Have you ever wanted to travel around the world? It was my dream for years, and then I did it in 2014. People often ask me how I planned it. Here’s how…

1. Where to go.

Some people know exactly where they want to go. But if you’re like me, you’re interested in pretty much everywhere! With over 4,000 cities on earth (bbc.co.uk, 2015) you’d need many years to visit them all. Our first step is to narrow that down to a manageable number of countries. You’ll need these things:

  1. The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World by Lonely Planet
  2. Post-it tape flags in blue, green, red, and yellow.
  3. A highlighter. The yellow Sharpie Liquid Highlighter is my favourite.
  4. A wall map. The larger it is, the more detailed you can get. I love this 6′ wide mega map but a more manageable (and cheaper) 3′ wide map will do the trick.
  5. A cork board as large as your map. Again, easier when it’s 3′ wide.
  6. Map pins or flags in blue, green, red, and yellow.
  7. A spreadsheet. I use Google sheets because I like to be able to access it from any computer or even my phone, but you can use whatever you’re most comfortable with.

Let’s make a plan!

  1. Decide where you’d like to go. I recommend reading The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World by Lonely Planet. Each two-page spread provides a few key photos and a summary of one country. 250 pages deep you’ve covered nearly every country in the world. It highlights what to eat, what to see, what to do, languages, population, and best time to visit. I recommend you highlight the things about each country that interest you then rate each country on a scale of ten. If it’s an 8+, bookmark that page/country with a Post-it flag based on the best time of the year to visit. I grew up in Canada so I associate each color with the Canadian seasons, like this:
    • Blue – winter (December – February)
    • Green – spring (March – May)
    • Red – summer (June – August)
    • Yellow – fall (September – November)

    When you’re done reading, highlighting, and flagging the book, you’ll have your first draft of countries. Congratulations!

  2. Map it out. For each of those countries you flagged in the book, place a corresponding colored pin on your map. You may have a few pins for large countries with specific cities in mind.By mapping the pins visually, you’ll notice that one country might be best visited in the summer, whereas the country next to it is better in the fall or winter. I found this step especially helpful in Southeast Asia where it can be too hot, too rainy, or too crowded depending on the month. Because of this I ended up traveling in a circular pattern south, east, north, south, east, and north again. People often remarked, “you’re here at the perfect time of the year, how did you plan that?” Quite simply, I planned it, that’s all.So, you’ve mapped it out. Take a step back and look at your map. Based on the order of the pins – blue, green, red, yellow – look for adjacent countries with the same color or the next color in the pattern. If you’re keen about it you could take a string and start connecting the pins 🙂 But you don’t need to overplan at this point, just get a general sense of things.
  3. Pick a starting point. I had been working for seven years and gave my employer plenty of notice before I took a 13-month sabbatical, so I knew long before I started my trip roughly when I was going to go. Based on that date, February 2014, I looked at my cork-boarded pin-full map for the largest concentration of blue “winter” pins. For me, that was Southeast Asia. That became my starting point. For an exact destination, I looked for the cheapest flight into the area:
    1. Explore Google Flights
    2. Filter based on your starting date and region.
    3. See which of your pinned locations during that time of the year is the cheapest for your date. There are a number of cities around the world with regularly cheap international flights because their airports have lower taxes or they serve a large number of airlines.  In Southeast Asia that city is Bangkok.
  4. Decide between a “round-the-world” flight package or “pay-as-you-go” flights. Both major airline alliances offer round-the-world flight packages: OneWorld and Star Alliance. Both have an online trip planner, which actually doesn’t help you plan your trip but rather quotes you a price based on your trip. They each have a price based on the number of stops you make, and restrictions based on the direction of flights and duration of your total trip. A “round-the-world” ticket is pre-paid and will give you the security of knowing when your next flight will be and when you’ll ultimately fly home. I estimated the cost of each option and found they were about the same. I opted for the “pay-as-you-go” style of trip, buying my flights along the way. This provides the flexibility to change plans indefinitely and purchase flights from the cheapest airline available. I had a couple big-ticket intercontinental flights with various major airlines and for the rest I took cheap flights (average $30 USD) with independent discount airlines: AirAsia, NokAir, TigerAir, RyanAir, and EasyJet.
  5. Book your flight(s)! If you’re doing the round-the-world option the price isn’t going to change, so you should just book that. If you’re doing pay-as-you-go, download the app Hopper and plug in the details. Hopper will notify you when that flight is at its best possible price and it’s time to book.

With your flight(s) set, you’re going to get excited or anxious or nervous or all of the above. Stay tuned for my next post: preparing for your trip.