40 Responses to “Travel Tips: 10 Most Common RTW Planning Mistakes”

  1. Jenny October 12, 2010 at 2:05 pm #

    The biggest mistake I see first timers make is packing too much travel in too little time. This leaves no room for rest and relaxation. It’s better to travel slow (also better on the pocket book) and really get to know a culture… those are always my best memories.

    • MummyT October 14, 2010 at 12:50 am #

      I could not agree more, madame. I’m at a sort of turning point in Indonesia: do we delve deeper into Halmahera, Morotai, Tidore, explore more closely within this smallish area. Or route through Borobudur to say we’ve seen it?

  2. Global Family Field Trip October 12, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    Thank you for writing this… We’ve been following your travels very closely. Your writing is poetic… and full of very useful information. We (me, husband, 2 daughters ages 7 & 4) are making plans for our great escape… hopefully by summer of 2011. Looking forward to following in your footsteps ! Perhaps our paths will cross.

    • MummyT October 14, 2010 at 12:51 am #

      Perhaps they will! We’ll still be out here somewhere… And I’m glad you found these useful…

  3. jessiev October 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm #

    brilliant, just brilliant. i love slow travel – it works so very well.

  4. scotttraveler October 13, 2010 at 5:39 am #

    good points all around… I’d add – packing too much stuff. You can buy clothes for the season when you get there; may cost a bit more but who wants to schlug a snow parka in Indonesia? Aside from a mosquito net and a camera, you can pretty much get it on the road…

    • MummyT October 14, 2010 at 12:53 am #

      Agree on the packing too much stuff. In our defence, we have actually used the warm coats. Bloody freezing on top of Mount Kinabalu. Plus pretty chilly in the jungle if you’re not packing sleeping bags. Camera a serious issue for me right now…

  5. StruxTravel October 14, 2010 at 10:34 am #

    This is a terrific advice! I am dying to do a RTW trip someday and will definitely refer back to your article for tips.

    • MummyT October 15, 2010 at 6:08 am #

      Do so! Time is the biggest factor — slow things down. And everyone I know who’s done more than one long trip swears blind they’ll never touch a RTW ticket again.

  6. Ayngelina October 15, 2010 at 6:27 am #

    Agree with all of the comments above, people burn out quickly by doing too much and not leaving room for down time.

    • MummyT October 17, 2010 at 4:28 am #

      Which does make it like a job, with no weekends…

  7. Caz Makepeace October 16, 2010 at 11:24 pm #

    Superb tips. I think I have made every one of those mistakes. We hit Etosha NP in Namibia in the wrong season and so missed out on seeing the animals at night around the waterholes (pretty famous for this) and we just missed the wildebeast migration at the Serengetti. Duh!! Won’t make those mistakes again.

    • MummyT October 17, 2010 at 4:35 am #

      Oh sh*t! Not a lot to do in Etosha NP out of season, I would imagine… I’ve made most, too, which is why I’m able to post about them…

    • Mullen December 7, 2010 at 4:42 am #

      sorry to worry you but what is the best time to go to Etosha and did you go to the bigt canyon. I have seen Grand Canyon and copper canyon so think of skipping this one.
      Thank you in advance

  8. Kieron October 16, 2010 at 11:45 pm #

    Thanks for this list – we’re in the process of planning a RTW and have made many of these mistakes on our past travels, particularly #4 and leaving no free time. We can’t wait to travel slowly and really enjoy our time away rather than rushing around trying to fit every last activity in.

    Avoiding high season might be slightly tougher as it generally coincides with nicer weather but we’re gonna try our best to adhere to these tips… time will tell whether or not we’re successful!

    • MummyT October 17, 2010 at 4:36 am #

      I think the ultimate high season is nice weather PLUS local holidays (or int’l holidays): i guess you kind of want to aim for the midseason (neither off, nor high) in climate-dependent places… Good luck with the planning, and keep me posted…

  9. Scott October 17, 2010 at 9:04 am #

    Like others have said packing too much is a very common mistake. We thought we were streamlined but ended up mailing packages back home. But I’d suggest keeping some comfort item with you.

    • MummyT October 17, 2010 at 10:59 pm #

      Good lord! What did you have that had the value to mail? Our major weight issue is books….

      • scotttraveler October 18, 2010 at 10:41 am #

        Yeah, weight of books – the Kindel fixed all that – best $150 I ever spent!

      • MummyT October 19, 2010 at 5:21 am #

        How sturdy is it? I heard that a toddler broke one by stepping on it. I’m thinking of that or conceivably an iPod, having just packed down for 5-6 days on an island, but we’re hard on our technology — all that slinging bags on and off the roofs of things…

  10. Jaime D. October 17, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    This is a great list with very good tips! I am planning my 1st RTW adventure and hope to be on the road for a year or two! I will be following all these rules!!! I am planning on doing 2 months in Europe (kinda a city blitz) then make my way through the Middle East, India & SEA the remainder of the year or two. Ill be going low & slow to make the $$$ last and indulge in the cultures!!!

    • MummyT October 17, 2010 at 11:01 pm #

      Thank you! And good luck! There’s a great deal to be said for meandering…

  11. sabin October 18, 2010 at 7:27 pm #

    Good tips. I’ll echo packing too much. I’ll be traveling indefinitely, starting Jan 2011. The challenge with meandering is often visa requirements. It’s not as simple as taking as much time as you like. Also, it’s difficult to avoid BOTH bad weather AND high seasons. Then all you’ve left is shoulder seasons and that’s a very narrow window to coordinate among the 20+ countries you’ll visit on a RTW, wihtout doubling back and with potential time constraints or not.
    Good things to consider but logistically unrealistic.

    • MummyT October 19, 2010 at 5:28 am #

      As regards visa requirements: most visas are extendable (you may need a local sponsor), or you can do a visa run across a border if you want more time. Whatever you do, don’t buy visas before you go (that was actually going to be on my list of most common mistakes, but it dropped off).

      They’re always easier and cheaper to pick up in nearby cities, and if you do your research you can get longer first-run visas in some places. In most major cities like BKK and Hanoi, even Phnom Penh, your guesthouse will do the whole thing for you. Folk on the ground will tell you about visa runs and visa extension workarounds, or mine the Lonely Planet forums or travelfish.

      As regards bad weather: I wouldn’t say a rainy season is bad weather (we’ve very much enjoyed the drama of tropical thunderstorms, sheets of rain, etc.). I’d love to see the Mekong or the Amazon at their height. But it’s definitely a period when there’ll be fewer folk around. Maybe I should have been more precise. I.e., avoid the savage times, and the peak times. Or simply, know what you’re getting into…

      As regards 20+ countries on a RTW, hopefully you’ll be spending more than a couple of weeks in each, so you should be able to coordinate climates.

  12. Snap October 19, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    Hey MummyT, I’m still keeping up to date with your blog and loving it, but decided to come back to this post to put my 2 cents worth in. I’ve never done a RWT, but do remember early on in our travels surveying a map of Beijing and convincing myself of how easy it would be getting around the city…I obviously didn’t take into account the distance scale and the actual population of the city. What a dummy!

    We leave tomorrow morning, I’m sorry I won’t get to meet you in Australia, so enjoy your stay here.

    Cheers!

    • MummyT October 25, 2010 at 6:11 am #

      Wise words, as ever, my virtual friend. And, as we’re in Asia for another year, I hope our paths cross physically as well as virtually.

  13. Sabin October 19, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

    “Whatever you do, don’t buy visas before you go (that was actually going to be on my list of most common mistakes, but it dropped off).”

    Generally solid advice for US citizen and most European citizens. ALWAYS check visa requirements and embassy availability before you go. If you’re Malaysian or Israeli or anything non…(western?) waiting to get visas isn’t necessarily a luxury you can afford. Also, if you’ve got time constraints, just pay to get visas in advance. Generally you have to make compromises between time and money…in life and in travel. 🙂

    • Laurent October 23, 2010 at 5:40 pm #

      I would agree with a lot of things except for the point number 10.

      It depends how each people. What they want with their trip.
      Most of the people I’ve met during my RTW where staying 6 months or 1 year in the same region.
      Which is great to see a lot more of the region.

      But some people like to do a RTW to see a little bit of each and then come back later on for a longer time in the places they enjoyed the more.

      The point by seeing all the different continent is that you don’t have time to miss home. Each time you visit something new, a new culture and some different things (but as said in point 7 you have to vary). And it’s pretty exhausting (and much more expensive as you’re moving a lot).

      But I started my travel 9 months ago in middle east and I’m currently in central america with 3 months left. And I enjoyed every time of it. I managed to avoid all the bad season at the same time and still got enough free time to change the plans.

      By the way for the point number 1 I would disagree also if you’re going on 5 continents. There are no fees to change the date and a change of flight is usually pretty cheap. When you have huge transocean planes it’s really neat.

    • MummyT October 25, 2010 at 6:14 am #

      Good correction, thank you. I assume the bulk of my readers are Western/US, and that’s wrong. And good point on the compromise we make twixt time and travel. Though I guess it depends what we’re waiting for.

      One small point I’d like to flag here: I’ve found visas infinitely easier at consulates than at embassies. Don’t know why. Just is. Anyone else had the same?

  14. JB October 20, 2010 at 6:46 am #

    Thank you for this list — it is very informative. I am in the very early stages of planning a RTW trip, which will be departing in the too far future. At this point, I’m just making lists of countries, sites, and experiences I’d like to do.

    I’d like to include Malaysia and Indonesia on my trip. How much time have you spent in each? And how does that compare with how much time you expected to spend in those countries? So I guess my question is: how slow is slow?

    • MummyT October 25, 2010 at 6:20 am #

      Yikes! That’s a big question. And, how slow is slow is very much up to you…

      However… Indonesia is patched together from hundreds of separate states and thousands of islands, with a diversity I’d argue is unique in the world. We’re hooked. We’re stuck. We’re looking at seven months. But you could hate it.

      Malaysia? Didn’t drag me so much, though I loved Borneo.

      So: the big surprise is Indonesia. I think a good way to do it might be to make lists of things you would like to see / experiences you would like to have, and see what countries fit there. A checkbox country by country approach rarely works, I feel…

  15. Dimitris October 22, 2010 at 2:40 am #

    Have been traveling since April 2009, first around Latin America, for the last nine months in Southeast Asia, and already mentioned common mistakes aside, I’d advise people to avoid two more mistakes I made. A) safety-wise, if, say, ten months pass and nothing, absolutely nothing, happens to you, resist the temptation to say “that’s it, I’m immune by now, nothing can touch me, since everything went well in A, B, C, everything will go smoothly in country D as well”. Don’t get paranoid over safety, even in unanimously considered “more risky” countries, but don’t get too careless either. B) go to every destination holding a small basket. Don’t go to a place expecting it to be the paradise on earth you have been dreaming it is, since you were 15. Even if it turns to be a cool place indeed, most probably it won’t be the paradise on earth you expected, and you will be left with mixed emotions, if not disappointed. Hold a small basket, just a small one, and most probably you will be pleasantly surprised. An 8 out of 10 feels different if you were expecting a 10+, or a 6-.
    Enjoy traveling, everyone.

    • MummyT October 25, 2010 at 6:20 am #

      Good advice, thanks.

  16. Chris October 23, 2010 at 6:22 am #

    Hi! Thank you for a great list. I am looking to embark rtw. i am still wondering wether to by a rtw ticket or not, I was told by the travel agent that with out a onward ticket you won’t be ale to get in to the country. I was wondering what practical advise you could share going without a rtw ticket? Also I am told that central america and china are very difficult to travel due to the profound lack of English is this true, or are they just trying to sell me their GAP trips? I love the idea of going where the day takes you, but I’m a woman traveling alone and wondering if I should consider safety issues.. I would greatly appreciate any input 🙂

    • MummyT October 25, 2010 at 6:27 am #

      Hiya, sorry for late response I’ve been, well, travelling. First-up: difficulty of entering a country without an onward ticket depends on what country you’re getting into and what one you’re from. I’ve been to 40ish and never had a ticket checked, but I’m a UK citizen. Plus I dress nice for customs.

      As regards languages: Spanish is easy for an English-speaker to pick up, so I wouldn’t worry about Central America (though if you’ve never spoken another language, have a few lessons so you’re not entirely stranded). China? We go next year and will be learning some Mandarin.

      Whatever, it’s cheaper to book a language course or a flight out than buy a GAP trip, so don’t do that, whatever you do. As regards safety… i think that depends on the country. I’ve done some very, very stupid things (hitch-hiked around pre-apartheid South Africa aged 19), which I wouldn’t recommend, but if you are safety aware you can still go with the flow. But sensibly. Not stupidly.

      • MummyT October 25, 2010 at 8:30 pm #

        One add: in China it very much depends where you’re travelling. You’ll most likely make friends with folk and travel with them for stretches, so I wouldn’t panic.

  17. The Travelling Mallorys December 31, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    These are nice tips and I’m enjoying your blog. We’re on a similar route and collating our top tips as we go on http://thetravellingmallorys.wordpress.com/top-tips

    Happy new year from Melbourne!

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